I remember the first time that I ever saw my teacher outside of school.
I was in the third grade and my teacher was Miss Liebel. She had been my teacher in first grade, too. I loved her so much. I loved her handwriting. She didn’t write like other teachers who had engrained the proper elementary school penmanship on their brains just yet. She wrote the “L” of my name with a tiny loop on the top and a huge, round loop on the bottom–like she was starting my name with a penny-farthing. Also, I felt really special that her name and mine were so similar.
She always had a Diet Coke sitting on her desk and would pass around a big jar of loose Sixlets when we were having trouble focusing. She said they were Pay Attention Medicine and I think it really worked. For a long time I wasn’t sure if she was really giving us medicine or not and wondered if I should tell my mom.
I was obsessed with Miss Liebel. In retrospect she was my first crush. Once, when it was time to leave the classroom, I gave her a hug and said, “Bye, I love you!” like I did for my parents when I left to go to school. I was mortified. In retrospect, it’s kind of like when the barista says, “enjoy your coffee!” and you say, “Thanks, you too!” And then feel like an idiot. But I didn’t know that was such a normal part of life in the third grade.
Halloween came along in my third grade year and I was a clown. Those of you who know me know that I hate clowns with an unending passion but that hadn’t started just yet so I was fine. My mom is a master seamstress and made all of us these hilarious clown costumes that were basically big squares with holes at every corner for our hands and feet to poke through, respectively. I loved it.
We lived in a really small town where we were basically allowed to trick-or-treat at any house that we wanted to whether we knew the people or not. If the porch light was on, we would ring the bell.
We stopped at a house that I’d never been to before and when we rang the doorbell, who answered the door but Miss Liebel? I was gobsmacked. Because when school is over, Miss Liebel dematerializes and floats to the ground like a pile of sawdust until the next day when the bell rings and then she comes back to life to teach me how to spell “castles” (that was one of my most favorite spelling words).
I even remember that she was wearing an oversized B.U.M. sweatshirt, leggings, and slouchy socks. It was the mid-90’s after all. I’m sure that the fact that this is my current favorite outfit is no coincidence. My face flushed and I’m sure heart shaped bubbles accumulated around me and popped in the air around my head releasing a rain of pink glitter. I was completely starstruck by her.
As she was passing out candy to my siblings, I glanced inside her house and I saw… horror of all horrors… a shirtless man walking across the back of the house holding a beer can. A boyfriend? Did my teacher have a boyfriend? Oh my gosh. And he drank beer? And he’s shirtless in her house? The disgrace.
I mean, from the lens that I had available to me in the third grade, it was just abject horror. But to be honest, I was grateful that this image broke the crush I had on her. I was probably acting like a total weirdo up until that point, so it was probably a relief to her, too.
Even though I was disappointed in her perceived premarital behaviors at the time, I did feel lucky to get to see a little glimpse into her real life. That’s the kind of thing that I’ve been chasing my whole life. I just want to see behind the curtain. I want to know what people are like when they’re not putting on a show. I want to know what you wear when you’re home for the day. What kind of beer are you drinking? What do you watch on TV when you’re all alone and you only want to decompress? Do you watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, too? Do you feel sorry/ not sorry about it, too? Do you have nights when you wonder when you became the primary grown up in your life, too? Even though most of the time you know that you’re really killing it?
That’s all of us. We’re so many variations of ourselves. We contain multitudes.