My career in teaching was spent in the tiny school district of Sherwood. It most definitely was not the Sherwood of today where urban sprawl barrels toward the coast range. Twenty-some years ago Sherwood was a small farm town where everyone knew everyones business. My first year in Sherwood was spent at the Intermediate School teaching Home Economics. I learned that year that rough kids take Home Economics. I also learned that year that rough kids need Home Economics. I connected with these kids who were abused, thrown out and teetering on the edge between innocence and a free fall. So the next school year I was asked to move up with them to Sherwood High School. Although I was teaching Language Arts, in truth I was serving as the touch stone to my kids.
I had a core group of about 10 kids I welcomed into my classroom at all hours of the school day. I also taught the general ed kids Language Arts and yes, Drivers Education, but it was my at-risk kids that captured my heart and consciousness. It was also my at-risk kids who thought at the ripe old age of 24, I was in need of a husband.
The hunt for Miss Murphy’s significant other was on.
Mostly I laughed off their dating game comments. I was happily single, living in a studio apartment in Tualatin, a closet full of recently purchased professional clothes with extra shoulder padding, and a new VCR. Really, I was set for a good long time. This independent woman lifestyle didn’t go over in the eyes of my students, especially when my Valentines Day came and went with not so much as a box of chocolates to show for what they thought was a worthy candidate for matrimony. So on February 15th, 1989 they swung into action.
One of my duties as mother hen to my group of kids was to find them jobs that held some responsibility and trust within the school. One of my young ladies, beautiful brown eyed Lisa, was the perfect candidate for working in the main office. She was personable, bright, a people person. She was also the front runner in the concerns of many that I would follow in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s spinster school teacher, Miss Beadle. Lisa was a hopeless romantic beacon living in a shattered world of dysfunction.
In fact, on one particular day she came with a little more sparkle in her eyes than normal, sauntered up to my desk and smiled, and I remember this conversation as if it was yesterday, but she said, “Miss Murphy. There is the hottest guy sleeping on my couch that you just HAVE to meet!”
Politely smiling I said, “No thanks Lisa.” Meanwhile, knowing what I knew about my kids dysfunctional families my inner thoughts screamed, “Yeah, fat chance in hell I’d ever meet any guy crashing on YOUR couch!”
The next day Lisa again told me about the hot guy crashing on her couch. This time she added, “He saw your yearbook picture and wants your phone number.”
Again, I smiled and said something politically correct like, “I don’t think I should go out with friends of students.” Inwardly I was yelling, “Holy crap, he knows what I look like!?”
Every day that week Lisa would give me an update on the hot guy on her couch as she went out the door to work in the office. Every day I happily waved my fingertips as I shooed her into the hallway and then turned and mumbled, “God help me,” as I faced the rest of my students.
Sometime that following weekend I came home to a message on my answering machine. From the “hot guy” sleeping on Lisa’s couch. Holy Shit! He had my number! His message was simple. “Hey, this is Jeff. I’m a friend of Lisa’s family and she said you gave me your number to call you. Maybe we could go out.”
“WHAT?” I screamed into my tiny living space. “WHAT!” Images of a motorcycle dude, tattoos, a halo of cigarette smoke, a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels passed out on a flea infested couch swirled through my head.
I had never ever EVER given Lisa my number to give to him. EVER! I immediately erased the message and spewed curses Lisa’s way. And then I panicked.
“Oh my God! He knows my number! He knows what I look like AND he has my number!!”
The rest of the weekend I think I closed all my drapes, unplugged my phone, hid from reality, and hunkered down alternating between watching NCAA March Madness and Romancing the Stone, Pretty in Pink, and Top Gun on my new VCR while listening for an unmuffled motorcycle to pull into the parking space next to mine.
The following Monday I sat at my desk waiting for Lisa to walk in my classroom with her usual sunny disposition. When she came through the door she did not fail to deliver as a smile filled her entire face.
I scowled and gave her the stink eye.
“Did you get a phone call this weekend, Miss Murphy?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You know why…”
“Alright Lisa, straight up. How did you get my phone number?”
“I have my ways.”
“Oh, alright. I snuck into the personal files in the front office and snagged your file. I got all the information off of that.”
“I put it all back. I just needed your phone number to give to Jeff. You two are perfect for each other.”
“You gave him MY phone number you swiped from MY personal file and told him I gave it to you to give to him? You can’t do that! That’s a trusted position in the front office!”
“But he called, didn’t he?”
“And he sounds nice, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, but…I CANNOT go out with him! Especially now when you broke into files to get my number!”
As she headed for the door she smiled back at me, “That’s something you’ll have to tell him. Not me.” She wasn’t going down without a fight, I’ll give her that.
That evening when I came home there was another message on my machine from the “hot guy” on the couch.
I erased it.
This game of call and erase went on for a couple more days until finally I was caught off guard, distracted by March Madness, and when the call came through I picked up the phone without checking Caller ID and to put it in simple terms….I was snagged. We talked about the game mostly. But we talked for at least an hour. He had transferred down from Seattle and was crashing at a co-workers couch while he waited for his apartment to be ready. He could hardly wait to get off the couch because, “These people are crazy.”
He had me at crazy.
On our wedding day I had so many things to be grateful for. Family from near and far gathered. My friends from life held me up. I was marrying my best friend. But sadly there was one thing missing. Lisa. In the 15 months between stealing my phone number and giving it to Jeff and our wedding day her life spiraled downward. There was nothing I could do to help her. I’ve heard it took some time, but she eventually did get back on her feet again. Determination does that. Strong will does that. But above all else being a hopeless romantic does that.