If you’re just tuning in, DEVOLSON is an acronym I made up that stands for the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November. This three-ish month period is for me and thousands of other teachers I know the most difficult stretch of the school year. The amount of paperwork, adjustment, and readjustment involved ends up creating this giant tornado of exhaustion that sweeps through my life every fall, destroying everything in its path from my social life to my overall hygiene.
Anyway. Enough of that metaphor and of talking about my hygiene. DEVOLSON begins tomorrow, and because DEVOLSON is terrifying, I thought it was only appropriate that I tell you a ghost story from my teaching past. This is from one of my very first years, so it’s extra spooky. Ready?
It was not a dark and stormy day in October.
It was unseasonably hot, and I’d had a particularly terrible day. I was exhausted, had blisters on my blisters (I had not yet learned the value of orthopedic shoes), and, as usual, none of my lessons were going the way they were supposed to. According to the district calendar I was supposed to be teaching coordinating conjunctions, which is difficult when you’d only realized only a few weeks earlier that most students couldn’t write a complete sentence.
One of the markers of a bad day for me during DEVOLSON was (and is) crying. I had kept it together throughout the day, but as soon as I got in my car to go home around sundown, I started whimpering.
But a few minutes later, when I pulled up to the traffic light just outside my school, I stopped crying and gasped. A tiny, snow-white Chihuahua was darting in between the tires of the twenty or so cars waiting all around me on the busy street.
“Oh, no,” I whined. “Baby, get out of the road!”
The dog was panting, looking in all directions as it skittered under cars. No collar. None of the other drivers around me appeared to notice it. The light would turn green any second.
I knew what I had to do. Maybe I could get the dog to jump in my car, take it back to my apartment, and then look up a no-kill shelter or foster program on the Internet when I got home.
I opened my driver door.
“Hey! Come here!” I shouted as nicely as I could.
The dog perked up its ears, turned toward me, flittered over to my door, and hopped onto the floorboard. Just then, the light turned green, so I shut my door.
“Hi, little buddy! How you doin’?” I said gently, admiring her sweet face as she peered up at me from just under my knees.
And then that dog promptly lost its mind.
If we were in some robot science fiction movie, this would be the scene where the sweet, tiny librarian rips off her face to reveal that she’s a bloodthirsty cyborg. The dog jumped (more like Exorcist-style flew) onto my passenger seat, bared her teeth, and began barking so ferociously I thought her head would fall off just from force alone.
For a few seconds I was in shock. Then the car behind me honked, which made both the dog and I jump about a foot in our respective seats.
I thought maybe the sudden noise would quiet her, but the dog soon picked up her verbal harassment, nearing closer to my elbow with her razor-sharp teeth that looked like they had been meticulously sharpened by her previous owner, Satan. I tried to reason with myself that the poor dog was just scared, but what if she had rabies? Or, more likely, was a zombie?
"It's okay, shhh," I tried soothing her, but she wasn't having it. She lunged at my wrist on the steering wheel, barely missing it. I said about seven bad words.
I was driving forward now, so me jumping out of the car was not an option. Instead I reached down, grabbed the floorboard mat, and draped it over my shoulder to form a barrier between me and this little dog made of nightmares. (I am very resourceful.)
I turned right at my first chance into a neighborhood and swerved into the closest driveway. A couple was standing on their lawn and, rightfully, looked surprised to find me pulling in so suddenly. I slammed my car into park, hopped out, and shut the door. Then I shrugged off the floor mat I had on my shoulder.
“There’s a dog in there,” I told the couple, motioning toward the car.
Then I realized the dog had its paws up on my driver’s side window, still barking maniacally, so my announcement was the equivalent of saying, “We’re on planet Earth right now.”
The couple didn’t speak English very well, but between my rusty Spanish and their English we managed to decide that it wasn’t safe for me to try to drive the dog to a shelter, especially not alone. Maybe, the man suggested, we could try to get the dog into his old dog’s crate?
Don’t, she’ll kill us all! I wanted to say, but I nodded as to not appear more crazy than I already did.
The man disappeared into his garage, then came back a moment later holding a small tan crate.
“You open?” he said, nodding to the driver’s side door.
Carefully, so as to not provoke the beast, I opened the door while the man stood close by with his crate, but the second I had the door about four inches open, the dog flew out, landed perfectly on the ground, and ran at lightning-speed across the road, down half a block, and under the fence of what I hoped was her home.
“Fantasma,” the woman said, laughing. Ghost. Was it the dog’s name, or because the dog was so terrifying and had disappeared so suddenly?
I thanked the couple, got back in my car, and drove away. It had only been ten minutes start to finish, but it felt like a lifetime had passed. The way time moves when you see a ghost.
So let this be a lesson to you this DEVOLSON: sometimes, when you think that your day couldn’t possibly get any worse, a little tiny dog you're trying to rescue may try to eat your face off.
*I told this to my students later, one of whom lives in the neighborhood and was able to confirm this was, in fact, the dog's home home.