In a different chapter of my life I was a high school English teacher. I started as a building sub at Charlestown High School in Boston and worked my way into a job, staying there for seven years. I loved being with the kids, but the bureaucratic tag team of the School System and the Teachers’ Union bludgeoned me until I headed for the suburbs. I taught for three years at Winchester High School, in the town of the same name, where Ginger’s church was. I stopped teaching when we moved to Marshfield because I didn’t want to commute across the city everyday, I wanted to write, and I was exhausted from the paperwork. Once I stopped being exhausted, I found out I was depressed.
Ginger and I were in Boston today. We were through with our tasks and I told her to wait in the lobby of the building while I went to get the car out of the parking garage. I stepped on to the elevator with a woman who looked familiar to me. About halfway to my floor, I realized who she was, or I thought she was – I hadn’t seen her in at least ten years. When she got off on my floor, I decided to chance it.
“Excuse me. Are you Dania?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, a bit puzzled and then her expression changed. “Mr. B-C!” she said and gave me a big hug. We stood and talked in the parking garage for ten or fifteen minutes. We talked about what we are both doing and some of where we had been since we saw each other. She also talked about our class acting out Much Ado About Nothing together and how she still goes to see Shakespeare plays when she can because of how much fun we had together.
It was fun. Our class was about sixty percent nonnative English speakers, so the Bard’s language was a challenge. I was new to teaching and desperate for ideas, so I tried most anything. We learned how to stage sword fight with dowel rods. We developed an ear for Shakespeare’s words by hurling insults at each other. Most of all, we didn’t read the play, we acted it out. At the end, the students had to do projects to show what they had learned. Audalio told the whole story in rap. Dania memorized a scene and performed it. When we were done, they understood what they had read and they were proud of it. I was too.
Dania is in television now. She asked if I was still teaching and I told her I was a chef. She started talking about food and how much she loves to cook. “There’s something about being in the kitchen that’s good,” she said.
She’s right. The kitchen, whether at home or at work, has been the one Depression Free Zone in my life. Something about the tactile work of cutting and chopping, the aromas of the sauces and spices, and the promise of food to share keep the monster at bay. Being in the kitchen is good. I came home to find some things in the garden ready to harvest, so I brought them in and went to cooking a Swiss Chard Bisque and what I call Turkabama Squash Croquettes. We ate well tonight.
What I miss about teaching is being in the classroom with students, talking about things that matter, being a part of helping them discover who they are, laughing together, learning together, and helping them live through high school. But I couldn’t live through high school from my end. I lost more ground than I gained each day. What I love about being in the kitchen is making something out of whatever it is I have, filling up the house or the restaurant with promising smells, creating meals that bring people together and feed my friends and family. Making dinner may not change lives in the same way as teaching did, but if feeds rather than drains me.
As I try to discern what the next chapter for me will be, I’m grateful for a chance encounter on the elevator to help me remember what has been.