When Mr. Weagan walked into my sixth grade class at Cherokee Elementary in Madison, Wisconsin, my brain checked out like a library book. Immediately, the girls in my class developed such a fierce rivalry for his attention that the average collective IQ of the class dropped twenty points. Everyone wanted his personal help on every subject. For all previous teachers–all women–we struggled to be the smartest, the star, the pet.
I had not experienced envy like that since my brother refused to loan me his G.I. Joe doll. I had Barbie dolls aplenty and only one wimpy Ken doll who couldn’t even bend his legs.
Mr. Weagan, in his previous career, was a volunteer fireman. He looked like a life-size G.I. Joe doll. With our blooming hormones, we all wanted to bask in his attention.
At recess, when our teacher organized a game of touch football even the girls were all in. At that age I was profoundly nearsighted, but a fast runner, so when Mr. Weagan drilled the football at me, I caught it with my chest before my hands clamped together. Flat on my back, struggling for air, I had somehow fallen into the end zone while maintaining possession of the ball. My teammates gathered around to cheer. Growing up with two brothers, I could take a hit. Our motto was, “no blood, no foul,” but this hit knocked me down.
It was Mr. Weagan who realized I wasn’t breathing normally. He lifted me to my feet and ordered two boys to take me to the school nurse. Wheezing like an old bellows, I grinned the whole way to the nurse’s office. Bruised sternum, she diagnosed.
Though I ached for weeks, it was worth it.
I was sent to the optometrist who fitted me with glasses. The whole world came into focus. It had been years since I saw individual leaves on trees instead of green blobs. My grades improved because I could read the board from the back of the class. Sure, a few insensitive brats called me four-eyes, but Mr. Weagan looked even dreamier in focus.
Mr. Weagan, wherever you are, thank you for knocking me off my feet.