What Jerry Had to Say About the Meaning of Life

a-

My boss walks into the teacher’s room.

“Essay day!” she calls. All the teachers, myself included, groan. She puts a fat stack of hot paper on the communal desk. My first class is a pile of pimples, pit-hair and angst.

Middle school is the worst, I think, taking a mirror from the girl in the front row as I walk in. I pull out the attendance sheet, I look up. The same girl has a new mirror out, bigger, white. I stare at her, mouth open. She rolls her eyes and stuffs it in her bag.

I look around at the sleepy mess of stressed out, pale teenagers. There are no windows.

“Essay day!” I cry, holding up a stack of papers. All the students groan. I look down at the header of the essay. I sigh.

“What gives your life meaning?” I whisper it to myself, groan, and repeat it to the class. They don’t respond, so, I hand the stack to a boy in the front row. He hands them out.

For the next ten minutes I stand at the front of the class, watching, sweating, occasionally itching. Finally, I can’t take it, I walk around.

Each paper I pass I see the same things:

Family, friends, my phone, family, friends, my phone…

One of the students actually managed to misspell phone. I stop and point at it. He looks up at me.

“Ph-oh-ne,” I mouth. He frowns. I shake my head and move on. In the back, I see Jerry. He is smaller than the rest. No hair above his lip, no pimples. He has big old glasses and a blank stare. His pencil is down. I cross my arms.

“Finished, Jerry?”

I can feel the other students turn, eager to watch me reprimand Jerry. Jerry just nods. He turns the paper. I pick it up. There is one sentence written. His handwriting is awful. I look closer.

“Life is meaningless because you can’t fold a piece of paper more than eighth times.”

I read it again. I look back at the class. They quickly turn back to their work. I place Jerry’s essay back on his desk. I take out my pen. He watches me, emotionless. At the top of the page I write–big and red.

A-

He frowns at it. He looks up at me. I shrug.

“Eight, not eighth,” I remind him.

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