I began writing Twixtujons, because my friend had cancer. At the hospital Marv sat in a large circle of people tethered to IVs, and like a merry-go-round, the nurses moved from patient to patient. I sat in front of Marv, and we spoke—once about my unexpected early retirement from teaching the year before. Since Marv and I were the only single men in our group of friends, we traveled together every summer and became very good friends; and on one trip—Marv reminded me—we had agreed to teach into our seventies.
At sixty-six, he retired. After being an "intrepid army typist" in the Korean War and a "jailbird union leader" after our strike, he said he was now a "tired geezer teacher." I retired at fifty-five, because I didn't want to correct papers and grade teenagers any longer. Marv didn't understand. If my students and I enjoyed one another—and we did—why retire?
After two months of chemotherapy, we settled into the circle's routine. Marv read his Truman biography, and I decided to write. Not poetry. I'd written a few inspired poems for several women—they were not much impressed. I thought about a novel. Many English teachers dream of writing one, but I never have and dismissed the idea immediately. Too complicated. But I felt like writing, quickly jotting down those flashes of memory that—like finger-snaps—call the mind to attention. There was too much going on around me in the circle.
My subject would be teaching. Write about what you know, I told my creative writing students. The classroom had been my home away from home for forty-nine years. For the first seventeen years, I listened and learned; for the last thirty-two, I taught—and learned. At my retirement party—a week before the doctor told Marv that he had lung cancer—Marv had warned me I'd be giving up a persona of educator, student advocate, academic colleague, and union leader. Sue and the other sweet cafeteria ladies—as well as sleepy-eyed students eating bagels before first period—would no longer greet me in the morning; and at the end of the day, pushing a huge broom, Tom the custodian wouldn't ask, "Going home, Mr. Leonard?"
Marv felt I should reconsider, or I'd become one of the ghosts he believed roamed the school building at night. "You'll look through the window of your classroom and see excited students sitting in front of your old desk, smiling and raising their hands, but you won't be able to turn the doorknob. Pressing your cheek against the glass and closing your left eye, you'll slide your face to the right side of the window to see yourself standing behind the desk or sitting on your file cabinet; but you'll just see a hand holding a piece of chalk and hear students laughing. No," Marv said, "you'll miss it; you'll miss the affection. There's no other profession like it. Now, like some teachers, you'll be that ghost someday—because you love the kids—but you're not ready yet." I think Marv could have written a novel.
I retired in June of 2000. Marv died in September of 2001. For that year and two months, I was able to spend a lot of time with him—and continued to record my thoughts about the years in the classroom. Marv's big complaint about dying was not knowing how things were going to turn out. Three years later, I completed Twixtujons. I began the book, because I needed something to do in the circle. I finished it, because I didn't want to be a ghost.