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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Latin 5

Submitted by on September 11, 2013 – 8:29 AM45 Comments


I have a story in my head: Latin 5 must save a classmate who has been taken. Latin 5 does more than march through sanitized Catullus at this institution.

Latin 5 does magic. Latin 5 moves cars, and flowers, and the dead. Imprecisely, they do that last thing. The valedictorian who reads out the incantation — usually a she, a different senior every year — is sometimes hopeful, sometimes powerful, more often chilly and stammering and sixteen years old. It doesn’t always go well.

A particular error is made each time as well, by the Claire, or Jennifer or Brittany, or Olive, or unbroken chain of Emmae (back in the aughts). An ablative of some kind, a morituri or an angeli that becomes a Murray or a Maryangela, and that becomes: the grandparents. All over the cemetery where Latin 5 has come to ask for an army, these Grandpas and Nanas fill their burial clothes out again, sneeze, and (thanks to the part of the summons where the Latin never buckles) return. Soil parts, locks swing, they sit up and climb down and come out.

“When are we?”

Latin 5’s teacher, Mrs. Something-Hyphen, their misbuttoned scarecrow pilot, knows about the error. She has always known about it. She may have installed it, or she may simply permit it; I haven’t worked that part out. But the name of the men the mistake brings forth also belongs to her own grandfather, and every time Latin 5 is called, so is Something Sr. Every time Latin 5 asks the dead for help, Something Sr. is among those who answer. He died long before the teacher was born; she only recognized him from pictures, and from her wedding — the man with vintage eyeglasses who belonged to no one, gazing at the cake with longing, which was how Mrs. Something-Hyphen knew that he was one of hers.

In the story, victory is Latin 5’s — this is why we have fiction — and as everyone waits for the bus, Something Sr. approaches his granddaughter to tell her, you know, one day, one of your students will catch the error. You should prepare yourself. Mrs. Something-Hyphen lifts a brow. Poppy, you’re not the only Murray anyone misses, you know. They know it’s incorrect; they’ve known for 20 years. They say it this way anyway. Why not? The Emmae know how to put the dead back, after all, how to close the soil. Why get everything exactly right?

All stories, in the end, are about this, I suppose. Conjuring the dead for one last, or first, embrace: songs and poetry, paintings of teenage empresses, Malick and Roddenberry and hip-hop, accidentally and on purpose. Let us part the past and step through. Once; more.

Another story is in my head about a covering-fire volley of baked potatoes, launched by a trebuchet into a gangster compound and set to Van Morrison’s “Glad Tidings.” My dead aren’t always somber, but they are always near, the men I barely knew, and this is how I meet them.

Happy birthday, Don.




  • year of the cat says:

    Happy Birthday, Don. I am trying to imagine how short sanitized Catullus must be, Sars.

  • Maria says:

    Thinking of you, and Don, today.

    It’s true – they are always near, our angels and heroes.

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Natalie says:

    Thanks Sars — as always, a poignant and gentle entry on this sad day. Your site is always one of my first stops on this date, and like so many others who’ll visit today, I wonder if this is the year that you reconnect with Don in person (although you’ll always have a connection regardless).

    After last night’s address, I’m hopeful of a peaceful day.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @year: Right? “Ecce –” “Okay, let’s stop right there.”

    Thanks, guys. Be safe out there.

  • J+1 says:

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • Bitts says:

    As always, thanks Sars.

    Happy birthday, Don. As ever.

  • Melissa says:

    Happy birthday Don. It’s my 9/11 tradition to come and read your 9/11 posts. Have a good days Sars.

  • Sara J. says:

    Every year you’re the first place I visit, Sarah. Thank you.

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • Heather says:

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • kategm says:

    Happy birthday, Don. I went to my local ABC News’ site to see if they had anything about today. The top story was about a local woman who chained her child to a radiator for two weeks. Then I came here and felt better. Now I’m going to turn off the internet for a little while.

  • Tory says:

    I start thinking of you and Don a few days earlier, and always visit you both on the 11th (or that’s how I think of it), just to remind myself of the circles still ripping out. Happy Birthday, Don.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    Thinking of you today, Sars, just the same as every September 11th. Hard to believe that twelve years have passed.

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Sandman says:

    I wish my Latin 5 class had been even a little like that. Thanks, Sars. Happy birthday, Don.

    Right? “Ecce –” “Okay, let’s stop right there.” Hee! Perfect.

  • Julia says:

    We’ve hung one more year on the line.
    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Sandman says:

    And I have to add: There’s something about the aside ” — this is why we have fiction –” is also, in its different way, perfect. Poignant, Natalie said, and she’s exactly right.

  • Kizz says:

    Happy birthday, Don, wherever you may be…

  • Marv in DC says:

    Happy Birthday Don.

  • Dayna says:

    You know, I’ve been so busy at work and so tuned out from the world at large, I had forgotten the date. So I read the essay thinking “Why is Sars telling us about a story she has in her head? Does she want us to act as beta-readers?” It wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized what it was about. Then I read it again with the anniversary in mind. It’s lovely and elegant, a bit of prose that evokes memory tinged with both sadness and smiles.

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Megan says:

    Happy birthday Don. I always visit here first on 9/11 because your entries are the best, and I still hope that you’ll one day find Don.

  • Rose says:

    This is lovely. Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Rae says:

    Thanks, Sarah. Happy birthday, Don.

  • Bridget says:

    As always, thank you for telling of our loss,our longing, and our love.
    Happy Birthday Don.

  • Laura says:

    Lovely, as always – thank you. Happy birthday, Don. And peace to you all.

  • amy says:

    Thanks, Sars. Every year, my first stop.

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • Reader Gretchen says:

    Thank you, Sars. Happy Birthday, Don.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Happy Birthday, Don, and for the rest of us–resquiat en pacem.

  • Cij says:

    Happy Birthday Don.

    As a Latin 5 scholar, I can’t imagine a sanitized Catullus. I guess they don’t get to read about the poem about the cult of Sybille. Definitely NOT for the squeamish, and I can’t believe I read it when I was 16.

    I hope the grammar is correct when I say: Dona Nobis Pacem

    And I can never see the word “trebucet” without remembering seeing a trebuchet fling a pumpkin once (Warwick Castle, UK). It was awesome and hilarious.

  • Alexandra says:

    I only turn on my computer today to check your page. Thinking of you and Don today, like every year. You two have weirdly become my “Survival Buddies.”

  • mctwin says:

    Thank you, Sars, again, for giving us a little bit of peace on this day of tragedy. God Bless and Happy birthday, Don.

  • Coleen says:

    I find a weird solace in believing that each year, Don gets this fizzle of good vibes that is the direct result of so many people from all parts of the world thinking of him on his birthday. Happy birthday, Don. Thank you, Sars.

  • Abby says:

    You and Don were my first thoughts this morning.

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • RK says:

    I always wonder if Don knows on some level (a little prickling on the back of his neck, perhaps, or a quick flutter in his chest?) that so many people are thinking of him today and wishing him a Happy Birthday.

    Happy Birthday, Don, wherever you may be.

  • kategm says:

    Wait, does Latin 5 refer to a class? (I’m guessing because I went to a school that half-assed Latin language classes by only offering a two-year Latin Culture survey option).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @kategm, yes, but if you’d also like to think of it as [GONG!] The Latin Five, a la Fox Force Five, I will not discourage you.

  • Cheryl says:

    It’s nice to show up here and hear just what I need on 9/11.

    Thanks Sars and tomato nation.

  • Alexis Lennon says:

    I cannot believe that after all this time Don has never surfaced. I don’t tend to seriously believe in such things, but I’m really wondering about the whole “angel” theory.

  • Julia says:

    Happy Birthday, Don.

  • MBE says:

    It took me just over a moment today to remember and then there I sat paralyzed knowing that it would be difficult to be at peace until I checked in with you and Don. Thank you for bringing light to such a dark day.

  • kategm says:

    @Sars: Thanks! Closing out the day by watching Hansel and Gretel (the Jeremy Renner one) with my dad seems fitting for some reason.

  • Rebecca says:

    Happy birthday, Don.

  • Heather says:

    We’ve now rolled to 9/12 in my time zone, but I wanted to visit today before I went to bed. Thank you, Sars. Happy Birthday, Don. Be well.

  • Rachel says:

    As always, thank you, Sarah.

    And Happy Birthday, Don.

    Be well, O Nation of Tomatoes.

  • Kat From Jersey says:

    Thanks, Sars. Like others, I always think of you and Don on this date, and come here to see what you’ve given us. You never disappoint.

    I also watch “102 Minutes…” and look for you and Don among the fleeing people.

  • SorchaRei says:

    If you never did anything else worthwhile with your life (and I know you have, do and will have done), your series of 9/11 posts mean you will leave a lot of love behind. Thank you for the yearly reminder of what the human spirit is capable of.

    And, as always, happy birthday Don.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Thanks again, friends.

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