the beast

Mr. Phillips taught social studies, and when we’d answer a question particularly well, or ask a thoughtful question indicating actual engagement in the discussion, he’d stop pacing, return the chalk back to its ledge, and swivel on his feet to face us. 

"Now, you’ve got me all titillated."  I’d go home repeating that word in my head; it was right up there with Mississippi.

I loved impressing Mr. Phillips because it was hard to do.  He was a steely man who occasionally gave us a glimpse of his underbelly.  Sometimes, I could have sworn I saw his eyes water when he was impressed with us.   He was a father of a teacher.  Everything about him was gray, though… his suits, eyebrows, skin, and even his tears, I imagine.  He somehow sparkled with jazz.  The man had rhythm on the brain; you heard it in the beat of his thoughts and the meter of his gait.  He was extraordinary.

Unlike. The. Beast.

Have you ever just hated someone without a good reason?  The way they tell a story or try not to snort when they laugh leads you to roll your eyes.  I hate conservative smilers, polite and stoic, emotional spendthrifts whose closest relationships are with musty books and reptiles.  Their idea of a pet is fish, and weekends are reserved for collecting.  When they go to hell with themselves, complicated square-dancing is involved.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe had nothing on Mrs. Hockman in the way of fur. And I hated her, the way aggravated 13-year-old girls are apt to do without good reason.  She was my eighth grade English teacher in 1990, but she still lived (read: dressed) in 1960, as many teachers with tenure tend to do in the ‘burbs. No imagined Bridge to Terabithia would help transport her into the present.  She had a past to settle, and we, her students, were her means to that end.

She was a mother to Sandy and Joanna, but she called Sandy, "Sandor," and always pronounced Joanna as if it had an "H" in it.  "Oh yes, my daughter Jo-Hanna loves that program."  It was bad enough she added a letter, but she also had a knack of referring to TV shows as "programs."  Mrs. Hockman was the type of women who wouldn’t allow her children to watch I Love Lucy because she believed it was degrading to woman.  The woman definitely ate raisins for pleasure, and I imagine her now, on her side of the bed, twisting her mustache as she grades papers.

There were teachers I regarded with utmost respect; they were creative and engaging, intelligent and always one step ahead of us.  I have no doubt Mrs. Hockman was smart, but she was nervous, and self-conscious; you could see it in her haircut and nervous hands.  Her voice was mousy and trembled sometimes during lessons when she sensed boredom.  She worried about outbreaks and sometimes ate her hair.  The woman was kind like you learn to be to your enemies, like honey with flies.  Her smile was never genuine; it was a veil, used to conceal her insecurities.  Mrs. Hockman wanted to fit in and eat at the cool lunch table, even at 43-years-old, and as her 13-year-old students, we knew it.

I’m certain she spent many of her adult years trying to overcome her nerdy childhood–as we all do–but once she became a teacher, she believed she’d outgrown it.  She only became a taller nerd with a thicker mustache.

I hated her for her red pen, orthopedic shoes, and winged hair.  Her mouth looked like a tight grip when she tried to smile, and she never spoke with her hands.  She wasn’t only boring; she was devoid of humor.  Some people just aren’t born with a sense of it.  They think they’re light, breezy, and easily stimulated.  They believe they’ve a handle on it, but they’re not certain when to laugh, or when exactly to clap along with the audience, so they follow.  Mrs. Hockman was only genuinely inspired to laugh at a grammatical error that altered the meaning of a sentence. 

"She rubbed the floor with a Polish."

These people chuckle but don’t know from laughing until the tears stream from corners and you can feel you actually have stomach muscles.  She wasn’t exactly one of the Bacchae… not exactly a woman of wine or song, and she was certainly not a "liver."

The assignment she gave that jolted this memory involved a black marble notebook.  She advised us we’d each need to write journal entries into the blank pages of these books on her command.  She fanned the books out on her teacher desk–our names written on the covers in her penmanship–asking us each to pick up our book.  "Write for twenty-five minutes.  These are yours, but I will keep them for you.  What you write is just for you.  You won’t be graded on what you write; it’s for you."  She held onto the OOOO sound for emphasis. 

"Um, if they are just for our eyes, then why can’t we keep them?"

She insisted someone would forget theirs, and instead, she’d keep them locked in a beige metal cabinet where teachers stored room supplies like markers and green agenda books. 

I spent my words on liberal descriptions of Mrs. Hockman, taking care to be precise with my penmanship, and when I’d write her name, I’d press harder, going over her name twice in all-caps.  MRS. HOCKMAN IS A HAIRY BEAST.  It was the first time I’d gone bold.

If she did read it, I knew she couldn’t say anything about it without revealing her violation of my privacy.  It was eighth grade–too early for grades to find permanence on a transcript–and a time of puberty, hormones, and cattiness.  It makes sense that nothing about that year should be permanent.  I got one thing, though, and despite outgrowing it, it’s as permanent as black indelible ink on my today: the nickname Moose

Serves me right, I suppose.  She’ll always be THE BEAST, and I’ll always be Moose… a real life Lion, witch, and 1960’s wardrobe.



  1. awww…Steph…It is bitterwsweet; the things we wish to hold on to like your 'Moose' or my 'Mouth'

    Go to your high school reunion and see who has the last laugh…

    oh, and loved your reference to Bridge To Terabithia…one of my favs back in the day…

  2. Sounds like you had a lot of reasons to hate Mrs Hockman. We've all had our Mrs Hockmans. Mine was Mrs Brown. We called her "Prune" because her face had more wrinkles than the said prune. Get this, she robbed me out of an 'A' in history because I got a D on a pop quiz which she weighted as heavy as a test or final. A,A,A,A,D averages to what, 3.4 = B. F/U Prune.

    On the flip side, I'm sure we all had our Miss Levin's who we had crushes on. Ahh, Miss Levin…Miss Soto…Miss Felton…Miss…

  3. Stephanie, I was looking at the pictures of your KGB reading- and recognized an old friend named Rob, standing with you in a couple of pictures. Small world. Give him my (anonymous- something like- a blog-reader of mine knows you and wishes you well) love, please.

  4. I swear I came up with my idea this morning for an English teacher memory blog entry all on my own! I read yours today and thought "those who read my blog & yours will think I stole it from you." Darn. Maybe it's the "great minds think alike thing." Or maybe, at 4 am this morning when the thought of writing about Mrs. Ealum came to me, you were actually writing this one… I dunno, I'd have to look at your time stamp which I'm too lazy to do. The collective unconscious of redheads up late (early?)

    But my memory is of a teacher I liked. I can think of one that I could do on another teacher who I didn't. Hmmm. Maybe.

  5. I had to update the post. See I wrote this last night while I was in bed. My memory really began with a teacher I respected… hence the Mr. Phillips bit.

  6. Yep, I've got one of those teacher memories too, mine was Sister Margaret Mary. She believed in corporal punishment in a time when it should've already been abolished. I was very young and very frightened. Damn bitch should've been arrested.

  7. Wow, you had lots of reasons to hate Mrs. Hockman. Reasons like her mustache and her orthopedic shoes and the fact that she was nervous. Even if she was a mediocre or even bad teacher (something that you have no evidence for in this post – you simply eviscerate her appearance and mannerisms) she doesn't deserve this kind of cruelty.

    It's amazing that you hang onto this smug, shallow superiority even 15 years after you were the judgemental, thoughtless little shit who would write such a cruel thing about your teacher in a journal that you knew she very might read. Very few teachers back then would even give students any time to write, but I guess you don't appreciate anything good about Mrs. Hockman.

    You know what? 58 year old teachers can "Google", too. I'm not her (in fact I'm only 34) but I've been shocked out of lurking status by your breezy, shallow cruelty in this post. "Moose" might have gotten skinny, but you sure sound like you're ugly inside, uglier than the fattest person I've ever seen.

    I feel bad saying this because I have related to so much that you wrote about the betrayal by your ex, your abortion, your fetal-position grief. And I suppose some people might think that your shallow, petty, appearance-focused cruelty toward a past teacher is courageous, because you're "courageous" enough to show what a shallow, thoughtless, cruel person you can be.

    But I don't think it's courageous. I just think that it's spectacularly immature. The bratty little 8th grader who wrote "MRS. HOCKMAN IS A HAIRY BEAST" in her little black and white marbled journal is just 15 years older, has a public blog, and can craft multi-paragraph posts which essentially say the same thing. Good for you. Maybe you'll grow up some day.

  8. I hardly ever comment on posts, but your article urged me to applaud your efforts. Thank you for writing this, I will surely favorite your site and visit every now and then. Happy blogging.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.