Back in the 80s when I was a young school teacher in a small town, things were black and white. People were church-going farmers, and you’d better not be sleeping with your boyfriend when he came to town and stayed overnight. We learned to park our company’s vehicles behind the barn.
My classroom was the corner of the band room, its vaulted ceiling stealing every bit of heat that flowed through the tiny vent. The band teacher sat in his office, door wide open, as he tutored students during my classes, tutored, as in Play the scale on your clarinet one more time.
I complained to the principal, and the band teacher started shutting his door. One frigid morning, I put the kids in the hallway in their winter coats because my fingers couldn’t hold a piece of chalk. They had turned blue. When the principal offered me another year, I said no unless he gave me a real classroom. He put me in a tiny room behind the typing room. We had to walk through the typists to come and go.
My third year of teaching was in a much bigger school in a much bigger town. I had a big beautiful classroom. I thought I was in heaven.
But apartments were more expensive in Omaha than they were in a rural farm town. I lived in a studio, then a one bedroom, then had a disastrous roommate, then moved in with another teacher and a med student, inching my way east, closer to the Missouri River and the bridge that would take me to my teaching job in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We were a Three’s Company situation.
We were all friends at first. Then it became clear that we had different goals in life. The teacher wanted to marry her man. The med student wanted to date lots of women but never marry any of them. I was working on my Masters’ degree. I wanted a quiet place to sleep and study.
That summer I took a class that met four days a week for hours every morning. My roommates went out and got drunk during the week. I stayed home and went to bed so that I could get up for class. One night they all came in drunk and thought it would be funny if my roomie’s boyfriend climbed into bed with me. After that I got a lock for my door, but it only worked from the inside.
One weekend I was gone, and my friend downstairs, who came from a wealthy family, was also a med student, and had loaned me clothes to wear on dates since my wardrobe was wanting, asked my roommates to let her go though my closet to borrow something. After all, she had lent me clothes. My roommates agreed and let her take my new dress, with the tags still attached, the one I had visited at Macy’s while I waited for my monthly paycheck, the teal dress I was saving for some special occasion like a friend’s wedding or a fabulous second date, the one that cost me $80 in 1982.
After that, I couldn’t trust my roommates anymore. Who does that? Maybe if I’d had a lot of money, I could’ve thought, “It’s just a dress, who cares?” But it was more than that. It felt like betrayal.
My married teacher friend’s husband said, “Move out.” True, I was trying to get ready for my comprehensive exam that I had to pass to earn my Masters’ degree. It was hard to study in my apartment. If I tried to on my bed, I’d fall asleep. The dining room table was a no go since the TV was always on.
I moved out and got my own place. The roommates agreed to let a sublet come in and pay my third of the rent. Instead, more betrayal. They moved the teacher’s brother in for free. The landlord yelled at me to pay my share of the rent. The married teacher’s husband and I went over to the apartment, found the brother’s stuff in my bedroom, took photos, gave them to the landlord, and the brother finally paid up.
I have no idea what happened to those people. Why would I care? They didn’t care about me at all. I hear from the married teacher’s husband every Christmas. He was my one true friend in a world of betrayal.