I didn’t tell my parents because back in those days if you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble at home, too.
Mr. Vasquez’ dark eyes twinkled when he listened, ensuring you were the only girl in school and the most important. We called our handsome speech teacher Mr. V.
Every day he wore a bright green tie printed with various sized question marks. If he passed you in the hall or caught you after class, he’d wave the tie and ask, “What’s the answer?” An extemporaneous practice exercise, he expected to be told something he didn’t know about you.
He waved the tie at me after class one day.
“I’ll tell you, but you can’t tell anyone.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” He winked as he straightened his tie.
“I have a crush on Teddy Strickland.” My face flushed hot. I’d never spoken that aloud before. Even my best friends didn’t know, but I knew I could trust Mr. V.
The next afternoon I passed a group of kids whispering behind their hands and pointing at me.
“Mr. V told us you like Teddy,” one girl said, laughing.
“He has a really big mouth.” Hurt and embarrassment shook my voice. At least it was Friday and things might die down before Monday.
I waited until the last minute to enter his classroom that day. He’d betrayed and embarrassed me. I’d never speak to him again.
The tomb silent atmosphere in the room stopped me cold. Every student sat bolt upright in their desk, facing straight ahead. I barely slid into my seat before the bell rang.
Mr. V stood before the room grasping his tie with both hands. An expression of frigid death replaced his normal, dreamy smile.
He glared at Steve Smith, first row, first chair. “Was it you?”
Steve shook his head.
He then addressed Mary, who sat behind Steve. “Was it you, Mary?”
She shook her head as well.
He proceeded from student to student asking the same question. The tension crept up the back of my neck as he got closer and closer to my seat.
I whispered to Amber, sitting behind me. “What’s going on?”
“He said someone ‘vilified’ him, whatever that means,” Amber whispered.
Just as the student sitting in front of me shook his head, my voice from before the weekend slipped into my terrified mind. Mr. V has a big mouth. I gasped as I realized that must be his problem, and now mine.
I stood to my feet and opened my mouth to confess and put everyone out of their misery. The black glare in his eyes scared away my voice.
Strangeness in Mr. V’s classroom became the norm after that. He began to sit in a corner of the room and barricade himself behind his desk with furniture and equipment. He rarely spoke a word after that, at least not in my classroom. We’d find the subject for our speech practice on the chalkboard. He’d give the first half of the hour to prepare, and then he would point when it was your turn to speak.
A few weeks later a substitute took his place. We were told that Mr. Vasquez would not be returning. That afternoon I found his green tie looped through the lock on my locker.
My junior high heart absorbed guilt like a sponge. I’d ruined my speech teacher by calling him names. As an adult I know that it wasn’t my fault. He should have been used to that from students. Perhaps it was a nervous breakdown that no one saw coming. Nevertheless, the experience marked me for life. I’m known to be a woman of few words.
When I’m dead and gone, my children will find this story, along with a green, question marked tie in an envelope marked Ephesians 4:29.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
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