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Mr. Hale | Fiona Helmsley

Mr. Hale

Had I known more about fucking when I was thirteen, the age I was when I first met Mr. Hale, I would have wanted to fuck him, because that is what I do with older men, relate to them like surrogate fathers, or fuck them. The best relationships I have had with older men have been a melding of the two, because then I get to fuck, and I get to rebel, my two favorite things. But, being that I just thirteen years old, and didn’t yet know that outlet, my interest in Mr. Hale was less prurient. I only craved his attention and approval. Mr. Hale was my seventh grade English teacher. He smoked Lucky Strikes cigarettes, the outline of the circle insignia on the packaging always visible through the pocket of his button-down shirt, like a bull’s eye over his heart. Susceptible to great spasms of rage, I once watched in awe as he threw a male classmate into a row of lockers. He probably should have lost his job for this, but I suspect the boy’s parents didn’t care enough about him to raise a stink.

Mr. Hale was the first person to ever encourage my writing. During my seventh grade year of school, I read a lot of Stephen King and true crime, and was interested in suicide and Satanism. One day during math class, I was sitting in the back of the room, bored, and decided to write a poem:

It was so cold,
The world.
It felt like a thin sheet of ice
Strong enough to hold him underwater,
But easy enough to break.
And no one noticed,
Not his mom, who just drank.
And he’d think
Of nothing.
There was a crash.
A bottle broke.
His mother complained,
“You’re a clumsy pig!”
And he picked up the pieces
Of his life.
The sharp glass twinkled in the sunlight
As it passed his wrists the first time,
Then it turned red
Like an eclipse of the sun.
And no one noticed.

I cringe reading the poem now, but back then, Mr. Hale loved it. I’d never had a person gush like he did over anything I’d done. He suggested a few minor edits (“How about we change the last line from ‘no one noticed’ to ‘not one noticed,’ it will give it more gravitas,”) and made copies of the poem, handing them out to all of his classes. The poem was fast-tracked for publication in the school’s monthly writing magazine. I’d never been particularly good or bad at anything, and suddenly I was being told I had this thing: a talent. I was such a gifted writer, Mr. Hale prophesied, that if I kept at it, one day he would be able to buy a book of my poems. Dedicate them to me, he said.

So I began to write more, putting time and effort into my compositions, in a bid to please Mr. Hale and to prove myself worthy of his accolades. Once a week, I would bring him another poem like a tithe, looking for reassurance that his assessment was still the same, that he hadn’t changed his mind about me and my talent. He was like a broken gumball machine I’d put quarters in, unsure as to whether or not it would spit out the candy, but worth the risk because it was so good when it did. I became so attuned to Mr. Hale’s attention, that I noticed the way his personality shifted around other students, especially the prettier girls in class. I noticed how he treated them differently, in a way that had nothing to do with their writing or classwork. His bulldog persona would relax as he touched their shoulders, the smalls of their backs. He acted more like a friend or affectionate older brother than any kind of authority figure. When he sang “Angie,” by the Rolling Stones to the preternaturally well- endowed Angie Giovanni during class, I found myself jealous. While I had his attention for my writing, these girls had it for something else: their physicality. Too gawky and unattractive to compete on their level, on the level that I could compete on, with my writing, I staked my claim to Mr. Hale’s attention and I became cocky with it.

One day, during class, I challenged his praise of another girl’s writing in front of everyone. The story was supposed to be a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with the woods transposed to New York City, and the Wolf a mean orderly in Grandma’s nursing home. Too gorged on my own self-importance to bother with little formalities like raising my hand, I blurted out that the story was stupid and poorly written. I expected Mr. Hale to allow these kinds of remarks from me as the spoils of my talent. He had tolerated less- biting remarks from me in the past, but this time, I’d gone too far. The writer of the story was in the class with us. Mr. Hale exploded, and turned his legendary anger on me. He ripped me apart in front of everyone.

Cooling for a moment, he ordered that I report to his office at the end of the period.

“I have never, in all my years of teaching, heard a student be so rude and disrespectful about another student’s work. Are you jealous? Do you think you’re the only one in this class who’s talented? Well, you’re wrong, missy. Dead wrong.”

My cheeks burned. I felt like for a compliment from Mr. Hale to be real, I had to own it. For a compliment from Mr. Hale to be real, it had to be mine alone. I’d seen him less angry—if I’d been male, he probably would have hit me.

Over the years, my recounting of this event would morph and change with me.

I started to bawl in his office, big, heavy, ugly tears. Mr. Hale had built me up and now he was tearing me down. He walked over to his desk, picked up a box of tissues, and flung it in my direction.

“Pull yourself together. Never again. You have something negative to say about someone else’s work, you keep it to yourself.”

I was crying so hard I could hardly speak.

There was a knock on his office door, and Angie Giovanni waltzed in without waiting for an invitation. She and I were on- and- off friends, and I was mortified that Mr. Hale would let her see me in such a state.

“Clean yourself up,” he said, cavalierly tossing his words over his shoulder as he left the office, his arm wrapped comfortably around Angie’s slim waist.

In my most popular rewrite of this event throughout the years, at this point, Mr. Hale does not, in fact, leave the office. Instead, he pushes Angie out the door, annoyed by the intrusion. Hurriedly, he locks the door behind her, and with one quick motion, has me by my hair, bent over his desk. With his free hand, he yanks my pants and underwear down around my ankles. “This is what happens to girls who are disrespectful,” he says. Then he shows me, with his hard cock, from behind.

About Fiona Helmsley

Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like Ladyland and Air in the Paragraph Line and online at websites like Jezebel, Junk Lit, The Hairpin, and The Rumpus. Her book of essays, stories, and poems, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers is forthcoming in 2015.

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