Title: History Teacher
Category: future fic
Spoiler Info: Everything up to 2162 Votes
Disclaimer: WB, NBC, John Wells, Aaron Sorkin... owners. I just lease and try not to stain the carpet. Lawsuits don't look good on me.
E-mail address for feedback: permission: Sure, just tell me first
Notes: Haven't written anything in awhile. This one's a bit disjointed. Also, my first attempt at first person. Please let me know what you think.
There are parts I remember quite clearly and there are parts that remain fuzzy. The thoughts I have are like many from early childhood, mostly sense memories. I smell crisp autumn and see a small airport terminal, but I can't quite place anything. I can feel my father's leather glove. He held my hand tightly as we walked.
I remember walking forever. I was four and probably trying to prove I was a big boy. At some point, my little legs couldn't keep the pace. My mother told me that I fussed when she bent down to pick me up. I remember walking myself, the leaves crunching under my shoes. But in all the photographs I've seen in newspapers, magazines and history books, I'm in my mother's arms.
We walked among the flashbulbs, the reporters, the television cameras. I was too young to know that I was on all three major networks and CNN. The BBC was broadcasting my four year old body live around the world. Not that I was the center of attention or even noticed by the millions watching on their television sets.
Not knowing, I was not nervous. My sister was. Watching the old footage, I can see her try and hide behind my father's leg. She was six at the time; her memories are more concrete than mine. She told me that we played in a big barn and Huck saw a snake. She told me a woman named Margaret fed us all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She remembers me kicking and screaming, refusing to take a nap.
Her memories are of people and events, while mine are of colors and blurry images. I remember that hard wood seat and how long everything took. Time crept so slowly, molasses through an eyedropper. I sat between my father and my older brother, my mother and my sister on the other side of my father. We had strict orders to behave, not to talk or fight.
The organ was very loud and incense burned my nose. It wasn't like temple, where we rarely went. This was church, which was even more foreign to us. My mother would have known more about Christian services than my father, but I don't remember if she told us what to expect or not. I don't remember if we were forewarned about the length of the service. Or the prayers everyone else seemed to know, except for Toby, Huck and Molly, who were sitting right in front of us.
I do vaguely recall a point where the pews emptied out except for us and the Zieglers. Communion, I of course know now, but I must have been confused as a small child. My mother probably could have gone, but she choose to stay with her family. My brother remembers that my parents kissed quickly and Toby turned around and gave a sad smile to them. He says that he poked Molly in the back to try and get a reaction. He now admits that he had a boyhood crush on Molly Ziegler.
My parents and siblings all swear that I yelled out "Grandma Abbey!" when she appeared at the alter, but I don't remember at all. I do remember my father standing and walking away and the crushing feeling of abandonment. I never liked being separated from my father. I recall on several occasions clinging to his leg when he tried to leave for work. My brother says that I cried on that hard bench and my father turned around, looking like he wanted to go back and comfort me. My mother held me instead. This, I do not remember.
My father gave a short speech, as did Toby and C.J. I can watch the tape now and know that I heard every word, but I don't remember their eulogies personally. I launched myself at my father when he returned and he hugged me back, tightly. It probably comforted him a great deal, to hold his child in his arms after giving the eulogy he gave. I wouldn't have realized then, but I appreciate it now.
Looking back, I can feel my parents' sadness. I could feel it then, too, but I was too young to understand, to empathize. Small children know about their own needs, their own emotions. I was too young to know what death was and far too young to know what this death meant to my parents, to a nation and to a world. Now it saddens me that I was also too young to have any memory left of Grandpa Jed.
I know of him from history books but mostly I know of him from my parents. I know that my existence was a result of him. If he had not run for President, I would not be here today, in this form, with these two parents. My parents would not have met. And though he may not be a biological grandparent, I think that his pivotal role in my family more than made up for the lack of shared genetics.
Growing up, there were always stories about my parents and this man, Jed Bartlet from New Hampshire. Until I was older, I was shielded from the darker ones, the ones that would have given me nightmares. I have two childhood memories that remain crystal clear; the two times my parents sat on my bed and showed me their scars and dark stories. Jed Bartlet was years in the grave by that point. I still felt angry at him. My parents had almost died in his service on two separate occasions. Twinges of anger are with me still.
The Bartlet White House was family history, all parts of it, and as a small child it would always confuse me that other people, strangers, would know about this history, too. That they would know who my father was, who my mother was. I wasn't aware that my mother had worked for my father until my first grade teacher told me. She was reading "The Bartlet White House Vol. II" and knelt down by my desk one day to tell me, in an awed voice, that my mother had saved social security when she worked for my father.
I came home with a bevy of questions, not knowing what social security was. My mother, I remember, rolled her eyes and put two chocolate chip cookies in front of me. She broke off a bit of the cookie and told me that if I saved bits of cookie every day, I would eventually have a lot of cookie bits that would add up. She said that if the government combined all the bits of cookie from everyone who was given cookies, there would be cookies for those too old to work for their cookies. She may have sensed at that point that she had taken the cookie analogy too far. Anyway, she continued, she hadn't really done anything and what was my teacher doing telling me stories like that. My parents always tried to ensure that none of their children get a swelled head.
Their efforts didn't always work. Especially after the three of us became young adults with something to prove and our own insecurities. I have to admit, and it shames me, that I've hit on women using the name Jed Bartlet. Spewing elegant words about a man I don't remember and an administration I was never part of and even if it worked, I would feel ashamed. The Bartlet White House didn't belong to me. My sister tried to get a job once with the same tactic and came away with the same feeling. My brother's career went far enough, fast enough, he never even thought about the past.
I choose teaching history for a career. The past is always alive with me and I think about it everyday, even if I'm only grading essays or looking over lesson plans. About half my students are impressed when I tell them I attended Jed Bartlet's funeral. They ask how old I was. They ask me why. Many just stare out the window, waiting for the school day to be over with.
There are always one or two students that are curious. They'll loiter around after class and want me to tell them more. I start with a few light stories. My brother, as a baby, threw up on the Prime Minister of England. My father almost burned the White House down. My mother saved social security. My parents were caught heavy-petting by an outgoing President and an incoming one. They were lost in Indiana during a campaign.
If they stay after class three or four days, the darkness naturally weaves itself in. My father was outside the club where Zoey Bartlet was kidnapped. My mother lied to Congress about a diary, to protect my father. They didn't know about Abdul Shareef until long after he was assassinated. John Hoynes once hit on my mother, then my father almost hit John Hoynes.
I never come to the part about my father being shot by racists or my mother being blown up by terrorists. I'm no longer a nine-year-old underneath Superman sheets, looking at my father's chest or my mother's leg, but the names Rosslyn and Gaza send me back there. Back to the moment I realized people do die, not just ex-presidents, and that my parents were mortal and fragile.
Rosslyn and Gaza are in the history books I teach and as much as I would like to skip over them, I can't. The eyes of my students grow wide as the connect Josh Lyman with Mr. Lyman, their 11th grade history teacher. Some in the past have mumbled that they were sorry my father was shot. I reassure them; I wasn't even a twinkle in my father's eye at the time. But I don't tell them my mother was the one who nursed my father back to health.
My parents are long retired, I tell the curious ones who would like to meet them. They moved up to Connecticut, not Florida. My father spends most of his time watching the Mets and yelling at the squirrels. My mother is redoing the upstairs bathroom all by herself and never pesters about grandchildren. I visit regularly; all three of us do. We are generally a very happy family and the students who only hear about assassinations and explosions will never know that. That's fine. There is part of the Bartlet White House history that is not to be shared.
They'll never hear the story of my father gently tucking me into bed. I remember being exhausted; we played in that barn all day after the funeral. My sister swears Huck saw a snake. My brother was chasing Molly, throwing hay at her. My mother kissed me goodnight, as she did every night. My parents left the door open a crack and I squirmed next to my older brother, as he poked me and told me to go to sleep.
There was a thunderstorm that night, brilliant and loud, as if the weather was giving its own eulogy. I crept into out of bed and into my parent's adjoining room, worming my way under the covers. The thunder grew louder and the winds whipped the trees against the hotel window. My brother and sister, supposedly older and braver, soon followed me. It woke my father up and he grumbled slightly.
My memories become vague. The sound of thunder, the smell of my mother's lotion. My father rose out of bed and I felt again the pains of separation. I followed him as he went to our room and turned on the television. He must've told me to go back to bed, but I don't recall.
He watched CNN, the coverage still on at this late hour. I crawled into his lap and he held me as pictures of him and my mother and President Jed Bartlet changed rapidly on the screen. I'll never be able to tell you what those pictures were, what State function, what press conference, what piece of legislation. The lightening lit up the outside. My father kissed the top of my head and pressed his face into my hair. His face felt wet.
"Rosslyn..." the anchor began as a new set of pictures began to fill the screen.
My father quickly changed the channel. "Let's watch cartoons."