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April 2019 Vol. 15 No. 1

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Janet Lynn Davis

The Day I Decided Not to Become a Teacher

1. "Power in a suitcase"

In neat block letters on a classroom chalkboard: "It is Sept. 15, 1959. It is warm and sunny. Cliff is not here today." Just another ordinary morning at an elementary school in Houston, Texas, it seemed. The story goes that a troubled man – drifter, twice-divorced wife beater, ex-convict – entered the school to enroll his son as a student but was turned away for his inability to provide the needed paperwork or even his address. Soon afterward, with his seven-year-old at his side, the man appeared on the playground, near a group of carefree children. He had with him a couple of cryptic, scrawled notes and a suitcase packed with sticks of dynamite; a doorbell button was affixed to the bottom. A confrontation occurred, things didn't go his way, then boom. His bomb detonated, injuring eighteen and killing six – himself, his son, two young boys, a custodian, a teacher.

Some older students inside the building thought this was the big one, the dreaded atomic bomb attack.

with the blast
a wall clock became
a missile
the seconds tick-ticking
until time froze

The incident made the local and national news; even Time magazine reported on it. But the coverage was relatively short-lived. School reopened the next day for anyone ready to return, despite the decimated blacktop play surface, despite the bits of flesh still tangled in trees. There were no counselors. The children and adults moved on, as everyone was supposed to do back then.

2. Six miles away and several years later

My best friend, Karen, burst into the girls' restroom and found me by the sink. In a half-whisper, she began relaying to me what someone else in the second grade apparently had told her: "A man went to a school playground with a BOMB. He hurt children and a teacher. . . ." It was as though the information was current, not years old. We didn't know. News sometimes traveled slowly, if at all, for kids of our generation. And any memories that formed found snug homes in the crannies of our minds.

As a child, some of my best conversations with friends occurred when we sat bare-legged in the thick St. Augustine grass. Occasionally, the talks turned serious. Don't accept rides from strangers was a mantra we knew. We'd watch cars drive slowly down the block in our sleepy, starter-home neighborhood, wondering if this would be the day when someone would snatch us. But the revelation about the bombing tipped me over the edge. Then and there, I concluded that schools were dangerous places. I began contemplating other professions, such as writing. And I kept things to myself.

we imagined
tunneling deep down
in the earth
to reach the other side . . .
our bones unbreakable