Friday, April 14, 2006

The Memory That Wasn't

Like every other teenager, I once had a crush on a teacher.

Yes, I know this is a shock--if you need a minute to recover, it's OK. Take as much time as you need, the words will still be on the page when you get back.

Mr. Cunningham became my teacher in Sixth grade, I believe, although it might have been Seventh. But I knew who he was long before that. I had had a crush on him since Fifth grade, and possibly as far back as Fourth.

Mr. Cunningham was earthy in that over the top 1970s manner which seemed so REAL at the time. He had a full beard, and dark brown wavy hair which just floated past the collar of his plaid flannel shirt. Mr. Cunningham always wore a broad, flat leather belt and (Eeek) jeans. (Ooo. All the other male teachers wore khakis, but Mr. Cunningham was, shhhh, rebellious.) He was tall, his voice was deep, and he was so calm and self-assured. During lunch all students were assigned to sit at round tables, each headed by a teacher, and the student assignments changed every two weeks. One day at lunch I watched Mr. Cunningham casually pull a pocket knife from his jeans and cut slices off his apple. With one thumb holding the apple slice to the knife, he lifted the knife to his mouth and ate the apple from it.

I really could have happily died on that day. I had never seen anything so sexy in my entire life. I didn't even know you could eat an apple from a knife, and here's Mr. Cunningham just blowing me out of the water. He caught me staring at him, but (This Is What Was So Great About Him), he didn't smile knowingly at me, he didn't acknowledge it or blush, he just kept right on eating his apple in his forthright patient way.

He taught us about the use of the Seasons as symbols of the cycle of life. He taught us the word, archetype--a word which belongs to him in my mind. He LOVED the stories he taught--he would march quickly from one end of the room to the other, reading a paragraph out loud.

After he had stopped being our teacher, and we had to learn from painfully thin, nerdy and shy Mr. Conway in Eighth grade, we found we could still search out Mr. Cunningham here and there. A group of us giggling girls even started taking him samples of our poetry during recess. Again, he was so sweet to us. He gave us gentle critiques ("Not every poem needs to rhyme.") or small suggestions ("Instead of always writing about your feelings, why not try describing something, like a room or a flower.") or even assignments ("Try writing two separate poems about different things, but have both poems use the same first and last lines.") He didn't have to take his break time to read our totally terrible poems, but he did, and I loved him for it.

He was sexy, he was interested in me and my friends, and he was completely safe. He had married one of the other teachers in school, and they were very pleasant together (although I only really remember her for having two brown braids which hung down her back).

About two years ago I tracked him down and emailed him. We had a nice chat about life, education, my family, and his family. And I confessed to him that although I once had an enormous crush on him, for about ten minutes I had once been truly angry with him, but I had forgiven him by the time he became my teacher.

Every day we started school with Morning Meeting--an all-school assembly. Any faculty member (or students, actually) could sign up to give a 10 minute presentation on any topic they so chose. The first Morning Meeting of my Sixth grade year, Mr. Cunningham stood up in front of the school, with his arm around his lovely Fifth Grade teacher-wife. They had gotten married over the summer. For their honeymoon, they had toured the Grand Canyon and various National Parks on motorcycles, and they presented the pictures of the American West to us during Morning Meeting.

I remember sitting in my seat, holding back tears, driving my fingernails into my palms. I wanted to be the one on the back of Mr. Cunningham's motorcycle. I was so sure I could have made him happy. By the end of the presentation I realized that I had to pull myself together or face some very embarrassing questions from snoopy friends. I tucked my anger away.

Over time, I came to realize that he had probably chosen Mrs. Cunningham because she was closer in age, and I tried not to begrudge him his happiness with her. Although the thought of them together on the weekends on their motorcycles (or even worse, sharing HIS), while I had to suffer through 48 hours with my boring family was just excruciating. But again, I learned not to dream too much about his wife on the back of his motorcycle, and instead thought of when I would next see him again in school.

Of course, now it's all painfully funny. Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham have been happily married for at least 25 years, and they remain very much in love, as far as I can tell. I told Mr. Cunningham about how the Morning Meeting presentation of his motorcycle honeymoon had (ha ha) deeply traumatized me, since I was sure that I truly belonged on the back of his motorcycle.

He wrote back: "I certainly remember the honeymoon, and I almost remember the Morning Meeting slide show, but I can tell you with some authority that there were no motorcycles."

What? WHAT?!?

Oh, now it's just pathetic. What a moon cow. "Oh, Mr. Cunningham. Take me away on your big motorcycle and let me whisper brilliant literary criticism in your ear. We can sit together near a campfire while I use 'trope' in a sentence."

Makes me laugh though. I was silly, wasn't I?


Kristie (J) said...

I like your story of Mr. Cunningham :) I think all of us had crushes on male teachers at one time or another didn't we.

Megan Frampton said...

You are such a good writer, Suisan. When are you going to write a book?!?

Avid Reader said...

I remember having a crush on a teacher for all of about 5 minutes then came to my senses. I had a really serious crush on a guy in my class once, when he asked me my name, I couldn't speak. Since then, I'd been determined to never let that happen again. It's embarassing and hurtful.

Wonderful story, Suisan. It brough back memories for me. *tear*

Bev (BB) said...

Ah, that's cute.

You know, I think I have this story somewhere in a Silhouette Romance . . . and he does have a motocycle. (VBEG)

Maili said...

I had a really serious crush on a guy in my class once, when he asked me my name, I couldn't speak.

Me, too! The worst part is I squeaked. I'd have preferred to be speechless, but did I get that? Nooooo. It HAS to be a bloody squeak.

meljean brook said...

Okay, that description of him with the apple and the knife? I think *I* love him now.

My crush was in 10th grade, my chemistry teacher. Instead of 'trope' I think it was 'exothermic'. Sigh. Good memories.

Suisan said...

Kristie, Megan, Keishon: *blushes* thank you.

Bev: I don't even like motorcycles all THAT much. I was just convinced that he had one. Odd.

Maili: At least you squeak, Maili. I tend to sniff in just before I talk when I'm nervous. More than once, my first impression has been, "Snnnnuggkt. Um, I can answer that." Damn head colds.

Suisan said...

Meljean, thanks--your comment sneaked in here somehow while I wasn't looking. (Curse Blogger!)

Most of my hunky teachers hung out in the English department, but I had one Calculus professor--rrowrr.

Pat Kirby said...

Man, I wish I had a chance to be "hot for teacher."

The majority of our teachers were bitter old hens like the "Simpsons" Miss Crabapple. Then there were the fat coaches and a couple of middle-aged male math teachers.

Not much incentive for an education, ya know? [wink]

sybil said...

I never had a crush on a teacher. Some how I missed that. Prolly because I didn't finish my degree at UTSA. Although thinking about it... it is prolly good I didn't.

I would be a tv movie of the week... or worse lifetime. Your tale is much better :). And I agree very well done.

CindyS said...

I love the part where he is still married - now that is really romantic. Wonder where the motorcycle came in and the whole apple/knife thing - yowza!

I had a crush on a grade 10 history teacher for about a year. I then had a horrible crush on a teaching assistant in university but I'm sure he never noticed me. I have always been attracted to older men hence, Bob.


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