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An Open Letter to Mr. Schaeffer

Dear Mr. Schaeffer,

There's a kid in one of the houses behind my apartment building who's learning to play the trumpet. It sounds terrible. And it keeps reminding me of you.

It's reminding me of how exciting it was to leave class early once a week with the other flute players (the flautists!), especially in fifth grade when we had Sister Mary. It's reminding me of how, unlike us shorter people on permanent lockdown, you weren't there all day, every day, and I always wondered where you went when you left. Did you go home? Did you go to another school to teach kids in different uniforms how to play their brass, woodwinds, reeds, percussion? How in the world did you know how to play so many instruments?

Remember how you always tried to make us tap our toes to keep the rhythm as we played, and none of would do it because it looked dorky? I get that now. I didn't turn out to be much of a musician but I write poetry, which is not that different from music. Or anything else that matters, really. Finding your rhythm is, like, everything.

Mr. Schaeffer, I'll tell you the truth — when I was 12 I thought you were really old. But it occurs to me now that maybe you weren't, and that maybe that was the reason you sometimes looked more freaked out than our other teachers — because you were hung over, or lovesick, or wondering if you would ever find a job where the pay wasn't so sucky. You even taught us about sex, sort of, when you took the seventh grade teacher with fluffy hair out on a date and after that, whenever you two were in the same room, you couldn't look at each other ever again. Health class was never so revealing.

Anyway, the reason I'm writing is because of the time I came to class crying. One of the boys had just been making fun of me and my slow-to-get-going womanly figure. I was trying to play but I kept tearing up, and it was really embarrassing. I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone why I was upset, but you decided to start class that day with an announcement anyway. With me and Anne and Maureen and Michelle looking up at you you said, "Right now the boys are busy torturing the girls and the girls are busy learning to be decent, sensitive people. And in a few years those same boys will want to date you but you'll all like the older guys instead, and then those boys will be very sorry." We actually weren't quite ready for that information, which is what made it so great.

I guess I'm feeling my version of Christmasy this week, 'cause I keep remembering that one holiday concert in the cafeteria when we all wore Santa hats, including you, and I wanted to say thanks. I can only imagine how irritating we all were, but you were always so decent and sensitive. You were the first person who made me think that it could be fun to be a grown-up. And you know what? Sometimes it is.


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