Mr. X used the school’s PA system to call me from homeroom to the music room. I knew what it was about, but remained remarkably calm as I made my way down the hallways of our sad little school, the smell of damp and mothballs catching in the back of my throat.
[Confession: I had signed out one of the trumpets from the school’s collection over the weekend, and through a series of (then) hellish but ultimately (as in now) comedic events, managed to damage the instrument very badly.]
The music room was not, as I had expected, empty. There was a class in full swing and everyone went silent as I entered the room and found Mr. X standing in front of them, right next to the ruined horn. He’d propped it up in its case on a stool and opened the lid: a mangled metal mummy put on display for all to see.
[Confession: I was fully ready to cop to the damage I’d done. Had mentally prepared for it in the hallway. But something about Mr. X having the class ready in wait, as witness – something about the theatrics of the whole music room set up turned me around on that.]
“One thing you should know about me: I don’t get angry. I get even.” That was what he told every class at the beginning of the year. It was delivered as a joke, but not to be taken as such. Not entirely. Standing there, called out in front of the class (mostly kids I didn’t know, but I few I most definitely did), standing in front of the messed-up trumpet, in front of him, I now knew that for sure. It was hardly a joke.
[Confession: At first, I thought it was an extremely funny thing to say: “I don’t get angry. I get even.” That particular brand of sardonic humour was, like, so in back in the day.]
“Do you know what happened to this trumpet?” he asked, loudly, and without preamble. And of course I did because, not only had I done it (or rather, allowed it to happen), but my name was on the sign-out sheet for exactly one trumpet (though, to my great benefit, it had taken a day or two for that particular trumpet to make it back into class circulation).
The students whispered (“she did it!”). Some laughed.
“No,” I answered. “I don’t know.”
“Because it looks like someone’s beat the hell out of this thing.”
The teaching assistant (some young guy whose name must have been something like “Allan”) held up the sign-out binder. “It says you signed out a trumpet.”
“I did.” No lie there.
I remember the silence that engulfed the room as Mr. X, Allan and I stood there (a trumpet is not the trumpet, is not that trumpet, is it?). As the class quieted and settled in to watch.
I learned a lot about silence that day.
[Confession: My bowels had turned to ice. I was so sure they had me and would have probably admitted everything had Mr. X not chosen to speak in the very next moment.]
“OK. You say no. You say you don’t know. Go back to class.” It was clearly an admonishment, a small victory via public humiliation. But I think: his as well as mine.
He remains the only non-white teacher I ever had growing up (this includes elementary, middle and high school). So it also felt like a betrayal.
[Confession: I stopped taking music after that semester, although I signed out the exact same trumpet, (after they’d fixed it), at least twice more before the end of term using, of course, the new sign-out sheet in which date, name, instrument and INSTRUMENT NUMBER were prominently listed.]
Mr. X never mentioned the trumpet to me again. I never paid for the damages or was (officially) labelled the culprit. The other students quickly tired of the intrigue and scandal (such as it was in our pathetic little ‘burg) and moved on to the next thing, whatever that was.
A few years later, when I learned he died, and that he’d been killed in a skiing accident, I remember thinking: No way.
[Confession: But what I said was, “Just like Sonny Bono.”]
Yes. Just like Sonny Bono. I confess, I said that. I confess, I could have done better. I confess, that if in this whole story there is any fault to find or blame to assign, it’s not to be found anywhere I can imagine.
P.S. Fuck you, Allan.