Janet Sheridan: Sleepless nights

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Janet Sheridan

I discard clothes and curios of faded importance without hesitation — an ashtray from Reno, a Yellowstone T-shirt, a TWA shoulder bag.

But, such decisiveness deserts me during occasional sleepless nights when past transgressions march through my mind. I toss and turn and try to delete memories of my selfish actions, hurtful words, and self-believed lies, but cannot, so I stumble on feet of clay to their accusatory cadence throughout an endless night.

But sometimes, Les rescues me.

He slouched into my third period freshman English class, his last stop before expulsion, and dragged a desk to the back of the room. His acne-scarred face flamed red, and his angry eyes dared me; then he lowered his head and pretended sleep.

I ignored his behavior and taught class. Sometime during his second week of sullenness, he raised his head and appeared to follow the lesson, though he contributed nothing and avoided my eyes.

The next week, he laughed with the class when a frustrated student complained, “The only part of the story I enjoyed was the last two words: The End.”

He began handing in adequate assignments, contributing during discussions, and passing tests. He earned a C- for the quarter, but rejected my friendly overtures.

In March, between the noisy departure of my third period students and the quiet of my planning period, I walked to the back of the room to close a window. As I passed Les’s desk, my foot slid through a sickening puddle of tobacco juice.

I knew Les chewed because of the faded circle on the back pocket of his jeans, so I went to his next class and asked for him.

“Les, I want you to go to my room right now and clean up the disgusting mess you made by your desk,” I said.

He followed without complaint, gathered paper towels, cleaned the carpet, then approached my desk.

Unusually, he maintained eye contact with me. Seeing no sign of insolence or anger, I explained I would report his behavior if he defaced the classroom again and sent him back to class.

The rest of the year went by without incident.

After the final bell on the last day of school, as I sat in my classroom, savoring the quiet, Ronny — known for his musical ability and sneakiness — stuck his head in the door: “Hey, Mrs. Bohart, remember when you marched into science and made Les clean up the chew in your room? He didn’t spit it there. I did … gotcha!”

Ronny ran down the hall, and I went looking for Les to apologize. I didn’t find him. When I tried to call his home, the number was no longer in service.

Another regret joined the throng that marched my mind during sleepless nights.

Several years later as I shopped at a chain drugstore in Reno, a tall young man with a shy smile and an assistant manager’s nametag approached, stopped in surprise, and said, “Mrs. Bohart! Wow!! I can’t believe it’s you.”

I read the name below the title and blurted: “Les, oh, Les. I’ve been hoping to run into you for eight years. I need to apologize to you. I’m sorry I accused you of something you didn’t do, then made you clean up someone else’s tobacco mess. I found out too late that Ronny did it, not you. I’m so sorry, Les.”

“Oh, hey, no big deal. You treated me fairly from day one — actually made me like English — and besides, I did so much bad stuff in junior high, it didn’t hurt me to clean up someone else’s mess.”

We chatted about his promotion at the drugstore, his wife, and their new son. As we parted, he thanked me again for helping him salvage his ninth-grade year.

As I walked away, the peace of forgiveness seeped into my soul, and it sometimes still saves me during my sleepless nights.

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