“Welp, that’s about all I need from you.” Detective Moore said as he finished writing whatever he wrote in his notepad. “We had a report a few days ago outside the Mall that matched your story. Black family being bothered by some Mexicans. The two men were questioned elsewhere and said a black guy robbed them. Gave a car description, license plate, everything but their story never made sense.” He closed his notepad. “If we need anything else, we know where to find you.” Detective Moore nodded, winked, squeezed tight and rough as we shook hands. He leaned in close to my ear, “Gwen was my goddaughter. I know what you are. You fooled this school but I will dog your pathetic, sick ass until you are put down.” He spit so forcefully that I smelled old bus seats, cigarettes and coffee.
“Of course,” I thought, “this is why he’s here. It’s about Gwen, not car rims.” Gwen was my best friend in high school. We were so close that people often rumored we dated despite Gwen’s aggressively masculine appearance and personality. She committed suicide our senior year after a video surfaced. The talk around our small town was I posted the video because I was angry, jealous, pulsing with revenge. Her father, a police officer, never accepted Gwen’s sexuality and half-heartedly believed those lies. Her mother and I had a special relationship; Gwen suspected more and it affected the entire family dynamic.
“Is everything ok?” Mrs. Locke asked in a firm, booming voice. Neither of us had seen the large, dark-skinned black woman of immaculate attire step outside from the classroom. Her hair was permed and pressed, as usual. She wore her standard pant suit, power blue and black, kept a tablet hanging from her shoulder, not a purse, and spoke with military precision. Staring at Detective Brown, her voice cracked on the next words, “You will be missed Mr. Chase. The kids love you. I appreciate your energy and the entire staff benefits from your presence.” She looked back at the classroom door, reached to open it for me but stopped. “Detective Brown, do you need anything else from myself or Knowledge?”
He, Detective Brown, hadn’t moved and still stood inches from my face. Slightly taller than my 6’0 feet height, he whispered before turning, “I know what you are. Who you are.” He smiled at Principal Locke, tipping his head and leaving her his card. “I appreciate the chance to speak with him ma’am. I’ll let you two teach these kids and save the world. I got criminals to catch.” He walked away, head high, whistling Rolling Stone’s Time Is On My Side.
Mrs. Locke, the consummate professional, faced me, “It’s your last day and I’m not going to ask what that was about.” Her eyes softened, “I’m sorry how things went with Ms. Bryant. If you ever need a reference, please let me know.”
I gave her my best smile, “Cool beans, Mrs. Locke.” I felt awkward, like she was waiting for something more. “I’ve learned a lot here and loved every minute of it.”
She and I had the strangest relationship; it began 15 years ago, after I was awarded Student Teacher of the Year. I had interviewed with 50+ different schools but none resulted in a hire and I was losing momentum. I was struggling to pull my shit together, fresh out of college, knew I wanted to teach and save the youth but couldn’t get hired. I tried Arkansas, Louisiana, and of course, all over Texas. My goal was Dallas ISD, clean city, heavy into banking & tech jobs, higher teacher salaries. My college counselor, Anne Hughes, was adamant about me teaching in Houston; she and the University of Rosewood had contacts and tentacles there. I spent an entire summer taking road trips to various Teacher Job Fairs for introductory interviews every weekend. During the week, I made 2nd trips to schools for the follow up interviews. It was crazy exciting putting 1000 miles per week on the car, jumping city to city, state to state, plotting and planning a future. Exciting until a week before the start of the new year and I was NOT employed.
It was killing my vibe to be an educated, black man with the physical capacity to teach but unable to start my career. I was paranoid and blamed the Multiple Sclerosis and my activities with the P.I.M.P.ino Family. In my eyes, my medical diagnosis or the criminal arrest record would always prevent my employment. Finally, I received a call for a 2nd interview with Mrs. Locke’s intermediate campus. This is where the story gets interesting. In college, my crew had a physical altercation, fight, with a college fraternity. Damn right, my crew won. Nope, I didn’t throw the first punch or the last. One particularly non-athletic, fraternity member was actually chased to his car and got, “da business”. Fast forward two years, this specific, non-athletic, fraternity member happens to be a superintendent’s son. I, in the customary sense of youthful ignorant bliss, had no idea and applied to several teaching positions in said superintendent’s district. He, unbeknownst to me, had given terrible recommendations and reviews of my work, in his district, as a substitute teacher and teacher’s assistant. I wasn’t unemployed, I couldn’t find employment as a full-time, licensed educator. His plans fell apart when he bragged on what he doing and to Ms. Hughes, who informed my mother and 2 days later, I’m a real teacher under Mrs. Locke’s leadership.
“Mr. Chase,” she dropped the military precision from her voice. For the first time in our 15 years of a working relationship, she seemed unsure of what to say or do. “Knoah, I wish the best for you and although I understand why you’re leaving us. Do you know what you’ll do next? What kind of work will you do with your physical limitations?”
“I’m thinking real estate or insurance.” I replied. I looked down, Mrs. Locke intimidated me. Her precision, her appearance, her tone was always professional and unforgiving. She didn’t accept repeated mistakes and rarely laughed out loud.
“With your health conditions, how will you adjust and adapt to all the moving, driving?” her voice thundered even when whispering.
I have Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It’s an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the myelin sheath of the nerves. This results in loss of body control, neuropathy, bladder issues, blindness and a smorgasbord of awfully painful symptoms. Over the years, I’d left school with various ailments but after a day or two of self-medicating, I was usually good and back. “I’m working on somethings.” I smiled my best smile again. “Did you know that 80% of millionaires come from real estate or insurance? I figure, it’s gotta be easier than trying to save the world.”
She was undeterred, “How will you adjust and adapt”? I respected Mrs. Locke because she reminded me of my counselor Anne Hughes, sincerely concerned but ultimately dedicated to a singular goal, educating kids. Once, a colleague threatened to sue the school district over the ridiculous allegation that I would harm her. I’m a black man with several, highly, visible tattoos, a car with 22’ rims and a penchant for dressing with a tad too much flair. Mrs. Locke handled the situation professionally, quickly and quietly. I absolutely hated the resolution but it was done with gentle efficiency. I was ordered to attend all teacher meetings with an administrator, for the colleague’s protection. I considered rejecting the proposal but I’m not a dramatic person and wholly believe in team play. In the end, it worked. I stayed in my lane for the reminder of the year and eventually, it all died down. She was waiting on my response, not a joke but an honest, introspective answer and I didn’t have one.
“I’m good.” I promised her. I liked her even though; on another occasion, she threatened me with termination because I was using sick days to commute to a university for my Master’s degree. According to Mrs. Locke, I was “falsifying state documents as an employee of the state.” I had no idea what she was talking about and dropped my classes. Another time, a student brought a gun to school after writing a letter to me, “I will kill you Mr. Chase”. Mrs. Locke had city police officers waiting; it was solved with the accuracy and acumen of trained veterans.
“We’ve had our differences, Mr. Chase. We have the same goal and I want you to know that.” her voice regained its classic, authoritative tone. “As a principal, it’s my responsibility to place my teachers and students in the best environment for learning and growth. Your reckless optimism gives you the unique ability to communicate and build lasting relationships with these students.” She hugged me tightly, just a tad longer than expected. “Use it in your next career. I mean it, reckless optimism. You believed in these kids so much that you ran through brick walls. When you couldn’t walk, they ran to you. Now, believe in yourself that much. If you need anything, let me know.” She opened the classroom door for me and marched away.