Bitch I’mma punch you in the face! Whatcha gonna do?
Umm…I don’t know. Why don’t you try and see what happens?
Carlos was shaken. No one has ever reacted this way. He scanned his teacher's face in search of weaknesses. Rob smiled. His mouth grinned but his grey eyes did not squint. Cold and steady, they locked on Carlos’ doubts like a hunter on his prey. The boy stepped back.
Rob was a new hire at Gordon High, and got the job without previous teaching experience. Gordon High was a bad high school in a worse neighborhood. The two teachers before him did not last a semester. Carlos’ intimidation attempt was a daily test of character. Rob never flinched, and Carlos was not used to that.
Rob liked his new job. He cared about the kids and they felt it. A few weeks later, the kids accepted him and opened up. Bit by bit, they shared their stories. Rob told them about his life pre-teaching. He used to sell software for greedy corporations. He was trapped in a job he hated, but rationalized. “It could be a lot worse”, he said. It could be a lot worse.
Before he took the leap to become a teacher, Rob escaped on every occasion. He is a boat captain, a surfer, and a man of simple pleasures. Carlos and the other bullies learned to respect his adventures. He was different, an outcast among outcasts. Rob was the first teacher to treat them not as disturbed kids, but as equals. He became—almost—one of them.
It was a hot Friday afternoon in Palm County, and a bad Friday for Rob. Carlos came to class with a black eye after "falling down the stairs". Like every Friday after school, Rob was stuck in traffic. Thousands of people waited helplessly on that bridge, inhaling exhaust gas with stoical patience. From above, the cars looked like colorful dots on a long line across turquoise waters. Occasionally, the dots moved.
The car in front of Rob did not move. He honked. The guy looked in the mirror and gave him the finger. Rob honked again, longer and meaner. The guy stepped out and graced him with a loud "fuck you". Rob honked three times, teasing him. He slammed the door and walked towards Rob, his face fuming with rage. Rob unfastened his seatbelt and as the man reached for his face, he grabbed his arm and pulled him through the window. Then, Rob slammed the man's head against the steering wheel in four vicious bursts. Blood spurt out of the man's nose. He fell to the ground, knocked out.
The scene attracted people, phones, and created more traffic. Rob opened his door, stepped over the man’s body, and lit up a cigarette. Sirens were approaching. There was no way out. If the guy pressed charges, Rob would lose a lot and be a criminal for the rest of his life. An ambulance arrived, followed by the cops. They handcuffed Rob and pushed him in the back of the car. He had the right to remain silent, and he did.
They took him to the jailhouse. The cell was large and full of inmates waiting for their hearing. They were murderers, rapists, gangsters, or teachers. All criminals locked up in a maximum-security jailhouse, where they try to turn a man into a mouse. Across the room, one black guy with dreadlocks and tattooed arms kept staring at Rob. Their eyes met. The black man pointed a finger at him, and whirled it in a gesture to come.
Rob stood up. His grey eyes were hazy, his bowels weak. He walked up to the black man and nodded a shy hello.
What’s your name? asked the man.
Rob... Rob Liams.
And what do you do for a living, Rob?
I’m a teacher.
Gordon High...in the ghetto.
NO FUCKING WAY!!! It's really you hahaha! Come sit here my man. My little sister is in your class. She speaks highly of you.
Rob's weekend in jail was pretty chill. He hung out with the man and his crew until his release on Sunday. When he got to work on Monday morning, his students gave him a standing ovation. "Fuck…they know. Here comes the principal", he thought. Instead, Carlos came forward and handed him this.
To all the great teachers that marked our lives, to their dedication and selflessness. And to Rob, o' captain my captain, you got that right.
It could be a lot worse.