Every year, these jackass boys and girls chose video, not paper or PowerPoint, and then regretted it as soon as they stood up in front of the class and Mrs. McKenzie pressed play. The girls would twist their hands and then clutch them, fists balled up, to their mouths. The boys would laugh through their noses and keep their eyes glued to the floor.
Conceal your hands, your mouths, your weak flesh, their teacher thought. They should have learned how to speak properly while in grade school and now it was too late.
In 1997, Mrs. McKenzie was a switchable domme working as an eight grade history teacher by day and as a dominatrix by night. “You tell me which one pays more,” was her standard quip at parties.
Mrs. McKenzie didn’t remember being such a trivial adolescent in her day; “Heroes” was it for her back then, but the slackers of St. Francis were all about “The Perfect Drug” and “AntiChrist Superstar,” all overwrought pantomimes that protested far too much angst to be believed, she thought. Music was everywhere, but now music was visual; the young masses absorbed sounds through eyelids painted black. Boys just a few years older than her students had signed million-dollar record deals for growling and destroying a guitar onstage in the name of their spiritual anguish; then a mixture of electronica made it all radio friendly.
They were unkempt models with guitars, Mrs. McKenzie thought in disgust. What was the point?
When she assigned them the task of completing a project for each unit in their 8th grade history class, she expected that the dumbasses would fail to perform on many levels, but she didn’t expect the students to flat-out refuse to meet the assignment’s requirements. For instance, in the Revolutionary War unit one group of girls made a video that emulated a five-person boy band. The main purpose of the video, in Mrs. McKenzie’s estimation, was to allow the children to erupt into a dance routine of a Backstreet Boys song. The only remotely educational result of the project had occurred in the first minute of the video when the girls exchanged a bit of dialogue about the patriots needing to protect their guns, at which point a girl ran in from off to the side of the camera screeching, “the British are coming, the British are coming!” Cue “Everybody (Backstreets Back).” The shit was almost passable, and in a sense the 8th grade girls’ attempt to choreograph a Thriller dance showed some understanding of American history, so Mrs. Mckenzie gave them a passing grade.
The girls’ failure of their Battle of the Alamo project was another matter. For this project, she expected the students to answer the following questions:
- What was the Battle of the Alamo?
- Why were Texans unhappy with the Mexican government?
- Why did so few come to the assistance of the Alamo?
- Were there any survivors of the Battle of the Alamo?
If she graded as leniently as possible, she was able to agree that most of the students completed the assignment; all except for that same group of girls. This time, they turned in a video that was a satire of a David Bowie and Trent Rezner song: “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Somehow, the girls had taken the plotline of the music video—Trent Rezner chasing David Bowie through the West Village—and transposed it to one Middle School girl in a coonskin cap running around the school’s parking lot after an “Mexican Army solider” in a sombrero for five excruciating minutes.
The young teens’ fingers were revolvers and their arms held invisible shotguns. The safety was removed. The girls laughed in mimicry of deranged gunmen. The bullets flew. I’m afraid of Americans. I’m afraid of the world. I’m afraid I can’t help it. And, finally, God is an American.
But what of hey babe, let’s go out tonight. . . .Rebel, rebel, you’ve torn your dress. . .Hot tramp, I love you so?
Mrs. McKenzie was silent after the video finished. The four girls stood up at the front of the room swaying back and forth by the TV. “Any questions?” one of the girls asked the class. Mrs. McKenzie had to give the other 8th graders credit for recognizing the utter failure of their classmates’ project, for none of them asked any questions. “Please stay after class,” she told the girls. One of the girls sucked her breath in response and two others turned bright red. Mrs. McKenzie felt a pang of remorse, and hated herself for feeling it.
“Thanks for staying after,” she told the four of girls after the rest of the class filed out. The girls seemed to be simultaneously twisting their hands, twirling their braids, shoving their hands into their pockets, and picking at their teeth. “There were several keypoints to understanding the Battle of the Alamo that were left out of the video,” she told them, keeping her voice moderately kind. This was the same approach she used for first-time submissives who were too excited and nervous for her to work with. Before you punish someone, you have to make them relaxed enough for the sadism to have an effect. “I appreciate that you have enthusiasm for the project—” the girls nodded and one of them smiled hopefully, “—but you’ll have to redo the project to show me that you actually learned something about the Alamo.”
The girls responded with a perfectly adolescent: “UGHhh.”
The morons. They must have thought she was a real pushover. She never should have passed that first bastardized project on the Revolutionary War. You never benefitted from leniency, Mrs. McKenzie told herself and she dismissed them. She didn’t have time to grade the rest of the papers but she left the school minutes after the group of girls. On her car ride home, flinty sounds of industrial rock played on the alternative station. Her submissive would be waiting in his cage, as she had instructed him to be. Usually Mr. McKenzie’s anticipation for his release would be circling through his wife’s head as soon as the final bell rang. She wanted him to wait, but, you know, mainly symbolically.
She pulled into the driveway when the spaced-out guitar riff and staccato piano chords began. Like the stretching of skin, it was him, he was beating through the walls of the cheap plastic car and shooting inside her membranes.
I wish you could swim. Like dolphins can swim.
She’d feel herself churning, readying her core for their practice session before she left to drive downtown to the dungeon for her shift.
I, I remember standing by the wall.
She was 13 and they were sitting on the top of the monkey bars, even though they were too old for that, he suggested it with a shrug and she said yes so strongly he must have known that she’d climb a lot higher than the 12-foot bars for him.
Guns shot above our heads and we kissed as though nothing would fall.
He linked his left ankle around her right and nudged himself so that his hip was within an inch of hers.
We can beat them forever and ever.
And his arm was behind her, within inches of her, but not touching, just balancing on the metal bar, empty air below; air around on all sides, as though nothing would fall.
The radio had to end the song because he would plead for his lover as long as they would listen and they would be safe as long as they listened. So, she sat with him a little longer.
We can be heroes just for one day.
Mary Breaden is an Oregonian native living in Brooklyn. By early morning light, she writes, and during business hours, she works for a social services nonprofit. She and Andrea Janda founded an experimental literary journal (www.visitantlit.com) in 2016. Mary's work has been published in Education Week, Persistent Visions, The Mondegreen, Stumptown Underground, the Portland State Vanguard, Portland Book Review. She was selected as an Emerging Writer in the Lamprophonic Reading Series and nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015.