Mr. Warren taught American History at Thomaston High School. He could spit the Gettysburg Address with more enthusiasm than Lincoln, and knew every word to every Bob Dylan song, which you could catch him singing to himself, wandering the halls between classes.
The kids at the high school called Mr. Warren “Slick Rick,” and he earned the coveted title by being an absolute pervert to almost every young woman he came across. If you were a dumb girl with big tits and a tight ass, it was guaranteed he’d make you bend over to grab a discarded pencil or a very important scrap of paper.
“Ms. Carter,” he’d say to the field hockey captain. “From the back, I thought you were Kim Kardashian.” And he’d chuckle to himself, and continue down the hall, mouthing “Lay Lady, Lay” all the way to the History wing.
Slick Rick never hit on me, maybe because I didn’t get my period until I was fifteen and wore the baby fat of a middle-schooler till I graduated, but probably because I looked like a dyke. I had it all: hair on my legs but not my head, a dog-tag from my grandpa that hung out of my pocket like a wallet chain. I dressed in Doc Martens and black skinny jeans and deep-V t-shirts and blazers, and I preached liberal doctrine with the frequency of the nightly news.
One day me and my best friend Kaitlyn were sitting in the hall after school, correcting English quizzes and eating fried chicken from a gas station. Mr. Warren stopped by for a visit.
“Kaity,” he said. “You look like you’ve lost some weight, have you been working out?” He squeezed her arm to check for muscles and patted her back.
“No? Thanks, I guess.” When he left, she said, “Was I fat before?”
My senior year of high school marked the arrival of several things: I got my first job as a bank teller. My parents bought me a car. I had to start wearing a bra. And the school hired a new math teacher to replace Mrs. Keparutis, who had come out of retirement twice since ’92 in order to fill a gap in the department, caused by low wages and lower SAT scores.
The new guy—Mr. Novak—was a spunky math geek, fresh out of college and still living with his parents. He wore too-tight striped polos and sneakers to work, and always brought his lunch in a brown paper bag, which sat on his desk until noon, when he ate alone in his room while taping encouraging posters to the walls. He always pushed students to get involved in Math Club, and knew at least a hundred digits of pi, which he said was the triumph of his college career—obvious, because it definitely wasn’t him losing his virginity.
“You think Mr. Novak has a girlfriend?” we’d say. And we’d laugh over our SAT prep work and our twenty-page essays and literary criticism, pretending we were well-hardened to a life of groping sessions beneath the bleachers.
I never actually took a class with Mr. Novak, but most of my friends were in his Calculus class, so I’d hang out in his room after school while everyone else got extra help with derivatives.
The room was always full of students and non-students, for once excited about trigonometry or long division. Sometimes girls from the home economics class would stop by, knitting baby socks for nobody’s child and listening to Mr. Novak tell stories about teaching his grandmother how to use a graphing calculator.
“She’s Polish, so I don’t know if she got it,” he’d say. Everyone giggled politely.
Students only went to Mr. Warren’s classroom after hours if they needed to retake a test or talk him into some extra credit, which he’d give if you could rattle off all the Constitutional amendments without help. You’d have to stand at the front of his classroom that always reeked like soup, surrounded by empty desks while Mr. Warren sat in the back and rubbed his chin, disapproving of any slight stutter or improper pause. After you finished, he asked what the most important amendment was, and your bonus points depended on your answer.
Mr. Warren was an old-timey sort of guy, a teacher in the district for thirty years, and a staunch Republican from conception. Most people thought the second amendment was the right choice, but if you paid attention, you knew it was the first.
“Why is the First Amendment important?” he said in class once. When he lectured, he dangled his thumbs from his belt loops and rocked back and forth on his heels after every thought. His gut always hung below his shirt, red and hairy, and I imagined him a giant pimple ready to burst, full of mucus and pus and air.
“No one knows?” He ignored my hand and shifted his weight. “The First Amendment means you can say what you want, you can write what you want, and no one can arrest you for doing it. Understand?”
A few weeks prior to this lesson, the vice principal carried out an investigation on Mr. Warren, after complaints from parents who said he made advances toward their daughters. But his family had a legacy in Thomaston from its foundation, and nothing ever came of it.
Before the school year ended, I spent a lot of time driving around town in my car. Me and Kaitlyn would drive from one end to the other crying and singing Fleetwood Mac, mourning the end of high school. She would go off to the University of Rhode Island to study marine mammals, and I’d go to some useless liberal arts college to get some useless liberal arts degree. But before I left, I outfitted my ride with tapestry seat covers, a ploy to convince others I was chill and hip, even though I didn’t have any tattoos.
The night before the AP Calculus exam, Kaitlyn stayed at the school for hours prepping with Mr. Novak, who hosted a study party for the smart kids in the class. Students brought cupcakes and soda, bags of chips, and Mr. Novak played Jeopardy music and Eminem from the computer speakers.
“You’re all going to do great tomorrow,” he said. “But not you Kathryn. I don’t know why you’re here.”
“I’m Kaitlyn’s ride,” I said. “I’ve got a new car.”
By the time the review wrapped up it was dark out, and the parking lot sat empty and white under the streetlights. We stayed to help clean-up.
“Hey Mr. Novak, you want to see my car?” I said on the way out. He was parked a few spots over from me, and I thought it might be funny if I offered to drive him to his car, one last hurrah before we parted ways for good. “Let me take you for a ride.”
He rode shotgun and Kaitlyn sat in the back, and I dropped him off before driving donuts around him and speeding off.
The next day we got called to the vice principal’s office over the loud-speaker.
“You guys aren’t in trouble,” he kept saying. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
The vice principal, Mr. Sokolov, was a sweaty Russian man, and his eyebrows arched in such a way that he always looked like a concerned father instead of a figure of authority. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
“Did Mr. Novak get in your car last night?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I thought it might be funny if I drove him to his car, you know, since it was like, two spaces over.”
“He shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have done that.”
I explained again that the whole thing was my idea, over and over, while he patted his face with a tissue.
“So here’s the thing,” he said. He shifted his tone to sound like a peppy camp counselor. “Mr. Novak is an adult. We have on record from a male faculty member that he saw Mr. Novak get into your car. That wasn’t appropriate for him, and as the adult, he should have known it was inappropriate behavior. There will be actions taken, but maybe don’t say anything to anyone just yet. Good luck with school!”
Mr. Sokolov handed me and Kaitlyn tissues for our faces and pamphlets on safe sex, then sent us back into the hallway, wearing the burden like stones in a bag.
We didn’t go to lunch. We didn’t talk to our friends or loiter after school. We called our moms and went home and cried.
Mr. Novak didn’t come back the next year, but Mr. Warren did, year after year until he retired with fanfare in a banquet hall for years of service. I stopped by the school during winter break and he trapped me in the empty hallway.
“Ms. Fitzpatrick,” he said. “You’re letting your hair grow out. You look like a woman.”
“Not gonna get a job looking like a militant feminist, now, right?”
“Atta girl.” He rubbed my back between my shoulder blades.
About the Author: Kathryn Fitzpatrick is a senior at Central Connecticut State University where she serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Helix Literary Magazine. Her work has been previously published in Out Magazine, The Flexible Persona, Crack the Spine, and the print anthology Flash Nonfiction Funny, edited by Dinty Moore and Tom Hazuka.