“Richard Cory went home last night, and put a bullet through his head."
I loved it when Mrs. Evans read poems aloud to our Grade 8 English class. She easily held top honours as my most beloved teacher. The excitement she exuded about books, language and words propelled me into my own life long love affair with them.
The command of words, even when strung together simply, was not lost on either of us.
She delivered the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem, Richard Cory, passionately to the class. Her voice musically, lyrically, rose and fell as it exhaled the song of Richard’s life into the air.
Line by line, verse by verse, we strolled with Richard; through the smiling crowds, passed the envious stares and into the understanding, or perhaps the misunderstanding, of Richard Cory.
The class grew silent as we learned that Richard, the man that brimmed with confidence to the outside world, was truthfully hiding in sadness.
Mrs. Evans chalked the homework on the board as I sat at a table alongside my three best friends, Mary, Sarah and Yvonne, quietly rereading the poem to myself.
Muffled laughter soon interrupted my concentration. The weightlessness in the air after the poetry reading was being replaced with the snickers of the giddy girls seated around me.
“What’s so funny?” I asked my pals as I lifted my head.
Nothing was audible as each friend, ravaged by laughter, grappled for oxygen. From left to right, a folded note made its way around the table for the second time, from Yvonne, to Mary, to Sarah.
Mary had been the uncontested leader of our three-some until Yvonne relocated to the area a month earlier. Now Mary rode shotgun. Relegated to the sidecar, after Yvonne’s exotic, worldly tales of her move from South Africa rocketed her to the heights of cool. Mary hung on hungrily for the ride.
Sarah had grown up playing second fiddle to Mary so nothing had changed in her social standing. She was just thankful to be included in the role of attentive onlooker; the cheering section.
And I wasn’t quite sure where I fit anymore. Yvonne and I seemed very similar as far as school marks and humour went. We could make anyone laugh.
But there was one big difference. Yvonne didn’t care what anybody thought of her. Otherwise, I doubt she would have agreed when I suggested we meet up at her place each morning so we could walk together.
She lived in the only apartment building that edged our subdivision. I had never been in it before I met Yvonne. My parents thought it looked dangerous. Most of us had grown up in the area and lived in the neighbourhood of houses closer to the school.
I felt nervous each morning as I stepped off the elevator on her floor and headed down the dingy hallway. The apartments leaked the angry shouts of fighting adults, crying children, blaring TV’s and abrupt slamming of cupboards. Hers was no different.
Yvonne always answered when I knocked and would tell me to wait in the hall until she was ready. One morning her mother came to the door – her eyes were black with old makeup and she was still in her nightgown, her hair a mess. Yvonne didn’t say goodbye. Instead she seemed embarrassed as shoved her way passed, keeping her head down and we left quickly for school.
“Let me see the note” I pleaded with a smile as I reached across the table.
Mary and Sarah grew quiet as they shot their newly crowned leader a look. Yvonne thought for a moment, grinned and then tossed the note in my direction. They all looked at me with odd anticipation as I read what Yvonne had scribbled:
Roses are Red
Violets are Yellow
Leah’s so fat
She wriggles like Jell-o.
It took me a moment to absorb the message and when it hit, the words trampled me. I felt singled out, hurt, embarrassed … and in an instant …outcaste.
My heart kept beat with my runaway thoughts.
I somehow manage to force a quick recovery which included flipping the note indifferently back across the table.
“Ha! Ha!” I dismissed in a mocking, loud retort.
I hoped it was loud enough to mask my crushed feelings; loud enough to hide the thud as I fell from the safety of the group; and loud enough to conceal my shattered sense of trust.
No more came of it as far as they were concerned. Yvonne’s mom and boyfriend split and she moved away before the end of the year. Mary rose again with Sarah loyally wagging at her side. I continued to walk beside them and others in the halls as my school years played out. But inside me, a safe distance had been created and I kept it well guarded.
I’ve carried a valuable lesson with me, learned in that English classroom, that day, for my entire life.
Words, whether languishing in the gentle breeze of Mrs. Evans, rolling in the provocative tides of Edwin Arlington Robinson or used as weapons of mass destruction in the insecure hands of Mary, Sarah and Yvonne, are blessed, and burdened, with great power.
Bio: With luck on my side, I have been been a weekly humour columnist in the Trentonian for many years now. I\'ve been published through the U.S. & Canada but keep my day job as a small business coach. Other people play soccer, collect stamps or travel the globe ... my sport is writing.
Motivation:Small moments have huge impact.
Photo by:Sebastian Danon