I was a pretty average teenager; I wrote a lot of poetry and hated my dad. Do you need any more proof? That’s why I never had much of an interest revisiting the place where my misery manifested itself: Deerfield High School.
This all changed last week when I was in my favorite spot at my childhood home. I was standing in front of the mirror (even when I was young I was still a narcissist, a self-hating one but a narcissist nonetheless – irony noted Alannis), when a premotion struck me: You’re doin’ okay Tiger!
What does a girl do when she first realizes she actually may be hot shit? She tries desperately to bump into the last guy who dumped her. Since this was in Chicago, and the closest thing I had to a love life in high school was when Ben Lansky reached back to hold my hand and accidentally touched my upper thigh (sorry Ben), I had to fall back on another guy that made me feel like a worthless dweeb: Peter Huff, my junior year history teacher.
A little about Mr. Huff, he was 5’4”, brilliant and tough. He very clearly chose favorites, yours truly was never one of them. Huff liked the extremely smart and quiet kids. The ones who were cut out for positions in law or finance, the ones headed straight to corporate success.
So it was decided, I would put on my best dress, suck in my stomach and waltz into good ol’ DHS to see Mr. Huff. I would be so casual when I told him about my life as an adult.
What do I do? Oh, I’m just a financial journalist. Well, content manager really. I was overwhelmed at first, you know being 23 and all, but now I have it under control. Yeah it’s really no big deal.
Oh Marina! I should’ve have known! Huff would exclaim, literally patting me on the back. Your papers were always so thoughtful! I only picked Jennifer Hahn’s as perfect examples because I felt bad for her!
Room Q105, I remember looking at the room number through teary eyes on many occasions. A line of despondent looking teenagers greeted me as I walked up.
“Is this Huff’s room?” I reverted to a nervous 16 year old.
“Uh, yeah.” The shaggy haired boy (I secretly would’ve been in love with in 2004) answered. I leaned against the lockers doing my best Fonze impression and staked out my prey. A few minutes had gone by before I saw him in the distance, charging down the hall.
What is the point of this? I had this man 6 years ago for ONE class. So what if my paper about the Wizard of Oz as a symbol of the great depression didn’t get shown as an exemplary sample in class? Why was I here, this is stupid, I should just g – too late.
“Hello?” Huff bent down to catch my eyes hiding under my bangs – a gift of his.
“Uh, Hi Huff.” He searched my face played the game most teachers play with old students: the name game. “Wow, wow! Hey Kiddo.” You lose Huff. “What’s going on? Where are you these days?”
Perfect, there are 5 minutes before the second bell. Get in, and get out.
“Oh, I’m a writer in New York,” before I could even get the second part of my schpeal together Huff jumped in.
“– Writer? Screenplays, TV?”
Wait what? No. Marina whatever you do, don’t fall into his trap. Do not. DO NOT, tell him comedy. Finance, finance, FINANCE!
“Oh, uh. Comedy.” MARINA! “- but I make money through financial writing.”
Huff smiled widely pulled me into his classroom by my elbow. He proudly pointed at a play poster with the name Keith Huff written in big letters across the bottom.
“See this? This is my cousin. He’s 46. Just had his show “A Steady Rain” picked up on Broadway. Was a bill collector his whole life.” Huff always talked in short pointed bursts. “What I am trying to tell you is keep at it.”
For years I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get this man out of my head. My successes, my failures, I constantly thought of him. What would Huff think? I wish I could show Huff. As I walked out of his classroom I realized why; he hadn’t finished teaching me.
Lesson #14: Keep at it, unless you’re 47.