Seventh Grade Destroyed My Back
When I was in seventh grade, I had the most gorgeous social studies teacher. Since he still teaches in the county (yes, I Googled him) and has an easy-to-find name, we will call him Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen looked like a young John F Kennedy. My dad had a book about John F. Kennedy’s presidency, and I liked to borrow it and sit on my bed, staring at this one picture that closely resembled my middle school teacher.
I still remember all of the quotations he would scrawl across the board. Lord Acton’s “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A song we wrote to remember all the amendments to the Constitution. And the look that he got on his face when he discussed the Protestant work ethic. It was clear, at least to someone like me who studied his facial expressions as much as I studied world history for his class, that he liked the concept of the Protestant work ethic. And by G-d, if this man liked the Protestant work ethic, then this little Jewish girl was going to work her fingers to the bone in order to impress him by being even more Protestant than the Protestants. I was going to out-Protestant work ethic them. I was going to make those Puritans look like wusses.
Mr. Cohen gave me an A for all my hard work. He did not ask me out on a date. That only meant I needed to turn up the volume on my work load.
In eighth grade, I moved over to a new social studies teacher whose classroom was adjacent to Mr. Cohen’s room. Sometimes they’d open the door between their classrooms to speak to one another. I assumed that if I amazed this new teacher that she would tell Mr. Cohen about my work while they chitchatted in the door frame. Isn’t that the only thing teachers talk about with each other? The most interesting things in their lives: their students?
She assigned a ten page research paper. This assignment was a huge deal, the first major essay I had to write for school. She asked for ten pages. I wrote 40. 40 pages. 40 pages on the assassination of Lincoln. She wanted us to turn in 20 research index cards. I went ahead and created about 80. All the other kids were stunned when I pulled them out of my backpack. I was sure that this was going to be the tipping point, the moment when Mr. Cohen understood the intensity of my Protestant work ethic.
No offer was made to take me to the school dance or even a movie. He ended up marrying another teacher at the school. All I got was a note in my yearbook to have a good summer.
I started dating boys my age, but I held onto Mr. Cohen’s beloved Puritan-style of living. To this day, I’m frugal. I’m efficient. I will never stop working as long as there is work to do. And I can always find work to do.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I completed a double major AND a certificate of study while in college, while working two days a week. I went on a week-long work camping trip while I had mono. I didn’t stop working when I had hyperemesis gravidarum with the twins, vomiting into Venti Starbucks cups while I drove to school. (I needed to pause at a garbage can at a midway point between my house and the school because I only had two cup holders in the car to contain my two full cups of vomit.) My personal motto has always been “suck it up.”
As I neared the deadline for this edit on Apart at the Seams, it made sense to forgo things like eating and yoga and just sit in front of the computer for 12-to-15 hours per day, writing non-stop. Apparently, my back cannot keep up with my brain and my burning love for Mr. Cohen, because hunching over the keyboard for hours at a time destroyed the rhomboid muscle in my back. On Friday, Josh took me back to the doctor because even with the pain killers and muscle relaxants, I couldn’t sleep. The pain was just too intense. Delivering twins vaginally felt like a day at the spa in comparison to the spasms in my back that had been going non-stop for seven days.
This new doctor looked at me in horror when I told him why the muscle cramping started, and I wanted to scream in his face, “I can out-Protestant the Protestants and Mr. Cohen should have loved meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” He asked if I had ever considered taking breaks, walking around, swinging my arms and stretching. Had I considered this? Is he crazy? Waste time with things like stretching? Do you know how much I can accomplish in the time it would take me to stretch? Did the Puritans pause to stretch?
I hobbled home with a new prescription and slapped on two heat strips. And then I Google Mr. Cohen because this is all his fault. If he hadn’t been so cute, so charismatic, so charming 27 years ago, I would never be in the pain I’m in today. If he had instead had a flicker cross his features when he mentioned slothfulness instead of the Protestant work ethic, I would be happily lounging on a beach somewhere, relaxing. But no, he had to be enamoured with Puritans, working their farms until their bodies gave out.
I found him first on a “rate my teacher” site, where high school student after high school student raved about his counseling skills. He had guided them to the perfect career path. He would do anything for his students. And in that moment, I realized that I was just one girl in a sea of thousands of kids who had crossed his path and fallen in love with him. There could be hundreds of us with chronic back problems due to our love for Mr. Cohen.
I said a quiet goodbye to my crush and vowed to become lazy. That is, right after I finish editing these 270 pages. I swear, I can quit any time.