Excerpt for The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

...we will soon return to our tomorrow, behind us,

where we were young in love’s beginning,

playing Romeo and Juliet

and learning Shakespeare’s language...”

mahmoud darwish

The Teacher Diaries

romeo & juliet

c a l l I e f e y e n

T. S. Poetry Press • New York

T. S. Poetry Press
Ossining, New York

© 2018, Callie Feyen.

All rights reserved. Please do not reprint more than one

chapter without permission.

Some names in this text have been changed to preserve privacy.

Cover image by Sonia Joie


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Feyen, Callie


The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet/Callie Feyen


To the 8th graders who were “both/and,”

and to the 8th graders who were my grizzly bears. I love you.

–callie feyen


Prelude to a Kiss

An introductory note from author L.L. Barkat

1. Kissing a Dragon in His Fair Cave

2. Dancing With Frankenstein

3. Pernicious Rage

4. Walking in the Sycamore Grove

5. “Where’s My Daughter? Call Her Forth”

6. Wild Mercutio

7. Tragic Give & Take

8. Hooked

9. Tricks

10. Polka-Dotted Sneakers

11. At the Door

12. Meeting in the Dark

13. Set to Music

14. Juliet Moment

15. Go Hence





Prelude to a Kiss

Do you remember what it was like? To read Romeo & Juliet in school for the first time? I do. Painfully so.

There was the question of who would read Juliet. There was the equally tenuous question of who would read Romeo. This kind of thing could mark the rise or fall of the teens in the room. God forbid that the teacher should pair the cute girl with the geeky boy, or vice versa.

Did that teacher have any idea about the power he held, in this seemingly simple casting choice?

I’m not sure if he did, because I was just one of the teens in the room, keeping my head down in the hopes of preserving my dignity.

Still, now, the years stretching between that first teen reading and my grown-up sensibilities, I imagine the awkwardness might not have belonged only to we-the-teens. Maybe the teacher could feel it too. If he kept a diary, I could know once and for all. His secret thoughts might be almost as intriguing as the play itself. Perhaps more so.

What do teachers feel when facing William Shakespeare, tales of family feud, breathless kissing scenes—all in front of a class of teens who are keeping their heads down (and threatening to fall asleep or plot their next prank in the process)?

I will never know what my 8th grade teacher felt. He left me no diary. Educator Callie Feyen, however, has done me a favor. She has written The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet. It begins with a kiss. Then, page by page, it reveals her generous, hopeful, and humorous heart.

The best teachers have one—a heart, that is. It helps them use their power well.

—L.L. Barkat, author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing


Kissing a Dragon in His Fair Cave

My first kiss happened on the porch of my best friend Celena’s house. It was a Saturday night in April. I was fifteen.

Before the kiss happened, I was watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious with Celena and her brother Andres. Delirious is raunchy and hilarious, and the three of us knew almost every line of Murphy’s stand-up routine. We were laughing so hard I wasn’t sure we’d breathe again.

The night Neal kissed me, he was no longer with Celena. But they had dated. For a while. Like, they were in love. I knew this. Most of Oak Park, Illinois knew this. And since I’m already walking into awkward territory, I may as well be completely honest and explain that I saw Andres just about every day, and he was quiet and funny and I didn’t mind watching him play basketball with his friends. I don’t think he minded that I was watching, either.

So the three of us are listening to Eddie Murphy tell a story about running after an ice-cream truck, and the stage lights are reflecting off his red leather pants when Neal knocks on the door looking for me, and the next thing I know I’m standing outside, my back to the little Episcopal church that’s kitty-corner to Celena’s house, looking into Neal’s eyes and inhaling all the Drakkar he’d put on. You know what happens next.

How could I do this to Celena? She was crushed when she and Neal broke up. You know those phrases, “together through thick and thin” and “two peas in a pod”? That was

Celena and me. Plus, there was something unsaid with Andres, and I go and kiss his sister’s ex-boyfriend outside his house in the middle of one of the greatest stand-up comedy shows of all time. How could I let this happen?

I’ll tell you how. Neal had a haircut like no other boy I knew. It was spiky and shaggy and messy and I used to stare at it in Mr. Brocks’ 8th-grade English class. I’d wonder how Neal got it like that and why the other boys wouldn’t do the same with their hair. (We girls were all curling our bangs so it looked like we had giant caterpillars sleeping on our foreheads. Somebody cool and beautiful obviously started that trend, and we followed suit just as fast as we could kick off our jelly shoes and buy some Aqua Net®.)

Neal was an artist. He drew on everything. His homework, his shoes, his textbooks. When he wrote me notes, he always included cartoon guys—silly and scary—in the margins.

My first crush was Wil Wheaton’s character in the movie Stand By Me. All my friends were into Cory Feldman and River Pheonix. Not me. I liked the storyteller, the quiet artist. Neal told stories with his cartoons and I liked that.

Finally, there was the Howard Jones T-shirt. That’s right, Howard Jones. The one whose songs you probably hear when you’re getting a cavity filled. Sometimes, Neal wore a Howard Jones concert tour shirt to school and I lost my mind. It was black with white print and a thick, light blue stripe that was off-center. I could think of nothing else the days he wore his Howard Jones T-shirt.

But I didn’t pine for Neal. At least, not while he was dating Celena. He and I were in a lot of the same classes together, though, and we were buddies. When they broke up, and I found out he was interested in me, it was hard for me to resist those blue eyes, that reckless hair, and that Howard Jones T-shirt.

Still, I was a good kid, and I knew better. What I did made no sense. Also, Celena knew all this. I told her how I felt about Neal, and she was the one who told me he liked me. She opened the door that Saturday night and pushed me outside with a smile on her face. After, she celebrated my first kiss like only a best friend could.

Two years later, I was at Celena’s, sitting at her dining room table, sobbing over a different boy. When he broke up with me he told me I was monotonous—a word I had to look up in the dictionary. In those days, I wrote the date next to all the words I looked up and 12/5/92 is next to monotonous: “tedious, boring, dull, uninteresting, unexciting.” You get the picture.

I learned the definition one day before my 17th birthday.

That boy immediately started dating someone else—a girl I knew, who seemed nice. Celena was in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open when I asked, “Is this how you felt when I did this to you?” She looked at me, shocked. I held her stare for a moment and then said, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t remember what she said. I know she didn’t say, “That’s okay,” or, “I’m your best friend no matter what.” That was never Celena’s style. What I do remember is this: Celena wordlessly walking over to the table where I was and putting a tub of Cool Whip between us. She handed me a candy cane, and she opened up a bag of Chex Mix™ and sat down, and together we ruined our dinner.

I cannot justify or explain one bit of my behavior on that porch, but I can remember, very clearly, all the feelings: how hard I was laughing at Eddie Murphy, that mellow, sweet emotion of hanging out with friends that are as close as family, the way my stomach flipped when Neal knocked on the door, the heavy feeling I had standing with him in the dark, the way my eyes stung and my stomach hollowed out when I said I’m sorry to Celena.

I suppose someone could argue what I felt wasn’t really love, but I did feel something. Perhaps it was a sort of love. No matter. It was colorful, and vivid, and electric, and I relished whatever it was. I think being a teenager is like tasting cinnamon gum for the first time and realizing what taste buds are. We know sour and sweet, spicy and salty, but not like this.

In the introduction to Romeo and Juliet, the Oxford University Press explains that when we first meet Juliet she’s talking with her father about marriage. A young man named Paris is asking for Juliet’s hand, and her father wants to know what she thinks. The last sentence in this paragraph reads: “She hasn’t given much thought to the subject, but she’s an obedient child, and she promises to give serious consideration to the man her parents have found for her.”

When I teach Romeo and Juliet, I use this edition, and it is the next one-sentence paragraph I make sure my students and I discuss:

“And then she meets Romeo.”

I think this is a sentence that’s felt before it’s understood. Like the events leading up to a first kiss; perhaps the kiss itself. I also think it’s a sentence that ought to be studied, though it may not be as exciting as sitting cross-legged on the floor with your best friend as she asks, “Okay, what happened then? What’d he do then?” Still, I pursue it.

I tell my students that when I was in school, my teachers told me you don’t start a sentence with and, and paragraphs are made up of three to five sentences.

“I was also told,” I explain, “that if you are going to break a rule, you better know why you’re doing it.” Then I ask why the rules were broken for this pivotal five-word fragment.

“Something’s changed,” one student might say. “Something’s different.”

I tell the students this sentence is supposed to feel dramatic because what’s happened to Juliet is dramatic. Here she is, following all the rules, happy to consider the suggestions of her parents, and then something happens. Someone happens.

“Has this ever happened to you?” I’ll ask. Nobody will answer, but several students will smile.

“I was in 5th grade when it happened to me,” I’ll offer, “and I was in Sunday School.” This usually gets the class laughing and riled. Of all the places to meet Romeo, it probably shouldn’t be in church.

But that’s the thing about love. It shows up suddenly, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I think we waste time arguing over whether what Romeo and Juliet felt was truly love. They felt something, and it was real and that’s where the story is.

My confession relaxes my classes. They’re entering an awkward, confusing, romantic story with someone who’s been there. If I had started the lesson stating that Romeo and Juliet were two melodramatic teenagers who made a giant mess of things, I would’ve sent a message that if my students ever had (or have) an “And then she meets Romeo” moment, something is wrong with them. They’re wrong for feeling what they’re feeling. They can’t possibly understand what love is and how to handle it.

When do we ever understand what love is and how to handle it? Can you help it when love strikes? Perhaps we’re better suited to study what love does, rather than how it ought to be managed.

Love breaks rules. We learn this in the introduction, but also in understanding who Romeo and Juliet are: enemies.

“My only love sprung from my only hate,” Juliet wails when she learns Romeo is a Montague.

Love puts us at a loss for words: “It is my lady, O it is my love:” Romeo gasps at the sight of Juliet. But then, he cannot finish the couplet: “O that she knew she were!”

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