The Married Math Teacher, the School Secretary, and the Rabbi

jonathanmorrisschwartz

Mr. Jones car was rocking back and forth

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Photo by Jack Henderson on Unsplash

1983

I wasn’t supposed to go to my car in between classes, but by the time I was a junior in high school I was so addicted to smoking Marlboro Lights, I’d run to the parking lot and suck one down before the next bell.

Occasionally I’d see another student doing the same thing, giving them a thumbs up in solidarity, but on a particularly warm spring morning, I was parked next to a young math teacher I’ll call Mr. Jones. At first, all I noticed was that the car next to me seemed to be rocking back and forth.

I hadn’t yet started my car which was filling up with smoke faster than Spicoli’s van from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And as I turned the ignition to start it up, Mr. Jones sat up in his back seat, as did the school secretary, staring at me as if they’d just seen the ghost of Elvis.

And for the first time since Einstein’s theory of relativity, a new mathematical equation was created: If Mr. Jones caught me smoking and I caught him having sex with the school secretary, does that equal zero?

In the fraction of a second Mr. Jones, the secretary, and I established eye contact, an unspoken agreement was forged.

Several days went by and nothing was said by anyone.

I was involved in numerous after-school activities and one day after finishing rehearsing several hours for a play, as I approached the parking lot, I noticed a young woman was pacing back and forth near my car.

I figured she would leave as I got closer but she walked up to me and said, “Can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Did you see my husband in the back seat of his car with that woman?”

My first thought was, I knew smoking would get me in trouble, but for Christ’s sake! And even though this woman was no older than 30, I felt enough of an adult-child power differential to be respectful and polite.

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” I quickly said, flashing my best ‘Can I just get into my car and leave’ smile.

She folded her arms and while looking directly into my eyes, started breathing heavily. “I saw you smoking in your car,” she said.

“I saw them,” her voice cracking, eyes watering.

“I didn’t see anything,” I stammered.

Now in a full-blown whimper, “You were there!”

I could see the pain in her eyes. Tears were now dripping down her cheeks.

“Could we sit in your car? Please!” she begged.

“I knew he was cheating on me,” she declared as I started the car and turned on the air. “Do you know how that feels?” she asked me.

I felt like saying, “Mam, unless my left hand has been cheating on my right hand, I have no earthly idea how you feel.”

“I knew it,” she shrieked. Fortunately, the drama teacher had just lectured us on how acting, is reacting, and when we listen, we’re at our best. So, I let her talk.

She was all over the place, describing how their marriage was getting rocky and that she felt him slipping away.

“Were you spying on him?” I asked.

“I knew he was lying to me, so yes, yes, I was.”

Exhaling like a little girl at the end of her rope, this jilted wife sat next to me in my brown 1982, 2-door, Pontiac Grand Prix, on my brown plastic single-benched front seat, and cried.

I remembered during my Bar Mitzvah, several people told me I would make a great rabbi, so here was my chance.

“Maybe they were just talking?” I rationalized, as she snort-laughed through her tears.

“What am I going to do?” she pleaded.

I felt bad and could feel her pain, “It’s going to be all right,” I told her.

“What am I going to do?” she asked again, slower.

“Do you love him?” I asked, surprising myself.

She paused, dried her eyes, and said, “Yes. We have a daughter.”

“Then maybe give him one more chance,” I muttered.

“What if he does it again?”

“Then maybe he doesn’t love you,” I said, realizing the minute the words left my mouth it might have been the wrong thing to say. A rabbi I was not.

“What?” she asked.

And what came out of my mouth next would make it clear I might have made it in stand-up comedy, “You’re very pretty,” I said. “You want to get even with him?”

She laughed, sniffled a couple of times, grabbed my hand, and while squeezing it, said, “Thank you,” flashing a genuine smile.

I witnessed this betrayal 38 years ago.

This was before I had any idea what it meant to be in love.

Perhaps when I simply told her the obvious, that if her husband was screwing the school secretary he may not love her, something in her mind clicked.

Maybe she needed the validation that what her eyes witnessed, did indeed occur.

I don’t know if they went to counseling or whether she got even by cheating on him, but I did see them together a year later at an afterschool function.

I wondered if they stayed together out of love, or for their daughter’s sake.

I wonder if anyone else in the world knew of his affair other than his wife and me.

I kind of hope he was never disloyal again. I like to think they raised their daughter and are now enjoying retirement together. The betrayal, a mostly forgotten memory — one too many artificial joints from being able to spread their legs in the back seat of a car anymore.

I’d like to say I was so moved by the whole thing, I quit smoking after the whole affair. Truth is, I started smoking even more. But when my nicotine cravings couldn’t hold out until the end of the day, I just smoked in the boy’s room.

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I am a speech-language pathologist who writes about love, philosophy, romance, self-awareness, humor, local events, and everlasting life. I'm in an eternal search for meaning, joy, passion and happiness. Join me...

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