Most days, a long, shiny curtain of hair partitioned us, shielding her from any distractions as she sat at her table, bent over a stack of correcting. On those days, I would actually do my homework. But today, by some miracle, there was no stack of papers--she was just casually flipping through a magazine or a catalog or something. She had looked up and smiled at each student who had approached her table to sign out from study hall. She was bored! I could tell. Still, my next moves needed to be precise.
Leaving my homework behind, I made my way over to her, grabbed the pen and put it to the sign out sheet, and readied myself to deliver an offhand comment about needing to print something in the library. But something in her eye contact told me I could abandon all that today.
"Ça va?" I asked.
"Très bien. Et toi?"
"Moi aussi, très bien. Are you busy?" I asked innocently, switching back to English since we had only covered the basics so far.
"No, no, not today."
"Me neither. Want some company?"
Wow. It was early on in the period, too, meaning I had just secured about 45 minutes opposite my favorite person in the entire world: my French teacher.
She was so close. Normally, I viewed her from ten feet away as she paced the front of the classroom, answering our questions with gusto, spinning around suddenly to scrawl some more delightful French knowledge on the white board, her ornate bracelet du jour jangling vigorously as she wrote.
Most of my teachers up to then had been slightly frumpy, older Midwestern women with short hair. But my French teacher was in her mid-30s, she wore red lipstick, and she had long hair. She entered school in the morning wearing a long, woolen coat and a red scarf, holding a coffee thermos in one hand and a French newspaper in the other. (She might say that's an exaggeration, but such was the impression she made on me at age 14.) She was tall and thin, beautiful and stylish, she spoke French and she was brilliant. She was far and away the coolest teacher I had ever had.
And now she was only a foot and a half away from me, even less than that as we leaned in and lost ourselves in conversation. I could see the flecks in her eyes.
I tried to play it cool. I wanted her to think I was trustworthy, mature, and just as interesting. When the bell rang, I walked her to her next class. We talked like two girlfriends, oblivious to the noisy multitudes rushing around us.
French became my academic focus. I paid rapt attention in class and performed nearly perfectly on the exams. I'd even find ways to stay after school and get her to teach me more, just the two of us.
"And then there's this--now, I didn't learn this until college, so don't worry if you don't get it, but you see, in French, they do this thing where..."
Scribbling several sentence diagrams, she would explain these new concepts until I grasped them a few minutes later. She seemed thrilled to have a student with such intrinsic understanding of her subject. I was thrilled to see her light up when I understood.
We knew we had a deep fondness for each other as teacher and student, mentor and mentee. What she didn't know, what I tried very hard to keep hidden, was just how much I was thinking about her when she wasn't around.
Or that I was maybe even writing poems and songs about her...
Maybe even daydreaming about being adopted by her...
I agonized all summer wondering whether her name or that of the other French teacher would be on my schedule for French II. I got so desperate, I actually wrote out a long prayer in my journal, pleading with God, reasoning with him, bargaining.
He came through. She was mine for at least one more year. I cherished every moment.
That year, for English class, I wrote an essay about her in the style of the essays we were reading in The House on Mango Street. I showed it to her one day after school, half expecting her to be totally weirded out. But she wasn't, at all.
She was, like, moved.
"You should be a writer," she said.