The Assignment

The assignment was brilliant.  But my son came home ranting about his teacher and the stupid essay he had to write.  After a slice of buttered bread (why he likes this I do not know) and a few moments of discussion, he was calmer, ready to talk in tones that were understandable to the human eardrum.  It seemed, on the surface, simple enough.  Five paragraphs (like anyone ever only writes five paragraphs except in school), compare/contrast structure, two short stories, in answer to a question.  So what? Isn’t that what most school essays entail?

Well, yeah, Mom! But – this question – it’s just so – ugh!

So . . . what is it?

We have to decide whether or not we would trust the narrator of The Tell Tale Heart or the guy in The Hitchhiker more!

Interesting – finally – a teacher with some pizzazz.  Except the five paragraphs – how lame is that? But then again, isn’t that how we all learned – a starting place, formulaic, boring, but more than we were used to in elementary school?  Okay, so I can get past the five paragraph thing.  And – nice stories – it was October after all.  Apparently this woman had read The Tell Tale Heart to them in class – in character no less – and scared the begeebers out of them.  Then they were assigned parts to read from the script of The Hitchhiker and scared themselves even more.  And then – this woman – asked them who they would trust more.  Whaaat?

I knew my son’s friends well – all a bit screwy, gifted, weird, yet somehow normal kids.  His description of the discussion that ensued was interesting fare for this kind of mother/son repartee.  They questioned the wisdom of trusting either character – a known homicidal maniac and a guy who may or may not be dead, a ghost, separated from his own soul – who knew?  Some of them decided the possibly dead guy since he seemed really normal otherwise.  Some of them chose the murderer – because at least he was a known factor.

And what did my son choose?  I became distracted as I noticed a strange woman standing in my back yard.  Her jacket seemed to have raindrops splattered across it. She just calmly stood there, looking directly at me through the window. Not smiling, nor frowning, but looking.

Mom?

What?

You were doing it again.

Hmm?

You know – that thing you do – staring or whatever.

Oh – sorry.  What did you say?

I said I think I’ll go with the Tell Tale Heart guy – ’cause he actually tells you what he’s about to do – you know he . . .

Mom?

She was just standing there.  Between the rose bush and the bird feeder.

What?

You know – he is at least honest.  He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he hates that old man’s eye and stuff.

Right, son.  That seems like a wise choice.

Geez, Mom! Why do have to check out like that!  Really – “a wise choice” – you aren’t even listening to me.

He was telling the truth.  I wasn’t hearing him. I’m sure I’ve left out half of what he said even now. They didn’t have ADD or ADHD when I was growing up.  But they did have staring.  I’ve been doing it all my life.  My mother told me that my kindergarten teacher worried about it because I would just stare off into space sometimes.  My beautiful mother informed her that if the pre-school would actually challenge the five-year-old class instead of teaching us the ABC’s for the third year in a row, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to stare off into what was certainly a more interesting place in my mind.

I zone out – a lot. I don’t think I have ADD or ADHD – I’m not hyper and I can concentrate on stuff for hours – I’m a horrible multi-tasker.  I have to focus – I just focus selectively.  So – when something loses my interest – staring.  It also happens when I just don’t like where I am. Or who I’m with. Well – not who I’m with – what they’re doing I guess.

Why it had just happened with my son – I didn’t know.  I love my son – he is amazing – and one of the most engaging people I know.  Maybe the concept of the essay was just so interesting – but how could it be?  It’s a five-paragraph essay. I’m a Ph.D. level researcher.  Five paragraphs – I can do that in my sleep (and have literally typed at least that much while on complete auto pilot).

So, Mom, do you think that’s a pretty good start?

I had no idea what he had just said.  So I said, Yes, son.  But I want to hear more about your supporting statements – why did you chose that one?

Oh, okay – it’s because of what it says right here when he’s talking to the detectives.

Whew – edged that one.  He picked the Tell Tale Heart alright.  His support had to do with the fact that, even though he was a murderer – you always knew where you stood with him.  He told you what he was doing.  So I asked him whether he thought the old man would agree.

Wow! I hadn’t thought about it from that angle, Mom.  I guess he wouldn’t, because he didn’t know where he stood.  He thought everything was okay – until the guy killed him. So, does that mean you think I should change my claim?

No, son. I think your claim is sound.  Just make sure you address the opposing argument – acknowledge that the old man didn’t know and counter that with why you think he’s still the more trustworthy of the two.

I glanced out of the window.  She wasn’t there – just a squirrel trying to get the last few pieces of bird-feed from the feeder. I sighed.  I didn’t know if I were relieved or disappointed.

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