Mr. Ha drowned in his shower. Just an inch of water, but that’s all it takes, I guess. He died for a while and now he talks in a loud whisper like he just got strangled. He can’t stop clearing his throat even when he’s just sitting behind his desk watching us. He makes us write these things called do jons when we piss him off, so we’re basically always writing. I was the first one to figure out if I coughed he’d clear his throat like it was on fire. Sarai was worried he’d kick me out, but as soon he started to calm down, I’d cough again, and he never said anything — probably because he couldn’t remember our names anymore.
And he’s a real Korean now. He whispers with an accent that he moved here from Seoul after his wife died, that he’s sorry for his bad English, but he believes “Humanities very much a universal language.” He says things like, “This is not time for talking. This is time to write your dojeon”. I don’t think that means anything, unless he learned Korean when he was dead. Mr. Ha grew up here. There’s a picture him in the gym running track that says “Toby Ha, class of 86, gets last laugh, victory, at CIF.” His wife is Ms. Snyder. She teaches Biology and drives him home after school.
We finished Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and we were starting Kepler and Caravaggio, but now Mr. Ha wants us to forget all of it. Forget the Great Vowel Shift. Forget the Magna Carta. He say history is a ladder — we’re not supposed to memorize it, we’re supposed to step on it. I don’t know why the school doesn’t kill this shitshow, but they don’t. Maybe they just don’t want to deal.
Today he asked, “Is anybody here original?”. His voice sounded different. We all raised our hands. Well, I didn’t. “A hundred percent original?” Sarai looked at me. She heard it too.
He stepped out from his desk and walked to my seat.
“Why not original?” he said.
“Nothing new under the sun,” I said.
I wasn’t used to him being so close. His arms were pale and slick, his eyes were wet — from being drowned ? Or is he still drowning ? “Very funny. New dojeon,” he said, still looking down at me.
“Write something nobody has ever written before.”
“Just him?” asked Sarai.
He turned to Sarai. “Everybody dojeon.”
He didn’t go back to his desk. That was a first. He walked up and down the rows while we wrote. When he was on the other side of the room, I coughed, but nothing happened. Grady and Eddie laughed, so I did it again, and this time he turned around and looked at me. He put his hand over his mouth and said something. Yasmine moved her chair at the same time so I couldn’t hear, but it sounded like “douchebag.”
When time was up, we put our do jons on his desk. Usually he’d put them in his bag to mark up at home, or he’d grade them while we read. But, another first, he started to read them out loud. And they sucked, so they made him super ragey. Flecks of spit popped from his lips like little fireworks.
“Which is Sarai?” She raised her hand. He read : “The same time every night, I turn into a monster. Hungry for solitude, while my parents argued over dinner, I get up and run to my room where I can eat the dark until I’m full.”
He dropped his hands to his side and turned his head, slow, like a kaiju rising out of the sea. Yasmine said it was sexy. Eddie said he never thought about being alone like you could eat it. It didn’t matter. We’d always be wrong.
“’The same time every night?’ That not original,” Mr. Ha said. “What time ? Why vague ? It’s oatmeal on a baby’s lap. Time not important. Dinner important. Hate parents important. ‘Hungry for solitude?’ I’m hungry for originality. Why you feed me oatmeal on a baby’s lap?” Sarai looked down at her lap. “You should say, ’I explode from my chair and stumble down the hall like someone threw a harpoon into my chest and is reeling me into my room.”
“She doesn’t hate the parents,” Sarai said.
He scanned her page again and then looked up at her. “Yes she does. Which is Gordon?”
I stood up, scraping my chair on the floor. “I am, Sir”. Everybody laughed. Mr. Ha smiled too. That threw me off.
“Pa rubbed his caldera with his big right hand and gave me smile to hide the hot lava about spew out of his face. By the time he hit me, his pyroclastic hatred had cooled into pahoehoe fists that had no trouble leaving their mark.”
“Holy shit,” said Grady. Shut the fuck up, Grady.
Sarai said, “Gordon, that’s so…” Don’t say anything, please.
“Boring,” finished Ha. “Everybody say anger is like a volcano. Big deal. We erupt in bed. We erupt with grief. We erupt with joy. Got it. Humans are big flesh volcanoes. So what ? I don’t know this father, I just know the writer doesn’t know the father either.”
I wanted to shove my pen in his ear and hammer it out the other side. Motherfucker.
“That’s not what I wrote,” I said.
Mr. Ha looked at my page. “You are Gordon?”
“You know I am. That’s the old version. You told me to rewrite it.”
“I can’t remember.” Mr. Ha looked through his pages. Sarai was giving me a look. Didn’t she know I was doing this for her ?
“Are you serious ? That was my only copy.” I sat back down with a loud cough. Mr. Ha cleared his throat.
”Okay. Tell me what you changed.”
“How am I supposed to remember that?”
I stood up again. I remember everything.
“My father gave away his rage like a monkey slings shit. I could see it coming, but I could never get out of the way.”