Come To Me
It must have been only about eighty degrees, but the grueling sweat made Randy English feel as though was a hundred and twenty or so. To his mind, Satan himself must have been hiding somewhere within the hallways of Ferndale High School. It all seemed so distant and unfamiliar, even though he had been spending time there for the last three weeks in preparation for this, his first year as a teacher. Something he had waited for all his adult life. Something that seemed to have taken forever to achieve. Randy was 31 years old and a dinosaur in his view. In a world were the average age was about 16, he felt like an antique among men, a curmudgeon of sorts. He had been out of the Army, where he was a seasoned Military Policeman, for less than a year. There he had been respected as a professional and a leader. His troops admired him for his knowledge and care. Here though, he wondered if his pupils would do the same. He feared they would hate him and whisper things about him. He wanted to be liked, but he wanted to be respected too. He wanted his kids to learn and he wanted them to want to learn. In the Army it had been easy. You gave out the orders and people carried them out. Hell, they were happy to be given direction and not have to figure out, on their own, what to do from minute to minute. Here though, he was sure that spirits would be much more free thinking and less into being ordered about. Randy wasn’t sure if he was up to the challenge of adapting to civilian life or not. He hoped so just the same. Anyway, it would all come to light in fourteen minutes, when the bell sounded its toll. Soon the seats would be full of eleventh graders from every walk of life imaginable. Ferndale High, you see, was a school of diverse ethnic backgrounds; its students represented two hundred and three cultures from around the globe. His military experience though, he thought, would aid him with this. He had made his way in ten or so different countries over the years. He could speak bits and pieces of several languages. Most of his handy phrases would not be useful in a classroom of teenagers, but he had a few that were clean enough. Tick tock, tick tock…. The time was slipping away at an expedited pace. It all comes down to this Mr. English, he thought to himself. Tick tock, tick tock….
Suddenly the thunderous chime announced itself and the roar of sixteen hundred students filled the halls. In five minutes the sound would be heard again, and this time, it would mean the beginning of Randy English’s new life as a teacher and mentor to the Detroit area’s young people. Get a hold of yourself Randy, he thought, take a deep breath and do what you have waited so long to do. And here they come, one behind the other, like a just dismissed formation of soldiers scattering for the day. They began to fill the seats, first the back and then the front. The bell echoed again and class was in session. Twenty-four students sat before him, each one unique and each one staring at him, waiting for his signal to begin. Much like soldiers after all, he thought to himself. “Good morning, my name is Mr. English”, he proclaimed, “I’m the new teacher in the Political Science Department this year. I’ll take the roll, so please forgive me if I mispronounce your name. It’ll take a while for me to remember all of you, but I’ll get it right eventually. Let me know too if you prefer a nickname.”
Randall Armstrong…Here sir, Randy please,
Got it, Julie Barrington…Here,
Stephen Campbell…Steve please, here,
Got it, Richard Carlson, Here, call me Rico sir,
Rico, got it, Holly Davidson…Here Mr. English,
Helmit Derkuer…Right here,
Ok, Darrian Elzzy…Yea, over here,
Rodrick Hall…Here, you can call me Rod sir,
Got it, Terry Hynes…Right here, no place I’d rather be,
Good then, Vladimir Irks…Herl sar,
Is that Russian? Yas sar.
Ok, Katie Kelley…here sir
James Michealson…Yep, right here,
Un Sung Park…ere ser
Is that name Korean or Chinese? Korean ser,
Great, I speak a little, maybe we’ll have a little fun with that this year.
Jennifer Pettinato…I’m right here Mr. English.”
Randy was quite taken at how old Jennifer Pettinato looked. She seemed to be at least twenty-three as opposed to 17. He hoped silently that this would not distract him over the next nine months of school.
“Michael Rudat…Here sir, Mike please,
Got it, Allison Sheath….here!
Ok, you don’t have to sound so upset to be here Allison. Yea, ok.
And last, but not least, Nancy Willis…here.”
“Well, no that that’s out of the way, lets get started. First, I’d like to take few minutes and tell you all about me and where I come from. That way, you’ll all know my background and why I do things certain ways.” He gathers his thoughts and begins, “This is my very first year as a teacher, but don’t be fooled, I spent fourteen years in the Army, so I have taught many people many things. I’m new to teaching school, but I’ve always wanted to do it and I think, over time, you’ll find I love it and intend to do very well at it. As I said, I spent several years in the Army and it took me to many different places. I spent time in several states, like Texas, South Carolina, New York, California, and Florida. I also had the opportunity to live in other countries. I lived in Korea, Germany, Cuba, Kuwait, and Japan and I spent several months in countries like Honduras, Panama, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. I love this country and I loved every day I spent in the Army. It taught me a lot that I’ll never forget. But, it has long been my dream to come here and teach students like you. It’s here that I hope to make my real contributions the world. Within each one of you lays a future leader, an artist, a musician, an athlete, or a C.E.O. With the right guidance, I know that all of you can go on to be something great and that is what I truly hope happens for all of you. Anyway, that’s why I’m here. Now, I’d like to know what drives you and what your hopes and desires are. We have this class for a three-hour block, so I want you all to spend the next ninety minutes or so writing me a short paper, which tells me who you are and who you hope to become. At the end of the year, we’ll dig these back out and see how you, or your goals, might of changed. If there are no questions then let’s begin now.”
As the students began their writing, Mr. English sat at his desk and stared at each of his students and evaluated them. He thought he could figure each one of them out. Just by looking at them; their posture, their speech, their ability to write or just sit staring into space. He knew, just like he knew with new soldiers, right away the good from the bad. He had a kind of sixth sense about it. He glanced first at Darrian Ellzy, who seemed to be simply lost in space. Ellzy, he knew was not going to be his brightest of pupils. He reminded him of Kevin Sharpe, a Private First Class that worked for him when he was stationed at Fort Drum, NY. Sharpe was moron to the bone, but a workhorse, heart and soul. Ellzy, he thought, was just the same, an idiot, but a guy who would try his damdest every time. Next, he looked over to Katie Kelley, who was vigorously chipping away at here paper. Katie, obviously a member of a pure blooded Irish family, was sure to be one of his smartest students. He could tell by the determination she displayed in her eyes. She would one day be a productive member of society, in his view. Then Mr. English turned his attention to Terry Hynes, who was in the corner seat of the last row of the classroom. Terry was, without a doubt, a troublemaker. Perhaps Randy felt this way because this kid looked so much like the prick that used to pick on him back in his own high school days. John Davison was his name. What an asshole that kid was, he remembered. Terry was one of those kids all right. Randy knew that much. His senses were far to keen to miss that. Then it happened, unconsciously perhaps, but then again maybe not. He looked over to Jennifer Pettinato, the girl who seemed to be in her twenties. Something about her created feelings in him, which he knew he should not have. Both as a matter of morals and laws. She was attractive to say the least. Her dark hair was beautiful against her soft, brown skin. She wore a sexy little skirt, which revealed athletic legs that seemed to go all the way until Tuesday, as they say. His sexual thoughts about this young girl bothered him and he hoped against hope that he could ignore them, at least enough to do his job professionally. In the back of his mind he knew what the attraction was. Jennifer had looked very much like his wife who had passed away some years before. Even their names were the same, Jennifer. This likeness of his late wife ate away at his insides. It made him miss her even more. He had loved her with all his heart and never understood how God could have taken her from him at only 26 years old. In a strange way it had been a relief because she had battled illness for a long time and it tore at his heart to see her in so much pain. But, he loved her and even after five years, he still thought about her every day of the week. Suddenly, his trance was broken by the sound of his watch alarm, which he had set for ninety minutes at the start of the writing assignment. “Ok ladies and gentleman, times up. Please pass your papers forward and I’ll come by and collect them. With the last hour of class remaining, I would like to begin by discussing the syllabus and coarse requirements for this semester. As you know this class will be conducted daily in a three-hour block…there will be four theme papers due…two major debates will take place…you will be required to make one speech to the class…all tests will be from memory, so I suggest you take notes and study accordingly”, the sound of the bell interrupts, “Well, I guess that’s it for today. I’ll see you all in the morning.” Out they went, one by one; just it had been when they came in three hours earlier. The noise level heightened and Mr. English watched his kids scamper away.
He sat up nearly all night at the kitchen table reading through their papers. He was hung on every word they wrote. He desperately wanted to know these kids inside and out. He wanted to tailor his teaching styles to fit each of their unique qualities. This, he thought, would serve to assist him in his ability to mold each of them into what he hoped they would one day become. He wanted to produce presidents, congressmen, military leaders, scientists, poets, anything they wanted for themselves. He truly believed in all of them. Even Hynes, the kid that he thought was just like that prick John Davison back at Lincoln High School so many years before. He read in Allison Sheath’s paper that she hoped to one day become the world’s biggest bitch! He had no doubt she could do it too. That was one kid who was well on her way to reaching her long-term goals. There was a section of Rico Carlson’s paper that proclaimed he would like to own his own carpentry business. Modest, Randy thought, but better than being the world’s biggest bitch anyway. Jordon Story had written that he has every intension of becoming the next superstar of the NFL. He could do it too, Randy presumed, given his physical size and athletic appeal. The Russian kid, Vladimir Irks, wants to be a microbiologist. Now there’s something worthwhile, Randy said to himself. Terry Hynes’ paper was next in line. Randy wondered what this little shit would have to say. “Well, what da ya know”, Randy said out loud, “go figure, Hynes wants to be the dictator of an underprivileged third world country, so he can be the world’s biggest asshole I suppose”, Randy surmised. Just what I need on my conscious, the world’s biggest asshole and the world’s biggest bitch. Just my luck! It’s after midnight already, Randy noted, I have time for one more before I turn in. He began to read Steve Campbell’s paper, but then was overcome by the urge to end the evening by reading Jennifer’s paper. He dug through the pile until he saw the name Jennifer Pettinato neatly printed in the upper right corner of a paper and he pulled it from the stack. He quickly noticed that Jennifer hopes to become a corporate lawyer, but the paper went on to say that her real happiness would come from the man she marries. Her words sailed across her paper like artwork, “ I want to marry an older man. One with a stable job and who loves me. Also, someone who is dead sexy like a teacher I had last year in Algebra. I love men who teach because they’re always in control.” Oh shit, he thought. “This girl will be the death of me, I just know it.” God she was beautiful sitting behind that desk. Her perfect smile and soft voice. “I think I’ll go to bed now, before I think too much.” Randy English slept and he spent the night dreaming of his dead wife Jennifer.
He had met Jennifer Nichol during their senior year at Lincoln High. She was a popular girl with friends galore. He wondered a million times over what she saw in him, but whatever it was, it had a hold of her. They were inseparable from the first day they met. She was a total package; smart, beautiful, funny, and mature. She was in fact, his complete opposite, but despite that, they were in love. They did everything together and they loved it that way. Shortly after high school, they tied the knot. They had a grand wedding at a Lutheran church in Birmingham. Days later, he was in the Army and they left together for Fort Hood, TX, where they would adapt to military life as a couple, the way they did everything in life. He loved his job and she loved supporting him at it. She volunteered all over the Army community each time they went to a new duty station. She always seemed to befriend the right people and he loved that about her. She would work along side the wives of Generals and this did nothing to hurt his career and everything to help it. He knew that he owed most of his success, if not all of it, to her. They played the Army game as a team and they were successful because of it. It was in the fall of 1994, while they were in Germany, that she began to fall ill. She had been having pains all over her body and she was growing unable to move about without discomfort. Her joints would swell up like skin-covered balloons and her hair began thinning rapidly. Eventually he convinced her to see a Doctor. After weeks of testing, the diagnosis was in. Doctor Towers sat them down and announced that Jennifer’s ailments were the result of a disease called Lupus, a condition, which would eventually claim her life. They were stunned and Randy was clueless about how to help her, but Jennifer was strong and it was her remarkable spirit and ability to overcome things that got Randy’s emotions under control. She was always the backbone of their relationship. There was nothing she couldn’t do. She was a champion to the very end. At times, she was so good at keeping control of her illness that Randy would forget how sick she really was. That made it all the more shocking, and painful, when the Lupus overtook her. He had been in the field training, when his unit commander read an American Red Cross massage to him.
“Jennifer English, the wife of Sergeant First Class Randy English,
was hospitalized at approximately 9 a.m. this morning. She suffers from a condition known as Lupus and because of this, she contracted a severe case of pneumonia. Her organs failed to hold up to the sickness, and at 11:57 a.m., she was pronounced dead. An autopsy is scheduled for 7 a.m. tomorrow. We’re very sorry for your loss.”
It felt like fifty tons of bricks had just landed on his head. He stood staring for what seemed like an hour, but the actual time was closer to three seconds. Suddenly, he just let loose and tears began flowing down his face and he screamed uncontrollably, “Why? Why? Why the fuck did you take her from me? You bastard. I hate you! Why did you take her?” It went on for a day and a half. Then he boarded a C-130 aircraft, which carried the casket of his dead wife in its belly. This fact irritated him and he couldn’t concentrate a bit because of it. After the funeral, SFC English was reassigned to Fort Irwin, CA, where life in the Army, without his wife, became unbearable. He finished up the last few years of his contract and left the Army, after fourteen years of service, without retiring. It had been their plan to retire and then move on to teaching, but now it was time to go. Life without Jennifer was never the same, nor was Randy English.
As the clock struck 7:25 a.m., the next day of Randy’s new career was underway. Here they came, one by one, through the door again, and took their places in the room. “Well”, he said, “I had a chance to read some of your papers last night. I haven’t finished them all yet, but I like what I’ve read so far. Today we’re going to talk about the government of this great country and begin to discover how it works.” Five minutes into his lecture, a sudden power outage occurred. “No problem”, Mr. English said, “ we’ll continue with the discussion in the dark.” From the back of the room, a voice began, “I don’t think so, Mr. English.” Randy looked up and realized the voice was that of Terry Hynes. “How’s that?” Mr. English asked. “The discussion is over, we’re taking this fuckin school.” Terry said. Just then the door of room # 227 came crashing in. Two teenagers dressed in all black cloths entered. Each of them was sporting automatic weapons and had a virtual arsenal of handguns too. One of them, the taller of the two, tossed a 9mm Sigsaur pistol to Terry Hynes, and he promptly turned to his left and fired a shot right into the head of Un Sung Park. His body fell instantly limp and he shot to the floor in a second flat. His body lied there in a pool of dark red blood and screaming from every mouth was all Randy could here. “What the hell are you doing?” Asked Mr. English. “Fuckin this place up”, replied Terry. “You’re all going to die today, so sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the ride you bastards.” “Knock this o”, Mr. English started, but was interrupted by another gun blast, or more accurately, a burst of gun blasts, which came from an AK-47 riffle carried by one of the other teens. This time three students fell: Beth Morton lay dead with all of her guts on the outside of her body. Jordon Story was sprawled across a desk and the top third of his head was missing. Behind Jordon, Allison Sheath was bleeding heavily from her stomach and uttering faintly, “help me, he got me, Jesus Christ he got me.” Randy English was helpless. He didn’t know what to do, so he curled up behind his desk and tried to muster up thoughts and courage. He could here a voice inside his head, over and over, whispering, “Come to me. Come to me. Come to me Randy.” He was unaware of the source of these words, but they bothered him tremendously. He thought he could see, as he looked under the desk, the arms of Jennifer Pettinato reaching toward him from across the room. He thought it odd that she seemed to have a faint smile painted on her face, given the situation. But there she was, arms outstretched and smiling blissfully. He could still hear it, “Come to me Randy, Come to me. Come to me.” It was driving him insane. It was all he could hear. He had to find a way to get to Jennifer and see if she was ok. He wondered if she too, had been shot and the smile on here face was due to shock. He was freezing cold now and he supposed the heat was lost when the power was cut, but he had remembered the outside temperature was in the eighties this week. He guessed that the sheer terror of the moment made his body shiver and this was causing the cold spell. Shots rang out again. It seemed like a hundred bullets were fired this time. It went on continuously for several volleys of fire. As he look around the room when the shooting stopped, he saw the three teenagers exit room 227 and he heard them crash in the door down the hall. Right away he heard the weapons unload again. He knew he had better survey the aftermath in his own classroom. He had learned long ago, in the Army, that an assessment must be done quickly following an attack. As his evaluation began, he quickly realized something, which devastated him. It appeared that every one of his students had been hit. The place looked like urban combat zone after a major battle. There was no movement from anyone, but he could still hear the voice in his head, “Come to me. Come to me Randy. Come to me.” He screamed out, “STOP, STOP, DAMN IT!” Then he looked across the room, and again, he saw Jennifer’s arms reach toward him. He thanked the Lord for sparing someone other than himself. He couldn’t have lived knowing he was the only survivor and couldn’t stop the tragedy. But he knew now that Jennifer had been spared. The beautiful young Jennifer who reminded him so much of his late wife. He knew he had to get to her so he could give her first aid. His vision of her was blurry, but he knew she had to have been hit. Just like the others. Randy tried to get up, but found he was paralyzed. He wanted to move, but he simply could not do it. He lay there and shivered, growing even colder. The voice was back, “Come to me. Come to me. Come to me Randy.” “AHHHHHHH”, he cried out. “Help us please.” No answer from anywhere. The gunfire was getting faint, but still going on. Randy knew the little pricks were still killing the population of Ferndale High School. He knew it and he was helpless to prevent it. He looked back at Jennifer Pettinato and she was still there, reaching out to him. The voice continued in his head, “Come to me randy. Come to Me. Come to me.” He couldn’t make it stop, nor could he help Jennifer. His vision of her was remained blurred, but all the same, she appeared to be getting closer to him. He tried to focus, but couldn’t. He wanted to see where she was shot, but couldn’t. Just blurry vision and the voice, “Come to me. Come to Me Randy. Come to me.” “Why God?” he asked, “Why is this happening?” He just laid there, freezing and bothered at the voice, “Come to me. Come to me. Come to me Randy.” He stared at his blurred vision of beauty, the young woman who brought back the memories of his beloved wife. Hours must have past before the sound of feet and the chatter of men were heard from the walls outside room # 227. “Oh my God” he could hear them say. “Those sick bastards, I hope they rot in Hell for this” Randy heard. “Holy shit” a voice said from the doorway. “There must be twenty-five of em in here sergeant. “Lord God” the man said. “How could they do this?” Randy English, still cold and still hearing the voice in his head saying, “Come to me Randy. Come to me. Come to me.” Still seeing that distant vision of the beautiful Jennifer Pettinato from across the room. He just laid and waited and hoped. In they came. One by one, through the doorway, just as the children had that very morning. It must have been seven police. Some in uniforms and some in plain cloths. Some with cameras and some with bags. They surveyed the scene, just as Randy had. One of them looked right at Jennifer and just walked away. “What the Hell is wrong with you?” Randy yelled, but nobody responded. Just the voice again, “Come to me. Come to me Randy. Come to me.” “STOP IT, GOD DAMN IT! STOP SAYING THAT!” Again, no response. He could still see Jennifer reaching out, but not one of those fat cops was helping her, or him for that matter. He knew though, that they hadn’t yet seen him behind the desk. After about twenty minutes, a female cop, in plain cloths walked over to the place where Randy laid and called out, “We got another one over here.” “Finally”, he thought, “I’m saved.” Just then Jennifer was right in face reaching to him and the voice pounded louder than ever, “Come to me NOW.” All at once everything stopped and he found himself face to face with his dead wife, Jennifer English. “It’s so wonderful to see you again”, she said, “I’ve missed you my darling.”