Bobbie Van Sant was Rachel’s enemy from the very start, so what went down in Mrs. Hunter’s class on Career Day was inevitable. Rachel remembers Mrs. Hunter’s lurid tangerine polyester pantsuit and the little white scarf she used to tie around her neck. During presentations Bobbie Van Sant would stand in front of the entire class next to Mrs. Hunter, who remains the one and only teacher Rachel ever truly loved. Bobbie was a lousy teacher’s pet.
It was Career Day, and Bobbie Van Sant had the full attention of all the silly girls, except for Rachel, and Jenny Van Alstrom who was probably already struggling with her sexuality. Rachel sat in the back row of desks, removing burrs in her ponytail, put there by Bobbie. Secretly, Rachel wanted hair like Amy Nelson’s—long, straight and silky like a yellow satin ribbon. Amy and Bobby were going steady.
Rachel liked to organize the built-in shelf beneath her desk. The smell of a new box of crayons held so much promise. Little did she know that someday those same crayons would end up melted in the lint-catcher of her dryer. She was wearing her Girl Scout uniform that day, showing off a new badge on her sash that her mother had sewn on that morning. Though her mother volunteered to take on “Sewing Badge,” most of the girls had dropped out for the “Rambling Badge.”
Rachel knew this was because her mother had hung a large acrylic panel of a nude woman on the entryway wall, making it the first thing visitors saw when they entered the house. To make matters worse, the woman in the portrait was headless with a triangle of florescent orange pubic hair. Rachel never lived that one down. Only one girl, a hippie kid by the name of Savannah Sheehan, stayed to finish the sewing badge. Savanna’s family lived in an old railroad cabin up in the woods after having being driven out of the Sausalito waterfront with the rest of Marin’s counterculture. Savannah told Rachel that the sewing badge boycott was probably organized by Amy Nelson, whose father was a Presbyterian minister.
Rachel had done everything possible to let Bobbie Van Sant know she couldn’t care less about what he wanted to be when he grew up, that his life’s dreams were meaningless. She didn’t understand why Mrs. Hunter, her only ally at the time, encouraged spoiled little snots like Bobbie to dream big. Apparently, Bobbie’s parents had not yet instilled in him the fear of the dim and hopeless future that she knew awaited her.
Mrs. Hunter asked Bobbie, “What about you, Robert?”
Bobbie answered with all of his usual swagger, like it was already a done deal.“I’m gonna be a professional baseball player for either the Yankees or the Cincinnati Reds.”
“Can you tell us about some of your heroes?” Mrs. Hunter smiled.
“Sure, that’s easy.” Bobbie put down his notes and puffed up to deliver a prepared presentation all in one breath as if he’d rehearsed the answer to this question every day of his eleven years. “Pretty much all the guys on the Big Red Machine. Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Pete Rose. But also Thurman Munson, Carl Yastrzemski, Dale Murphy, Steve Garvey, Hank Aaron…” Diplomatically, Mrs. Hunter interrupted the list, having noticed the four sheets of paper in Bobbie’s hand. “Thank you, Robert. Follow your dreams, dear! Our next presenter this morning is Rachel Fischer. Rachel, would you please come share with the class?”
Rachel waited for Bobbie to return to his desk. She stood to gather her papers and visual aids. On his way back to his desk, Bobbie shoved Rachel with his shoulder, which caused her to lose her balance and spill her papers everywhere. “Freak,” he said just quietly enough that Mrs. Hunter couldn’t hear him. Rachel had never hated anyone as much as she hated Bobbie. Determined to have her moment, she marched to the front of the room. “When I grow up I am going to be a novelist. I’d like to write a mystery series featuring a girl detective.” She tried to remember who her heroes were, and it irks her now that she’d remembered Bobbie’s and not her own. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was probably among them, and definitely Judy Bloom but not because of “Dear God, It’s Me Margaret” as she believed then as she does now that celebrating menstruation is a form of mental illness. There was an athlete too — but not Dorothy Hammil, because of all the terrible haircuts she inspired. Rachel can’t remember looking up to anyone.
She does remember that Bobbie made a rude face at her and that the other girls giggled, Amy Nelson among them. She continued reading off a list of women writers that her neighbor, a retired English teacher, helped her to compile the night before. She remembered only Virginia Woolf. “All these women are great writers. Some of them died young or had brain tumors. One of them drowned herself. Another one put her head in the oven. They suffered for their art.” She remembers clearly saying this last bit.
“Thank you, Rachel. Please take a seat,” said Mrs. Hunter, obviously trying to hide her concern. This made Rachel angrier at Bobbie. Rachel sat down in front of Bobbie, at her desk, in her assigned seat. Bobbie and his greasy-haired toady Mikey Viggo kicked her chair. Bobbie leaned forward to whisper, “Your mom doesn’t wear a bra.” “Yeah. And your dad’s a shit kicker,” Mikey added, though this part was true, unfortunately.
Mikey and Bobbie slapped each other’s hands over their desks. The brittle twig of Rachel’s tolerance snapped. Calmly and without permission, she rose from her seat and smoothed out her gauchos. She turned towards Mikey, the lesser and dumber of the two evils, lifted the lid of his desk and slammed it down on his fingers. He screamed in pain.
“That was for starters,” Rachel said. She knew that all her friends heard her say that, because she became known among her peers from that point on for saying, “That was for starters,” before she beat the crap out of a boy half her size. Then she pulled Bobbie out of his chair and fell upon him. She took a good swing at his face. Mrs. Hunter hurried towards the back of the class. The classroom erupted.