I got up with the alarm at 5:30AM. I made it all the way to the kitchen and had begun making a pot of coffee before I remembered the events from the day before and the phone conversation last night. Immediately, a knot formed in my stomach.
I put down the coffee pot and walked over to the table, slumping down in a chair. I glanced over at the phone on the wall. Soon, it would ring. Soon, I would know what the day would hold for me.
After staring at the phone for several seconds, I stood back up and walked over to the counter to finish making the coffee. Just as I slid the pot back in and turned on the coffee maker, the phone rang. I froze. The ring seemed loud and obnoxious. I didn’t want to answer it.
The phone rang a second time. I walked over and picked it up. “Hello?’
“Mr. Phillips,” came the reply, a low, serious voice. My shoulders sagged. I had hoped it would be Barbara.
“Dr. Mercer,” I said, trying to sound awake and enthusiastic. “Good morning.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Harry. I’m not having a particularly good morning. Are you?” I was not. But I didn’t answer.
He continued. “I talked to Barbara. I know all the details. I want you in my office at 7:15. Got it?”
“Got it,” I answered. I felt like a ten-year-old being scolded by his father.
“I’ve already spoken to several members of the school board,” Dr. Mercer continued, “as well as two of the parents. This is not how I wanted to go into Easter break, Harry.”
“Me neither,” I said slowly. “Me neither.” It was all I could think of to say. But then I had to ask, “Any idea where this is going, Dr. Mercer?”
“Well, yes,” he said, “At the very least we’re looking at some type of suspension.”
Suspension??? I couldn’t believe it. A wave of panic flashed through my body.“Why?” I asked, my voice a bit higher. I was angry. “Over a little homework assignment?”
“Harry,” he answered, his voice rising as well, “we have a strict policy on these things. You know that. You were way out of line yesterday. Frankly, you’ll be fortunate if that’s all that happens. One of the parents is very cozy with half the board members, and he is determined to have you dismissed. And honestly, I don’t see how that can be avoided at this point. Do you realize what you’re up against? This isn’t good. Not for you, not for any of us. Now I’ve got to get in the shower. I’ll see you in my office. 7:15.” And he hung up.
I slammed the phone down and sat down at the table. My pulse pounded in my temples. This whole thing was turning into a nightmare.I really could lose my job over this. Because of a stupid freaking homework assignment. Damn it.
Damn it damn it damn it.
I laid my head down on my arms in front of me.
Why? Why was this happening?
What the hell inspired me to talk about Moses yesterday?
What was going on?
I suddenly remembered all the recent coincidences. I remembered the cat and the dead mouse on the front porch.
I remembered how enthused I had felt lately, with a new sense of purpose. I had gone to school the previous day feeling better than I had felt in a year or more. And just like that, I had managed to pull the rug out from under myself.
I suddenly realized I had tears in my eyes. I sat up straight and wiped them away. I looked at the tears on my fingers. I was actually crying. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
And then they came. Tears. Lots of them. In torrents. I put my head back down on my arms, squeezed my eyes closed, and cried. Huge, body-shaking sobs, uncontrollable ones. I haven’t done this in years, I thought to myself, and I kept on crying.
For the better part of five minutes I cried, unable to stop. Months, and perhaps years of frustration and tension, all pouring out at once. I cried like a baby. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more.
Then I sat up and took a long, deep breath. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and actually smiled. I smiled at myself for crying like that. But I needed it. And I felt better. I really did. I had just released something that had been building inside me for a long time. And I felt good.I took another deep breath and thought about my predicament. Is this it? I wondered. Is this the end of my teaching career?
Maybe. Or maybe this will somehow pass. But I knew it wouldn’t. Somehow I knew, this was it. Whatever the rest of my life might hold, it probably wouldn’t involve teaching. At least not science. Perhaps something else…
I thought about my spiritual progress of recent months. I could see how things had led nicely and neatly right up to today. The day I would lose my job. If that was, in fact, how things were to play out.
But what else would I do? How would I earn a living? The reality of my situation began to set in.
I had no other career ideas. I had no foreseeable way to make money.
My thoughts trailed off.
And then, just like that, my anger came back. And this time, it wasn’t directed at me.
In a burst of anger I blurted out, “This is YOUR fault, God.” I sat there quietly, my words hanging in the air. This is your fault.
In my mind, I imagined a voice say, Oh really? And how is that?
“Because,” I said out loud, “if we humans weren’t so damned confused about everything, none of this would be happening.”
I heard no answer in my mind, so I continued.
“What is happening to me? I just want to understand. Everything’s falling apart. What did I do wrong? Why is this happening?”
“I want to understand. And I want to help others understand. And what do I get? A bunch of freaking crap. That’s what I get.”
“I’m going to lose my job over this, God. I’m going to lose my damn job over this. Why? What did I do?”
The kitchen was dead silent.
I felt the tension begin to build in my body again. More tears were coming.
I put my head down and cried some more. I pounded my fist on the table, uttering a word I won’t repeat here. I uttered it many times, in fact.
I stood up, knocking my chair over in the process, and walked out of the kitchen.
I walked across the living room and opened the front door.
The sky was beginning to grow lighter. The air was chilly.
And there, standing on the mat outside the door, was the neighbor’s cat. Moses.
Dumfounded, I sank to my knees inside the door, looking out at the cat. Moses purred, rubbing his body along the door. I stared at the cat. My thoughts seemed to trail away. I felt the cool air on my face. The cat purred.
My mind snapped to attention. I’m losing it, I thought to myself. I think I’m losing it.
I can’t do this anymore. I give up.
“God,” I said with a raised voice. “I give up. You win. I can’t do it any more. I give up.”
I felt a chill run through my body. And another. And another.
More tears welled up in my eyes. My entire body was filled with chills. And it wasn’t just the cold air coming through the screen door. My body felt different.
In my mind, I heard the words, stand up, Harry.
I stood up. I knew it was my own imagination, but it felt right. So I stood up.
Now what?, I thought.
And in my mind, in my imagination, I heard the words that would change me forever.
Another wave of chills ran through my body, this one even stronger.
“Sue me?” I said out loud. “Is that what you said?” I realized I was talking to myself. But I imagined that I was talking to God.
“Do you want me to sue you?” I asked. There was no answer.
At least, I didn’t hear one. But I felt a surge of emotion. More chills, and I began to shake.
Again, a bit louder this time, I repeated “You want me to SUE you?” Still no answer. Only chills. Only trembling.
“God?” I said one last time. And then I was silent. For several minutes I stood there, not moving.
Then I stepped back and closed the front door.
I turned and walked slowly into the kitchen.
What just happened? I thought. Where did that thought come from?
I shook my head. What an odd thought to have.
I walked into the kitchen, picked the chair up off the floor, and sat down. Then I propped my elbows up on the table, put my head in my hands, and took a deep breath.
I had lost track of time. I looked at the clock – it was now 6:20. In less than an hour, I would know my fate. And yet somehow I already knew my fate. This wasn’t going to blow over. I knew it wouldn’t. By the end of the day, I would cease to be a science teacher.
And then what? I once again folded my arms down on the table in front of me and rested my head on them. Closing my eyes, I thought with a laugh, Well, I guess I’ll just have to sue God.
I smiled, and I felt my body relax. After all that had gone on that morning and the day before, it felt good to smile. The idea of suing God amused me. I took another deep breath. And another.
And then, just like that, I fell asleep.