Part I - The Shooting
One bullet shattered the glass front door. Two others hit our exterior concrete wall, peeling away the pale blue paint. A fourth bullet hit the sidewalk where it was already cracked. The police never found that one. A fifth bullet shot up and chipped the corner of a window on our second deck. No one noticed the chip for a while; it was covered up on the inside by a pile of books thrown hastily on the windowsill. We’d find that hole months later when the January snow started to blow in.
Only the sixth bullet seemed deliberate. It went through the front window of Admiral’s office. Admiral might have been called Principal if this were any other school, but we are Anchor Academy. Calling him Admiral fit the Navy theme that was meticulously sewn into every fiber of our being.
Admiral had not been in danger during the shooting. He left early that day since the female office employees couldn’t stick around after dismissal.
The bullet put a sloppy spiderweb pattern in his window where it entered. It then ricocheted off of a pilot's helmet resting on top of an empty bookshelf, blew through a picture frame displaying a photo of Admiral playing football in high school, and finally lodged itself in the F key of his dust-covered keyboard.
Plastic chips from the destroyed keyboard sprayed all over the half-finished form on Admiral’s desk. It was the official “Appointment of Military Police Leadership” document. Admiral had announced the student he chose for that coveted role earlier that day.
The shots came around eighteen hundred hours. The police knew this because one teacher was still in the building when it happened. She was safely hidden away in her second-deck classroom, but close enough to hear the popping gun and breaking glass echo up through our metallic stairwell. She had been in deep concentration crafting an email, so the popping didn’t register to her as gunfire. She also heard the bullet hit the corner of her window, but she assumed it had just been a bird.
Her loose, blonde curls bounced with their typical determination as she left her room. She marched into our hall and down our stairs. She expected to find that some typical annoyance had caused the sounds. Perhaps some students were roughhousing in our hallway after hours. Perhaps one of the trophies had fallen over inside our mostly-empty display case.
The clip-clop of her echoing heels slowed and deepened as she exited our stairwell. For a moment, she froze completely. Like a dream, it felt familiar but looked nothing like it should. She took three more steps forward—her heels now producing long, deep booms in her ear. The atmosphere stood still, but she pulled herself through it. She looked at our front entrance and through our jagged glass-shard door frame. October’s dim twilight cast harsh shadows in the empty street. For a moment, there was a surreal peace. Then, a sudden gut-punch-revelation consumed her: danger—any danger—could quietly be out there.
She turned and race upstairs to grab her cellphone call the police. Her body didn’t move as quickly as she told it to. She felt her abdomen twist achingly. Her legs desperately tried to fight the freeze that was climbing into them. Her heels boomed slowly against our floor. She counted the steps, one...two...three. The harder she fought, the faster the steps echoed and the higher their pitch became. Eventually, she was back to clip-clopping like a drum roll.
Her curls moved less than before, as though tiny weights had been tied at their ends. They would, in fact, never bounce the same way again.
Part II - MOS: Danzel Johnson
"You just as beautiful as I remember," I said to my Buffalo wings.
The steam was still swirrlin’ up off of her like tornados of pleasure. The road-cone orange sauce was slowly runnin’ down the edges and fillin’ up e’ry little crease. The heavy smell gave the inside of my nose a spicy brush-burn. This was the grease pit of Eden.
This hole-in-the-wall cafe was walkin’ distance from our apartment. My parents was at work in the afternoons, so on a fine summer day like today, I was here. They had plastic lawn furniture on the inside. E’ry time I sat on one of these hard white chairs durin’ the day, my butt fell asleep. But, the rest of me felt alive. It was the tingle of summer.
“You all amazing. E’ry last one of ya,” I said, pinchin’ a drumstick in one hand and a flat in the other.
Some people like to argue if drumsticks or flats is better. I won’t hear none of that. They all have a special place in my mouth. Drumsticks are easy access and got that extra crunch. Flats make you work a little harder, but the juicy reward between the bones is always worth it. I’ve never taken a wing for granted, so I shoved these two in my mouth at the same time.
“Just think,” I said to the drumstick bone, chewin’ her meat, “at this very time in two weeks, I won’t be listenin’ to the cooks in the back arguin’ about who gonna change the oil.” I turned and looked at the bones of the flat. “Instead, I’ll be listenin’ to teachers say, ‘Danzel, where’s your homework?’ or ‘Danzel, what’s that smell?’ Like, you know I farted. Why you gotta roast me like that?”
I looked up at the yellow-stained drop ceilin’. I shook my head.
“If only the world could come here and share a plate with me,” I said and grabbed another wing. “You wings can calm the angriest man. You fix all the problems.”
I took a bite.
“The whole world is yellin’ about what Trump been sayin’ in this campaign. E’rybody on my block thinks he just hates us Blacks.”
I held a drumstick straight up and down. It looked a little like Donny, his’self.
“That might be true. But, I bet it’s just because he never shared a plate of Buffalo wings with a Black man. If I could get him in this room with me, I know we could work it out.”
I looked through the front window, covered in brown streaks.
“I ain’t ready to go back,” I said to the last two wings. “We out here, livin’ our best lives together. Then all of a sudden, my plate will be empty and I’ll be back in the Brig.”
I squinted my eyes at the sun until I was a little blind.
“Sure,” I said to the wings, “we’ll still see each other when I’m back in school. But it’ll different. It’ll only be sometimes. And it won’t be whenever we want.
It’ll be like when your favorite movie gets played on TV. Yeah, it’s great to watch it, but it’s watered down and sucks more. There’s commercial breaks and—worst of all—the f-bombs get replaced with the word “funk” so it’ll be suitable for kids. How funkin’ trash is that?”
I picked up the pennyultimate wing and started eatin’ her. I always ate the first wings too fast and wished I had more when I got to the end. I know these moments don’t last forever, so I do my best to appreciate ‘em. That’s why I overlooked the fact that the cashier had the audnastity to ask if I wanted blue cheese or ranch dressing (if you gotta ask, you a dumbass with no class).
I gnawed the last bite off of the last wing. I jumped up and tossed my paper plate in the garbage. I pushed my way out the glass front door and into the sticky heat of August.
Part III - MOS: Chana Tozen
"The Institution-the kids-the teachers," Admiral said to me with absent eyes. He moved his flattened hand lower and lower as he mentioned each group. “That’s the order of importance at this school. Is that an issue for you?” His hand lowered to his crotch and started scratching.
“No, sir,” I answered with one head shake. I could tell I seemed stiff. I was always stiff in job interviews.
“Good!” he said. He looked at a flip-phone with his non-crotch-scratching hand. He kept talking to me from the right side of the table as he read the screen.
“We think we’re pretty special around here.” Admiral said and snapped the phone shut. He glanced back over at me. “Why do you think we think we’re special?” He tucked the phone into the pocket of his green camouflage jumpsuit.
Fortunately, I had stayed up all night reading the Anchor Academy website. I was going to nail this question.
“The Junior ROTC program!” I half-shouted. I over-corrected my volume with a half-whisper. “The Naval program the students are a part of here—that’s what makes you special.” I got the volume right on the third try. “I didn’t know anything about the program before researching Anchor Academy. I imagine the students are very disciplined at this school.”
“DISCIPLINE!” Admiral spat. He shot up, and shook his fist. “No one has it anymore.” He slowly descended back into his seat. “No one, but us.”
I was startled from his outburst. Two other women were sitting at the table. They seemed unfazed.
“You can’t teach anything unless there’s discipline.” Admiral said. He had calmed himself down. “And if you can’t teach anything, you aren’t a school. That’s why it’s the Institution first, before the kids. If we don’t serve the Institution, we can’t serve the kids.”
“That’s so wise,” I squeaked out. I felt like I hadn’t said anything in awhile. I didn’t want to seem shy—or dumb.
“Yes,” he pointed at me, “we are pretty wise.” His phone buzzed loudly and he pulled it back out. “Rebekah,” he called, eyes glued to his phone, “any questions for this one?”
The small woman sitting across from me answered. “Yes, Admiral.” She had a voice that sounded like a warped, crackling record. “First of all, welcome to Anchor Academy. I’m Rebekah Overturf. I’m the Vice Admiral here. In civilian terms, I’m the Vice Principal.”
She had the veneer of professionalism. She was wearing a perfectly pressed pantsuit. She had modest, dark-rimmed glasses that masked her exhausted eyes. Her makeup was understated but cracking at every crease in her face.
“So…Chaa—nah?” Rebekah asked. “I’m sorry, did I say your name correctly?”
“It’s Hana. The C is silent,” I said. I had an elevator-speech about my name ready to go at any moment. I could tell I sounded annoyed when I gave it. “My mom was in her Jewish phase when she had me, so I got the confusing, but linguistically accurate, spelling of C-h-a-n-a. So it’s ‘Hana’, like ‘banana’, or ‘Susquehanna’. I wish my mom had been going through her Evangelical phase when I was born. I’d probably have an easier name.”
“Oh. Well, that’s very beautiful,” Rebekah said. “According to your resume,” she adjusted her glasses and looked at the papers in front of her, “you were in St. Louis for a while during your undergrad. What took you out to Missouri?”
“Love,” I said.
“Love?” Rebekah cocked her neck.
“I mean, my husband! I’m sorry, my husband had a scholarship at the University of Missouri. He was in their teacher program.”
“So you traveled there with your husband?”
“Yes. Well, he wasn’t my husband at the time, but we were living together.”
“I ended up going to college there as well.”
“Since you were both going for teaching?”
“No, actually, if you’ll look at my resume you’ll see that I was going for botany. I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher back then.”
“Did your…boyfriend convince you to switch?”
“He influenced my decision, yes. A lot of things led me down the road to education.”
“So, what did you do for work before you decided to teach?”
“That is also on my resume,” I reached across the table and pointed to where it was printed. “I was a bartender. Actually, I was a Cicerone. It’s basically a sommelier but for beer instead of wine. I was a part of the craft-beer trend before there was a craft-beer trend.”
I winced inside my head. Living with my boyfriend? Professional drinking? A crazy mother? I should probably stop sharing controversial information in job interviews.
“So, you’ll be organizing the next happy hour?” The woman on my left finally spoke. I’d forgotten she was there. Everyone at the table laughed.
“Oh, so you’re that kind of group!” I said another stupid thing.
Woman-On-The-Left and Rebekah shared a mischievous smile.
“Could be,” Woman-On-The-Left said with a smirk.
Was this interview going…well? I glanced over to gauge Admiral’s mood. He was asleep.
“So tell me,” Rebekah said, “why do you want to join the teaching world?”
“Well, I’ve always looked at the world around me and I’ve seen...” I squeezed my shoulders up and looked at the ceiling. This was always the most difficult thing to explain. “I’ve always seen broken things.” I looked around the room at three motionless faces—two with their eyes open. “Everywhere I’ve lived, it’s the same. You meet people and they seem perfect. Everything seems calm and everyone seems content. Each time, you think ‘This place—these people—they have it figured out.’ But the longer you’re there, the longer you know them, the more you find that there’s brokenness there.”
“What do you mean by brokenness?” Woman-On-The-Left said. I hadn’t noticed the bags under her eyes before.
“You know,” I made circles with my hands, “like, something is missing—or something was stolen. There’s just…pieces that aren’t there.”
“Yes,” Rebekah nodded and scratched her head, “like something is missing. Sure. How does being an English teacher fix that?”
“People tend to hide their brokenness. If we could all see each other’s cracks, we would all help fix each other. I want to teach people how to speak and how to listen. I think that’s the answer.”
“That’s a great thought,” Rebekah nodded her head, “but I think you’ll find that the students here don’t have those issues. The students here have pride and self-confidence. They’ve been taught to stand up straight. We tell them every day that they’re shipmates and to rely on one another. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“Oh.” My face sunk into a furrowed brow. I corrected it as soon as I realized it. “I’d be very interested to see a community that didn’t suffer from any brokenness.”
“I’ll be so proud to show it to you.” Rebekah smiled.
“It’s so true,” Woman-On-The-Left said. She leaned in towards Rebekah and lightly grabbed her forearm.“Except for that poor Parris Island thing.”
Rebekah’s eyes widened and she jerked her arm away.
“He had graduated,” Rebekah snapped. “He showed no warning signs while he was a cadet here. That incident was clearly not related to this Institution.”
Woman-On-The-Left pulled her open hands back. “Yes,” she said with unblinking eyes. “That’s true. He doesn’t count.”
“Chana,” Rebekah said, still glaring at Woman-On-The-Left. “It’s obvious you have a great heart.” She turned her head back toward me. “There are two open English teacher positions. We have another candidate coming in right after you, but I think it’s safe to say you can start thinking about your curriculum tonight. Given the choice, would you prefer working with Juniors or Freshmen?”
“Oh, God. Juniors.” Freshmen were the mosquitoes of the education world, but perhaps I shouldn’t have sounded so disgusted.
Rebekah laughed a belly laugh. “No one ever says Freshmen!” She stood up and gestured for me to stand with her. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.” She started towards the door behind me.
“Okay—it was nice to meet everyone.” I reached over the table to shake Woman-On-The-Left’s hand. Her arms stayed crossed tightly over her body as she mindlessly stared at something that wasn’t there. I moved my hand to Admiral. He let out a sharp snore. I pulled my hand back and waved to the empty chair Rebekah had just left. She was now holding the door open.
As soon as we crossed the doorway, Rebekah’s demeanor shifted. She entwined her arm with mine and squeezed it tightly. She whispered, “You were amazing,” and made a scrunched-face smile. At least, I think it was a smile. It might have been her first-ever attempt at a smile.
Walking out of an interview room was normally my moment to breath. Rebekah was squeezing that moment out of me. I started to lose control of my facial expressions. My anxiety was demanding the full attention of my brain.
She stayed attached to my arm as we walked towards the main entrance. I could feel her staring at me as I looked ahead. I saw the front door in the distance, beckoning me to freedom.
“Ah!” Rebekah belted in my ear. “Here’s your competition! Chana, this is Thomas.” She pointed at a man sitting in a plastic chair to the left of the front door…the beautiful front door.
“Hello!” Thomas popped out of his seat to greet us. He had way too much enthusiasm. “It’s great to meet you both!” He reached out to shake our hands. Rebekah released her death-grip on me. “How did it go, Chana?” he asked.
“She did an amazing job.” Rebekah said and looked adoringly at me. “You have your work cut out for you, Thomas.”
Thomas’ shirt was a very loud red with even louder wrinkles. “I can’t wait to get started!” He said.
“We’ll begin in just a moment,” Rebekah said as she latched back onto my arm. “I’m just going to walk Chana to her car.”
To my car? I hadn’t cleaned it!
“You’re both interviewing at a great time,” Rebekah said. “We currently have BLT going on.”
“BLT?” I asked, as she led me through the door and into the sweltering August heat.
“It stands for Basic Leadership Training. It’s like boot camp for all of our Freshmen and transfer students. Let’s take a quick look before you head out.” She led me through the side parking lot, past my car (phew), and to a large blacktop area behind the school. “This is our drill deck,” she gleamed, presenting it with both arms out.
I looked out to a sea of young bodies wearing gray gym clothes. Their shorts and sweat-suits were drenched. They lunged and burpeed in unison. There were more than a hundred of them, split up into six groups or so, each moving together like clumps of ants.
A handful of older teens with pulsating neck-veins stood along the edges and shouted commands at the groups. The kids closest to us were doing push-ups as one of the leaders counted loudly. One of the push-upping students’ arms blew out from under him. His face slammed into the blacktop.
“Up!” a very short kid yelled at him.
“I can’t,” he answered. “I am dead.”
“You think you’re dead now? Just wait and see what happens if you don’t finish your set!”
An adult walked over to them. He was tall, tan, and had a brush cut on his receding hairline. He was wearing a “The few, the proud, the Marines” t-shirt that was tucked into his sweatpants.
“What’s the problem here?” he barked.
“Insubordination, Sergeant,” the short kid answered him.
“I am dead, sir,” the flattened student coughed.
“Dead?” screamed the Sergeant. “You come with me, son. We’ll see if we can really kill you.” He lifted the fallen student up by his shirt collar. He led him around the corner of the building, gripping the back of his shirt like a cat carrying a kitten by the scruff.
“Impressed?” Rebekah asked.
“Not the word I had in mind,” I said. “But sure, impressed.”