by Stephen Parrish

y friend Peter and I signed up for Advanced Composition our senior year in high school. The teacher, Mr. Adana, was a charismatic cherub who greeted boys with direct eye contact, a firm handshake, and the words, “Hello there, handsome!” Wisely, he did not greet the girls with any reference to their looks, and equipped with such survival instincts, he was able to log more than four decades as a high school teacher.

The more you admire a teacher, the more devastated you become when you learn how little he thinks of you. I admired Mr. Adana very much.

One day Mr. Adana called six or seven students to the front of the class, and while the rest of us waited idly in our seats, he spoke to them in a low voice. Peter, one of the select, listened raptly, wearing an uncharacteristically humble expression.

Following the meeting the students returned to their seats with new-found swagger. Peter sat down heavily next to me and waited, with obvious aloofness, for the inevitable question.

“Well?” I asked.

“He just, um, wanted us to know that, um, we were, you know, the ones in the class … most likely to publish.”

Most likely to publish?

“And he encouraged us to begin submitting our work as soon as possible.”

I gulped. I wasn’t even out of high school, and already I had become chopped liver.

A few months later, after we’d graduated, Peter and I paid a visit to our old high school. We were college freshmen then, and acted as though we were on furlough from the French Foreign Legion. Soldiers of fortune. Big men on campus. There and back again. Return with your shield or upon it!

Our former teachers smiled indulgently. It somehow never occurred to us that they’d been to college too.

Mr. Adana’s classroom was the last stop on the itinerary. “What grade are you getting in composition?” he asked Peter.

“It’s only midterm,” Peter replied, bracing himself. “But it looks like I’m headed for a B.”

Mr. Adana laid into him. Lectured him on the need to prove himself early, to make his mark, to send a trumpeting shout across the land that he, Peter, a writer, had arrived. Warned him that professional writers were “called” from those who earned As. That many who earned As were not “called.” That those who earned Bs ate dust.

“They eat dust,” he repeated. “I expect more from you, Peter. I expect a lot more.”

Catching his breath, Mr. Adana then turned to me and asked, “What grade are you getting in composition?”

I bowed my head, braced myself, and confessed, “I’m also en route to a B.”

He was going to lay into me. Lecture me on the need to prove myself. Make my mark, trumpet my presence, etc. Warn me that since I was already behind Peter, and Peter was already behind the eight ball, I had all that much more distance to make up. I needed to work even harder than Peter. Give it some elbow grease. The old college try. Catch up. For God’s sake, boy, reach.

He patted me on the shoulder. “Well done, handsome,” he said. “Good work. I’m proud of you.”

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