D Minus | Teen Ink

D Minus

February 12, 2019
By sknerr GOLD, Princeton, New Jersey
sknerr GOLD, Princeton, New Jersey
15 articles 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take -Wayne Gretzky" -Michael Scott

Nothing gave him more whooping joy than sitting in the waning hours of the night with a stack of analytical essays to grade. He dropped the needle on the outer ring of the Armstrong vinyl, let the soft trumpets seep out of the ancient instrument, and sipped a mug of hot cocoa. Each word came under the careful scrutiny of his red Sharpie, each dependent clause was minced up and torn apart and ever so carefully pieced back together again. The result was a patchwork syntax, his own writing stretched over the skeletal remains of his students’. 

The next day, when he handed back the papers, the saturated eyes of his students met his. The students whined a lot. They whined that he graded too harshly, that he went out of his way to find flaws, that he wasn’t on their side. They whined that he was setting them up to fail, that he was bulldozing their path to college. As much as he wanted them to succeed, he tuned out the mosquitos. 

The only person he talked to about this obsession was Dr. Duvall. Lying back in the chair, a little too tall for it, his psychiatrist rambled on in a voice that sounded like an old farmer on a Montana ranch. He didn’t listen to most of what Dr. Duvall said. Sometimes he caught words like “obsessive” and “disorder” and “illness,” but most of the time he was comatose. At the end of each session, Dr. Duvall always said to take the pills he prescribed. But the bottle remained unopened on the kitchen counter, the pills trapped by that baby proof lid. 

The students’ parents often intervened. In response, he said that he wanted the best for their children, that they needed to see what failure looked like in order to taste success. It was bittersweet, he told them. He never mentioned the swooping elation, the vinyl, the hot cocoa. Fair enough, the parents said, and they left his office neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, expecting the red to decrease as the year went on. 

But if anything, it grew. Euphoria at 4:30 A.M., his Sharpie striking through the double-spaced 12 point Times New Roman of his pupils, choking their prose like a boa constrictor. Near the end of the school year, a student whined that he couldn’t even see his own writing under the red. He told the student to stop complaining and revise, and they spent long hours deciphering to make their work flawless. 

But he didn’t know the word “flawless.” He only asked them to revise so he could experience more unbridled joy. Grading the same paper twice, or thrice, or a hundred times couldn’t take away from his happiness. Each vertebra ached from hunching over the desk, his heart bludgeoning his ribcage. Sleep was merely a concept, something someone had told him about long ago. He flipped to the B side of Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy, and subconsciously hummed along to the sensual rhythm. He raised the mug so it touched his nose, letting the last bittersweet drop of cocoa trickle down his throat. With a glance at the pills on the counter, he picked up his mug to go make some more.

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