August 11, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

The first one sat on my desk before I got to school. It was in a simple brown bag, folded over at the top and stapled.  There was a note on it that said, Do not open at school.  I must have unlocked my own door that Friday morning instead of sneaking in Dave’s room and through the door connecting our classrooms to where my desk was.  Dave always got to school before me, even though I woke every morning with the anxiety only a first year teacher knows- the kind that drove me to school early even when I was entirely prepped for the day. 

I stuck my head through the purple door behind my desk to Dave’s room where he was sitting at his desk, catching up on the reading he had assigned for the day. I raised my eyebrow.

“Hey, Darcie,” he put the book down. “Did you get my package?” I smiled.  “Good. Your Christmas present.  But don’t open it until you get home. Lock it in your desk, don’t tell anyone, okay?”

At my parents home that night, finally home for an extended Christmas break after a tortuous first few months at a new career, in a new town and state with very few friends and few students who cared and only a few ideas on how to reach them, I opened that brown paper bag and pulled out a small jelly jar filled with a lime-ish brown colored liquid.  I have to admit, I was surprised when I saw the small size of the jar, given the conversations about our mutual love for margaritas.  After that first one though, I understood why the small size.  The first sip was the kind of sip that you can feel all the way down to your stomach, reaching out, warming all your insides. The second made me forget my job and all the anxiety that went with it. 

And the second margarita delivery, I shared. 

Dave was like that- a strong margarita inside a brown non descript paper bag, stapled and delivered as secret contraband and waiting in the faculty refrigerator.  ‘Smoke and mirrors’ was what he called his teaching style but I knew that wasn’t true.  He may have felt he was hiding behind smoke and mirrors but after working with him for five years, I know what was behind the smoke: a teacher and friend with a passion for literature and art that can’t fool kids.  I have seen the loyalty of students that comes only as a reaction to an authentic teacher- one who is committed to kids. I have seen him spontaneously jump on a desk for his own dramatic reading of Jonathon Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, something he may have gotten more of a kick out of than the students and I have seen kids roll their eyes at him in that way that really means they’re into it.

My first year at Mascoma was his first year back from taking time off to fight prostate cancer.  He didn’t talk too much about it to me until I revealed that I too had battled cancer. That was probably when our real friendship began. Since then, I have laughed off frustrations with the education system with him, enjoyed the successes of teaching, wallowed in the defeats.  I have turned to him for advice in writing, in teaching, in love. I have read his hitchhiking stories- unsuspecting autobiographical stories that would have shocked and delighted his students. I was constantly reminded by him that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.  I have heard him talk endlessly and lovingly about his wife Julie, a woman he married seventeen years ago, his second marriage and one that showed his happiness every moment he talked about it and was evident in the way he gazed at her, spoke to her, spoke about her. The kind of happy love every young romantic hopes to have someday.

The margarita deliveries came intermittently through my five years at Mascoma and I appreciated every single one.  Sometimes I shared them, sometimes not. Sometimes they were a strict margarita, sometimes they were a Dave original, maybe with a touch of pomegranate juice or splash of orange.  My last one was the first one I actually shared with Dave. It was on a visit with friends to Dave and Julie’s new house.  It was summer and after Dave had taken off more time to fight a recurrence of the cancer. The afternoon was a beautiful, cool blue in August and Julie had made delicious barbeque chicken, pitas and humus, a feast in the backyard. And Dave made us margaritas. Patron, cointreau and a splash of lime. We talked of sunken canoes and loons and disappearing and reappearing cats and summers past and plans ahead and the new house and never mentioned cancer. 

Two years later, Dave passed away from a long and dignified battle with prostate cancer. He was courageous in his counterattack of this awful disease, searching out the newest drugs and latest clinical trials, no matter the distance from home.  He continued teaching as long as he could, created a writing group and spent as much time with Julie as possible, building a new house on a beautiful lake in the face of his terminal illness.

I will never taste another one of Dave’s margaritas and maybe that’s okay because without Dave around to deliver them, what are they anyway but just a margarita? Food is just food when it’s not connected to anything. Or maybe anyone.


  1. darc, this is beautiful - i teared up at the end. great idea for the blog, the last line of this entry sums it up. - seema

  2. You're a wonderful writer, Darcie. Thanks so much for inviting me.

  3. that goes for me too :) Keep it coming!