They weren’t Christmas gifts, they were end of year gifts, but the spirit is the same. In fact, I’d intentionally not bought anything for any of my teachers for Christmas because I didn’t want to look like I was sucking up. I figured the end of the year would be safe.
They were my teachers and even Miss Grace, the youngest teacher I’d ever had, was ten years older than I was. At fourteen, ten years is a very long time. Ten years is still a long time. So I really couldn’t imagine what they would want. It was hard to understand them as people, though I was beginning to get a glimpse. As always before, I fell back on my standby of drawing.
When I got to high school, in addition to being “the creepy girl” and, a year later, once I started fencing, “the girl who plays with swords,” I was known as “that girl who draws weird shit.” For some reason, the second part didn’t make it to the teachers.
They never seemed to notice that I was drawing people turned forcibly inside out, or little girls trapped in holes, or once: a woman naked and lying on the floor, menstrual blood streaming down her legs, needles stuck in in every inch of her body, pinning her to the ground with blood spilling from those holes as well. I don’t know what happened to that drawing. I think it scared me enough that I threw it away as soon as I finished drawing it. I’m kind of glad.
To the teachers, I guess I was just the girl who draws.
For Miss Grace I thought I should draw something fun and colorful, so I gave her a humorous drawing of Noah’s Ark, splitting at the seams with children (I figured a guy that old had to have dozens of grandchildren) and animals stalking each other.
For Mr. McGinnus though, I had larger plans.
Under Mr. McGinnus, we had lively interesting conversations that made me take notice even when I wasn’t drawn to the text. He drew these ridiculous graphs on the board. Three circles representing the different kinds of love: Eros, Amor, Agape. A sliding scale to show how the dragon is the anti-king becuase while the dragon hoards gold, the (good) king wants to keep it in circulation. Might even have his head on the coin.
I don’t explain this to sing the praises of a good teacher, though I should, and the world could certainly use more of them. I explain all this to show how I went from point A: Noah’s Ark, to point B: something nastier.
See, Mr. McGinnus taught me to analyze things, and as I saw it, Mr. McGinnus liked things complicated. Kids liked to say that Mr. McGinnus could read deeper meaning into the Lion King, and he did too. When he heard the challenge, he brought in his daughter’s video and showed us how the Lion King was simply another Eden story, with the disruptive female destroying the garden.
So I figured I needed to draw something that Mr. McGinnus could analyze if I wanted him to enjoy it. Take a look at literature, or even just look at the books we read Freshman year. A book of Greek Myths, BeWulf, Romeo & Juliet. I never got around to reading Great Expectations. In the things I did read, war and death were prominent.
I drew him a war. I sat two people down at a chess board – not God and the Devil or Death, just two people, and around them I cast a whole bloody group of people acting out their war. The pawns, naturally, were children. Looking with an adult’s eyes, I can say with some confidence that it was pretty horrible.
I worked on that thing for WEEKS. It didn’t occur to me until, oh I dunno, sometime this month, that it must have been a pretty disturbing thing to get from a fourteen year old.
He never mentioned it, which didn’t seem strange since I gave it to him the day before summer break and I wasn’t in his class the next year. Did he throw it away? Keep it and brood? Actually hang it on the wall somewhere?
I wonder if he stopped liking me after that. Maybe he thought it was a cry for help, or, worse, a declaration of violent intent. I wonder If I frightened him when all I wanted to do was give him something he’d like.
Mr. McGinnus left before my junior year, moved to California. Later that year, my classmates sat rooted to our seats in physics, listening to the radio account of Kip Kinkle opening fire on his classmates, twenty minutes away from our high school. For the next year and a half, kids were watched like criminals, any strange behavior got you put on a watch list. Anything beyond strange could get you expelled. Columbine only made it worse, and brought back the fear of the Thurston shooting, which suddenly was supposed to be no big deal by comparison. It wasn’t only the teachers, I watched my classmates too, wondering who could explode someday and take the rest of us with us. I had waking nightmares where we lined up for graduation and someone behind a spotlight started gunning us down.
If Mr. McGinnus hadn’t left, would I have ended up on a watch list? There’s no denying I was strange. Some of the kids even seemed to be afraid of me, because I wasn’t like them. I encouraged it: fear is so much better than scorn. I can probably never know what he thought of that drawing. I only hope sometime he realized that, creepy or not, it was meant to be a gift. Not a threat.