A Token for Mrs. Ray

by Yosephine Sevanya Kivi

A seventeen-year-old girl is trying to portray her life into one single picture. The problem is her life was so much more than a picture can hold. She stares at this blank white wall in her room and closes her eyes. She is imagining the moment she was born, you know, just right about the time she sneaked out of her mother’s womb. She tried to picture how it felt when the first particle of oxygen entered her lungs. She then opens her eyes and voluntarily tries to trace the feeling of seeing the world for the very first time. She then hopped into a chair nearby and sighs in despair.

Stanza is seventeen and she is not satisfied with… everything. However at this exact moment, she hates how humans could not remember being a baby. It was all thanks to Mrs. Ray art project. She asked all the students to submit a picture that could sum up their entire lives. It is a rather bizarre project, even for twelve-graders. When confronted by the students, Mrs. Ray just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re graduating and I need something to remember each and everyone of you. Consider it as a token for me. So do your best !”

There were so many things inside Stanza?s mind at the moment. She wished she was somewhere far away from home; her tiny three-bedroom-apartment home. She didn’t hate the art project; in fact she loved it. She was actually the only one who was excited about the art project.

Mrs. Ray is a very unique teacher, and an even more unique individual, or so Stanza thought. She doesn’t dress like all the other blouse-pencil-skirted female teachers. She always wears this long summer dress. It’s always a different dress every single day. Stanza admired Mrs. Jane Fitzray Peters. She still remembers the first day of Fine Art class when Mrs. Ray walked into the class with a smile on her face and wrote “MRS. RAY” on the chalkboard, all capital. There is this charisma about her. People could just see how easygoing and laid back she is. She looks very young, not older than 30, yet she is a missus. “Seniors, you are all a bunch of narrow-minded people. Let’s do something about it!” right when Mrs. Ray said this; Stanza knew Mrs. Ray is possibly the coolest person she is yet to know.

Stanza’s mom passed away when she was only seven years old. She lives with her father, a writer, and she has two older brothers who both have moved out a few years ago. She did not have a female role model to look up to, until Mrs. Ray.

It was some time in January when Mrs. Ray introduced the class to Andy Warhol. Who is Andy Warhol? Only the greatest, most eccentric artist ever lived! Or so Stanza thought. Honestly, Stanza was never interested in art or even its history. That all changed in just a year of Fine Art class. Mrs. Ray showed the class some footage of Warhol’s most famous works that are up in the Andy Warhol Museum. Stanza was very intrigued to the self-portraits that Warhol had done.

After the ten-minute presentation, Mrs. Ray proceeded to giving each student a pencil and a paper. She asked them to “throw everything away” and focus on the pencil and paper. She then asked everyone to think of one thing that we hated the most and draw it as beautiful as possible. After only learning about one pop artist for roughly ten minutes, the students were baffled. The boys were giving each other weird looks and started giggling. Stanza glanced at them. She knew they were just jocks with a brain as small as a peanut. The class, however, continued and everybody gave their drawings to Mrs. Ray.

A week after the Andy Warhol topic, Fine Art class was a total let down for Stanza. Apparently Mrs. Ray took a temporary leave and let the class be trapped with a substitute teacher. Mrs. Ray did not show up to school for about the three weeks. The rumors were spreading that she got some marital issue with her husband; some said that her husband cheated on her, others said she was caught in a domestic violence situation. Truth is nobody knows what really happened to Mrs. Ray. One thing for sure though, Stanza was having a rather bad time during Mrs. Ray absence.

Stanza was trying to cope with it by working on the Andy Warhol project over and over again. She has drawn at least four of the things she hated and made sure they all looked beautiful. She tried to ask the other teachers about the whereabouts of Mrs. Ray. Sadly, nobody seemed to know.
Stanza recalls all these memories while still sitting down on her chair. If only back then she knew Mrs. Ray was just taking a long vacation around Europe with her and her husband’s family. She feels embarrassed to acknowledge how much she actually cares about her favorite teacher. Back then they have never talked like they do now.

It still felt like it was just yesterday that Stanza came up to Mrs. Ray with all her Andy Warhol week projects. This was pretty random to be honest. Mrs. Ray was even surprised by this girl who always sits quietly in her class and all of a sudden showing her drawings at lunchtime. “Well, Mrs. Ray, I couldn’t help but to draw more and more of the things that I hate. I think I might have a problem ” Stanza told Mrs. Ray.

This was (kind of) true. Since that Fine Art class she could not stop drawing the things she resented. It all started from a drawing of a cheese, then a lizard, then an elevator, and so on. Now there are at least a dozen of drawings she had made. Mrs. Ray looked through all of them, until she got into the final drawing and then she snorted ?Wow. You really hate the world this much, huh?? It was a picture of a kitten.
They started bonding since then. Mrs. Ray was puzzled by Stanza and her bizarre stunt at first, but it has been months working in this school and sadly she still has not gotten along with any of the teachers. She was just longing for the company of a friend.

Stanza told Mrs. Ray all about her complaints against the system of the world. Mrs. Ray was curious to know what was really going on inside a seventeen-year-old girl?s head nowadays. So she decided to listen carefully and patiently, only to find out that Stanza was actually just expressing her anger due to her mother’s passing when she was very little.

It took some time to actually reveal the main cause behind all these endless questions, complaints, and dissatisfaction. Mrs. Ray was not known for her patience so she was surprised to find out how patient she could be when dealing with Stanza. God knows she has her own problems to deal with, yet listening to Stanza was very intriguing for her.

Mrs. Ray and Stanza even went out to grab a froyo every now and then. Mrs. Ray remembers the time when Stanza finally told her about her mother. She was a scoop away from finishing her chopped strawberry topping when Stanza blurted out, ?The truth is, I guess the most dissatisfying fact of all is losing your mother on a summer night on your seventh birthday.? Mrs. Ray was quiet for a bit. She observed Stanza as if she was afraid that this girl might burst out into tears any time. But she did not.
Stanza has accepted the fact that her mother is no longer in this world. Her father used to say that she is now in heaven. Stanza was not fond of the heaven and hell concept. Instead, she likes to think that her mother was just too good for this world and that is why she has to go. Mrs. Ray could almost taste the bitterness in Stanza. This is why she decided to take the turn in their conversation and started to tell Stanza about this world from her point of view.

Mrs. Ray was surprisingly excited when she finally got the chance to be the one talking. She cannot wait to share all her stories to Stanza. She felt like she knew Stanza very well and she was very sure that Stanza was going to love her stories. So, long story short, Mrs. Ray started with her college experience, which was the Hippie group.

> end of part 1 >