HAZEL CAMILLE BRADFORD
Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about me:
1.I am both broke and lazy—a terrible combination.
2.I am perpetually awkward at parties and in an effort to relax will probably end up drinking until I’m topless.
3.I tend to like animals more than people.
4.I can always be counted on to do or say the worst possible thing in a delicate moment.
In summary, I am superb at making an ass out of myself.
At the outset, this should explain how I have successfully never dated Josh Im: I have made myself entirely undatable in his presence.
For instance, the first time we met, I was eighteen and he was twenty and I vomited on his shoes.
Surprising no one who was there (and consistent with point number two, above), I don’t remember this night, but trust me—Josh does. Apparently I’d toppled an entire folding table of drinks mere minutes after arriving at my first real college party, and retreated to the shame corner with my fellow freshmen, where I could drown my embarrassment in the remaining cheap alcohol.
When Josh tells this story he makes sure to mention that before I threw up on his shoes, I charmed him with a dazed “You are the hottest guy I’ve ever seen, and I would be honored to give you sex tonight.”
I chased down the bitter taste of his horrified silence with a badly advised body shot of triple sec off Tony Bialy’s abs.
Five minutes later, I was vomiting all over everything, including Josh.
It didn’t end there. A year later, I was a sophomore, and Josh was a senior. By then I’d learned you don’t do shots of triple sec, and when a sock is slid over the doorknob, it means your roommate is getting laid, so don’t come in.
Unfortunately, Josh didn’t speak sock, and I didn’t know he was rooming with Mike Stedermeier, star quarterback and the guy I was currently banging. Currently banging, as in that very moment. Which is why the second time I met Josh Im, he walked into his dorm room to find me naked, bent over his couch, going for it on fourth and long.
But I would say the best example comes from a little story we like to call The Email Incident.
Spring semester of my sophomore year, Josh was my anatomy TA. Up until that point, I’d known he was good-looking, but I’d had no idea that he was actually amazing. He held extra office hours to help people who fell behind. He shared his old notes with us and held study sessions at coffee shops before exams. He was smart, and funny, and laid-back in a way I already knew I would never master.
We were all infatuated with him, but for me it went deeper: Josh Im became my blueprint for Perfect. I wanted to be his friend.
So, I’d just had my wisdom teeth out. I was convinced beforehand that it would be simple: pull a few teeth, take a few ibuprofen, call it a day. But as it happens, my teeth were impacted and I had to be knocked out for their removal. I woke up later at home, in a painkiller-induced sweat, with hollow aching caves in my mouth, cheeks full of cotton tubes, and the frantic recollection that I had a paper due in two days.
Ignoring my mom’s suggestion that she soberly send one for me, I composed and sent the following email, which Josh currently has printed out and framed in his bathroom:
In class you sed that if we email you our paper you would look over them. I wanted to send you my paper and I put it in my calendar so as not forget. But the thing that happened is that I had a witsdom tooth out actually all of them. I have tried very hard in this clas and have a solid B (!!!). You are very smart and I nknw that I will do better if you help me. Can I have a few extra days???? I’m not feeling very well with this pills and please I know that you can’t make exceptions for all the pope but if you do it for me this one thing I will give all my wishes in a fountain for youfrom now on
i love you,
Hazel Bradford (it’s Hazel not Haley like you said it’s ok don’t be embearassed emberessed sad)
Incidentally, he also has his reply printed out, and framed just below it:
I can make this exception. And don’t worry, I’m not embarrassed. It’s not like I puked in your shoes or rolled around naked on your couch.
It was at this moment precisely that I knew Josh and I were destined to be best friends and I could never, ever mess it up by trying to sleep with him.
Unfortunately, he graduated, and sleeping with him wouldn’t be a problem because it would be nearly a decade before I saw him again. You’d think in that time I would have become less of a hot mess, or he would have forgotten all about Hazel-not-Haley Bradford.
You’d be wrong.
SEVEN YEARS LATER
Anyone who knew me in college might be horrified to hear that I ended up employed as an elementary school teacher, responsible for educating our wide-eyed, sponge-brained youth, but in truth, I suspect I’m pretty great at it. For one, I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. And two, I think there’s something about the eight-year-old brain that just resonates with me on a spiritual level.
Third grade is my sweet spot; eight-year-olds are a trip.
After two years spent student-teaching fifth grade, I felt constantly sticky and harried. Another year in transitional kindergarten and I knew I didn’t have the endurance for so much potty training. But third felt like the perfect balance of fart jokes without the sometimes-disastrous intentional farting, hugs from kids who think I’m the smartest person alive, and having enough authority to get everyone’s attention simply by clapping my hands once.
Unfortunately, today is the last day of school, and as I take down the many, many inspirational pages, calendars, sticker charts, and art masterpieces from my classroom walls, I register that this is also the last day I’m going to see this particular third grade classroom. A tiny ball of grief materializes in my throat.
“You have Sad Hazel posture.”
I turn, surprised to find Emily Goldrich behind me. She’s not only my best gal, she’s also a teacher—though not here at Merion—and she looks tidy and recently showered because she’s a week ahead of me into summer break. Em is also holding what I pray is a bag full of Thai takeout. I am hungry enough to eat the little jeweled apple clip in her hair. I look like a filthy mop head covered in the fading glitter eight-year-old Lucy Nguyen decided would be a fun last-day surprise.
“I am, a little.” I point around the room, at three out of four empty walls. “Though there’s something cathartic about it, too.”
Emily and I met about nine months ago in an online political forum, where it was clear we were both childless because of all the time we spent there ranting into the void. We met up in person for venting over coffee and became immediate fast friends. Or, maybe more accurately, I decided she was amazing and invited her to coffee again and again until she agreed. The way Emily describes it: when I meet someone I love, I become an octopus and wind my tentacles around their heart, tighter and tighter until they can’t deny they love me just the same.
Emily works at Riverview teaching fifth (a true warrior among us), and when a position opened for a third grade teacher there, I sprinted down to the district with my application in hand. So desperate was I for the coveted spot in a top-ten school that only once I got out of my car and started the march up the steps to HR did I register that I was (1) braless and (2) still wearing my Homer Simpson slippers.
No matter. I was properly attired for the interview two weeks later. And guess who got the job?
I think it’s me!
(As in, it isn’t confirmed but Emily is married to the principal so I’m pretty sure I’m in.)
“Are you coming tonight?”
Em’s question pulls me out of the mental and physical war I’m waging with a particularly stubborn staple in the wall. “Tonight?”
I glance at her patiently over my shoulder. “More clues.”
“More specific clues?” I’ve spent many a Friday night at Em’s, playing Mexican Train dominoes with her and Dave and eating whatever meat Dave has grilled that night.
She sighs and walks to my desk, retrieving a hammer from my dalmatian-print box of tools so I can more easily pry the metal from the plaster. “The barbecue.”