Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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(I wrote this one along with English 100 students in 1997.)

 

Lean Dog

I’m a lean dog, a keen dog,
a wild dog, and lone.
I’m a rough dog, a tough dog. . . .

I liked it. It was a poem, and it moved me. I could relate. Ms. Christianson read it well, with conviction. There was something deep going on here. But I just couldn’t pay attention.

You see, I was in eighth grade, and Jeff Andrews was seated nearby. "Lean Dog" could not compete.

Jeff was also distracted, but not by me. By his own imagination. He was fiddling with a half dozen round, red rubber bands, like those my sister used for her paper route. What can be done with a rubber band in an eighth-grade English class? Jeff was busy solving this riddle. He leaned forward, stretched a rubber band between a rigid forefinger and thumb dangerously close to Cindy Taylor’s shoulder. I watched—nervous, anticipatory—out of the corner of my eye. Holding the taut band in place next to a lock of Cindy’s bright blonde hair, Jeff pulled it back like a slingshot. Lean dog, a keen dog. He let go.

There was a high pitched squeak as Cindy jumped. Ms. Christianson looked up. Jeff, Cindy, and I stared with furrowed brows at the mimeographed copy of the poem in front of us—as if innocent, as if trying to figure it out. I believe Cindy and I both knew that ratting on Jeff would mean turning him against us, a tragic outcome at best.

Ms. Christianson went back to her recitation. She turned, for some reason, to the lyrics of a Neil Young song.

Old man, take a look at my life,
I’m a lot like you.

I desperately tried to concentrate. I had heard this song on the radio and loved it. But, I suppose, I loved Jeff more. He was still fidgeting. I wanted in on it. I cast a furtive glance at the front of the room, and reached a tentative hand across the aisle. I wanted a rubber band. Now Jeff had a dilemma. Place one of the small red treasures into Sherri’s hand, or not. Of course he did not. He was too cool to simply acquiesce. I withdrew my hand—rebuffed—and lowered my reddened face to the paper in front of me.

I need someone to love me the whole day through.
Just one look in my eyes. . . .

Seconds later, a gift arrived in the form of a rubber band—Jeff, perhaps repentant, had gently launched it from his desk to mine. It landed with a bounce, encircling the blue phrase in front of me: I need someone. The thrill! I had been included after all. What might this mean? A show of general good will? A sign of deeper regard?

Then the rubber band itself caught the attention of my young mind. What comparable stunt might I be able to perform? How could I match Jeff’s ingenuity, his wickedness?

I carefully evaluated the situation. Ms. Christianson was absorbed in her poetry. Doug Whipple, two rows over, was face-down on his desk, apparently asleep. Cheryl Nelson was taking notes. John Martinez, in a back corner of the room, was staring dreamily out the window, probably working on his own repertoire of antics.

I decided on a course of action. I sat up straight, fixed both feet on the floor, verified that Teacher’s attention was elsewhere, caught Jeff’s eye. I aimed. I fired.

Doink.

A startled "Oh!" was followed by dead silence. Oh. The rubber band I had projected toward the front of the classroom, in a wild show of bravery, had smacked Ms. Christianson in the forehead.

I do not know what she looked like as she demanded to know the culprit’s identity. I can only report on the consternation—and tears?—I heard in her voice. In what I had hoped would be a nonchalant gesture but was actually one of the most desperate I would ever make, I had leaned into my hands, one on each flaming cheek, elbows on the desk, my eyes once again lowered. I could feel the heat on my neck, ears, forehead. She must have known. Jeff must have swiped the pile of rubber bands from his desk. Cindy must have been tempted to tell. Doug must have been awakened.

What remains with me from that day are the enigmatic fragments of a poem, the troublesome lyrics of a Neil Young song that reminds me more of my father than a rubber band, and the memory of a teacher whom I respected and whom I hit in the forehead with a rubber band. My feelings for Jeff are gone. I met his fiancÚ this past Christmas at a reunion. I asked him about this incident; he did not remember.

I remember that I confessed to Ms. Christianson after class that day. I think I cried. I think I knew enough to feel some shame for my action. Not so much that obvious-to-an-eighth-grader shame related to the fact that I could have hit her in the eye, blinding her for life. But a deeper shame: she was real. She was trying to give us something that I deeply desired. She was trying to share with us adolescents something that mattered—to us, to our parents perhaps, to our culture, to her. Maybe we were simply too young. I really don’t think I was.

Copyright 2001 Sherri Winans
All Rights Reserved

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Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015