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Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Nine: The Foreign Exchange Teacher and The Birthday Conspiracy)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

The Boy Who Dreamed and the Big Bad Wolf Which He Became

By Tex Batmart

If you haven’t been with us from the start, check out Chapter One here

Chapter Nine: The Foreign Exchange Teacher and The Birthday Conspiracy

Having achieved his lifelong goal of becoming a published author the year before, Tex wasn’t sure how he would manage to top things in his fifth year of public education. He supposed that he would continue writing, and assumed that he would find only continuing success. Had he known the road which he would come to walk upon, he might not have worn that smug expression for so long. Regardless of the future, though, he was excited to see what the fourth grade would bring his way.

The school district had been busy over the summer, and had rearranged the boundaries throughout the Island between the three Elementary Schools, with the upshot being that Tex would once again be spending recess with his best (and for the most part, only) friend. Upon hearing the news that Arthur would be returning to Wilkes Elementary, both boys checked to see if they would share a class again together. Sadly, though they were schoolmates once more, they had still not been reunited in the classroom. When the school bell rang, they would be sat across the hall from one another, doing their best to soak in all the required knowledge before they could run around like madmen on the playground.

The first week back had been something of a shock for the both of them. When last they had spent any time together encased behind the brick façade of that public school, they had both been more of the quiet type, content to spend their playtime in earnest conversation. In the interim, however, Tex had grown to be a decent Kickball player, owing to his natural speed, and preternatural foot-eye coordination. Arthur, of course, had taken up Wallball, and had actually gotten pretty good at it himself. But the real test of their friendship was when Tex had tried to include Arthur in what had essentially been a three-year-long Live Action Roleplaying Adventure (though none of the participants would have classified it as having been such an activity).

No one in that group, save for young Batmart, really wanted anybody else to join, and, they all discovered, it was kind of coming to an end in any case. It had been loosely based upon Military Adventures, for it was the 1980’s and that sort of thing was rather ubiquitous. By the fourth grade, they had all achieved the rank of General, and best offer they were willing to make to Arthur was a Field Commission Lieutenant. Tex felt guilty those times when he left Arthur behind so that he could play make-believe with the other children amongst the tatters of their shared imaginary world, and within a month, had made the decision to let that part of his life quietly fade away.

In the classroom, Tex was actually far happier. He had heard of Foreign Exchange Students before, and secretly hoped that one day he could go to a foreign country and spend some time anywhere but with his family, but he had never known that countries could also exchange their teachers. At first he was a little let down that the teacher whom he should have gotten (the one the older kids had said was the best teacher in the school) was going to be in England that year. Then he discovered that his substitute would actually be from England. Tex had grown up fairly poor, and had watched more than his fair share of British Comedy on his local PBS affiliate. More than was rightly normal for a kid of his age, he quite looked forward to the pledge drives, when he could marathon through new episodes of his favorite shows, with only minimal interruptions. It is no wonder that he became so enamored of Netflix in later life.

In addition to the regular assignments of math and science, social studies and language arts, he also heard countless stories of life in England, and soaked up his teacher’s accent at every chance. He was too young to be entirely self-aware, and so made more attempts to master a Cockney accent than he might have even two or three years later. Rather than discourage him, or take offense, his teacher would gently correct him if his vowels were off. And she was always happy with him when another story of his would cross her desk. Sure, there were frustrations felt by both parties, on her behalf, it had a lot to do with missing homework, and on his, the constant assigning of the aforementioned work. Still, it was a year in which he actually learned many things, and remained capable of being optimistic on the bus ride into school.

Things were going so well, in fact, that he almost didn’t notice when his birthday began to loom. It was major milestone, and though he was caught a bit off-guard, he was also a little anxious for it. He would be turning 10 that year, and finally joining the ranks of the majority in wielding and age in the double digits. About a week after his birthday had passed, he reflected to himself that he didn’t feel any different than he had all through November, and wondered when he might begin to feel a little more grown up. He might have had these thoughts on his actual birthday, but as it happened to turn out, he was a little busy.

It was a foregone conclusion that this Major Life Event would be spent with Arthur, and even though he felt a little under the weather, he was determined that nothing would stand in his way. Disney had just begun their return to Cinematic Dominance that year with an adaptation of another famous fairy tale. Still young enough to see a cartoon film in the theatre, he went to see The Little Mermaid with his mother and his best friend. For as bad as he felt, he did enjoy the feature, though his mother was a bit concerned, as he ate hardly any popcorn or drank any of his soda. At the end of the film, instead of celebrating, his mother dropped Arthur off at home, and tried to tuck Tex into bed.

That, of course, was when the fun began in earnest. Almost immediately upon returning home, Tex found that he couldn’t hardly breathe. Having grown up an asthmatic, his mother sprang into action, and got the hot water running to fill the entire bathroom up with steam. While Tex, as per instructions from his mother, tried to remain calm and breathe deeply of the vapor, his mother made a call to Tex’s grandparents to arrange for a ride into Seattle. By the time that the water had grown cold (which wasn’t too terribly long, as it was only a moderately-sized hot water heater, his grandfather had arrived, and Tex was being bundled into the back seat of the car, while his mother rode the waves of a keen and brittle parental breakdown.

It was the longest night that Tex could remember, up until that point. When they had gotten to the hospital, the doctors had listened to his lungs and checked for a hernia (which he did not altogether care for, as it seemed inappropriate to him that a doctor would be checking there, as, though he was not well-versed in physiology, he was still fairly certain that his lungs were located a decent distance from his groin), and then finally gotten him a bed. He was still terrified of needles, and his mother’s advice about I.V. placement did nothing to comfort him, although, as it turned out, he needn’t have worried. The only thing they did was to give him a vaporizer, and let him breathe in the medicine at regular intervals. That might have been enough, but they also insisted on waking him up every two hours to see how he was doing. Tex may have only been ten years old, but even he felt that if he was still breathing, he was probably okay.

The next day, the nurse offered him a tray of something which was described as edible, and yet in no way appeared fit for human consumption. Luckily, his grandparents had brought his mom some chicken nuggets, so they traded meals, and each was happy for it. That evening, Tex was discharged from the hospital with an inhaler and instructions for its use. He had also been taught how to breathe more efficiently, expanding his lungs downward and jutting out his tummy, rather than raise his shoulders with every breath. They described this technique as “Stomach Breathing,” which would have been fine, except for an incident which later came to pass at school.

A note about Tex Batmart (especially throughout his youth): he never much cared for admitting that a concept was beyond him, and, if given the opportunity, would attempt to make himself seem smarter than he was. It wasn’t that he was stupid, not by any means, just that he had not gained the wisdom which might have informed him that he was not obligated to fill every silence with his words, or that there is no shame in admitting that he did not know something. When the subject of this breathing technique arose, he explained that he was actually breathing through his stomach via his belly button (anatomy be damned!), and stuck with his story, even in the face of actual and incontrovertible evidence until finally, forced into retreat, he admitted not that he was wrong, but that the doctor who had spoken to him had failed to factually impart the necessary information.

As the years passed, this quirk of his did not disappear. He did, however, manage to learn significantly more about an entire range of subjects to the point where he could pull something out of his ass and have it turn out more or less correct. A good portion of this was due almost entirely to his love of learning and his hatred of appearing to be stupid. By the time he reached adulthood, oftentimes his quips were better worded and more accurate than the things for which he had actually prepared.

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