Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
Editor's Note: In January, Jeffrey Scott was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2006 beating death of his wife, Ashley Scott, who taught English at Bolton High School. This essay was written by Elizabeth Scism, under whose guidance Ashley completed her student-teaching assignment at Collierville High.
In 2008, domestic assaults accounted for 34.4 percent of all aggravated assaults reported in Memphis. Ashley Scott put a pretty but tragic face on this horror. Other individuals — 32 in 2008 compared to 18 in 2007 — died without such a public trial. If you're a victim of abuse or suspect it's happening to someone else, call the domestic violence hotline, (901) 272-2221.
"Hey," she cocked her head to the side, grinning. "I'm Ashley. Your student-teacher."
Deeply tanned, her teeth as white as chalk, Ms. Blue-eyed Twentysomething stood before me in rhinestone-studded flip-flops. Casual shirt, blue jean skirt. A newly crusted scab crowned her right knee, a tattooed bracelet adorned her right ankle.
"Student-teacher begins The Crucible" — so reads the sole note in red ink from my 2003 plan book at Collierville High. And so began Ashley's obsession with teaching Arthur Miller's play about the Salem witch trials.
Weeks later while leading her first class discussion — a nervous 90 mph blitzkrieg — Ashley almost slipped up and used profanity. "John Proctor," she fired away, "keeps pulling these lies out his — "
I stopped typing. I stopped breathing. A giant imaginary blimp hovered in the room with ass blinking on its ticker, but in a last-second save Ashley polished it off with ". . . ear." Whatever hearts she hadn't won over by then, relented.
"Out his ear?" I later asked.
"Your eyebrow stopped me," she said, mimicking my horror. By the end of our evaluation/half-time chat she laughed, saying, "You sound just like Yoda."
"Because," I quipped, "you sound just like Luke Skywalker."
By then our friendship had begun. She was now "Ashley" in my plan book and often "Luke Skywalker" in instant messages and emails. Teaching was not just a paycheck. No, we were Jedi Knights fighting the "dark side" of ignorance. Teaching, she said, was the only job she ever did well. "The classroom is where I feel most myself," she confessed. "It's where I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to do."
She'd flit about from student to student, flip-flops slapping the tile, her photographic memory as quick as a flash. Her last week at CHS, Ashley stayed up until one o'clock laboring over students' essays. Comments brimmed the margins. At the top: giant red smiley faces on papers that got a C minus or higher.
That following Monday one of the more love-struck boys, Chase, raised his hand and stammered, "Where — where is Mrs. Scott?"
Heartbroken to discover Ashley was now at another school, Chase drifted back into his reveries of the radiant young teacher who quoted the Black-Eyed Peas and Sir Winston Churchill, the flip-flopping hottie who sported a menagerie of pens and pencils in her hair. Once, a giant dinosaur foot-eraser even jutted out among the wayward strands of her makeshift French-twist.
"Ashley," I told her more than once, "you could stand up there and read the phone book and they'd be enthralled, for God's sake."
She never believed me or had any inkling of her charisma or her wit. Forget her beauty.
One of my most vivid memories is of Ashley wakeboarding, swerving gracefully back and forth in her red bathing suit at Pickwick. I don't know how any man could look back at her and still pilot the boat without plowing straight into the trees at Mach 2.
My turn, however, was no Baywatch episode. More like Black Hawk Down. With each surge of the boat, I floundered in mouthfuls of unleaded.
"Almost!" Ashley squealed repeatedly. Then suddenly she hopped down into the "war zone" with me.
"Elizabeth, like this," she leaned back. "Pull back as hard as you can. The boat will pull you up."
Finally it clicked in my waterlogged brain.
Next attempt, I popped up. Only briefly, but for a few split seconds I was wakin' and a-shakin' before falling flat on my . . . ear.
"You are a warrior!" Ashley declared.
That is the kind of teacher Ashley was. Always looking for the good in a student, always going the extra mile. Quick to praise. She was and is my favorite student of all time — and my favorite teacher.
My teacher's edition still has the notes she scribbled in the margins of The Crucible. Even when I teach the play now, she is still there. I only wish Ashley were still here.