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Ms. Diaz and the Holy Fish
With stark black hair swept across the sides of her face, covering her ears, and the menacing grin she flashed to every student who walked through the door, she looked as if she was better fit to be a model in a Halloween costume catalog rather than a middle school Spanish teacher. We all eyed her cautiously, fearful of this obviously offbeat woman. For a few minutes, she stood next to the chalkboard, not speaking. She simply glanced at each student, seemingly studying us, observing each minute and insignificant detail. Suddenly, after moments of dead silence, we were introduced to her uncontrollable and wicked laughter.
It began as a soft, barely audible chuckle that sounded like the gurgling of a small child. It was a sporadic giggle, and between her laughs and gulps for air, she would mutter unrecognizable Spanish phrases under her breath. Quickly, as her excitement escalated, the volume of her laughs intensified simultaneously. Soon thereafter, it would transform into the same cackling laugh of a witch, but not containing the same evil and ominous qualities. It had a hint of brightness and joy, which helped to reassure us that she wasn’t about to pull out a wand and turn us into frogs. It also forced a smile onto the faces of all who were lucky enough to witness this unique and entertaining laugh.
“Hola, chicos!” she exclaimed after her startling fit of laughter had commenced. The entire class blankly stared at her.
“Come on, chicos. Have happiness. It is a happy day! Look outside! Blue sky, white clouds! It is all perfect!” Then she laughed in her unusual and frightening laugh that the 14 of us would become so accustomed to over the next nine months of eighth grade. She introduced herself as Ms. Luz Carmen Rosa Diaz, and then began her lecture on the first day of class through broken English, rambling on about anything and everything.
“Okay, so, I tell you something,” she said. “I come from Mexico. And I do not know why I leave. It is the same here. It is all just the same place. Mexico is same as United States. You know what I mean, right?” We hadn’t the faintest idea what she was talking about. A bold student raised her hand.
“So, why are you here if it’s the same as Mexico?” she asked. Ms. Diaz chuckled softly under her breath; however, she didn’t allow her giggling the opportunity to erupt into full-scale laughter.
“Very good question, señorita. Ha! I do not know. It is a good question. Very, very interesting.” She sat down at her desk for a moment, pondering this simple question that seemed brilliant and revolutionary to her. She sat there for a few minutes; it seemed like she had slipped into a trance. It wasn’t long before we resumed the conversations that we had abandoned when we walked through the door of the classroom, before we had been introduced to Ms. Diaz. We were so encapsulated by the gossip and comical stories we were sharing that we forgot about Ms. Diaz’s presence in the corner of the room. Suddenly, she sprang out of the chair like a monkey from a tree. She began to twirl and spin around the classroom, barely avoiding desks and chairs and walls. As she ran by the students, she gave us high fives. Her spooky laugh reverberated and echoed in the classroom. After a few seconds of what appeared to be delirium and sheer craziness, Ms. Diaz stopped in the middle of the classroom. The twisted grin on her face was replaced by a gleeful smile. She put her hands on her hips and stopped blinking. Her infamous laughter continued.
“Okay,” she began, as soon as she had stopped laughing. “So, now we learn Spanish.” We were in awe. How did she transition in a matter of seconds from acting like an uncontrollable and wild 5-year old child to a mature and accomplished Spanish teacher? We were also forced to accept the fact that we would be stuck with her for 180 days of our lives. 8,100 minutes with this woman? I didn’t think I could handle it.
On that unforgettable first day, we were taught seven basic words that everyone already knew. The reason that we didn’t cover an overwhelming amount of material was due to the fact that she got sidetracked very, very easily. Her first extraneous topic of choice the first day was her family.
“Okay, so we just learn the word for “son”. Right? Okay, how do you say it?” We shouted, in unison like a trained group of choral singers, “Hijo!”
“Very good chicos. You learn good! Oh, I almost forget! Before I teach you the next thing, I want to tell you a good story. It is about my son. So, it is good for lesson because we just learn how to say son! Good, good. Okay, so my son. He is the most handsome boy you ever see. I am not joking! He is going to be the next Ricky Martin! He is so handsome. And, he sings and dances so amazing. So amazing! His name is Jose. I name him after his father. And he is so handsome because his father is handsome too! His father is more handsome than, let’s see…more handsome than Enrique Inglesias. So much more handsome! Anyways, you will meet them soon. I bring them to class next week.” Those of us that were still paying attention to the words coming out of Ms. Diaz’s mouth were baffled. We didn’t know how to react to this oration of hers. Why was she telling us this? And why was she talking so fast and with so much enthusiasm? I hoped that she had had too much coffee that morning; I didn’t think that I could regularly start off the day with her class if her daily persona was so bubbly and energetic. But, as I would soon learn, she always had that much energy, she always talked that fast, and she always spent more time using us as an audience for her unusual anecdotes than teaching us Spanish.
One rainy morning, I stumbled wearily into the classroom, so tired that I almost lacked the ability to pull the metal handle and open the door. As I walked in, I noticed that I was the first one in the classroom. Ms. Diaz greeted me at the door with wide eyes, wearing her usual bright smile.
“Good morning, Ms. Diaz,” I whispered hoarsely, trying to be polite, as I blindly staggered to my seat. She followed me, still grinning from ear to ear. I plopped down, pretending not to notice her hovering next to me. Finally, unable to contain her excitement any longer, she ran over to her desk and delicately picked up a small glass jar about the size of a soup can. I wondered what she could possibly be doing, but I was more interested in catching a bit more sleep before the rest of the students filed into the class. Before I could even close my eyes, she eagerly tapped me on the shoulder.
“Look, Kaela!” she shouted in my ear. I was not amused. I restrained my irritation and flashed a superficial smile displaying hints of fake curiosity. I looked at the jar she was cradling like a baby in her hands. The sight immediately jolted me awake from my attempted slumber because I was so confused by what I saw: a goldfish swimming around, stuck in a glass prison.
“Ms. Diaz, what are you doing with a goldfish in that jar?” I asked. Naturally, her laughter followed.
“It is a sign,” she whispered mysteriously, as if she was sharing her deepest secret.
“A sign?” I asked.
“From God!” she exclaimed while rolling her eyes, as if it should’ve been obvious to me that the goldfish was a heavenly symbol. I chuckled slightly, unsure if she was being serious. She looked at me, anticipating an enthusiastic response, expecting me to share her excitement. This reaction led me to realize that she really believed what she was saying. I stopped laughing and smiled, speechless.
“That’s good, Ms. Diaz,” I said, uncertain of what else to say.
“I know, right?” she exclaimed. “Okay, so I tell you how I know. I had a dream three nights ago about a holy goldfish. In my dream, God sent the goldfish to purify humankind and promote peace throughout the world. I didn’t think much about it. But then, I had the exact same dream two nights ago and last night too! This morning I see this goldfish on the kitchen table. I ask my son where it comes from, and he says he won it at a contest a school yesterday. Then I have a revelation! It was sent from God and I am the messenger! I am…what’s the word? Amazed! Anyways, how great is that, Kaela? I mean, really, how great is that?” By this time she had grabbed me by my arms and was shaking me so violently that I became dizzy. Once she calmed down a little and had let go of me, I said, “Wow, Ms. Diaz. That’s just incredible. I’m so happy for you!”, trying my best to conceal the sarcasm in my voice. Suddenly, she ran towards the door because another student had walked into the room, so she hurried to the door to greet him. She rapidly repeated the exact same story to him.
From that day on, the goldfish was her sacred and most prized possession. She refused to leave the classroom without taking it with her. She continued to have dreams about it, and frequently we would end up spending the whole class period talking about her holy fish, which she appropriately named Jesus.
There was never a dull moment with Ms. Diaz. Although there were mornings where I couldn’t deal with her happiness because I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed, her jubilance was a surprisingly good way to start the mornings and wake us all up. I would always be in a good mood for the rest of the day because she was just so amusing and an all-around hilarious character. Much to my surprise, I was actually sad when the last day of school rolled around. Eighth grade was not my favorite year, but Ms. Diaz made me want to come to school in the morning. I didn’t go to school at 7:45 to sit in an ordinary class and learn Spanish. I went because Ms. Diaz’s class and character were anything but ordinary.