An English Teacher, Somewhere
by Nina Oviedo
Moving from Ireland to Philadelphia was not an easy adjustment. You would get made fun of in school for your accent until it was forced to become that eastern drawl that hurt your ears the first time you heard it. It’s harsh and it doesn’t have an easy flow. Irish has an easy flow, it rolls right off your tongue, but you can’t speak with your accent here. People will say you’re too loud, too harsh.
Reading and writing don’t demand anything from you. You can write with your own accent and no one can blame you because the name on the page matches with the voice it is written in. You can read in your head with an accent that you can’t quite place because it’s not really any accent, just your thoughts, sharp or soft, depending on your mood, not on your origin.
Since Ireland was so far, distance covered only with the vast blue of an ocean you could easily drown in, you had to bring it to yourself. You had to create it in your own mind and image, bring it alive right in your third floor closet-sized apartment bedroom. You had to create it partially in your mother’s image, too, for she was in the room over, singing loudly, and you couldn’t ignore her. She was asking to be apart of your world just by existing in the reality you wanted to leave.
And, so, finding new worlds from reading and taking their broken pieces to put into your own reality became the only thing you knew how to do. In libraries, your favorite thing to do was find books pushed back, half hidden by others shelved with more priority, just so that you could crack them open to find the last time that someone had touched them. The satisfaction of knowing that you were the first in years to do so made up for the fact that the worlds within them were not home. They could be, for the short time you borrowed them, but they would always have to be reshelved eventually, and they’d have to wait again. For another you. Another you to come along and get off to the fact that they brought it back to life, found it again. Even though you were the first.
Sometimes a book was so perfect, so much like the front porch of your home, comfortable enough to sit for hours, always comfortable enough to come back, that you had to keep it. Shelved on your own bookshelf, sure to be touched every day by the longing hands of a boy desperate for home. It made you feel better that it was loved. It was a small gesture that made you feel more full, less incomplete than before you had it.
When you had to move to California, the same stress about your accent unearthed in you. But you were older now, people were supposed to care less.
The bookshelf with all the indefinitely borrowed books stayed intact. It even moved into your first classroom, which ended up being your last. You always told yourself that next year would be when you’d finally take the leap toward teaching at a university. You never did.
You couldn’t shake the worn building of room 923. You couldn’t shake the students that you met each year, so different, but always really the same. You couldn’t ever shake the strange Philadelphia and Irish hybrid accent that plagued your words, either. You had given up on hiding it. And your students couldn’t make fun of you for it, or you would fail them.
You were ruthless that way. Most of the kids didn’t like you. But you didn’t care. You deserved to do whatever you wanted after all the shit you put up with. That was your excuse. You’d tell yourself that over and over until you believed it.
You treated your class like a religion and introduced yourself as God. That is what writing and reading were to you, anyway, a religion that you couldn’t separate from. Catholicism was easy to get rid of, but words. Words always had something to say. And so you had no choice but to worship them in the only way you knew.
You left the only impression that you knew how to. You didn’t teach an honors class or an Advanced Placement college course. You taught tenth grade English until the day you retired. It was Macbeth every year. For sixty years. You’ve read Macbeth more than any other person surviving on Earth, you’re convinced. But you left an impression on every student. As God, as Satan. You didn’t know. But it gave you a purpose, and you didn’t need anything else. Just that classroom, and Macbeth, and the endless books that you made sure to touch every day, so that they were never forgotten. So that they never felt how you did after the end of each year by the students whose names you could never forget.
Every name was remembered. Every single one. And every word ever said to you or read to you. Every word that ever slapped you in the face or beat you or bruised you or ate you alive. Every single one.