Sub for Social Studies

by on March 21, 2024 :: 0 comments

“Do you think I need you?
I need you like I need cancer.”
What brought that on?
He looked like a white wall,
bald, eyes set far back, big hands, burly.
I don’t know what we’d done or not done
to make him say cancer.
I was sitting close to the wall, in back,
a sunny day, our room on the third floor,
Mr. O’Shea up front.
Mostly the eyes, not looking at us,
invited us to linger.
No one came up and took his hand,
or asked for an apology,
or looked out a window at cars
parked on a side street
that, ten years later,
was named for a beloved teacher
who died suddenly in a classroom
empty of students.
We sat still, Mr O’Shea,
sans clenched fists, stood
looking ready for a barroom brawl.
I think he said “need you like I need a cancer
running through my body.”
The logical question, did he have cancer?
Did he recently learn he had cancer?
Or someone in his family?
Isn’t that what cancer does?
If the battle becomes a losing battle,
it runs through a body,
as it was to do years later
in my father’s body, and in the bodies of
other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
Before Mr. O’Shea came into my life
I was a 13 year old freshman.
I remember, outside Algebra,
I’d always see this girl, Debra Cirhocki,
a junior. I knew her name. Her brother
Jeff was in my freshman class.
Debra, a permed wavy blonde,
face of a teen Kim Novak,
boobs that today I’d call striking.
Back then, push up bras, popular,
made Debra even more striking.
She was tall, not terribly tall,
but tall and straight, she seemed.
In the crowded hall, outside Algebra,
I was always looking up at her,
in a tight sweater, those stupendous boobs.
We never spoke,
I don’t think she knew who I was.
I got to know her younger sis
a little, who, though pretty, wasn’t striking.
Years later, a school reunion at a Radisson,
in a cozy bar, I asked Jeff about,
got up the nerve to ask about, Debra.
She’d battled cancer, and had died
ten years earlier. I remember,
2:15 in Social Studies, Mr. O’Shea,
a white shirt, a loose necktie, a sneer,
years before the pink ribbons.

editors note:

Things we think about when we think about cancer… (Congratulations to Pete! He has a new collection out now: Voices from the Past. You can get your copy here.) – mh clay

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