I should have known something was up. There I sat across from three of Sarah’s teachers. Like any parent, I was worried. They hadn’t told me why I was coming in for a meeting. They said they’d discuss it when I got there. It could mean only one thing: Sarah had done something flagrantly illegal, something mordant and hideous. They were calling me in to dismiss me from parenting forever then putting her into a “home.” Probably with high walls and guards.
I swear there was a single, 40-watt naked bulb over the empty table and I could barely see their haggard, veteran educator faces. One of them was smoking. They slid my daughter’s creative writing essay across the table to me. The room chilled.
I braced myself for the pain and looked across the table, expecting a grim visage set in grave concern. I was wrong.
They were smirking.
Teacher: “Mr. Garlington, thank you for joining us.”
Me: (I pulled a crumpled candy cigarette from my pocket; I puffed a cloud of powdered sugar like nothing’s happening.) “You make it sound like I had a choice.”
Teacher: “Take a look at your daughter’s essay and tell me what you see.”
I looked down at the paper before me. I glanced. I squinted. I didn’t want to show weakness before her teachers — they can smell fear. But as soon as my weary eyes landed on the page, I saw a pattern emerge, a carefully laid smattering of code revealed itself, as if my daughter, trapped in her desk in a public school, was trying to send me a message: for there, wedged between actual seventh grade vocabulary words, was a string of F words. A lot of F words.
She was a sending me a message alright. She was saying, I am a drunken sailor.
I didn’t break. I’m no snitch. I shrugged, worked my candy cigarette to the other side of my mouth and said, “So?” like I was channeling the ghost of Clint Eastwood. (Oh come on, he’s dead; he’s been dead since “Gran Torino.”)
Or, OK, actually, I said, “Well, it’s creative.”
Apparently, this was not the answer they were looking for. They laid into me like grizzled detectives, hammering me with explanations about form and context, about accepted commonalities. They even used the word colloquial. Colloquial.
I didn’t blink. Because they got nothing on me. I’m a frikkin’ parent. I’m front line. I know teachers are tough, but when did they ever peel their kid’s underwear off the floor or clear a house for lice only to find out it was dandruff? When have they ever had to fold their daughter’s thong? I’ve been in the weeds, man. I’ve been in country for 13 years.
I held my ground like a rock and …
… they started laughing.
“Mr. Garlington, we think the essay is a hoot. Seriously, it’s the funniest thing we’ve read in years. Sarah is wildly talented.”
“Oh, well thank…”
“But she’s gonna fail unless you have her change the F word so U and C are replaced by asterisks.”
“You’re just gonna let me walk out of here?”
“*&^%$# right we are.”
Chris Garlington lives in a standard two kids, wife, dog, corner-lot, two-car dream package. He drives a 2003 Camry, sports a considerable notebook fetish, and smokes Arturo Fuente Partaga Maduros at the Cigar King as often as possible. His stories have appeared in Florida, Orlando, Orlando Weekly, Catholic Digest, Retort, Another Realm, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, South Lit, and other magazines. His short story collection, “King of the Road,” is available on Amazon. His column “My Funny Life,” was nominated for a national humor award. He is the author of the infamous anti-parenting blog, Death By Children; the anti-writing blog, Creative Writer Pro; and co-author of “The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats.”