The Day I Resigned My Teaching Job
October 8, 2013.
Darling, if you must pace, could you do it in the driveway?”
It is a sunny afternoon, and my mom is tired of watching me plod back and forth across her living room floor. The lawyers from Pasadena are 10 minutes late, and though I’m drugged to the gills, I’m tense and frightened as I wait for them.
As the result of the drugs I’m taking for my various mental disorders, I’ve developed akathisia — uncontrollable restlessness. I cannot stop moving, even in my sleep.
“I’ll wait for them in the street,” I tell my mother, and burst out into the cool of the early Carmel afternoon. I can smell the sea.
One month ago, my self-destructiveness intensifying, I create a fake Tumblr account under the name of a student named “Megan,” who claims that she had been my lover. A few days later, I confess on my blog that Megan is right, and I had slept with her and other students. Hours after posting the confession, I overdose and spend four days in hospital. When I get back out, I write a series of contradictory, incoherent confessions. I first claim I’d slept with three students, then only one, and then dozens.
I have a fake email account for the nonexistent Megan, and field prying questions from college administrators and the press. I am addicted to attention. I’m in love with my own drama, and that love sits uneasily besides a self-loathing so intense it crowds out everything else. Who else would go to such great lengths to blow up their own life?
I have told so many lies for so long that I’ve forgotten the real number of students with whom I crossed the line. It doesn’t matter. As far as the college is concerned, any number greater than zero is a reason to bring my checkered, mercurial 20-year teaching career to an abrupt end. I have brought national embarrassment to the college through my very public behavior. They want me gone.
It is hard to fire someone with tenure, especially someone who is clearly mentally disabled. The college asks me to resign, launching a campaign of near-daily emails and phone calls to pressure me into quitting voluntarily.
After that doesn’t work, the college ups the ante. In late September, having realized that Megan doesn’t exist, private investigators begin to comb my office and my emails, looking for the identity of the real students I had slept with. The college solicits tips. Dozens and dozens of my female students are called, questioned, harassed.
They can’t find anyone who will say we slept together. It occurs to me that I could claim that my confession was all a self-destructive fantasy, and no one would contradict me.
One of my mentees, a woman whom I’d never slept with, texts me to say that an investigator has told her that other students have named her as my lover. This mentee is so crushed she’s considering dropping out for the semester.
I call the college and ask them to stop. I am told the power to end the investigations in in my hands. “As soon as you resign, we have no further need to question anyone,” a vice-president tells me.
Against the pleas of my family to let a lawyer negotiate on my behalf, I agree to resign. The college largely dictates the terms; to the horror of my wife, I agree to take virtually nothing in return for giving up the only job I’d ever had.
Within weeks, I’d be penniless and Eira and the children would be in financial crisis. I am too drugged, too self-destructive, and too guilt-ridden to consider their plight.
I have a $700,000 life insurance policy that will pay out, even if I kill myself. If it comes to it, I’ve decided that’s how I’ll take care of my family.
Twenty minutes late, a silver rental car pulls up outside my mother’s house. Standing in the driveway, I wave solemnly at the two be-suited lawyers as they climb out. The college doesn’t want me to renege on my commitment to resign; two expensive attorneys have been flown up to the Central Coast to collect my signature before my common sense can prevail.
I shake hands, conscious of my tremor, my medication-induced slur, and my eagerness to please. The male attorney I’ve never met before, but his female colleague and I have met on campus. She can’t hide her shock at the change in my appearance since she saw me last. Or perhaps, in my shame, I’m just imagining that.
As far as I’m concerned, this man and this woman have come to get my signature on my own death sentence. If I can do nothing else, I’m going to go to the gallows with cheer and with good manners.
Each lawyer takes one cookie. One takes black coffee, the other, Perrier. My mother retires to her study, and I fuss over my visitors. Said visitors are so alert they are almost vibrating. Neither turns a back on me, even for a second, and I wonder if they’ve learned that caution visiting clients in jails.
I sit. They sit. We smile, we sip things, and they show me the resignation agreement. They point out the non-disclosure clause that binds me in perpetuity from disclosing the specific points in the arrangement. With wide eyes, as if they’re letting me in on a special treat, they point to the clause naming the small lump sum I can expect to receive within 48 hours of signing the deal.
They’re buying me out for $18,000. It occurs to me that by the time they’re done, the college will probably owe these attorneys considerably more than that.
The agreement is several pages long, and the lawyers tag team me, explaining each clause. I note a section barring me from setting foot on campus without permission of the college president.
“I’ll be arrested if I come back?” I ask.
The female lawyer gives me her best disappointed look. “Oh, Dr. Schwyzer, we hope it won’t get to that. There’s really no need for you to ever come back to Pasadena City College.”
I had hoped I would feel virtuous, as if I were doing a great and noble thing by accepting responsibility. I had hoped I might feel like a tragic anti-hero, hitting a dramatic rock-bottom. Instead, I feel tired, restless, and nauseated.
“Can I sign now?” I ask. I am in a hurry.
The lawyers both get very still, the way people do when they are a split second short of getting what they desperately want, but the matter still hangs in the balance.
“Please do,” the male lawyer says. I imagine I can hear lust in his throat, which is impossible, because then he’d be a caricature and not a person.
I have an old Montblanc fountain pen for the occasion. Fifteen years ago, I slept with a student whom I mentored. The student, Lily,, transferred to NYU, and graduated with honors. When Lily graduated, her mother sent me the pen with a note, thanking me for my influence in her daughter’s life. When I asked that mentee/lover if her mother knew the full details of her relationship, Lily smiled. “Of course she does.”
(The pen was engraved with my initials on the barrel, except that Lily had somehow given her mother the wrong middle name for me. The barrel reads “HGS” in perpetuity, instead of HBS. It will be a decade before I mention the misprint to Lily, and she finds it hilarious.)
Considering its history and the events that led to this day, it is unthinkable to use another pen. I consider explaining its history to the lawyers, but it will seem too self-serving and unlikely. They won’t believe me. I swallow the story. Luckily, there’s just enough ink in the cartridge to get the agreement signed and dated. I smile at the lawyers, who smile at me.
I indulge myself by fantasizing that after my suicide, they will remember the élan and flourish with which I signed my name.
“Do you have a copy machine? And a fax machine?”
I shake my head. I don’t understand why I’m not signing multiple copies.
The lawyers explain they need to fax the executed agreement right away, and would like to make multiple copies as well, preferably with original signatures on each.
I offer to go with them to the nearby UPS store. After goodbyes to my mother — who is fighting back tears — we walk out to the rental. I sit in the back seat and give directions. The lawyers are much more relaxed now, asking me about my psychiatrists, my mother’s book collection, baseball.
At the store, we make more copies. I sign them all, this time with a regular pen. One copy is faxed down to Pasadena. When the machine beeps with confirmation that the fax has been successfully sent, I feel a sudden wave of dizziness. It’s real, Hugo. You’re too drugged to know it, but you’ve just utterly fucked your whole life.
I look at the clock on the wall. I recite the facts in my head: on Tuesday, October 8, 2013, at 3:49PM, in the UPS store at the mouth of the Carmel Valley, everything has changed.
Dead man walking. Okay, that’s melodramatic, Hugo. LOST man walking.
The lawyers look at the clock too, then at me.
“We need to get to the airport,” the male lawyer says, “but could we buy you coffee?”
Suddenly, they are human, these high-priced lawyers on a mission to get the chicken scratches of a broken man. They see what I’ve lost, and I see their need to be kind. Besides, I can always go for more coffee.
We walk across the street and into the Carmel Valley Roasting Company shop. I eye the pastries. The male lawyer points to the case. “Please get whatever you want,” he says, “it’s on us.”
I ask for a giant chocolate chip muffin with my coffee, and soon the three of us are sitting outside in the shade.
I am not as hungry as I thought. This muffin is the size of both my fists together.
“Would you guys like some?” I ask the lawyers.
They eye it. “You know, I will take a little,” the female lawyer says. “Me too,” says her colleague, and goes back into the shop for a knife.
The muffin is divided three ways, and we eat it with our fingers, the crumbs tumbling down our fronts.
The male lawyer has a chocolate stain on his lip, and I tap my own lip to signal him. We dip napkins in water cups and clean our faces. We stand, brush off our clothes.
“Shall we go?” The lawyers have a plane to catch.
We walk towards the car, the late afternoon sun on our backs. I see three long shadows. Two of those shadows have had a small triumph this day.
And the third shadow? Nine years later, it’s still too soon to tell.
An earlier, truncated version of this story appeared on Medium in 2016