D—ks Out for Harambe

“‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around every once in a while, you might miss it.’”

“That’s from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I told the class. 

As I scanned their faces, to see if it registered, I realized none of them would have the appreciation for it yet. However, they were happy we weren’t discussing Of Mice and Men anymore, so they had chalked that up as a win.

There were only a few minutes left in class.

I didn’t have to check the clock; many of them had already begun to pack up to leave, so I reminded them of the reading assignment for tomorrow and let them go. While I still sometimes felt like a fraud as a teacher, it was different than the feeling I used to get when I worked in finance as an institutional sales trader. Some of those days, after entering my boss’s orders into the system on my computer, I would remember that millions of dollars of securities were now at my control. Once the night terrors had become consistent, I knew I needed to leave that job.

While teaching was a better fit, there were times I still felt uncertain. It had also been a steep learning curve since these students had attention deficit disorder and learning differences. Before orientation, I had been familiar with dyslexia, but terms like executive functioning and twice-exceptional were new. Not to mention, recently my OCD had returned, so now I was also concerned about catching HIV from touching surfaces; even though, intellectually, I knew transmission of the virus was only possible through intravenous injection or direct sexual contact. For some reason, my mind wouldn’t accept that; it wouldn’t operate under logical conditions. Emotionally, every day was a rollercoaster ride. My colleague O’Brien popped his head into my classroom. Upon crossing the threshold he began singing lyrics to the song “Isolation” by Joy Division. When I didn’t immediately join in, he stopped.

“Doorknob AIDS?” he said. 

The previous day I had confided in him about my affliction. Somehow his miming rubbing his genitals on the door, and making light of the situation, helped to ease me off the ledge. I had always subscribed to a theory put forth by Steve Allen that comedy is just tragedy plus time, and though not much time had elapsed, I could appreciate the silliness of my affliction; even though at times I was convinced I might die. 

This is the way, step inside,” I replied. 

A line from another Joy Division song The Atrocity Exhibition. Call and response Joy Division was something else we had bonded over while attempting to make heads or tails of some of the hurdles we called weekdays. O’Brien started talking about the most recent thorn in his side; the snafu with Harambe the gorilla. The death of the ape was a hot button issue but had mostly become fodder for doodles and discussions among the student body. Even when it wasn’t relevant to the lesson, students would find a way to refer back to Harambe. Like Ken Bone before him, Harambe was here to stay. Memes would circulate and homework assignments would feature the primate front and center.

Unfortunately, O’Brien had to head back to his classroom to prepare for the next lesson. That would be his last year as my colleague, as he would leave to teach at another school at the end of the final semester. Thinking about it now, those are the moments that have stayed with me. The “difficulties” of dealing with Harambe, and quoting Joy Divison, are the things I remember. Perhaps Steve Allen was on to something. After O’Brien left the school, I stayed for one more year. Thankfully, I started to take Prozac which managed my OCD, so while doorknob AIDS still existed, it was like a diffused landmine.

Of course, I had a ruptured brain aneurysm at the end of the following school year, but that’s another story entirely.  

Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com

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