Saturday, March 19, 2016

Love Letter, Katy Comber

Love and Grammar
By Katy Comber

Sean Thompson loved Marin Thomas with a sweet unconditional love that can only find root in the innocent heart of a ten year old kid. He fell for her on December 12, 2012, the day of the fifth grade spelling bee. She beat him (and won) with the word celestial, c-e-l-e-s-t-i-a-l, celestial. Sean cracked a joke that Marin might as well have spelled the word’s synonym: M-A-R-I-N. Marin flicked back her auburn hair and rolled her blue eyes in response, and he fell. Hard.  Love like this could either grow to bloom through consistent affirmation of the admired’s perfection or wither and die from neglect and distraction. Marin’s character and intelligence from that fateful day of 12/12/12 to the day Sean Thompson was sentenced to death by humiliation, only conditioned first love’s root into a blossoming devotion that not even the hedgeclipper of adolescence could tame.
The next year, and the years following, Marin and Sean sat one in front of the other in every class. Only until sophomore year, however, did they talk after class about assignments and what they did over the weekend and the gruesome nature of Mondays. The topics seemed predetermined by the laws of high school. Life experience had conditioned Marin to not speak about anything but the generic around boys in general. Her first and last ex-boyfriend, an exceptional small-talker, dumped her for a girl who understood the importance of weather-related conversation. Without the conversationalist tamer by her side, Marin let her freak flag fly around people she loved and trusted. Everyone else, got the dull stuff until they earned something better.  
The reason Sean and Marin didn’t speak until sophomore year was two-fold: For one, Sean never quite knew what to say until Reason 2, Mr. Schreiber, came along. The infamously nightmarish Schreiber usually tortured the brilliant but too lazy for AP English, seniors. However, after the original sophomore English teacher’s nervous breakdown and immediate resignation on the second day of school, Mr. Schreiber and the rest of the English department agreed to take on one sophomore English class until the district hired a suitable replacement. Budget cuts. 
“Thompson,” Mr. Schreiber smiled. That smile. His first warning. One did not want Schreiber to smile at him. Sean straightened up in his seat and out of his reverie. The strange constellation of freckles on the back of Marin Thomas’ neck caught his attention as if they could tell him his future. “Repeat the sentence without using passive voice.” 
Passive voice? What the hell was passive voice? The constellation of freckles didn’t seem to know either. The ominous sentence on the board told Sean his future better than the constellation he’d studied mere seconds ago. 

The passive voice exam was failed by over 80% of the sophomore class. 

“Eighty percent of the sophomore class failed the passive voice exam.” the constellation whispered. Sean repeated the sentence back a bit louder to Schreiber’s wolfish grin. 
“Very good... Thomas.” The class chuckled and Schreiber’s grin disappeared, “Thompson, pay attention. Your assignment this week, and every following assignment, will be graded for content, grammar, and lack of passive voice. Any linking verbs will result in an automatic 5 point deduction. Twenty or more of those, and you might as well not turn in anything at all. Your first assignment: A letter describing yourself and your intentions in life. Two pages, MLA format. If you don’t know MLA format by now, go sit with the freshmen students and have them teach you.” 
Schreiber’s words modulated in the garbled language spoken either underwater or in times of the listener’s extreme embarrassment. The bell signaling the end of class sounded far away as if it rang in the parallel universe in which Sean Thompson would survive high school. 
“Hey.” The word, crisp and clear, broke through the sound of blood rushing to Sean’s face. The word, belonging to the girl Sean Thompson loved, started the age of Small but Infinitely Large Conversations with Sean and Marin. The word, one that broke the ice since that disastrous joke four years ago, began a friendship. 
*****
Months later, on a Sunday night two weeks before the end of the year, Hans Schreiber sat in his study. The assignments of sophomore active voice conquistadors, stared up at him. Before he began, red pen in hand, Hans looked up in the direction of the foyer. A vision flashed by the coat rack of a 24 year-old tying a scarf, his scarf, around her neck. The memory, brief and fleeting, caused a stirring in his heart. 

 “Nice scarf.” he said. 
 “This way, you can come with me.” she said, grinning in response. 

The last moments with his wife haunted him at the oddest of times. When he turned eight, he fractured his wrist in a roller skating accident. Everytime it rained, the damn wrist would twinge with pain. Moments with grief, even after years of loss, did that too; except they hurt like a bastard even on the sunniest of days. Thompson’s essay peeked out from under a pile of others. The kid showed promise. Goofy as all hell, but the kid could write. Three pages attached to the essay topic: What I Must Say Before Summer. Three? These weekly essays had a maximum of two pages, MLA format, no more, no less. Tucked under the staple, a neatly typed letter stuck to Thompson’s essay: 

Marin, 

I am sitting here trying to figure out the best way to answer The Scribner’s essay topic for the week. But all I can think about is everything I want to, have wanted, to say to you...

The Scribner? Hans smiled at the kid’s nickname for him--he’d seen worse. Then, he lifted his pen, stared for a while at the last place he spoke to his wife, and began to write. 
*****

 Monday morning, Sean Thompson woke with a start. Today. Today he would give Marin Thomas the letter that said everything he needed her to know. Marin. The girl could throw a pun or twist a phrase better than anyone he knew. She loved the Beatles catalog and could recite the Periodic Table of Elements while standing on her head. Everyday of their friendship, Sean and Marin became more and more inseparable. The letter might change things, but Marin needed to know one thing. Someone loved her. Someone, without the obligation of family ties or the superficiality of love at first sight, absolutely, without a doubt, adored Marin Thomas. The letter was right th… 
Where was it? Holy S- No. Where? Did it go? No. No. NO. NO! The last time he saw the letter it was in his English folder tucked safely behind his essay for The Scribner. What if it fell out? What if she already had it? Picked it up without knowing that she held a grenade of the powerful unsaid? Sean cursed again. This could not happen. Sean took a deep breath and recited Pi to the 13th digit. It must be… in his locker! Yes. His locker. 
Moments later, a defeated Sean sat behind Marin Thomas in The Scribner’s classroom. The belief that everyone in his room could hear the anxious and heavy thumping of his heart caused a flush of red race up his neck. But Marin didn’t say anything about the letter before class began. Instead she slipped him a drawing of purple cows sitting in a diner drinking coffee. 
The Scribner cleared his throat and began passing papers before Marin could explain the idea behind a drawing she obviously worked on over the weekend. Three pages landed on Sean’s desk. The Scribner’s voice rang through Sean’s head: 

 Two pages, MLA format, no more, no less. And if you don’t know MLA format by now....

The third page dripped with red ink. Comments like, “No passive voice, Thompson!” “Girls appreciate better sentence structure!” “Thomas would edit this as she read, and you know it.” surrounded points off for fragments and circled passages highlighted his weak informal writing. The last phrase, “Re-write for Seniors next week,” glared up at him.
Next week, a select few sophomores had to present their best essays to the graduating seniors who shared the experience of the Hans Schreiber classroom. The sophomores in Sean’s class received an unprecedented level of respect from the Seniors, and only five received the paradoxically coveted and feared comment, “Re-write for Seniors.” 
 As the week flew by, Sean lived with a pen in his hand. He addressed every comment The Scribner wrote, every editing mark fixed, every suggestion considered, and then he added more. This letter not only declared love for Marin Thomas, it declared love for the English language. 
By Friday’s presentation, Sean knew he had something phenomenal, and despite his trembling hands, Sean Thompson did the bravest thing anyone in that auditorium thought possible. 
“Dear Marin,” Sean’s voice carried throughout the auditorium. Marin Thomas listened to Sean Thompson’s words and tattooed them to her heart. Senior girls beamed and gushed in Marin’s direction. Senior guys sat in awe of this tall, lanky sophomore declaring his love with a Schreiber essay. Some wanted to say that the kid had game, but the sincerity behind the essay titled “What I Must Say Before Summer Vacation,” stopped them short. 

Hans Schreiber stood in the back of the auditorium and leaned against the doorway. As Thompson’s essay tumbled forth, Schreiber saw a vision of a woman in her husband’s scarf, his new bride with dark hair tossed in a messy ponytail, rosy cheeks, and nurse’s scrubs venturing out to work despite the icy roads. In that moment, Hans Schreiber allowed himself to remember the girl he fell in love with: the first grader who needed him to hold her hand on the first bus ride to school, the girl in eighth grade he nearly tangled braces with while answering the question what would it be like to kiss my best friend, the ambitious senior who suggested waiting for the inevitable pre-college break up until after their last prom dance, the nursing student he bumped into and fell in love with all over again on a public bus thousands of miles away from home. Then, Schreiber shook his head and chuckled to himself as he observed the reaction in the auditorium. Thunderous applause. Marin Thomas racing up to hug the boy who wrote out his heart and shared it with their world. The kiss said it all. Marin Thomas appreciated decent sentence structure.      


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