The Bell Tolls: Back to School
I remember seeing “Back to School” banners in stores when I was a kid and feeling awful, feeling the same way I did the first time I really believed that everyone I know is going to die, and worse, possibly me too.
The store owners seemed to give this depressing announcement earlier each year. For a time, August was good enough for them. I could handle that. August is the cruelest month, always has been. It’s full of bad news. It will probably be the month when everyone I know dies. Not all at once, though I wouldn’t put it past August to do something like that.
Yes, the banners graffitied August, but soon they struck July as well. Give a mouse a cookie, he’ll eat your heart out for dessert.
If these banners could appear in July — serpents on holy ground — why not slither all the way to early July? Soiling Independence Day for fun. And why not dream even bigger? They seemed to set their sights on June.
They set their sights on me.
I hated how exited the banners looked. They looked simple, stupid, thrilled to announce anything. “Did you ever stop and think about what you’re announcing?” I asked. They shrugged and said, “Gotta announce something.”
But it wasn’t really the banners’ fault. It was the fault of evil people, those who forced the banners to do what they were doing. “Gotta sell something,” the evil ones said with a shrug, “why not school supplies? Why not right now? Today.”
I think about these wicked people. The sign designers. The order givers: “Hang this up or you’re fired.” It irritates their kind when children have vacation from work. In other words, they hate children.
I remember a guy from my church who thought of kids in summertime as lowlifes looking for employment. He made us mow lawns, paint walls, stack wood for winter. “Remember, children,” he seemed to say, “summer always ends, and someday you’re going to die.”
I still hate the banners’ message, and I hate how the message is made to look like a joyful shout. Clearly, the banners’ overlords don’t care about how sad the end of summer makes me. They don’t care about me at all. If they were given the job of announcing my death to their shoppers, they would announce it in yellow letters three feet high and three feet wide:
“Back to Dust for Dan SALE!!!”
I’m not a kid anymore. I turned into a teacher. This is the equivalent of a pirate joining the police force. But when you’re as deeply in love with summer vacation as I am, you would do anything to keep it. No sacrifice would be too great. You would even become a teacher.
Believe it or not, teachers have feelings. Like dread. I am living proof. I sit here dreading the start of school, probably even more than I did as a child, though I have to say that somewhere in my head there’s a little idiot in hiding, a guy who’s excited about going back. He’s hiding because the rest of me wants to lock him in an asylum then burn it down.
Why is he excited?
He thinks teaching is the testing ground for new ideas. The ideas that have come from a summer’s reading and writing are just sitting there, ready to be tried out on other writers. Maybe the ideas will prove to be good ones, or maybe they’ll crumble as they’re struck by foreign brain-hammers. It’s exciting, he thinks, not knowing, and maybe the ideas will help someone.
The idiot, as usual, will change his mind once school begins. He’ll hand himself over, saying, “Take me away, officer. I’m dangerously insane.”
But he’ll leave behind documents in the cave where he was hiding, writings that say stuff like, “Teaching teaches you, you know? If you hate people, at least you’ve got that. And if you don’t hate people, isn’t it wonderful that teaching yourself teaches them? It’s a win-win.”
Thank you, idiot. I mean that. Sorry we have to burn you down. It’s nothing personal.
It’s way beyond personal. This is the end of summer, you idiot.