Supersex Me

By Jo Scott-Coe

Essay

bushmaster manOn  Friday, November 30, after driving himself from Connecticut to Wyoming, Christopher Krumm used a bow and arrow to kill his professor father at the front of a classroom filled with community college students, and then stabbed himself to death. But before he did that, he stabbed his father’s 42 year-old girlfriend at home two miles away.

On Friday, December 14, Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty children and six adults. But before he did that, he shot and killed his mother at home.

On Christmas Eve, William Spengler lured first responders to his neighborhood by setting a fire and then shooting four firemen, killing two of them, then committing suicide. Before he did that, he likely caused the death of his sister, whose remains were later found in the ashes. Way before that, in 1980, he killed his grandmother with a hammer.

Prologue

 

Viruses are embedded into the very fabric of all life.

— Luis P. Villarreal, “The Living and Dead Chemical Called a Virus,” 2005

From my hotel window I look over the deep glacial lake to the foothills and the Alps beyond. Twilight vanishes the hills into the mountains; then all is lost to the dark.

After breakfast, I wander the cobbled village streets. The frost is out of the ground, and huge bushes of rosemary bask fragrantly in the sun. I take a trail that meanders up the steep, wild hills past flocks of sheep. High on an outcrop, I lunch on bread and cheese. Late in the afternoon along the shore, I find ancient pieces of pottery, their edges smoothed by waves and time. I hear that a virulent flu is sweeping this small town.

A few days pass and then comes a delirious night. My dreams are disturbed by the comings and goings of ferries. Passengers call into the dark, startling me awake. Each time I fall back into sleep, the lake’s watery sound pulls at me. Something is wrong with my body. Nothing feels right.

In the morning I am weak and can’t think. Some of my muscles don’t work. Time becomes strange. I get lost; the streets go in too many directions. The days drift past in confusion. I pack my suitcase, but for some reason it’s impossible to lift. It seems to be stuck to the floor. Somehow I get to the airport. Seated next to me on the transatlantic flight is a sick surgeon; he sneezes and coughs continually. My rare, much-needed vacation has not gone as planned. I’ll be okay; I just want to get home.

After a flight connection in Boston, I land at my small New England airport near midnight. In the parking lot, as I bend over to dig my car out of the snow, the shovel turns into a crutch that I use to push myself upright. I don’t know how I get home. Arising the next morning, I immediately faint to the floor. Ten days of fever with a pounding headache. Emergency room visits. Lab tests. I am sicker than I have ever been. Childhood pneumonia, college mononucleosis — those were nothing compared to this.

A few weeks later, resting on the couch, I spiral into a deep darkness, falling farther and farther away until I am impossibly distant. I cannot come back up; I cannot reach my body. Distant sound of an ambulance siren. Distant sound of doctors talking. My eyelids heavy as boulders. I try to open them to a slit, just for a few seconds, but they close against my will. All I can do is breathe.

The doctors will know how to fix me. They will stop this. I keep breathing. What if my breath stops? I need to sleep, but I am afraid to sleep. I try to watch over myself; if I go to sleep, I might never wake up again.

 

 

1. Field Violets

at my feet
when did you get here?
snail

— Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828)

In early spring, a friend went for a walk in the woods and, glancing down at the path, saw a snail. Picking it up, she held it gingerly in the palm of her hand and carried it back toward the studio where I was convalescing. She noticed some field violets on the edge of the lawn. Finding a trowel, she dug a few up, then planted them in a terra-cotta pot and placed the snail beneath their leaves. She brought the pot into the studio and put it by my bedside.

“I found a snail in the woods. I brought it back and it’s right here beneath the violets.”

“You did? Why did you bring it in?”

“I don’t know. I thought you might enjoy it.”

“Is it alive?”

She picked up the brown acorn-sized shell and looked at it. “I think it is.”
Why, I wondered, would I enjoy a snail? What on earth would I do with it? I couldn’t get out of bed to return it to the woods. It was not of much interest, and if it was alive, the responsibility — especially for a snail, something so uncalled for — was overwhelming.

My friend hugged me, said good-bye, and drove off.

At age thirty-four, on a brief trip to Europe, I was felled by a mysterious viral or bacterial pathogen, resulting in severe neurological symptoms. I had thought I was indestructible. But I wasn’t. If anything did go wrong, I figured modern medicine would fix me. But it didn’t. Medical specialists at several major clinics couldn’t diagnose the infectious culprit. I was in and out of the hospital for months, and the complications were life threatening. An experimental drug that became available stabilized my condition, though it would be several grueling years to a partial recovery and a return to work. My doctors said the illness was behind me, and I wanted to believe them. I was ecstatic to have most of my life back.

But out of the blue came a series of insidious relapses, and once again, I was bedridden. Further, more sophisticated testing showed that the mitochondria in my cells no longer functioned correctly and there was damage to my autonomic nervous system; all functions not consciously directed, including heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion, had gone haywire. The drug that had previously helped now caused dangerous side effects; it would soon be removed from the market.

When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats, and whens and their impossibly distant kin how. The search is exhaustive; the answers, elusive. Sometimes my mind went blank and listless; at other times it was flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness, and intolerable loss.

Given the ease with which health infuses life with meaning and purpose, it is shocking how swiftly illness steals away those certainties. It was all I could do to get through each moment, and each moment felt like an endless hour, yet days slipped silently past. Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.

I had been moved to a studio apartment where I could receive the care I needed. My own farmhouse, some fifty miles away, was closed up. I did not know if or when I’d ever make it home again. For now, my only way back was to close my eyes and remember. I could see the early spring there, the purple field violets — like those at my bedside — running rampant through the yard. And the fragrant small pink violets that I had planted in the little woodland garden to the north of my house — they, too, would be in bloom. Though not usually hardy this far north, somehow they survived. In my mind I could smell their sweetness.

Before my illness, my dog, Brandy, and I had often wandered the acres of forest that stretched beyond the house to a hidden, mountain-fed brook. The brook’s song of weather and season followed us as we crisscrossed its channel over partially submerged boulders. On the trail home, in the boggiest of spots, perched on tiny islands of root and moss, I found diminutive wild white violets, their throats faintly striped with purple.

These field violets in the pot at my bedside were fresh and full of life, unlike the usual cut flowers brought by other friends. Those lasted just a few days, leaving murky, odoriferous vase water. In my twenties I had earned my living as a gardener, so I was glad to have this bit of garden right by my bed. I could even water the violets with my drinking glass.

But what about this snail? What would I do with it? As tiny as it was, it had been going about its day when it was picked up. What right did my friend and I have to disrupt its life? Though I couldn’t imagine what kind of life a snail might lead.

I didn’t remember ever having noticed any snails on my countless hikes in the woods. Perhaps, I thought, looking at the nondescript brown creature, it was precisely because they were so inconspicuous. For the rest of the day the snail stayed inside its shell, and I was too worn out from my friend’s visit to give it another thought.

The only real point to life is for it not to turn out the way you expect. Think about it. If, at an early age, you mapped out a life for yourself, and it played out exactly the way you wanted, you would be fantastically bored. In fact, if nothing or no one placed obstacles along the preordained path of your life, you would probably introduce those obstacles just to experience a little variety. I think you can make an argument that those of us prone to self sabotage are not necessarily fighting some deep interior hatred of ourselves but simply bored.

We humans also feel a deep-seated need for order in the world that stands in contrast with our desire for conflict. This is probably why we create gods who are all powerful and ostensibly running the show, but presume those gods afford us free will. There is a plan, but we are permitted to fuck it up. Or we look to distant and irrelevant celestial bodies to help us understand who we are, but the interpretation of these stars and planets are left to infallible humans.

This is why I believe most good stories follow a certain template. A character’s life is pushed out of balance and he spends the rest of the story attempting to restore order. Each time he succeeds, new and greater complications arise, creating a back and forth effect, an increasing push and pull effort until no greater threat can be imagined, at which point the character either overcomes his obstacles or is overcome by them. Or some ironic blend of the two.

Of course a novel or a film or any medium may incorporate one of these stories or scores of them, depending on its scope. The threats might be real or imagined. They might be contained within a family or cover the entire planet (or galaxy). But this template functions because it appeals to our inner struggle between order and conflict. Play all you want with a certain medium, introduce new variations on form and structure and language, but do not argue with me about the underlying way a basic story functions. That template is what joins the story with our biology.

Our lives are stories. We are rarely in balance, and even when we are, we seek ways to temporarily push ourselves out of balance. Perhaps the wise among us, as they grow older, realize this and try to reverse field. But I would wager that even our most comfortable and intelligent seniors still look for daily reasons to complain about something.

If life is a story, perhaps its most impressive climax is romantic love. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world more miraculous. Billions of parents around the world might disagree, but intellectually I find romantic love more interesting because of the relative rarity compared to its familial counterpart. Perhaps the love a mother feels for her child is more powerful, but the truth is there is a functional purpose for that version of love, a very real biological source.

You might argue how lust and temporary romantic partnerships are also driven by our genes, that all life is a machine, but my definition of romantic love stands outside that model. Finding a suitable biological partner might amount to nothing more than hip-to-waist ratios in females, or height and breadth combinations among men, and the general health and beauty of both. But coupling those physical attributes with our complex, brilliant, chemical brains is something I’m not sure evolution has grasped yet. Or something we humans can really understand. In the first blush of a crush, it’s hard to separate the physical urges from the intellectual. You can’t really know if the attraction you feel is a biological imperative or the far more complex joining of two individual minds. Most often, the attraction is weighted on one side more than the other, and this is why the most fulfilling relationships are so scarce.

Complicating matters even further is how often it happens that one person experiences the complete picture of romantic love and the other does not. Due to social norms and biological pressures, relationships like this might last a lifetime, but this happens far less often than it once did, at least in Western culture. Today there are too many options available to us, and countless love stories have taught us to accept nothing less than a magical union. Functional relationships burdened with these fanciful expectations often experience structural failure, and millions of people wander aimlessly wondering why they can’t find someone perfect with whom to share their lives.

It’s no secret why love stories are usually written about the chase but rarely about what comes after. The excitement of courting or being courted is the engine that drives the story. The obstacles one experiences while driving toward the climax of admitted and recognized love is the story. The sense of balance one experiences by beginning the relationship is not a story. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s the end of the story other people might find interesting. You don’t write that part in a book or film because the chemistry between those two people is so unique that it likely wouldn’t be entertaining to a wide audience. Who wants to listen to their friend prattle on about how awesome their partner is? Wouldn’t you rather hear her admit how she believed she was important to him, only to find out he’d been using her as a toy all this time?

Maybe it’s depressing to recognize these things about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, understanding humanity is a way to make sense of our lives and set expectations. Extended happiness and true romantic love does exist in the world. There are many examples of it. But recognizing the scarcity of these things may prevent you from being disappointed when you don’t find them, or at the very least help you accept something less in your life. After all, the earth will continue to rotate no matter how you feel about it, and your acceptance that every day won’t bring roses will help you make the most of those many sunrises and sunsets.

In any case, since it’s true life rarely turns out the way you expect, it’s also possible the most amazing event of your life will happen tomorrow.

That you can’t ever know for sure is what makes life so beautiful in the first place.

I am a parent of two wonderful – if insomniac – children.  They are miracles, bundles of joy, fountains of youth and blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah.  While I adore them, they are freaking killing me and there was absolutely no way in hell I was going through this again.  So… I got snipped.

I just like saying it that way – “snipped”. It freaks out the guys I know.  Seriously.  Some men to whom I mention it literally cringe.  Others take a solemn pause in conversation, as if acknowledging the passing of a comrade in arms (or groins, I suppose).  Many make polite “Oh. Really?” sounds and swiftly change the subject.  To watch them just shut down amuses me. I sometimes want to reassure them that I’m just preventing unwanted pregnancies while increasing my own selfish pleasure (Dear Trojan, Inc: Thank you for your many years of loyal and excellent service. Regrettably, upcoming reductions in headcount make our continued relationship unnecessary, although I will gladly and emphatically recommend your services to my son. In about fifteen years.) just so they chill out.  I’m sterile, not a eunuch.

I get it, though. I think if I hadn’t already had kids and wasn’t currently suffering through raising an infant, I might be more disturbed by the thought of someone taking pokey-cutty things to my nether regions.  While I don’t recall my circumcision in the least (I was born in Jewish Memorial Hospital – just color me doomed on arrival), I’m still a little surprised that I don’t have to fight any repressed-memory panic.

After disregarding the best-recommended specialist in the area (his name was, you guessed it, “Dr. Wiener” and I suspect you really don’t want to be giggling at the name of the guy needling into your ‘nads), I made an appointment with the second-best and not at all amusingly named specialist, had my consult, confirmed that I had both testicles and means to pay for the surgery, then set a date.  As luck would have it, it was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and you’d better believe there were more than a few “Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!” jokes.  Yes, my big day.  What I sometimes thought of as my vas mitzvah – “Today I am a sterile man.”  Well, almost.  According to my crack medical team, it would take about thirty ejaculations to “clear the pipes”. The doors to the baby factory would be closed but there would still be twenty thousand or so shoppers that needed to check out before we turned out the lights for good. So I guess I would be pre-sterile. I would’ve signed a letter of intent to be sterile. I’d be sterile-ready.

And when that day rolled around, I was obscenely happy.  Almost giddy.  Let my wife’s biological alarm clock wail like, well, our latest addition – I wouldn’t have to care!  Sorry, happy to attempt to oblige as often as you’d like but, well…. Plus, I have to admit, I’m a big bio-nerd by nature, always curious about the workings of the human body.  I’d closely watched my own dental surgeries and Lasik procedure – it would be nice to see something new.  I bounced into the doctor’s office, already on first-name terms with the receptionist and my nurse.

Empty my bladder?  Why, now that you mention it, it probably couldn’t hurt to try!  Brilliant idea, really.  Hmmm-hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm-hmmmmm.  Tap-tap-tap.  Wash thoroughly.  And we’re bopping down to the surgery room.

Drop ’em?  Already?  Everything?  Well… nurse Helga was no looker and likely wasn’t even back in her prime during the Johnson presidency (heh – “Johnson”) but I complied anyway.  I can keep my socks on?  Well, that’s a nice touch and keeps a sense of propriety about the whole thing.  And I chattered away, wearing naught but a t-shirt, socks and a smile.  She told me to lay back on the table and we compared favorite, obnoxious “impact injury to the groin” stories as she manhandled my manhood, yanking and flopping this way and that while scrubbing me with Betadine.

“This stuff’s brown, so don’t freak out when you get home and go to clean up. We had one guy call us, thinking he was bleeding out. Idiot.” I generally dig gruff and blunt but Helga was sort of scaring me. I don’t want to be a future story. Especially one ending in “idiot”.

“Okay, spread your legs.”  Yoink!  “And now close ’em. And relax.”

Yes, ma’am.  Just… please let go of my junk, per favore.

And we chit-chatted some more, with me flat on my back and my twig and berries flopped to one side and painted ochre, like some sort of primitive Kabuki porn.

“Now, the doctor’s going to give you three shots.  Down here.”  She poked roughly, in case I thought she meant my patella, because that makes perfect sense.  “After that, you shouldn’t feel anything sharp or pointy.”  Holy shit, did she just say that?  “If you do, say something!  Don’t be all macho and manly on this!”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”  I felt that I’d gotten to know her and that she’d appreciate this sort of candor.  “I’ve manlied my way through a lot of shit but we’re not yanking a tooth here.  What kind of idiot doesn’t say something with this?”  I figured I’d score big points with the “i-word”, a little mirroring to ingratiate myself.

“We had one. I asked him after, ‘How was it?’, and he tells me – ” She affected a look of mocking horror. ” – ‘It was HORRIBLE!’ and then he says he could feel everything!” She shook her head and I pushed the envelope of our sympatico.

“Idiot.” I mutter.

“Exactly!”  Another brownie point for me. I will provide several tips for anyone considering this procedure.  The first is to always score brownie points with the nurse.

Enter Herr Doktor.  Nice enough fellow but certainly not much by way of a sense of humor and he looked disturbingly more than a little like The Tall Man from the 80’s “Phantasm” horror series.  You know – the guy walking around with a giant, stainless-steel, contextually-apropos Flying Ball of Slicing, Cutting Death?  Frankly, I’m more than a little amazed that my schlong didn’t suddenly become an “innie” when he walked in.

“I see you shaved. That’s good.”

That almost sounded creepy.  Okay – drop the “almost”.  But he was right – it was good.  Yes, the doc, during our consultation, warned me that long hairs may get sutured in and so I may wish to consider shaving.  I am, in large part, of Sicilian heritage and we are a somewhat hirsute-of-body kinda people.  So a-shaving I had gone, another new experience to me.  I had never “manscaped” before.  And, um, I liked it… a lot.  Continue to, in fact, but that’s another story.  Should you be contemplating a similar move – for surgical reasons or otherwise – I highly recommend the Norelco Bodygroom.

This was about all the small talk I could extract before we got down to business.  I managed to squeeze a smirk out of Cap’n Clip’em when Helga grumbled about “opening up the wrong end” in regards to a surgical sheet and I replied with, “As long as I don’t hear him say that, it’ll be a good day.”  I know how to work a room, even with exposed and Betadined genitals.

We chatted some more about kids, sleep deprivation, more groin injuries and then Helga warned, “Okay, you’re going to feel a little stick and some burning.”

Pfff – okay, lady. You have no idea what I’ve been through in my life and the kind of pain I’ve endured withouwowowOWOWOW!!! I think I actually started to levitate a little because Nurse Ratched started to sound concerned.

“It’s okay! Caaaaalm down….” And I did.  Breathe, burning feeling is fading, needle is out – Oh, crap, not the left one!  Breeeeathe…. Not as bad as the first.  Ooooookay.  Now he’s going to poke me in the middle, too, but I’m already getting a bit numb down there so it’s okay.  Kinda.

Whew.  Okay.  Then there was some… other stuff.  I mean, man, it was weird.  Nothing hurt but I could feel moving around, tugging, et cetera and the anticipation was a little unsettling.  Especially when I heard snipping.  And when the doc reached for the laser to cauterize me and I saw smoke rising.  Wow.  On second thought, I think I won’t be having barbecued pork for lunch… ever again.  Then he added to my unease when he seemed to be, well, looking around for something on the second side.

“Everything where it’s supposed to be, doc?”

“Oh, yes.  Here.  You still want to see what this is all about?”  He remembered that, during our consultation, I had readily admitted my geek status and medical curiosity.  And, well, I did want to see.  I am a twisted fuck.
 
There we were, discussing blood supply and seminal distribution, with me sitting up and mostly naked and him illustrating various points on my vas… well… sticking out of a hole in my scrotum.  I elected to lay back down before he cut and cauterized it.  Probably best – I may have had a moment of weakness and asked if I could do the actual snipping.  I see I have already referred to myself as twisted.  Just go back and re-read the sentence.

And just like that, we were done.  Stitch here.  Wipe there.  Direct pressure.  After-care instructions (mostly given to my doting wife) then a spousal chauffeur home with one brief stop at the local supermarket’s pharmacy to pick up some Percocet that I was assured I would want (never did take it, though).

On getting home, I almost immediately began to learn many valuable and interesting things.  For example, you should explicitly specify “including when he’s laying down on the couch” when you warn your children ahead of time that no, you will not be playing with them and no, there will be no climbing on Daddy.  Ice packs really are your friend.  And instructions that include the admonition “if you screw up, your scrotum will swell to the size of a grapefruit – at least” should be heeded.
 
Really, really, really take note of that last one.
 
Now, men, a lot of activities you might not expect end up tugging on your balls through the course of a day.  Like coughing, sneezing, sighing, clearing your throat, yelling at misbehaving children, laughing heartily, reaching across your torso with an extended arm holding a laptop and, um, thinking about sex… a lot.  But stupidly going up and down stairs multiple times to ride herd on workers replacing a tiled wall is just courting disaster, something I had frequent occasion to contemplate on subsequent nights when jolted awake by pain every time I rolled onto my stomach in my sleep.

 
I’m convinced that, somewhere in the darkness of the universe, no doubt hunched over her breakfast of rusty nails, baby scorpions and razor blades, Helga was chuckling, “Idiot!”

I went to a high school that was pretty lax about class requirements. Students were strongly encouraged to take at least three years’ worth of every major subject: English, Social Studies, Math, Science. But the word “encouraged” is key.

My guidance counselor was just too sweet for her own good. Or I guess for my good, really, because once I realized that the requirements were flexible, it was goodbye to Math and Science. Anything with numbers or facts? Peace out, see ya later.

What I loved was English. I was always reading. You know that phrase people (it seems like only old ladies, actually) always say, like: “That Billy always has his nose in a book! Such a bookworm!” I was that bookworm. Literally, though; at almost all times, I walked around with my big nose in a little book. I would read on the bus, step down, and keep reading as I walked across the parking lot to class. I looked like Belle in The Beauty and the Beast, walking through the halls like I was strolling around Paris with a book in front of my face and a croissant in the other hand. If mentioning a non-Pixar animated movie is too archaic, by the way, and the reference has been lost on you, go to 1:45 in this vid. The chick ecstatically sliding across the bookshelf, that’s me.

I also loved languages. Beginning in seventh grade, we had to take a language and our choices were Latin, Spanish, or French. The hot girls took French, the apathetic masses took Spanish, and the parent-pleasing “intellectuals” took Latin. Which one do you think I chose?

After three years of Latin, I liked learning a language so much that I added Spanish, too. I dropped Math in order to do so. Then, junior year, I dropped Science, too, in order to double up in English. Our choices that year were Classical Lit—in which we read Homer, Aeschylus, and other dead Greeks, or AP (Advanced Placement) Lit, which involved Joyce, Dickens, Dostoevsky and blablabla, you know those dudes. The literary giants.

I couldn’t just choose one. I elected to take no Science, no Math, and to make up for the void by adding something called an “independent study.” For my independent study, I sat in a small storage closet with my favorite English teacher (poor, kind man) and we would discuss short stories from the 1800s.

So, to reiterate the list here: I was taking two sections of foreign languages, two sections of English, and a special private study of Hawthorne and Poe. I was a huge fucking nerd.

Senior year, I wanted to do it again—no Math or Science. But my guidance counselor insisted that colleges might not like the discrepancy, and that I should really choose at least a Science class. Of all things, we went with AP Biology, based on the logic that I had taken regular Bio freshman year and scraped by with a B, and hey, it was just memorization, after all. Kingdom, Phallus, Order, Genius, right? Lots of lists and stuff.

On the first day, the teacher announced to us, “This is AP-level Biology, I expect AP-level work and commitment.” Fuuuuck. Then she passed out a huge book and said we would cover a chapter a week and have a big multiple choice exam every Friday.

For the first test, I studied for a little while, memorized the bullshit, and felt pretty good after taking it. She handed them back Monday, and I got an 85. I was pretty happy with that. 85 was a B, and hey, if I could get a straight B in the class, that was okay.

I felt really good after taking the second test. I felt like I maybe even brought up my score from the first one, maybe got into the 90s range. But on Monday, she handed them back and I got a 74. “Hmm,” I thought, “That’s a bit of a drop. But it’s not so bad, and I’ll pull it up next time.”

For the third test, I studied harder than before. I made flashcards, and had my parents quiz me. I felt good. After actually taking the test, though, I didn’t feel so good. I just wasn’t gettin’ this science stuff! We got the test back Monday, and sure enough, I got a 65. Uh-oh. That’s like a D, right? I was upset, to say the least. I wanted to burn my Bio textbook. A year later, in college, I would get the chance to burn a book, but it would be Eccoci, my text from first-year Italian. As I held the flame to its angry pages, I closed my eyes and thought about AP Bio. Note: No books were harmed in the making of this TNB post (nor even in the photo below; after holding the lighter there long enough for a picture, I wussed out).

Meanwhile, we were nearing the deadline to drop a class. Soon, I’d be in too deep. But I also knew I couldn’t really drop the class, because I needed a science corurse.

So, for the fourth week’s test, I really kicked into high gear. I started studying a week in advance, read through each chapter twice, and tried to think of any surprise, trick questions. This time, I wasn’t fucking around.

At this point, you know where the story is headed, don’t you?

I took the test, and boy, it went great. I knew all of the questions with confidence, and walking out of class Friday, I thought that if anything, I had been overprepared!

After completing the test, I felt so good about it that after school that very afternoon, I actually went to the Science office to approach the teacher. I wanted to find out my grade, and I knew that even though we didn’t get tests returned until Monday, they were all graded with the Scantron machine (“Use #2 pencils only! Darken each rectangle fully! No errant pencil marks!”) and therefore took a teacher thirty seconds and zero effort to score each one. She had probably already graded them.

The teacher’s name was Miss Tyson. “Hi Miss Tyson!” I said when I walked into the Science office. “Hello, Daniel,” she said quietly. She looked grim.

Hey, so, I know we won’t get back them til Monday, but I thought maybe if you had already scored them, I could find out my grade from today’s test now? I just feel really good about it and wanted to see mine early!

She looked at me, and said, “Are… are you serious?”

“Yeah!” I said with genuine, doe-eyed enthusiasm.

She looked around the office at the other science teachers like she was embarrassed, and she said, “I’m going to write your score down for you on a piece of paper.”

“Gee golly, okay!” I said, excited to see my A+ grade.

Then she took a little corner of scrap paper and brought out her pen. I still remember it today; it was a purple Le Pen. Felt tip, gorgeous ink. A really nice pen! She wrote something on the scrap of paper and then slid it over to me with her hand covering it. Then she slowly lifted her hand.

On the piece of paper, she had written the number 47.

I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Oh, was it graded out of 50 this time?”

“No, that’s your score out of a hundred,” she said.

I smiled, and thought for a second. I probably thought about what I would eat for my after-school snack. Then I looked up at her and said, “Okay, will you sign this drop sheet?”