by Jane Doe
Well, so much for agape love. We kept our promise about not quoting scripture anymore to Rev. Beems. Within days we were thumbing our Bibles at another teacher Mr. Strauss who taught Social Studies and American History my favorite subjects. Mr. Strauss was also my favorite teacher. He was tall, always my first prerequisite for any male I admired, and handsome. He really didn't need his dark, short, hair and trim fuzzy mustache or large white teeth to make him desirable. He was one of those rare men who have so much self-confidence and presence that he could have been as ugly as a mud fence and no one would have noticed. Least of all, him. Calm and self-containment spread out from him like circles on a mountain lake at dawn. If someone in the class tried to attack something he had said, Mr. Strauss would concern himself with one of the corners of the room, smile his littlest smiled that says "That's okay child, you'll grow up someday to understand it all." and let them chatter away until they ran out of thoughts, which at our age, didn't take long. Right then and there I decided never to argue with Mr. Strauss. He was the other side of the coin from Rev. Beems.
Mr. Strauss wasn't really a school teacher either; at least not for junior high. When he was hired, the local paper paper had written an article about him which I had cut out to have his picture. From the very beginning I felt something superior when I saw that intelligent face made of gray dots. According to the newspaper, he was writing a critical analysis of the Yalta agreements which was turning out to be more involved than he had anticipated. He had decided to teach in our rural area near the city so he could earn his living, give his small son the good country life, and still be close enough to the university libraries to continue his work.
I thought him to be an amazing person to organize his life in this manner. It was as if he made his choices. He didn't take what life gave him. He asked for what he needed. To me, that was the difference between ripe and unripe fruit.
Mr. Strauss also went to the First Methodist Church in Centerville. In our town, it was considered the most liberal, and it therefore, had the most intellectual congregation. I had suggested to the minister that Mr. Strauss teach our Sunday School class when we had the big fuss about the little old lady who didn't. Sadly, for me, Mr. Strauss declined on the grounds that he had all of us in school five days a week: both sides needed Sunday as a day of rest. I didn't really admit to myself that I was falling in love with Mr. Strauss until I found myself hating his wife as she sat by him during the Sunday morning services. From the choir, I could observe her all I wanted.
She was very short, far too short for his height, I felt. She was small all over face, hands, body, legs, even her feet were tiny. That alone was reason enough for me to hate her, She wasn't at all pretty. She wasn't ugly with any one feature destroying the balance with the others. She simply looked as if she had been put together by someone who wasn't very interested in their job. Her plainness gave me great hope. It was only logical that a man of Mr. Strauss' tastes would choose a woman for some other quality than beauty.
In church, the Strauss's were never affectionate. The fact other couples are not affectionate in church didn't alter my idea that Mr. Strauss no longer loved his tiny wife. Weekly, I watched them both for signs of a dissolving marriage. They didn't demonstrate much so I had very little on which to base my judgments; so I used that very little to reinforce my preconceptions. Singing in the choir fed fuel to my fantasies that Mr. Strauss "felt something" for me, as I phrased it in my head.
Even on the Sundays when I wasn't in the choir, the most awe inspiring part of the whole morning worship service began when the organ pealed out the first chords of "Holy, Holy, Holy."The maroon robed figures moved decorously down the two aisles, singing as they came. From a distance, they sounded like one great voice, but as each person passed by your seat, the sounds came in different sized waves like those from lakes, streams, or seas. Not only did you hear the song coming at you, it rippled through your body, joining for an instant, the vibrations in all your organs with those of the singers'. The way the slowly moving singing snake worked its way among the congregation, around the curved altar, to fill the void under the lighted picture of Jesus blessing the children with one solid sound of songs was pure theater for me.
I didn't enjoy it when we in the choir rose in a whoosh of cotton gabardine against nylon hose to sing the "special number" of the day. The music was usually still unfamiliar to me. Even more unfamiliar was the alto part. I wondered how much a man like Mr. Strauss knew about music. I wondered if he could see by my face when the notes stumbled from alto to tenor for me.
Did he look at me? Should I smile at him? Did other people notice how much I looked at him? Were my feelings written on my face the way they were on the faces of the heroines in the books I read? Could his wife see anything different about me?
Thus, I occupied my Sunday mornings. With Mr. Strauss before me in his usual third from the front row pew, I could make all the colors of the congregation swim together into a stained glass background for his handsome face. The effect became three dimensional when the sun shone, mixing the hues of the picture-full windows with those of my admiration. I would measure time by watching a patch of blue sunshine creep up over the chest of his good blue suit, turning his white shirt blue. Even his hair became blue black. When the sun didn't shine, I amused myself by shining my own blue light around on his face and the chest that I could see between the shoulders of the anonymous persons who sat in front of him.
I was the only person in the whole choir who was not bored to rebellion in the forty-five minutes between the processional and the recessional. Unless some other girl was also in love with Mr. Strauss! I worried about this. I wondered why every girl in the whole school didn't feel as I did.
One Sunday morning Mr. Strauss did something that fed fuel to my fantasies for weeks on end.
One of the freshmen girls was an epileptic. We, who knew and liked Annie, were used to her petit mals and passed them off as only part of Annie, like her naturally curly hair or her timid smile. Once during a volley ball game between our class and the freshmen, Annie had a grand mal that seemed pretty frightening to us until the Phys. Ed. teacher explained what Annie had, what it was like to have epilepsy, that none of us would probably ever have it and the best thing we could do was to go on being as kind and friendly to Annie as we had before seeing her in this way.
Her parents didn't attend church, so Annie came alone and was sitting alone when a grand mal seizure began to stiffen her body, throwing her head with a thud against the wooden arm at the end of the pew. All the adults just sat and stared in horror at her. I wanted to go to her as I felt I knew how to help from seeing how the gym teacher had taken care of her. But I was stuck up here in the middle of the choir, wearing this cumbersome robe. I felt it would take me hours to crawl over all those knees, down the flight of stairs, around the pulpit and up to Annie's seat.
To the left was a movement of blue. Mr. Strauss was striding up the aisle with an even faster gait than usual, up and around behind, all the stupid people. In a swoop, he was beside Annie, gathering her up in his arms. So lightly and masterfully he raised her up, her head fell on his shoulder, the one I had been decorating with blue light. He turned with the grace of an actor, making the grandest exit of all, up the red carpeted way. By now, the ushers had regained their senses. Two of them, like pages in the service of the king, swung wide the huge oak doors to the vestibule. The knight in the shining silver blue armor disappeared carrying the faint golden haired princess off in his arms.
I was tempted to wish epilepsy for myself until reason took hold of passion to explain to me that with my size, Mr. Strauss would have had to have been a ten foot tall giant to lift me with the ease he carried Annie.
Some part of me knew I would never have Mr. Strauss for my own. I never imagined him touching me like Rev. Hope did or kissing me like Ron had. I dreamed of him discovering some unknown historical fact in my writings that opened a new way of thinking about a situation. Something to make him raise one of his dark, bushy eyebrows to say, "Hey, this gal has something to offer." or "Here is a person of worth." I was most happy worshipping him from afar. I should have left it that way.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010