Powder Blue Peterbilt

“Life still sucks, Mr. B. Beauty just isn’t enough.”

First published in Teach. Write. Fall~Winter 2021.

Second Period I was lecturing on the role of the Chorus in Greek tragedies when Cheyenne Resnik burst in, “Mr. B, you’ve got to get me out of American Lit before I hurt somebody.”

“What’s the problem?”  

“Mrs. Schertz wants us to read Thomas Paine. Who cares? Twain is all right and Poe, but she’s assigned nothing from Leave of Grass. We’re going to act out Our Town. Our Town? Yuck!  Why don’t we read Wit? That would give us something to talk about. Maybe Death of a Salesman? I’d play Willy Loman.”

“You’d need a wardrobe change,” Flip Burberry called out from the back row.  Cheyenne was wearing leopard skin stretch pants and a black tank top with the word Resist in silver glitter on the front.

Cheyenne feigned surprise. “Oh, you’re in class, Mr. B?”   She scanned the room as if seeing the students for the first time. Her eyes settled on Flip, the 6’4” sophomore quarterback for the Varsity football team. “Honors English?”  He nodded. “I flunked that class. Wasn’t Mr. B’s fault. My sophomore year I had no focus.” Cheyenne turned back to me. “Can you get me out of American Lit?”


“Bummer.” She addressed the class. “Mr. B teaches Oedipus the King because of the tragic flaw stuff.” That amused me. “Aristotle defined a tragic hero as a good person with a weakness that ruins him or her.” My students looked impressed. “Oedipus is a cautionary tale. ‘Watch out if you’ve got a mongo ego.’”  Cheyenne flashed Flip a smile.

“I need to get back to class. Mrs. Schertz has asked me to explain Thoreau’s stance on civil disobedience, but she wanted to say a few words about Emerson first.” She shrugged. “I’m not a fan of Emerson.” She raised a warning finger in Flip’s direction. “You’re a quarterball, not the king, but that doesn’t mean ego isn’t a problem. Be careful.” She waved good-bye.

Flip Burberry was a transfer student, lanky, gregarious. He gravitated to the back corner where he could stretch out his legs. He raised his hand. “Who was that strange girl?”

“Cheyenne Resnik. She’s a senior.”

“Did she really flunk your class?”

“Yes, her sophomore year. Last year she retook it and aced it.”

“What made the difference?”

“You’d need to ask her.”

 Two days later Cheyenne reappeared. “Did you know we have to memorize poetry?”

            “What?”  I asked, startled by her sudden entrance. I’d forgotten to close the door again.

            “American Lit,” she spit out, as if I couldn’t keep my mind on the conversation. Cheyenne wore a suede skirt, tank top, and calfskin boots that climbed above her knees.

            She surveyed my students. “What do you think? Should a person be required to memorize two-hundred lines of poetry to get a passing grade?”   They hesitated. They assumed it was a trick question. Cheyenne heaved a huge sigh.

            “I’d hate that,” Flip finally called out.

            “Wrong answer.” She smirked. “I love poetry. I read it all the time. It’s a pleasure to memorize it, but it surprised me Mrs. Schertz might feel the same way.”

            “So, Cheyenne, what’s the problem?”

“We have a substitute teacher today. She wanted me to take today’s test. I told her I was gone Wednesday when we reviewed. She said I couldn’t stay in the room while they were testing because I was too disruptive.”

“Go figure….”

“I asked where she wanted me to go. She said she wanted me anywhere, but in her room. So I came here.”

“I’m not exactly sure that was the substitute’s intent–”

“She did mention the principal’s office, but I wanted to give Mr. Powder’s a chance to finish his second cup of coffee.”

“You know a lot about his morning routine,” Flip offered from the back.

“Knowledge gained from countless morning detentions and in-school suspensions. He’s not a bad guy after he’s had his morning Danish.”

            As if on command, Mr. Powder appeared at my door. “Cheyenne, aren’t you supposed to be on your way to my office?”

            “No, I don’t think so.”

            “Humor me.”

Cheyenne left with Mr. Powder, but not without first waving good-bye to Flip.

After she left Vanessa Walters raised her hand. “Yes, Vanessa?”

“Isn’t there a school dress code?” I nodded.

“Am I wrong, or did that girl violate multiple sections of it?”

“At least five,” Flip offered.


 “I saw Cheyenne walking up 18th street this morning and offered her a ride to school,” Flip explained. “Today’s outfit is her private protest again the school dress code. She informed me that it was her civic duty to disobey any rule she believes is unjust.”

“She was joking, right?”  Vanessa asked.

“Cheyenne has read Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience a dozen times.” I explained, “She takes the concept very serious.”


I cut her off.  “Let’s save this discussion for when we read Anouih’s Antigone.

Three weeks later the door to the teacher workroom opened, and Cheyen neappeared carrying a black backpack slung over her right shoulder. Students were instructed to knock before entering. The new security policy banned backpacks. “How are things?”  I asked.

“Things aren’t good.” Cheyenne wore black stretch pants and a pink Polo oxford shirt with its sleeves rolled up. Last week I’d seen Flip wearing the same shirt. Her face was flushed.

“How was Homecoming?”  

“Flip was a perfect gentleman, even when I called the photographer a Nazi.” She plopped down in the chair beside my desk. “I’m pissed at my dad.”

“Why is that?”

“He stopped by last night to show me his new truck.”

“Did he let you drive?”

“Oh, right. Like he’d ever trust me behind the wheel–”

“Aren’t you a good driver.”

“He’d never know.” She lifted the backpack off her shoulder and rested in on the floor beside her, clutching the straps. “I’ve had a license for two years; he’s never let me drive.”

“Was that the problem?”

“No. I can accept his evaluation of women drivers.” Cheyenne toyed with the backpack strap. “It was his attitude.”

“Explain that to me.”

“He’s a trucker. I haven’t seen him in five weeks. I thought he might ask me to ride with him this summer like I used to. Or maybe he wanted to meet Flip. But he only wanted to show off his new powder blue Peterbilt.”

“Shouldn’t he be excited about his truck?”

“Whatever….” She looked down at the floor. “Hey, Mr. B, we don’t need to talk about this. I know you’ve got stuff to do.”

            “I think this is about more than a truck.” I handed her a Kleenex box. “What’s wrong?”   

             “Remember last year when we discussed Grace Paley’s story ‘Wants’? The main character’s husband wanted a sailboat. He said she never wanting anything because she valued family over possessions. That’s my dad. He wants stuff and can’t understand why I just want time with him.”

She pulled out tissue and blew her nose. “Before the divorce my dad used to take me on short hauls. We went to Six Flags with a load of paper products. We got in free and rode all the roller coasters.” She grabbed another tissue. “He took me to Gamblers Anonymous meetings.”

“Was gambling the reason for the divorce?”

“No. It was Mom’s religion. She used to be a lot of fun, especially after a few tequila shots. Dad called her ‘One Wild Indian.’  Her father is pure Cheyenne, and her mother is Welsh. Then Mom became a Jehovah’s Witness. She doesn’t drink or party any more.” Cheyenne’s lips barely moved as she spoke.  “He started taking long haul jobs to ‘let off steam.’”

“So, the long hauls ended the marriage?”

“Plus. got a girlfriend at a truck plaza outside of Cleveland and another one at a casino in Reno. He crisscrosses the country because he can’t decide between them.”  Cheyenne’s mascara started running. “My mom is always praying or knocking on doors to witness.” She looked up at me. “I want one parent, Mr. B, just one. It could be my mom, or it could be my dad. It doesn’t matter.” Cheyenne wiped her cheek off with the used Kleenex. “Flip’s parents are divorced, but they go on vacation as a family for a week each year. How cool is that?”   

“I’m sure your parents love me.”

Cheyenne shook her head. “Mom says she loves me because I’m ‘a child of God.’  Just once I’d like her to tell me she loves me because I’m her daughter.” She opened her backpack and started rooting in it. She pulled out an envelope. “Why can’t she look at my Homecoming pictures and tell me how pretty I am?”  

“That should be easy enough. Let me see them.” She pushed the pictures over to me. “Consider it practice for the actual event with your mother.” I took them out of the envelope. Cheyenne wore a pale blue strapless gown. Flip had his arm around her waist and a goofy smile on his lips. “Your mother should be proud of these pictures.”

Cheyenne grabbed them from me and started stuffing them in her backpack again. “My mother would tear them up and ground me for a month. She thought I was working a late shift at Pizza Haven Saturday night. I had to steal from my college fund to buy a dress at Goodwill. My mother says dancing is sinful, and dating is sinful, and strapless gowns are sinful. She danced in a topless bar after high school, but I can’t go to the Homecoming dance because I’ll go to hell if I do. How fair is that?”  

“What did your dad think of the pictures?”

“Dad? He wanted to know what I thought of the truck, and he wanted to borrow twenty bucks for gas money. The subject of my life never came up.” She picked up her backpack. “I’d better get going. Mr. Powder says if I’m late for Algebra one more time, he’ll drop me from the class.”

“You looked beautiful in that dress, Cheyenne.”

“Life still sucks, Mr. B. Beauty just isn’t enough.”






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