Those of you who do not know me personally may not know that after 13 years of teaching and directing theatre at a local private school, my husband was fired on Friday. FIRED. Not laid off, not asked to resign, but fired. Escorted off campus, email deleted, computer and files confiscated, no severance, fired.
It sounds really bad.
What do you have to DO to be fired like that? Especially when all the students and all the families love you. Especially after THIRTEEN years.
Oh God, it was something “inappropriate” with a student, wasn’t it? No? Well, he must have been on drugs, or stealing money from the school, or letting kids do drugs, or letting kids steal money from the school? No? Well he must have called his boss a bitch. Wait. That was me, just now. So what did he DO?
Well, he did his job. He covered an overbooked class for his co-teacher who was out for the day. He didn’t jump up and down and whine when the school failed to provide a substitute, even though that meant the class was way above the published student to teacher ratio. He didn’t go crying to the administration that it would be just impossible for him to handle all these students alone when this was the day that he had to stand behind a camera in a green screen studio and film just two students at a time in absolute silence. He didn’t stomp his foot and say that there was NO WAY one teacher could do that since this was a school whose entire population is made up of kids with ADHD and other learning differences. What would be the point? After all, clearly the school was strapped. The administration had already tapped all the teachers to teach extra classes outside their positions. Math teachers were teaching Spanish. Mike was suddenly teaching history, as well as theatre, and also working the front desk. Clearly, the $40,000 tuition wasn’t enough to cover additional support.
So, he did the best he could. He filmed most of the class, and when a few high school students, who were finished filming, asked if they could sit in the common study area in the hallway, because they were having trouble staying quiet and still enough in the classroom (go ADHD self-advocacy!) to have a study hall for the remaining portion of class, he consented. While they were out there, one kid bullied another kid.
Mike saw the footage on surveillance (the day before he got fired, back when it was no big deal) and said it was horrifying.
I was picturing a fist fight, someone trapped in a locker, a boy with his hand up a girl’s skirt. Nope. It was some asshole kid who kept reaching over and closing another kid’s computer. Eventually, the kid being bullied stood up and shoved the other kid out of the way and walked off as the bell rang. Mike didn’t see it, and that’s why he was fired.
HELLO? What? Am I the only person who went to public school? This was my EVERYDAY experience on the school bus. Maybe not just mine, but always someone’s. Did it suck? Yes. Did we all wish someone would throw that asshole UNDER the bus? Yes. Did anyone fire the friendly bus driver for not being able to keep his eyes on the road (camera) and also on the students in the back? No. A few of the more concerned parents asked for a bus monitor (aka: co-teacher) but, well, just like my husband’s school, they didn’t have the resources either. Wait… ok, maybe that doesn’t exactly translate.
But I’ve skipped ahead. I promised the five stages of pissed-off. So…
Disbelief: Mike calls me an hour after he’s supposed the be on the road. His hours, but not his pay, have been extended this year in order to cover the history (?) class he’s teaching. We’ve decided that though he cannot shorten rehearsals from 2 hours to 45 minutes (as the administration has suggested) and still have a production that is successful for the students, he can at least leave at his scheduled time on Fridays in order to participate in bedtime for our youngest children. I’ve been looking out at the driveway for twenty-minutes, growing irritated.
He tells me he has been fired. I feel EXACTLY as I did when I received word that my mother had died in a crowded restaurant with her finger in her drink: it is the stupidest thing I can imagine. I refuse to believe that it is real. Instead, I feel dizzy and sick and assume I must be dreaming. It’s so trite, but how else to explain a world where suddenly the dining room table is in the bathroom and the bed has been set up in the kitchen sink? It makes no sense.
Dismissal: I’ve told the kids so Mike won’t have to. We’ve had an hour to get through all the tears and all the “Will I be able to have a birthday party? How will we eat? Do we have to live in our car?” The kids have piled up all the school uniforms they wore when they attended Mike’s school, as well as all awards received from the school (including the very most prestigious Head of School Award) in the hall. They are stomping on them. I explain that the school’s bad behavior in no way invalidates their own accomplishments. I’ve just about finished patching the holes in various certificates when Mike finally gets home. I put on my best Martin Luther King, Jr. voice. “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” It’s no secret that Mike has been weighed down and depressed by the animosity of the administration over the last several months. Fuck them. Who cares.
Abject Terror: We’ve survived the first couple hours of this brave new world. The little girls are in bed. I’ve made a whiskey run. We decide to continue with life as usual: Friday = movie night. Netflix won’t work. Amazon won’t work. Everything in our lives is run through Mike’s email account, and his account has been deleted. I realize that we haven’t yet paid any bills this month and we have $16 in our saving account. I burst into tears and go outside to call anyone who can help us while Mike creates a new email address.
Optimism/Denial: I’ve decided that what happened doesn’t matter. We are moving forward into the next best thing. We are blessed (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word) to be surrounded by love and support from so many people. Friends show up with baked goods and gift cards and I’m convinced that this experience has been placed here to shepherd us on to a future beyond our imagining, while teaching us the value of connection. I secretly start comparing our situation to a natural disaster that brings out the best in everyone involved.
Unadulterated Rage: I’ve now had four days to stew. Our mortgage is paid. Our fridge is full of cheese sticks and milk. I’m so, so grateful, and then… blindingly angry. Because we didn’t ask for this. We did absolutely NOTHING that would require that we depend on the kindness of friends and strangers to provide for our most basic needs. I want to burn someone’s house down. I write imaginary letters to Mike’s boss in which I assail her with the the most cutting things I can imagine: “You are a terrible mother, and everyone thinks so; people feel sorry for your kids.” I imagine launching a tactical strike against the entire administration, weighing the pros and cons of publicizing every piece of dirty laundry I’ve been privy to in the last dozen years. I listen to Brandy Clark’s Stripes (“I’ve got a pistol and I’ve got a bullet and a pissed off finger, just itching to pull it…”) on repeat all the way to the free gym where I slam a sixteen pound leather ball into the floor as if it had a face.
I’m stymied by the fact that my husband is STILL so concerned about his students that he spent the weekend trying to figure out how to get the best person his old job so that the production the students were so excited about can continue. He won’t even entertain Grey’s fabulous idea to roll the headmaster’s house with a few rolls of our donated toilet paper.
GODFUCKINGDAMNIT!! I haven’t an inch of grace of in me, and I DARE my pastor (who is thankfully on sabbatical) to tell me I should find one. All I can think of is every night that Mike spent at that school until 4am building and painting sets (and all the nights I spent with him, in various stages of pregnancy) so the students would have the experience of performing on a professional stage. All I can think of is him sitting at the dining room table at midnight, his hands fisted in his hair, because some student had been outted as gay, or had their mother walk out, or perhaps, not-so-accidentally, overdosed on their grandmother’s pain pills. And I’m furious. Because if that level of dedication is “gross negligence” then I want the last 12 fucking years of my life back. I want a husband who comes home at 5:00, no better or worse than I left him, ready to eat dinner with his family and put his children to bed. I want a husband who, when hearing that we have to deliver our twins six weeks early by emergency C-section, drops the camera on the ground without thinking for a second about what will happen to all those costumed students in the middle of their final day of filming. I want to have eaten hamburger, and gone to Disney World, and to have one of those ridiculous things called a retirement account. And if I can’t have that, if it’s too late for that, then I want to be General Sherman, and burn the whole fucking thing down to the ground.
???: I’m not there yet. I’ve heard that I will be filled with grace and mercy and know that things always work out for the best. Ok. Whatever. I’m going to have to take your word for it. But, as always, I’ll keep you posted.
Until then, this Bearded Lady is holding tight to that Strong Man and all those ridiculous clowns, and stepping out on the tightrope, refusing to look down.