Evan was back in town. He happened to see one of his old high school English teachers at a local restaurant. After separate meals, they chatted in the parking lot afterward.
“I have followed you over the years,” Mr. Carter said.
“Followed me?” Evan said.
“Brandon Phelps,” Mr. Carter said, “you remember him, don’t you? He was in your class.”
“Sure,” Evan said. “Tall kid with enough hair to tuck in his pants.”
“Now he’s the overweight and bald bus supervisor,” Mr. Carter said. “He’s amazing, keeps up on everybody from your class. He keeps me informed. I’m very proud of your accomplishments.”
Evan smiled uncomfortably and moved the conversation from himself. “So you still teach English?”
Mr. Carter recognized Evan wished not to talk about himself. “They call it Language Arts now,” Mr. Carter and added sardonically, “they thought the label was the problem.”
“As much as I hated English,” Evan said, “I think I would have hated Language Arts more.”
“Maybe it was the teacher,” Mr. Carter said.
“No,” Evan said, “it was me. You know that.”
“There are times I wonder if I’m really doing anything other than teaching sentence structure, nouns, and verbs,” Mr. Carter said. “You kind of want to reach the kids with more.”
“Believe it on not, hardly a day goes by without me thinking about your class,” Evan said.
“Really?” Mr. Carter said, “or are you just trying to make me feel good?”
“You were pretty tough on me,” Evan said. “Made me work. Threatened to expel me.”
“Oh, yes,” Mr. Carter said, “I do remember that. To be honest, I was blowing smoke. I didn’t have the authority.”
“Yeah,” Evan said, “but it got my attention.”
“So what happened right after you graduated?” Mr. Carter asked.
“Trouble,” Evan said.
“And then what?” Mr. Carter said.
“I remembered something you said,” Evan said.
“Here it comes,” Mr. Carter said, “what stupid thing did I say.”
“Every action and word must be preceded by a thought and every question must wait or search for an answer,” Evan said.
“I remember saying that a few times,” Mr. Carter said. “I always thought of it as filling in time between thoughts.”
“It meant a lot,” Evan said.
“I have a third-period class,” Mr. Carter said. “If you are in town tomorrow could you drop by toward the end of that class and share with them what that meant to you?”
Evan paused and rubbed the back of his neck. “I owe it to you.”
“Maybe take a moment to explain how you got to where you are now,” Mr. Carter said.
“My profession is full of ego and bloviating talk,” Evan said. “I’m really uncomfortable talking about myself. I’ll come across worse than the most braggadocios of my brood.”
“I certain you won’t,” Mr. Carter said. “If I recall you had the most unique way of communicating. I recall you’re book report given to the class.”
“You mean The Old Man and The Sea?” Evan smiled.
“Precisely,” Mr. Carter said.
“Short book, short report,” Evan said.
“I think you would have reported War and Peace with the same brevity,” Mr. Carter said.
“Let’s see,” Evan said, “War is hell when you live in Russia and so is peace. It’s just a tough place to live no matter. The climate is miserable and so are the people.”
“Can you come by?” Mr. Carter said.
“You can count on it,” Evan said.
Mr. Carter smiled and shook Evan’s hand. “I’m glad we bumped into each other today. Frankly, I was thinking about retiring at the end of this year. I thought perhaps I missed my calling long ago. My dad ran a hardware; I wondered if I should have taken up that.”
“Not a bad occupation,” Evan said. “I can’t tell you how many questions I’ve asked my hardware guy. He always has an answer; got me out of a lot of jams. Those guys are geniuses.”
“Still trying to make me feel good?” Mr. Carter said.
“Well,” Evan chuckled, “I am in the feel-good business.”
“See you tomorrow,” Mr. Carter said.
“For certain,” Evan said.
“I’ll let it be a surprise to the class,” Mr. Carter said.
“What do you want me to talk about?” Evan said.
“Something they’ll remember,” Mr. Carter said.
“That’s a tall order,” Evan said.
“Well I remember you,” Mr. Carter said. “And that’s been 25 years ago.”
“Yeah,” Evan said. “But it was not for academic achievements.”
“I’ve never have had a student with the ability quite like yours,” Mr. Carter said. “You made a Tootsie Roll look exactly like dog poop.”
“What Tootsie Roll,” Evan said.
Mr. Evan shook his head. “See you tomorrow.”
The next day Evan waited in the hallway outside Mr. Carter’s room until he waved him into the classroom.
“The last five minutes of our class I thought I’d like to surprise all of you with one of my former students, Evan Reading.” Mr. Carter gestured for Evan to step to the lectern that sat on the top of the desk.
“Do you have any questions?” Evan said.
The class was silent. Eyes wandered around the room for something to amuse. After a minute the class began to squirm; looked around to see who else squirmed but remained mum.
Evan looked at his watch and smiled politely. He glanced at Mr. Carter sitting at a chair to the side. Mr. Carter raised his eyebrows and smiled.
Evan tapped the lectern and waited. He looked at his watch and the clock on the wall.
“Well,” Evan said. “Our time is just about up and no one had a question. Nobody even asked who I am. No one was curious as to who Evan Reddin is or more importantly who Evan Redding was. It was 25 years ago I sat in Mr. Carter’s class. I didn’t have any questions. I had no curiosity. You know why? Because I thought I had all the answers. Just remember this day; it was the day you had no questions. By the way, I’m an ex-convict—five-year sentence, served two, got out for good behavior. My first week in prison, another inmate came after me. I stabbed him. It was then I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life cutting people. I got out, went to med school, and became a surgeon. I had a lot of questions.”
The bell rang and the students filed from the room.
Mr. Carter stood and walked over to Evan and shook his hand. “Very nice, Evan,” Mr. Carter said. “After your name is Googled, it is likely a spirited discussion will ensue tomorrow.”