He would have had to go into the British Army to pay for school. His step-mother’s parents offered to pay in-state tuition to UNC-Asheville, but he’d have to move there to get the cost break. When he graduated he got a job in Durham teaching ninth grade English as Miss Watson’s year-long substitute. Miss Watson was taking a year off to travel around the world with her elderly mother. I had planned to be Miss Watson’s aide, and I loved Miss Watson, so I was disappointed. The beginning of ninth grade was September 1974. I was 14, he was almost 24.
So I was his aide instead during 7th period when he didn’t have a class. He said I could just leave early anytime I wanted, but I usually just stayed, sometimes even stayed late, and helped him grade the younger kids’ papers. We talked a lot. It was hard not to be the teacher’s pet when I had him for English in 2nd period.
He was trying to work on his PhD in English at Duke while he taught. It wasn’t working so well. He stayed on at my junior high and tried to finish it the whole time I was in high school. I ran into him sometimes when I was using the Duke library for AP English. By the time I was at State, he had quit teaching junior high and was working on his thesis full time in Chapel Hill.
He finished it while I was in my first semester at Yale. I had transferred there for my junior year, but I had to start late, in January. The beginning of spring semester 1981. I didn’t know it at the time, but he applied for and got a position at Wesleyan just down the road. He went back to Asheville for the summer before starting at Wesleyan, and I was at home in Durham. He got in touch; I was 21 and he was almost 30. We started seeing each other when we got back to Connecticut. By the time I graduated in December of ’82 we’d been together for over a year. I stayed with him at Wesleyan in the beginning of 1983, and we knew we wanted to be married. I went to Asheville to stay with his step-family while I planned our wedding. We were married that summer; I was 23, he was 32. His step-grandparents, Herschel and Eleanor, were Episcopalians, and the wedding was at their church. His father and step-mother came from England, and my family came from Durham and all over.
“In human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter…”
–Alan Moore, Watchmen, 1986
I smoked my first cigarette in his car. He and three other teachers, all women, took their student aides out to lunch on a teacher work day near the end of the year. Ms. Flack, she let us call her Jody, and her student rode in the same car with me and Mr. Reid. After lunch we all got a little silly. I think two of the other girls—all the aides were girls—had smoked something in the bathroom at the restaurant. In the backseat of Mr. Reid’s car, Jody passed a cigarette to her aide and they lit up; Mr. Reid took one when she offered it. I’d never seen him smoke before. When she offered one to me, I took it. I lit it from the car lighter, and I looked so awkward that he knew.
“Have you ever smoked before?” he asked.
When I said ‘no’ I was smiling, and he tried to grab it out of my hand. I said “NO!” again and he stopped. We were all laughing, but he took a long kind of angry drag on his cigarette before he started the car. I never smoked in front of him again—I never smoked, really—and I never saw him smoke again. We laughed about it once after making love.