Marilyn Rea Beyer, Poems/Stories/VO
Enjoyed a night of storytelling at Chimera Loft (Evanston) on August 22. Here's a snapshot and the 3-minute story I told during open mic:
1973. I’d just graduated from college and got my dream job: teaching speech and drama at the new Oak Forest High School. I was going to change the world by teaching the Youth of America how to use their voices.
At new teacher orientation we were told two things. Don’t touch the kids and Don’t smile until Thanksgiving. If I was going to change the world, I was going to have to do it within those parameters.
There were challenges. There was a paper shortage so we had to print ditto master worksheets and quizzes on both sides of the paper – leaving us with a damp, fragrant, illegible purple mess. The classrooms weren’t all finished, so classes were crowded. I had 36 kids in one class, 42 in another, making it tough to keep any kind of order.
And then there was Michael. Athletic, black-hair, bright blue eyes and a big sideways grin, Michael swaggered into class each day, took his seat at the back of the room and caused a ruckus. He was never ready to do a speech and whenever some shy, nerdy kid was giving a talk, Michael was in the back snickering, making snide remarks and cracking up the others. I didn’t have a chance.
ne day, I had had enough. The heck with the “Don’t touch the kids” rule. I grabbed him by the shirt, dragged him into the hall and pinned him up against the lockers.
“What are you doing in there?”
Michael looked down at his shoes and mumbled, “Nuthin’.”
“You look at me when I’m talking to you!” He looked at me with those bright blue eyes, maybe a little frightened at my anger.
“You’re ruining the class for everybody else,” I said. “Who do you think you are?”
“Nobody.” He looked so small. And then I violated the “Don’t touch the kids” rule again and took him in my arms.
“Oh Michael,” I said, “You are somebody! Don’t you know who you are?”
I said, “You are handsome and smart and the coolest kid in the room. Everybody in that class wants to be you. I don’t know what anybody has told you, but you are somebody wonderful.”
He looked so surprised! And then he broke out that marvelous grin. “Really?”
“Yes. Really. Now, are you with me?”
“Yeah,” he said, and when we walked back into the classroom, I broke the second rule. I smiled before Thanksgiving.
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Subtitled "The Lived Experience of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Told Powerfully through Poetry, Prose, Essay and Art," this book is neither screed nor pity party. Rather, it’s a positive, powerful platform to give voice to people who have been sexually exploited, abused, treated as invisible.Listen and believe them.
Here's something from my notebook:
Here's something from my notebook:
He turned onto State Line Avenue
And, even though he hadn’t been back
since Mom and Dad moved to Scottsdale,
He still knew all the streets from all the Thursday mornings
When he had flung The Lansing Journal onto doorsteps.
The two bachelors on the corner of Wentworth and Jackson,
And the rest of the neighborhood around Coolidge School.
He hoped to find an open door
So he could walk around the halls and chuckle
at how tiny the desks would look,
How low the urinals would be.
The blackboards were probably all smartboards now.
But maybe the smell of encyclopedias and radiator heat would linger.
He tried the big door. Yes! Open.
“Hello, young man,” said the small, ancient woman
with chalk in her voice.
“Miss Mills?” No mistaking that nose.
“Why yes, and who were you?
Let me guess. A Brinkman, I think. Douglas? No. Chuck!”
He gasped at the recognition, then gasped again.
It wasn’t a school at all anymore.
“Oh, no dear. This building is now the Lansing Historical Center.”
His grandmother’s 1930s Singer sewing machine was on display.
A dressmaker’s dummy wore a bridesmaid’s dress
she had made for his sister.
A picture of his grandmother was included in the placard
with no mention
of how she had died alone at the bottom of the stairs
in the old house on Williams Street,
or how she’d forgotten all the manners that were so important to her
and started swearing a blue streak and peeing in her pants,
but wouldn’t move out of the house.
His head hurt from trying to keep from crying in front of Miss Mills.
He checked his watch and said, “Oh, look at the time!”
He thanked Miss Mills, and without even stopping
in the Boys’ Bathroom,
He stuffed a few dollars in the box marked
Preserve Our Memories, and bolted out.
He gripped the steering wheel of his rental car
Wishing for all the world that it was his old green bike
The saddlebags stuffed with fresh, tightly folded newspapers,
Back when everything was new.
©Marilyn Rea Beyer