Patty, a sixteen-year-old high school student with a difficult academic record, was about to learn a lesson in love in the most unexpected of surroundings. A volunteer stint at a local hospital brought her a sense of reward, but not in the context that she had signed up for. This was despite putting on a whole other image, that Patty had yet to find out the reason for. Within the course of an afternoon, she was to learn the value of not making assumptions based on another person’s external actions.
How to Blush
Patty felt the skin on her face flush. She had asked the math teacher what page they were on, and he had again laughed at her. This was the second time this week that he had humiliated her in front of the class.
She knew that it wasn’t just her, that he embarrassed other students as well, but it just really felt like he had a personal vendetta against her. Although, as she reminded herself, he had actually kicked the underside of a student’s desk for passing a note to his neighbor the week prior.
Lack of Focus
At that moment, Patty furiously gathered her belongings and went towards the door. The teacher stopped her and asked where the heck she was going. Patty yelled that she was leaving early, to which the teacher responded that that wasn’t happening.
He then sat her down and proceeded to yell at her about her supposed lack of focus. He claimed that she was spending her time daydreaming out of the window when she should have been thinking about her future. Patty again blushed. Jim really had a gift for making people feel tiny.
The teacher then fell quiet and scribbled an endless list of numbers onto a piece of scratch paper and roughly handed it to Patty. She wondered what this could be about.
Before she could ask, he told her that she would be completing these pages in the textbook by the next week, or else, he threatened. Patty felt her stomach drop to the floor as she read the list through tears in her eyes. That would be her weekend right there.
Don’t Ever Tell Anyone Anything
Patty ran to English and half listened to her teacher drone on about “The Catcher in the Rye”. She’d read the book years prior, which gave her the advantage of not needing to pay attention while the class pretended to have an opinion on exactly what constituted a phony person.
Math used to be fun, she recalled. They’d had an amazing teacher for the first half of the year who got to know each of her students individually. She got them involved in side projects that applied to what they were currently studying. This woman was an inspiration to her students and had the gift of leaving them inspired by numbers. Math was as a result a very enjoyable class, and for the first time Patty excelled in the subject.
Jim the Monster
Most unfortunately, that teacher had had to go on maternity leave two months prior, leaving the school with Jim the monster. Maybe monster was a strong word, but he was certainly an unpleasant character.
Patty still remembers the way that he walked in the classroom for the first time, a worn tweed jacket hanging awkwardly from his slender frame. The jacket was complete with elbow patches and orthopedic shoes. In addition, his breath always smelled like raw onion, which made him very difficult to talk to without feeling nauseous.
To the Point of Tears
But it was to the weaker students that the teacher was especially challenging. He was relentlessly assigning homework, to the point that a few less mathematically inclined students were regularly brought to the point of tears.
Jim didn’t allow for any shenanigans in his classroom. For him, this did not only include people using their phones in class or speaking out of turn. One especially memorable day, Patty’s classmate received a text message saying that his mother had just given birth to his baby sister. Jim confiscated the phone until the end of class.
Jim also didn’t allow his students to leave the classroom unless there was a medical emergency, and even that was iffy. Most of the class had come down with a highly contagious flu towards the end of winter and was feeling generally unwell.
He took personal offence to any request to go to the school nurse for medication. It wasn’t until a girl seated in the front row collapsed from exhaustion that she was allowed to leave the room with an escort.
A Missed Mall Day
The extra homework left Patty home all weekend studying in her teddy bear pyjamas feeling sorry for herself. She was in the middle of the assignment when she got a call from her best friend asking her where she was and whether she’d forgotten about their plans to go to the mall.
Patty told her the story of the encounter with their math teacher, which left her friend indignant. They agreed that the teacher was incredibly unfair and a miserable old man with no joys left in the world. She hung up the phone, sighed audibly, and got back to her math.
The following Monday back at school, Patty was dragging her feet to get to math class. She was exhausted from having spent the weekend doing schoolwork, essentially having no time to refresh after a difficult week. The student was feeling especially resentful towards Jim as a result, and really wasn’t in the mood for his nonsense.
Patty was the first person to witness him yelling at another student in the hallway, and she wasn’t the type to let these sorts of occasions alone. The other student was left cowering getting spittle on his face as Jim was bellowing about ineptitude at the top of this lungs.
The Best of Intentions
Jim entered his classroom to get ready, and the student ran down the hallway in tears. Patty had half a mind to chase her down and asked what happened, but her common sense got the better of her.
She would hate to be late for class as a result. That was Patty though, she always wanted to do good around her and hated seeing injustice at work.
Bullying Days Over
After lunch, she again passed by the math classroom on the way to Spanish class, and this time saw Jim shouting after her good friend Jane. That was the last draw. She marched over to the teacher and got right up in his face, blood boiling. Patty told him off, letting him know that she was fed up with him bullying his students.
Jim kept an exasperatingly calm face and let her know that she would be completing the extra homework she’d already been assigned in Saturday detention. At that moment, Patty didn’t care, she’d gotten her little piece of retaliation.
Not the Autobahn
That evening, Patty got in her car and carefully drove to the hospital for her new gig volunteering at the blood drive. She had gotten her license a few weeks prior and still felt a little shaky behind the wheel.
Patty thought nearly longingly of her German penpal who had spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel before even thinking about taking her driving test. Patty shook her head and carefully made her way down Main Street, getting out of the way of a city bus and nearly hitting a cyclist in the process. Shaking for the second time today, she pulled into the hospital parking lot and showed her pass to the attendant.
I’m a Big Kid Now
Patty now spent three afternoons a week at the local hospital running the blood drive as extra credit to compensate for her low math grades. Though it was difficult when she first started, the activity brought her tremendous satisfaction.
She had even stopped feeling woozy at the sight of the bags of refrigerated blood, though it still reminded her of Twilight. She had made friends at the hospital too, people she could relate to very well outside of school. She liked being treated as an adult and being given full responsibilities outside of school and housework.
The student generally enjoyed helping people. She was the first person to volunteer to help her neighbor Celia, an eighty three year old woman who had a serious hip problem.
She needed assistance doing her shopping and running errands, so Patty always made sure to pick up some extra essentials when she was at the grocery store with her parents, though this tended to annoy them. Both were quite busy, and money was tight these days, so they didn’t always approve of Patty’s do-gooder actions.
This wasn’t one of her volunteer days, but Patty had decided to go to the hospital to give blood. After all she’d already helped a few donors with the process and was ready to go through it herself.
For some reason she felt oddly nervous being on this side of the counter. She greeted the receptionist and filled out the endless forms that she’d been giving people to fill out. These were quite invasive questions, she thought, but being in great health, she had nothing to hide.
Awkward Small Talk
After she’d finished the donation, she decided to go for a quick stroll around the hospital to check in on her friends. She turned the corner to the nurse’s station and said hi to a woman she didn’t know. They made generic small talk about the hospital bureaucracy and that morning’s hail.
The nurse then asked Patty where she went to school, which elicited an extremely enthusiastic response. Patty was confused, it was a good school but that was the end of it.
A Gentle Soul
The nurse then asked if she knew Jim. Even more perplexed, Patty responded with a hesitant yes. The nurse gushed about how amazing a person he was. Patty was confused and asked for more details.
She was then told that Jim was an extremely kind man with a very gentle and giving nature. Patty asked if we were still talking about Jim the math teacher, though there was no other employee named Jim at her high school.
A Kindred Spirit
Patty drove home with her head filled with thoughts worsened by the dizziness caused from giving blood. She again nearly got in a wreck, and strongly considered traveling by bicycle from then on. That night, she fell asleep thinking about what the nurse had said and decided that it was either a misunderstanding or a bad joke.
An agitated sleep later, and she was back in Jim’s math class. He was pleased, Patty was being oddly attentive. But in fact she was merely observing him for signs of a hidden kindred spirit.
New Sights, Familiar Names
She headed back to the hospital that afternoon for her volunteering shift, thinking she should maybe consider asking for an assigned parking spot. On the way to the office to put in the request, she saw a wall of plaques she’d never seen before.
These things rarely struck her interest, but it gave her something to look at while she was sat in the waiting area. Scanning the wall, she saw a familiar name.
In the place of honor happened to be her math teacher’s name. Wondering what it was doing there, she asked the first nurse who passed by. She answered that he was a very important person in the hospital.
Patty inquired whether it was because he was a frequent blood donor, which was confirmed by the nurse. But then the nurse added that that wasn’t the main reason his name was on the wall.
High School Blood Drive
The following week, Patty was again at the hospital at a late hour. She had decided to organize a special evening at the hospital where her classmates could donate blood.
Patty was hoping to catch a few other socially aware students and help them see that they could also get involved in the drive. She walked through the hallways looking for masking tape to hang the welcome banners when she saw a face she did not expect.
Who was it that was walking down the hall but her detested math teacher, at least partially confirming what the nurse had said. Patty decided to hide behind a desk as she had no desire to speak to him.
She saw plenty of him during school time, and given the miserable time he had been giving her lately, it really wasn’t the most appropriate time to start making small talk. She was still extremely angry at him and his behavior towards her and the other students.
Strangers and Three Musketeers
At the end of the drive, which had been fairly successful, Patty was sweeping the hallway in the reception area when she then saw a tall figure holding a baby walking towards her, and the face she saw gave her the chills.
She couldn’t avoid him this time, it would have seemed very dodgy to turn around and start running, broom in hand. Instead of the cruel and gruff face that she had grown so accustomed to, she saw an elderly man with a kind face lovingly embracing an infant.
Something had to be wrong, she wondered if perhaps Jim had an identical twin brother. When she was greeted with a smile that looked foreign on her teacher’s face, she understood what the nurse had told her.
Jim, with a slightly sheepish grin, told her that she’d found out his secret. Patty gave him a puzzled look and let him finish his explanation. It turned out that Jim was a frequent volunteer in the infant ward. He spent extensive time holding and cuddling sick babies when their parents were unable to care for them. Patty was shocked.
Jim’s Turn to Blush
Jim looked slightly embarrassed at the reveal and asked her not to tell anyone at the school, that he had a reputation to uphold. Patty laughed and said that if anything, this would improve the reputation in question.
Jim tried to scowl but was unconvincing, and explained that this was important to him. He felt that he needed to be around the children, that they made it all better. Patty asked what “it” was. Jim sighed. Life, he answered. The day to day. The job.
Patty asked him to explain further. She was given a response that satisfied her curiosity. Jim was a Vietnam veteran and had seen things he wished on no one. This had made him lose faith in humanity, to the extent that he had no desire to be married.
But being around the children made up for his lack of a family, he didn’t need to speak to them, they just needed to be held and comforted in their time of illness. He was happy to play that role in their lives.