Walker Rohe stepped out of the quack’s office, and took a turn down a new pathway. Fleeting thoughts of the value inherent in psychiatry passed in and out of his mind. He understood that many could use the help of a head-doctor, but his issues were unique. The psychiatrist had him write in a journal she’d given him. He knew the journal may help him sort out his feelings and issues, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that his anxiety could only be conquered from within. Betrayal, cheats, liars. These words filtered throughout the landscape of his life but failed to stain his soul. With a heavy tread, Walker stepped across the path and used a slightly warped key to enter his 1985 rusted-blue Dodge Durango.
Walker’s mood lightened with the turn of a key, and anyone looking at him just then would’ve seen this reflected in lines and creases easing across his face. Ever since he was old enough to drive, he’d always loved the open road and it’s synergy with adventure. Who knew where he could go tomorrow. Who knew how his life might just change.
Walker sighed as he backed up and sped away from his only required appointment for the day. He did a quick mental scan for anything else he HAD to do and came up empty. Today was an easy day and the sun shone down it’s joy for him. Waiting for a light to turn green, he had a sudden urge to hit the beach and truly try to enjoy his newfound freedom. Quitting that job had been for the best, though his administration hadn’t thought so.
Taking the 101 down to north fairview ave, he got to the house and threw his 8-foot longboard on the top of his old car. The red board was somewhere between a long and a short board, which let the six-foot-three Walker perform some feats from both types. Waving at his just emerging neighbour Claire, who’d always been quite nosy, Walker slid into his seat and made his way to the beach just off his old university. Lotta good and bad times there. The trip sped by as it was a tuesday and not his normal saturday morning. After pulling into the lot and squeaking his door open, an old friend showed his face.
“Hey dude, I didn’t know you were hitting the beach today. Why aren’t you at school?” His friend had enviable green eyes to Walker’s common brown….but he was also incredibly short.
Walker smiled and put his hand patronizingly on top of his friends short blonde hair,
“Max, if I’d known you had the time, I’d have invited you” he lied. He’d only stopped being a teacher for a few days and hadn’t spread the word yet. Technically, at ten a.m. he’d be teaching an elective poetry class at the local high school, moving them through the flows and highlights of Wordsworth, Hughes, and Angelou. Poetry, rather than the local ladies, had always been his greatest love, but he couldn’t write for shit. You had to live in and experience the world to write the best kind of poetry, and most of what he’d known was just outside of his door. Max slapped the hand off of his arm in a flash then stared straight into Walker’s eyes.
“Dude, you know I hate that shit. Keep your hands to yourself”
Walker put his hands up in the air, not wanting to further antagonize his buddy, “easy, easy man. Just a quick bit of fun, sorry”. He turned to his red board and untied the straps from the Durango, planting it against his side. Nodding at each other, the two of them walked down to the beach.
“What’s the swell like today” Walker asked, knowing Max always checked the surfing websites before heading out for the day. While Max liked to crash through big waves with his short surfboard, Walker liked to laze about and ride waves when they came to him.
“It’s not bad, just some four-footers for the next few hours”
“Niceee” Walker said, giving him the Fonz thumbs-up.
The two hit the beach and while Max zipped up his wetsuit, Walker began rubbing his favorite root-beer flavored wax onto the top of his surfboard. The smell was wondrous and brought back happy memories of brown floats and laughter.
“How do you not wear a wetsuit bro?” Max asked, looking at Walker’s flattish-flabby teacher body.
“Dude, the water feels great, you just have to get used to it”
“Walker, it’s like forty-degrees in there. One day you’re gonna get sick”
“Nah man, it feels great. It feels like you’re just waking up from a long day”
True to his word, he sprinted into the cold water and threw his board onto the waves, shivering a bit from the temperature as Max grinned. They swam out and relaxed, talking over the sound of the waves and enjoying the sun on their backs. Eventually Max asked what Walker knew he would.
“You gonna tell me why you’re not molding minds right now?”
“You gonna tell me why you’re not helping fat rich guys lose an inch on their waist?” rejoined Walker.
“Man I set my own hours. You’re a teacher, you miss a day and your students lose something they need to know. What happened?”
“I quit, alright.” Walker said, splashing his palms into the ocean. He looked up at the sky and rolled his head down to meet Max’s eyes. “Look man, the kids are alright. But the administration and THE PARENTS ARE TERRIBLE. I don’t think kids have changed as much as you’d think since our time in school, but I’ve been telling you for a long time that the parents and admin are just getting worse. The parents think they have all this power, that they can just change how education works and make their kids smarter through special treatment, and the admin just gives it to em. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a principal grow some balls, even lady-balls.” He stroked his hand through the smooth water, thinking of how to say the next part. “I didn’t tell my students, and that will weigh on me a lot. I just can’t deal with it…I can’t man.”
Max let him sit there for a moment, not looking at him. He reached over and put a hand on Walker’s shoulder with a light squeeze. “I get it man, I’d never want to be a teacher. Hell, I have a hard enough time just getting some of my customers to do a single push-up without a reward. So what’re you going to do now?”.
Walked appreciated Max letting it go, giving him a tight-lipped smile. “I’m thinking about writing. You know I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy, and I’ve got plenty of experience reading and fixing papers. Maybe I’ll do better as a writer. I’ve got a bit saved up, even with my pay. Plus, you know about my issues.”
Max nodded once then swam into the next wave as it came, giving Walker a moment alone. He could see the tip of Max’s yellow board swishing through the top of the wave. He always did have more skill at surfing than most. Probably because of his height. Hah!
Walker thought over his “issue”. Max knew about his anxiety, and his fears of public-speaking. He’d hoped when he became a teacher, that he’d be able to learn to control his fears as he’d have to do it five days a week, but nothing changed. He’d stand in front of the class, feeling like an imposter and sensing drops of sweat trickling from between his shoulders. The anxiety didn’t appear until his high-school sweetheart Jen had broken up with him, without him even knowing it. He walked up to her outside of the same school he now taught at, trying to put his arm around her shoulders like he’d always done, when she’d pushed away from him.
“What’s wrong?” Walked asked.
“We just broke up, what do you mean what’s wrong?”
Something started squeezing his lungs as he looked into her hazel eyes. It felt like his heart was punching his chest and breathing was getting more difficult. “Just broke up? When? What are you talking about?”
She looked at him sadly, stepping up to him and planting a kiss on his cheek that burned into his memory. “Walker, when we talked last night, I told you I just wanted to be friends.”
“I thought you said you loved that we were friends” He said, trying to play back the memory but coming up short. They talked every night and, as is so common for many couples, their conversations had blended together into an emotion of closeness. It hadn’t mattered what they’d talked about, just that they did.
“No Walker, I said I wanted TO BE just friends. Look, I don’t want to be mean but we can’t stay together anymore. I don’t want to be with the same guy, living the same life, when we’re going to graduate soon. We’re better off as just friends”. With a nod of her head, she walked down the rest of the path to the school and left him standing there. She didn’t see the anguish that struck his face, the water welling in his eyes and blood leaving his face. He’d really loved her.
Just the memory of their breakup still made him breath faster, as if air couldn’t get into his lungs fast enough. He’d dated around since Jen, only one time seriously, but he always started to cling to them and suffocated their relationship. Max knew anytime he started a new relationship he wouldn’t be seeing him much. Jen had broken his heart almost twenty years ago and he still had trouble when he thought of her. Is that how he knew it was love? Was suffering the body’s acknowledgement of his truest feelings? He had a new journal entry it seemed.
Looking back upon the world, he saw a low-rising wave that had juuust the right break to it. He angled his board and paddled deep into the small curve. Standing up he released all thoughts of his past and just enjoyed the moment. He saw Max swimming back and gave a light wave and small grin. They spent over two hours sitting on their boards and talking, catching the occasional wave that called out their names. Max didn’t bring up the kids or Walker’s future again, and he felt like it was a great day with a true friend. Tomorrow would change everything.
I'm a high school English teacher in Texas. I also hold degrees in radiography and radio and television broadcasting. Though I obtained certain knowledge and skills from my prior degrees, I do not currently use them.