Hello, Dear Readers. Well, it certainly has been a while. Life happens. But the call of Dimitri came again, asking to be heard, words on screen, so here we are again. Feedback, of course, is necessary for more, if more is necessary.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"
– that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Chapter 25: Dis Closure
There are books that I've been tempted to stop reading before they are finished, because things are happy and good in the middle, because the deaths haven't happened yet, the betrayals, the infidelities. Stop now, don't turn the page, and we shall all live happily ever after.
But stories in life have a next day, a day after, and we continue. Chapters finish, but the whole story never ends, really. Perfect endings can only be fiction.
Is there actually such a thing as closure? Or is that only wishful thinking? Hoping the desire for such a thing will make it so, make closure real. Feel that it's over, it's okay, we can move on. Maybe imagined closure. We move on because we have to; I moved on because I had to. I moved because I couldn't stay.
I didn't sleep much after Grace left me. I read my volume of Chekhov stories, hoping to distract myself. But they only reminded me of her, and sometime between night and dawn I allowed myself to ponder the kiss, consider the kiss, immortalize the kiss. Sweetness. And desire, a surge of desire and strong feelings I hadn't experienced in a very long time.
Which made me think this thing I felt was either beyond Grace, that she was merely there as a catalyst for change, for an end to my personal stagnation. Or. Or else it was all about Grace, a building of something, of a growing affection for her, for Grace in particular. Love. But how could love be, here, now? However I looked at it, any "stuff" beyond that gentle kiss would, ultimately, be selfish.
I analyzed and overanalyzed Grace's eyes, her gestures, her words just after our lips had met. "Lips meeting." A cliché, but they did meet, we did meet, and our kiss was a culmination of accumulating changes in my life. And hers, too, I think.
It was... Just a Kiss. Just. A. Kiss. That stirred me, that woke me up. She was a charm to my somnambulant spirit. Transforming? But which way? Frog to prince, teacher to man, paragon to pariah. Passive to active.
I don't like to think about that next day, that day after, a day of utter personal humiliation. Certainly brought it upon myself, but who likes to see their weaknesses displayed in public, scrutinized, discussed?
The whole inquiry was surreal. I felt as if this could not be happening to me, of all people – I was the one who would hear about someone, someone like me, second-or third-hand. I'd shake my head, say I never noticed anything, continue with my teaching. But here I was.
I arrived early, as instructed, and endured what felt like hours but was barely five minutes of preliminary questions. How often had I seen "Miss Manning" outside of school? What was the name of the movie we saw? Was there any exchange of gifts or written communications?
Dully, I answered. Twice. Rashomon.... No. What should be the truth?
And then Grace and her family arrived. I kept my face toward the board as I heard them enter, clear throats, sit down. I couldn't turn around.
Could not meet her eyes. I felt that if I did it would be a screaming announcement to the room: There Is Something Between Them. Because, strange as it may seem, gross, even, there was something between us, a connection, a chemistry, something that was not sordid but strong, not gross but beautiful, not imagined but there. Even if the something would stay where it was, locked separately in each of us; if our eyes met, now, in this room, surrounded by those opposed to any such thing – parents, administrators, myself even, they would all see it. As I'm sure Alexa saw it in the classroom, more than once, and in whatever it was she witnessed the night of the movie. Some things cannot be hidden.
Smothered the thought of lips touching lips, the weight of a hand on a shoulder.... Thought of irrelevant things: elephants, gotta buy shampoo, did I leave a window open. Because. What did I expect from Grace? That she would rush to my side, defending her love? How very, very sophomoric. Adolescent. That's how she made me feel. Not sophomoric, but young. Stupidly young, with improbable fantasies, unrealistic thoughts because we were who we were. Dreams.
I had to let her go. She was young, she was seventeen, she was a high-school girl, not yet a woman, and I was a man and then some (whatever people might say about my level of maturity). Any further physical interaction now could only be sordid. I wouldn't do that to Grace, no matter how certain she believed herself to be otherwise. Because she would be wrong, I would be wrong. Because kissing her made me want her, to feel her all around me. So I could not think about kissing Grace during the interrogation.
The inquiry resumed, same questions, this time with an audience. Twice. Rashomon.... Virginia Conway referred to the night of the movie as a "so-called date." I flatly denied this categorization. I had to. But even as I said, "I accompanied her to a film... for educational purposes," I could hear how lame that sounded.
And then, the choice of movie analyzed. I've seen Rashomon maybe a dozen times, read the short story that inspired it, studied it and explicated it for a film class, then watched it again for the sheer pleasure of seeing a perfect film by one of the world's greatest directors. But I never thought of describing the movie as Virginia did then, when she asked, "This particular film does contain material of an explicitly sexual nature, does it not?"
Technically, I realized, it does. It is, after all, about a coital tryst, a rape or consensual, depending on the point of view. It's also about a murder – or a suicide. Depending on the point of view. And it's about humanity and perspective and beauty and truth. Rashomon is a violent movie, a murder mystery, a social commentary, a period piece. But eliminating all the other details and focusing on sexual explicitness, as if that were the point, to somehow buddy up with Grace, with a student, over a sex movie, twisted the context out of everything.
But I was floundering in there, with my tone of incredulity, with my inarticulate responses. I sounded guilty, though of what I wasn't sure. I sounded guilty because I felt guilty, because when Virginia addressed Grace directly, and when Grace spoke, finally, I felt a tingle of desire at the sound of her voice.
Grace's stepfather had just taken her father out of the room, to "get some air." I really think he would have taken a swing at me, the stereotype of a father defending his daughter's virtue. Shouldn't blame him for that. When the door shut behind them, Virginia said to the room, "I have to ask each of you if there's anything, anything else that we need to be aware of. Because if there is, this is the time. Grace, this includes you."
Behind me I heard Grace in defiant mode, and I remembered the look Grace had given me in the classroom after the incident with Chris. "You don't want to hear what I have say," she said bitingly. An enigmatic statement, but still, her voice stirred me, and I knew I absolutely could not look at her then, because my eyes would search her face, her posture, for meaning.
Virginia raised her eyebrows slightly at this. What did she know? I wondered. What did Alexa tell her? Her next questions seemed to indicate an agenda: "Well, are there any other incidents? Inappropriate gifts, for instance? Written communications of a questionable nature?" Why would she ask that? The inscription burned in my brain. To the girl with the loneliest eyes... Love always, August. What was I thinking when I wrote that? How could it be seen as anything but damning, and "inappropriate" and "of a questionable nature"? Had Grace's mother seen the book, seen the inscription? Again, I could not turn, but I sensed a pause behind me, an intake of breath – Grace's? Her mother's? Virginia looked past me expectantly. She must have seen something, for she added, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Sammler? Was there anything else at all of that nature that comes to mind?"
The pause was long, the silence loud, before Grace's mother spoke: "No. Nothing." Perhaps it was my imagination, but I could almost sense Grace's held breath slowly released.
A shorter pause, and then Virginia started to speak again, but Mrs. Sammler interrupted her. "Wait. There is one more thing." I froze. Grace's mother continued, "I just... this teacher changed my daughter's life by believing in her, in a way that's really hard to describe, and rare, and really valuable. And that needs to be said too. That's all."
That was everything. I turned then, and looked at Grace's mother, and admired this woman, for saying that, for supporting Grace against something that must not be easy, for recognizing the good I hoped I had offered her daughter. Because Grace had blossomed this year, had grown immeasurably, as a person and as a writer, since last September.
I shifted back around, keeping a poker face, couldn't react, but inside I felt almost like crying, that someone who mattered, and Grace's mother did matter, saw some good in me.
It didn't alter Virginia's opinion, however. After an inaudible exchange of words with Brooker, Virginia spoke again, addressing me directly. "Mr. Dimitri, I think under the circumstances we have no choice but to suspend you –with pay – for the remainder of the semester. At which point the school board will have a decision to make."
Was this unexpected? Yes, and no. My grandfather was sick for many years, a series of strokes taking him closer and closer to a second infancy and to death, yet when he actually died, I felt shocked. How could I expect the school to do anything else? Yet I realized, as Virginia's words sank in, that I had been expecting something else, some reprieve. When it didn't come, I remained seated, looking at my hands. I heard the people behind me, around me, get up, leave the room, heard Grace's mother saying, in the hall, "He's out!" with a note of relief and triumph in her voice.
The feeling I had had the night before, as I heard the back door click shut when Grace left me, returned. I would not be staying until the end of the semester, awaiting a decision; I would not be coming back. A wake-up call, perhaps? I needed to go away, somewhere, to do something very different, before I would teach again, if I could teach again.