the new history teacher

Story ©2008 The Angst Guy

Daria and associated characters and their images are ©2008 MTV Networks



Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: The Angst Guy.



Born out of her time, a new teacher comes to Lawndale High with lessons that change the lives of her students—and change her own life as well.


Author's Notes

The origins of this story extend back to August-September 2004, rising from several different threads on PPMB with suggestions and contributions made by numerous fans. Credit will be given later where it is due, and many are due it. My thanks go out to all who added their parts to this new tale, which has a title that can be taken in several different ways at once. More notes and acknowledgments can be found at the story’s end.

A change has occurred in the Dariaverse, and the consequences have cascaded downward for almost three decades. Enjoy the visit.







The only fixed rule of history is that there are no rules.

—Robert Cowley, What If? 2


Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?

—William Morris, The Earthly Paradise



the new workplace


“I don’t see why you couldn’t walk to school today like all the other drones,” said the driver as she pulled up to the stoplight. “Oops, sorry, shouldn’t have said ‘drones.’ Should have said ‘movers and shakers of tomorrow.’ Don’t misquote me.”

“Give me a twenty for lunch this week and I won’t,” said the green Geo Metro’s only passenger, lounging in the shotgun seat with her Walkman earphones on.

“You can eat perfectly well on fifteen.”

“A second grader couldn’t eat on fifteen a week. C’mon, you’re a teacher, you can afford it.”

The driver sighed. “Fine, twenty. Get it out of my purse. Just leave me enough to get my lunch today, too.”

The teenaged passenger smirked with ruby-red lips and picked up the purse from the floor. As she rummaged through it, the driver noted the green light and accelerated—then saw movement to her left and nailed the brake hard, frightened. Tires squealed as the two were thrown forward in their seat restraints. Cars all around them also hit their brakes as a speeding red Jeep shot through the intersection ahead, running the red light on the cross street.

“Jesus freakin’ Christ!” shouted the unnerved driver. “Was that Kevin Thompson?”

“That’s him,” confirmed the passenger, angrily trying to pick up the purse and its scattered contents from the floor. “Too bad DeMartino didn’t finish the job when he tried to strangle him Monday.”

The driver shook her head and as she went through the intersection without incident. “Let’s not speak ill of Mister DeMartino. I’m sure he knew what he was doing. Wonder why that idiot was in such a hurry to reach the Promised Land.”

“He must be late picking up Brittany Taylor. She’s his Promised Land.”

“Was she the blonde cheerleader that always sat near the front in class?”

“Same. I heard her evil twin killed herself because she kept getting mistaken for her.”

“They need a retroactive eugenics law around here,” the driver grumbled. “I have some free time, I could make a whole list of people who could use a good—”

“Won’t work. Everyone in government would be on the list, too, and they wouldn’t allow it.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Damn. I was hoping maybe Kevin quit school since the last time I was here, maybe got a job with the highway department so he could stand by the side of the road on the other side of the state.”

“He’s a one-watt bulb who farts too much, but he’s mostly harmless, except to other drivers.”

“Well, but now I have to find a way to teach him history. Maybe DeMartino was on to something.”

“Don’t worry about Kevin. Let him flunk his tests, and Coach Gibson’ll get Li to get him a by. They may have already done that because of what DeMartino tried to do.”

The driver grimaced. “You’re putting me in a damn good mood today, you know that?”

“It’s what I do best, big sis.”

“Don’t call me that in school.”

“Whatever you say, big sis.”

“Jane, you’re going to make me wreck my car.”

The teenaged passenger turned a lively, devilish smile on the driver, her jet-black bangs swinging around her heart-shaped face. “Whatever you say, Mom.”

“Christ on a Christmas tree, don’t call me that, either!”



the smartass kid (ex-) sister (-in-law)


“Gimme ten and I’ll stop.”

The driver turned the car into the half-circle street in front of the school. “I hate you.”

“No, you don’t,” said Jane, rummaging through the purse again. “You’re my number-one fan.”

“I knew this day was going to suck. Okay, hurry up, we’re here at the front doors. Get out and go molest someone so I can go park.”

Jane dropped the depleted purse back on the car floor, snatched up her steel-gray backpack, and opened the door of the green hatchback to get out. She hesitated at the door long enough to give the driver a grin. “Bye, Mom,” she said.

“Go f—” The remainder of the driver’s epithet was cut off by the slamming of the passenger door.

With a scowl, the driver watched as the leggy younger girl waltzed off to the school doors with thirty more of her hard-earned dollars—at least—stuffed into her pockets. Then her expression softened, and she prepared to pull out of the traffic circle.

“Bye, little sis,” she whispered. “Hope we can make this work.”

She pulled back onto the highway with the traffic, then turned left twice to get to the west-side parking lot. There she got her purse and her black shoulder-strap book bag, got out of the car, locked it, and headed for the side entrance only teachers and other staff were allowed to use. Once inside the sprawling, red-brick high school, she headed down the maze of lavender corridors and amber lockers for the principal’s office. A few students gazed curiously at her as she went, though most ignored her; few remembered her from the times she had been a substitute here.

At the main office, she opened the door and went inside with a crisp stride that projected a confidence she did not entirely feel. She was taking on a big job and she knew it, but she was ready. Today was the start of a new life. Too bad it had to come on the back of another teacher’s fall from grace.

The receptionist smiled and waved at her. “Hey, welcome back!” she called. “Angela will be right out.”

“Thanks, Marsha,” said the new teacher. She caught a glimpse of herself in the glass covering a poster on the wall: a slim, diminutive woman with a waterfall of auburn hair, stylish oval glasses, a teal-blue sweater, and dark slacks. An obsidian pendant hung between her breasts on a long silver necklace. “How are things in the halls of learning?” she asked, turning away from her reflection. “Anyone learning anything yet?”



the new boss


Before the receptionist could answer, a door opened and a formidable-looking Asian woman in a gray pantsuit with square-frame glasses came out of her office. She spotted the new teacher and immediately marched over with a forced smile and her right hand rigidly extended for the obligatory handshake.

“Daria Barksdale!” cried Principal Li. “Welcome to the staff of Laaawndale High!”




Life offers up no miracles, unfortunately, and needs assistance.

—Weldon Kees, “A Distance from the Sea”


Times change, and we change with them too.




Wishing to get an early start on her day, and not being such a social animal that she felt a need to chat with the other teachers in the break room beforehand, Daria checked Anthony DeMartino’s office mailbox and picked up the room keys, lesson plans, attendance forms, and other paperwork before heading into the halls again to her classroom. My classroom, she thought, feeling strange. This will be my classroom from now on. And Anthony’s mailbox will be mine, too, for the rest of the school year if not longer. Her feelings of elation at the job were tempered by a somber sense of shame. Anthony’s current mental state was not something the school staff talked about openly, but his condition was rumored to be guarded at best. The likelihood he would return was very low, regardless. A teacher, even one who heads the local teachers’ union, cannot attempt to strangle one of his own students with impunity—not even Kevin Thompson.

She found her room on the second floor, not far from the library tower and the restrooms. Few students were visible; most were downstairs in the cafeteria talking over breakfast. Once she unlocked the door and went inside, she shut the door again and locked it, turned on the lights, put her things on the teacher’s chair, and gave the room the once over. The janitorial staff here was efficient, at least; the room was quite clean and tidy, if spare on furniture other than students’ desks. She went down her standard mental checklist: emergency call button on desk, check; fire exit map, check; thermostat set properly, check; remote for the ceiling TV is operable, check; cabinet keys all fit, check; teacher’s desktop . . . hmmm.

The edge of a Polaroid photograph peeked out from under a stack of papers. Curious, she lifted the papers and discovered to her horror what appeared to be a picture of Anthony DeMartino in a wheelchair, his arms and upper body encased in a straitjacket. He was being spoon-fed by a nurse or medical tech in a room with padded walls and bars on the windows.



the surprise in the drawer


“Oh, my God,” she breathed, staring at the photo. “What the hell is this doing here?” It was a ghastly violation of patients’ rights, and it wasn’t even funny as a joke. She glanced around, then opened the center desk drawer to tuck the photo inside, out of sight. Looking back at the desk, she noticed a typewritten letter on a sheet of pale yellow letterhead. It was from the Brookside Rest Home, a private psychiatric facility on the outskirts of town. The envelope beneath it was addressed to Timothy O’Neill, the English teacher who had been covering for DeMartino for the last two days. Daria skimmed the letter, swiftly realized that it was from Anthony and included comments no one in school was ever meant to see, and concluded that it too had no business being out in the open where students could get to it, if they hadn’t already. She hid it away as well, thinking to have the office lock the materials up later on for safekeeping.

A muffled ringing sound distracted her. “Damn it,” she muttered when she recognized it, and she reached for her purse. A few seconds later she had her cell phone out and had thumbed it on. BARKSDALE FAMILY LAW, read the caller ID. “Hi, Mom,” she said, faintly mortified.

“Hi, sweetie!” came a familiar voice over the line. “How’s your first day at work going?”

“Pretty good until I realized I’d left my cell on,” said Daria. “Glad you called me now and not during class.”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I can call you later, if—”

“No, no, go ahead. I’ve got a half hour before homeroom starts. Things are okay so far, but remind me not to ever take anything incriminating to school, in case I get absentminded and leave it out in the open.”

“Sounds like there’s a story there.”

“There is, but it can wait. How’s your day? I didn’t even hear you leave this morning.”

“I had to get to the office early,” said her mother. “I’ve got clients booked all day, even through lunch.”

Daria snorted gently. “Late night again?”

“Probably. Listen, I’ll let you go, sweetie. Good luck today.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Oh, I meant to ask, did you pick up Jane this morning?”

“Yeah, it was no problem. She’ll owe me pizza for it later.”

“Be careful how the two of you get along in front of the other kids. Treat her like you would any other student.”

“Right. I’ll keep the paddleboard ready, just in case.”

“You know what I mean.”

Daria thought of the thirty dollars she had just given Jane that morning. “I know, I know. It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” said her mother in a tone suggesting she had her doubts. “See you tonight.”

“You, too. Bye.”




the lawyer mom checking in


Daria thumbed the phone’s power completely off and dropped it back in her purse. She dug into the remaining papers on the desktop and in moments had them sorted into several piles: graded papers from two days ago, ungraded papers from the previous day, sick and excused absence notes from the previous day, extra lesson plans, and miscellaneous items that could be dealt with another time. She checked the other lesson plans, saw nothing unfamiliar, and opened a side drawer to tuck everything away that didn’t need to be out.

She heard liquid slosh. In the back of the drawer behind the hanging folders was a half-empty bottle of bourbon.

She swore aloud. What was she going to do with that? Ignore it for now, she decided; the bottle probably had Anthony’s fingerprints all over it, and adding hers would not help. She knew Angela Li quite well and had no interest in gaining the principal’s suspicion over something as stupid as this. Deep-sixing the evidence was probably for the best. She covered the bottle with several folded papers to hide it until she could throw it out later. Why hadn’t Tim taken care of it? Had he not looked in the drawers before now?

She pushed the matter aside. There was still much to do. While writing the date and her name on the newly erased green chalkboard, she heard a knock at the door. She answered it with chalk still in hand.

“Ah, Miss Barksdale!” cried cheery-faced Tim O’Neill, his cheer slipping as he spoke. “How good to see you again! This must be a terribly difficult day for you, your first major teaching assignment and trying to fill the shoes of such a towering figure as Anthony was—um, still is. How are you holding up so far?”

“Given that I’ve been here only fifteen minutes and haven’t met any students yet, not too badly.” She kept her expression unreadable and bland. O’Neill tried way too hard to be sensitive, with the result that he creeped her out with his well-meaning but unnerving probes for weaknesses and insecurity.

“Well, the beginning of the day is easier than the rest of it,” he said sympathetically. “If you need someone to talk to, or just a place away from it all to have a good cry, give me a—”

“I’ll keep the offer in mind, thanks,” Daria said, tiring of the conversation. “Could we talk about this another time? I have a few things left to do before the bell rings and the Golden Horde pours in.”

“Golden—oh! Right, certainly! Well, good luck! And remember, when times seems darkest—”

“Thanks!” She turned away from him and finished writing her last name on the board, then tossed aside the chalk and began ruffling through the papers on her desk until Timothy gave up and left the doorway. She wondered if there was an aerosol spray that would keep him from coming in her room. It was worth investigating.

She opened the door a few minutes later and students began to drift in—jocks, Goths, princesses, punks, nerds, the popular, the unpopular, and the forgotten, all the familiar types. The questions began.

“No, I’m not a substitute,” she said, giving out some of the spiel that Principal Li had approved earlier. “Mister DeMartino will not be back for a while. No, I don’t know for how long. No, I don’t know anything about what’s happening with him, don’t even bother asking me. I’ll be taking over his duties for the remainder of the semester, possibly for the rest of the school year. Yes, I’m the new history teacher. No, I want you to sit in your usual desks. No, you don’t have time to go to your locker; wait until after homeroom. I can’t help that. Yes, I’ve been teaching for some time. You can call me Ms. Barksdale, just as I wrote it on the board. That’s funny, but if you bark again I’ll recommend you for some quality time with my old acquaintance, Ms. Morris, after school. I do in fact know her quite well. That’s better, have a seat. No, you’ll have to wait until after homeroom; you should have gone before you got here. There’s the bell, get ready for announcements!”

Someone in the back murmured “Rrrowrrr!” under his breath. She chose to ignore it, but if she heard it again, that someone—probably that freckled, redheaded boy with the leer—was going to suffer hideously.

The Pledge of Allegiance and assorted announcements were made over the intercom, with students reading most of the messages from the office. A cheerleader named Angie encouraged her fellows to come to the next football game wearing the new Lawndale Lions jerseys on sale at the bookstore. Daria took attendance in the meantime. Older students were well behaved in the main, one reason why she liked teaching high school and not, God forbid, middle school, with its endless supply of emotionally addled, hormone-crazed hooligans. High-school kids understood cause and effect better than younger students did, and the ferocious reputation of Ms. Li and certain other members of the faculty came in handy for subtle name-dropping, though Daria was careful not to overdo it.

After picking a heavyset Goth girl with Eye of Horus makeup to take the attendance sheets to the office, Daria fielded a few more questions while leaning against the front of her desk with her arms folded across her chest. “Where am I from? Lawndale. No, I’m not kidding. I went to school in this very building, that’s why I know most of the staff and teachers. I’m from Middleton, originally, but my mom moved here in seventy-nine. No, he died a long time ago. What was I doing before I came here? I was an assistant social-studies teacher at Oakwood High. I’d rather be at Lawndale, believe me. I like the atmosphere better here. Um, you shouldn’t ask women their ages, young man, but I’ll give you a break this time: I’m twenty-seven. No, no sisters or brothers, just me. No kids, either. Sports? I don’t play sports, sorry. I’m not married, no; I was married once a few years ago, but not anymore. No, that’s all I’m going to say about that, it’s in past. What?”

“Jane Lane said that you were her sister,” repeated a girl in the back. The class fell silent in an instant. Every eye was locked on her.

Daria sighed and scratched her nose. The inevitable question. It didn’t matter if the source was Jane or not, as so many local people knew it already. Better to face it now. “Yes, she’s my, um, sister-in-law, actually. Ex-sister-in-law. I was married to her oldest brother Wind for a time. That was his name, Wind. Yeah. No, Jane and I get along fine. Wait, listen to me: While Jane’s in school, she’s a student just like you. I treat her the same way I treat you, and she knows it. There are people in high places around here watching over our shoulders to make sure that things stay fair. Trust me on that one. Are there any other—”



the (groan) ex


The bell saved her. As the classroom emptied out, she went back to her desk and pulled out the first-period lesson plan: senior-level humanities, the “special issues in history” class. The tedious part of the day was over. Now she could roll up her sleeves and get into the meat of her work. History was her heart and soul. All she had to do was dive into her work—and hope nothing happened in the meanwhile to send her enthusiasm into a tailspin.

She loved history, but it did not love her. What does not destroy me makes me stronger. History had tried before to break her and her mother, several times, but in the end it had only made them more competent, more capable, better armored, and less willing to surrender when the chips were down. That didn’t mean history wouldn’t try to break them again if it could, and there was every reason to believe it would try. Others had been broken. It could happen to her too if she wasn’t careful. It could happen even if she was.

For a few unguarded moments, Daria thought about Penny, her best and only friend through all her school years, and wondered where she was now. Not even her family knew where she was.

Not even Jane.

First-period seniors began filing in: deep-voiced, easygoing, confident teens, all taller than Daria was. She discarded the past for the ever-breaking wave of the present. Class began, the day moved on, and she moved with it.

And history, unseen and all about, moved too.




[I] had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there. . . . There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.

—U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale (ret.), recalling the events of August 4, 1964, when he was the air squadron commander during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident


History sometimes indulges in jokes of questionable taste.

—Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy



Third period—United States History for sophomores—rolled around at 10 a.m. Daria plotted out the rest of her day as she cleared her desk and waited for her class to fill up. After that was lunch, then a planning period when she had free time to take care of paperwork, then two last classes and school-bus duty at the east parking lot until 3:30, when the day was done. Then she could go home, put on the embarrassing pink dog slippers her Aunt Amy had given her as a joke but proved much too comfortable to throw out, and sit in front of the TV working out future lesson plans until she fell asleep. Her mother would come home before midnight, wake her up, and tell her to go upstairs to her room so she wouldn’t miss the alarm going off the next morning at 5:45, then the cycle would repeat and repeat until Friday afternoon, when she would—

A flash of bright red entered a corner of her vision, interrupting her reverie. Jane Lane came in the door wearing the outfit she had picked out that morning: a scarlet shirt with rolled-up sleeves, black tee and leggings, gray shorts and hiking boots. She smirked at Daria and mouthed the word “mom” before taking a seat near the back of the room. Daria gave her a narrow-eyed glare, but Jane had been immune to that look for over sixteen years. Electing to ignore the incident, Daria took attendance as the class filled up. Some of the students were in her sophomore homeroom, which made things easier.

When the second bell rang, Daria closed the lavender class door and surveyed the room. Six columns of desks with a wide center aisle, each column three or four seats deep, twenty-two desks total, nineteen students present, but two of them were Kevin and Brittany. Still, it could be worse. It could be middle school. She allowed herself a slight smile.

“Good morning,” she said, walking around in front of her desk. “I’m Ms. Barksdale, your new history teacher, and—”

“Hey,” said the black-haired jock wearing a football outfit: Kevin. “Where’s Mister D?”

Got to remember that Kevin was the one Anthony tried to strangle. Don’t repeat the mistake . . . if that was a mistake. “He won’t be back in school for a while. I’m taking his place. Now—”

“Like, you’re not gonna try to choke me, too, are you?” Kevin interrupted. “I mean, not that I think you could, you know, ‘cause you’re kinda small and all, but—”

“Kevin, let me talk.”

“Uh, sure. Whatever.”



the students on the very first day


“I understand from the lesson plan,” Daria continued, looking away from Kevin, “that you were talking about events that led up to the War with Mexico. Can anyone name one of those things, one of those events?”


“One of the causes of the War with Mexico, anyone?”

Silence. Against her better judgment, Daria glanced at Jane for help. Jane tentatively raised her hand, and Daria pointed to her in relief.

“We didn’t like Mexicans?” Jane offered, fighting back a smile.

I’m going to kill you. “Well, that was part of it, but why didn’t we like Mexicans then? What did they have that we wanted?”

“Mexican food?” said Kevin.

Anthony’s mistake was that he didn’t finish the job. “Someone else, um—” Daria skimmed the room, remembering the seating chart “—Zack?”

The green-haired punk with the safety pin through his nose grunted and looked uncomfortable. “Uh . . . Mexico?”

Daria pointed at him instantly. “Right!” she cried to his obvious surprise. She figured he had said it because it was all he could think of, but she would take anything now. “They had land! At one time, Texas was part of Mexico, but the province of Texas had broken away from Mexico a few years before over the issue of . . . what?”


“A hint: Texas had been colonized by many white American settlers moving in from southern states. What do you think was a major issue between the Texans and the Mexican government?”

Silence. None of the classes so far today had been as slow to respond as this one.

“Did you talk about this in class before now?” she asked, feeling foolish for asking.

“Did we talk about what?” squeaked Brittany, twirling one of her blonde pigtails around her right index finger.

“The War with Mexico,” Daria growled. Her face began to flush. Calm down, calm down. Think. She blew out her breath, discarded the idea of calling on Jane again, and walked around to the chalkboard, where in large block letters she wrote out the word: SLAVERY. “That word is going to be on your next test,” she said, putting down the chalk and dusting off her hands. Several students immediately got out sheets of paper and wrote down that word—and nothing else.

“The Annexation of Texas,” she announced in a louder voice, “by which I mean the taking over of the old Mexican province of Texas by the United States, was a major event leading up to another major war. What war was that?”


“Hmmm.” She noticed Jane had her hand raised, but she motioned for her to put her arm back down. “I want to ask all of you something,” she said, leaning against the chalk tray while looking around the room. “You seem very quiet. I was curious to know why.”

After a short pause, Kevin shifted in his seat and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Kevin?” she said.

“Well,” he began, looking anxious, “all this history stuff, it’s kind of like . . . boring.”

The other students in the classroom gasped or snickered, then fell silent, clearly expecting an eruption from the teacher. Daria merely nodded. “It doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with you, does it?” she asked.

“Well . . . no!” said Kevin. “I mean, I don’t want to be disrespectable or anything, but no, it doesn’t!”

A smattering of other students clapped or hooted approval. Daria pushed away from the board and motioned for the noise to stop. “Okay,” she said, “let’s think about this. The War with Mexico had a lot to do with slavery. Part of the United States practiced slavery a hundred and sixty years ago, and part of it did not. Do we have slavery today?”

Several students, including the three African-American ones, shook their heads or mouthed the word no. “Right,” she said. “We don’t. Why don’t we have slavery now?”

“’Cause it’s wrong,” said a girl on the far left.

“It is, but what stopped it? What happened that made slavery illegal?” Seeing a few blank looks, she answered, “Because we fought a war over it. What war was that?”

“Um,” said Kevin, “the Vietnam War?”

Daria gave him a long, cold stare. No one laughed.

“The American Civil War,” said Daria in a tight voice. “This country went to war against itself for four long years to determine, among other things, whether some of the states could pull out of the union and keep slavery legal for themselves. Over half a million soldiers died in that war, more men than have been killed in all the other wars we’ve fought put together. Almost as many men were wounded. Whole cities were burned to the ground—Atlanta, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Columbia, South Carolina. Battles were fought in which over ten thousand men were killed in just a few days. The states that didn’t want slavery won the war, and that’s why we don’t have slavery. The War with Mexico led up to that war.”

She had their attention now. “The Civil War had a lot to do with you. If the slave-owning states had won, it’s possible that slavery would be legal here right now. I don’t even want to think about what kind of a world that would have been. Perhaps the question we need to ask is, what would have happened if things had come out differently? When you ask that, you begin to see how history does make a difference. Slavery, or no slavery.”

“What about the War with Mexico? How would that have come out differently?” asked the heavyset Goth girl in the front row, the one with the Eye of Horus makeup who had been in homeroom earlier that morning. Was Andrea her name?

“Ah.” Daria walked back to her desk and leaned against it. “The United States fought Mexico for the right to make Texas into an American state. Mexico wanted Texas back. Remember, Texas had already broken away from Mexico and was an independent country. It had its own president and everything. If America had lost the war, Texas probably wouldn’t be one of our states now—and neither would many of the other states from Texas all the way to California.” She pointed to a wall map, then walked over to it. “Look at this. Here’s Texas. All this area—” her hand swept westward “—would still be part of Mexico. Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco—”


Daria recognized the squeak. “Yes, Brittany, Hollywood would now be part of Mexico, too.”

“So, like, it’s a good thing we won the war, right?” said Kevin.

“Well, not from the viewpoint of the Mexicans,” Daria replied. “They lost the war. They lost a lot of men and a huge amount of territory, all this land north of the Rio Grande: parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, all the way over to California, and as far north as Colorado. They lost all of that. So, it was good for us, but not for them. They were pretty upset about it.”



the lesson


“Oh,” said Kevin. He looked thoughtful. “It’s kind of like when Oakwood beats us in football. I get pretty upset when that happens.”

“Sort of like that, yes, except when one side loses a football game, it doesn’t lose its school to the other side, or have its players killed.”

After a beat, Kevin again said, “Oh,” but in a more subdued tone. Other students nodded. They were catching on.

“What about the Viet Cong War?” asked Brittany. “Would someone else have Hollywood if we had lost that?”

Daria sighed and walked back to her desk. “We did lose the Vietnam War,” she said.

“What?” cried several students, including Brittany.

Jane was keeping to herself, resting her chin on her hands and watching Daria. “That’s true,” said Daria. “We lost that war. North Vietnam won, we lost. Show of hands: how many of you in this class had relatives—parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, anyone who served in the Vietnam War?”

After a moment, hands began to go up, including Andrea’s, Brittany’s (to Daria’s surprise), and . . . Jane’s. Daria nodded, then slowly raised her own hand.

You were in the Vietnam War?” cried an overweight girl sitting behind Brittany.

“Not me,” said Daria. “My father was.” She pointed to Brittany. “Who in your family was in the war?”

“My granddad,” she said, looking confused. “But he never said we lost!

“Do you know where he was stationed?”

“Uh . . . no. He just said he was in it.”

“A lot of war veterans don’t like to talk about the wars they fought in. Terrible things happen in wars, and Vietnam was very bad.” She pointed to Andrea. “How about you?”

“My dad was there,” said the Goth girl somberly. “He said he was at Hamburger Hill.”

Several students laughed. “Do you know why they called it Hamburger Hill?” said Daria, speaking over the laughter but still looking at Andrea.

Andrea shook her head, looking ill at ease. “No,” she said.

The laughter died away as Daria spoke. “The U.S. Army attacked a heavily fortified North Vietnamese position on a hilltop and fought for ten days to take it. The soldiers said they were chewed up like hamburger in the fighting, so many of them were killed and wounded. It was a horrible battle. Ten days of solid killing.”

“Hamburger Hill,” muttered someone. He wasn’t laughing when he said it.

“Chewed up like hamburger,” Daria repeated.

“Where was your dad?” asked Andrea. She was looking at Daria.

Daria didn’t answer right away. She looked away to a spot over the heads of everyone in the class, at the back of the room. After a moment she turned and walked to the chalkboard, where she wrote: GULF OF TONKIN.

“Brittany,” she said, turning to the class again. “You asked a very good question a while ago.”

“What? I did?”

“Yes, you wanted to know what would have happened if the Vietnam War had turned out differently.”

“Oh! Oh, right! Yeah!”

Daria tapped the board. “Write this down,” she told the class. “It will be on your next test. It doesn’t have anything to do with the War with Mexico, but it’s history, and I’m going to ask you about it.”

Papers rustled and pens wrote. “In August nineteen sixty-four,” Daria said, “thirty-three years ago while the Vietnam War was still a small war, some U.S. Navy ships in a place called the Gulf of Tonkin were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Everyone know what a torpedo boat is? Okay. They were attacked on two different nights. The first night, the Navy ships chased off the enemy boats, and nothing else was done about it. The second night, the Navy ships were attacked again, and this time the American government got mad about it. Congress passed a bill called the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. What was it? It allowed the President, Lyndon Johnson, to turn a small war into a very big war. Congress gave the President tremendous power to fight the North Vietnamese in any way he saw fit. More soldiers, more tanks, more ships, more planes all went overseas to fight in the war. Before this bill was passed, about four hundred American soldiers had been killed in the fighting in and around South Vietnam. Only four hundred. After the bill passed, to the end of the war ten years later, a total of fifty-seven thousand—” The class gasped “—yes, fifty-seven thousand American men and women died there. Over a million Vietnamese and other people were killed, too . . . all because a small war turned into a big war.”

She waited a moment, then added, “There was just one problem.” With their full attention again, she said, “The attack on the first night, August second, that was a real attack. The second attack on August fourth, the attack that turned the war into a bloodbath, that didn’t happen at all.”

The class was stunned. “What?” cried many of them. “No!”

“It didn’t happen!” she repeated. “The Navy ships thought they were being attacked that second night, but they weren’t. They got some screwed-up radar readings and thought there were torpedo boats coming in, but after the fight was over, they found out nobody was out there at all. They had been shooting their guns all night at nothing except the dark. It was a mistake. Wait—wait, let me finish. Things like this happen in wartime. People get spooked and they shoot at things that aren’t there, because they get scared and cut loose. This was one of those times, only it turned out that because some people thought we were getting attacked, they got mad about it, and we went into a big, big war—all because some people got scared and started shooting at nothing.”

“No way!” yelled a kid on the left.

“Yes, way,” said Daria. “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but it’s the truth. And that’s what history is about, finding the truth of what happened, and how it affects us today. A lot of people aren’t around anymore because of the Vietnam War, a lot of bad things happened because of that war, and we lost it to boot, and all of that could have been avoided—to answer your question, Brittany—if we had realized the second torpedo-boat attack had never happened. Things would be different. It’s hard to say how, but they would be. Think about it.”

Daria exhaled deeply, then turned to look at the clock over the door behind her. “We still have a little time left,” she said, going back to her desk and picking up a sheaf of papers. “I want to pass out these study sheets on the War with Mexico. Take them home and fill them out, then bring them back to me tomorrow morning. You can get started on them now.” She passed out the sheets, then went to her desk and sat down, drained. The students went to work, asking only a few questions more until the bell rang. They left as a noisy, energized mob.

Andrea was slow to leave. When most of the students were gone, she went up to Daria’s desk. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay,” said Daria, looking away. “It was a long time ago.”

“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Uh . . . well, he was riding in a convoy going from Saigon to An Loc, on Highway Thirteen, and someone shot him. Sniper, I think. I never knew him.”

Andrea swallowed. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Daria said absently, still looking away. She roused herself and waved Andrea off. “Better go on to lunch.”

“That was a great class today.”

“Thank you. Hurry up, go on.”

Daria got up from her desk and looked around in a daze.

Only Jane was still in the room, standing beside her.

“It’s okay,” said Daria. She took off her glasses and rubbed her face. “It’s okay.”

Jane nodded once, watching her.

“See you after school,” she said, though it was not what she had planned to say or do.

“Okay. Bye.”


She went to the teachers’ lounge, got a soda, then went back to her room and graded papers. She wasn’t hungry, and it kept her from thinking too deeply. Busy hands are happy hands.




O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

—Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel


Only the dead have seen the end of war.

—George Santayana, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies



She answered the door with a half-empty glass in her hand and blinked in the late afternoon sunlight. “Oh,” she said to the girl in the gray shorts and black T-shirt. “Come on in.”

Jane eyed the glass as she entered. “I thought you preferred martinis.”

“I ran out of vodka and had to do with bourbon and cola instead,” said Daria, closing the door. “Been running?”

“Did my smelly sneakers give it away, or the big pit stains under my arms?” Jane wandered into the family room. The sofa and loveseat were covered by various piles of neatly sorted papers, with no room anywhere on them to sit. The television was turned to the evening news. “Whatcha working on?” she said as she pulled the rubber band from her stub ponytail and shook her anthracite bangs free.



the after-school visit from little sis


“Lesson plans. Have a seat anywhere.” Daria walked over and plopped herself down on a large pillow on the floor without spilling her drink. She took a deep swallow and put the glass on a telephone book on the carpet beside her. “There’s some cola left in the fridge if you want it.”

“Thanks.” Jane left, then reappeared a minute later with a two-liter bottle in hand. She found her own cushion and sat a few feet away with her back to the sofa, like Daria. “Got any future tests for me to look at?”

“Sure. Just pick up a stack and start reading, and by the time you’re done, you’ll know everything.”

“Hmmm, I was hoping for a shortcut.” Jane picked up a sheet of paper from a nearby stack, glanced at it, then dropped it back on the pile. She picked up the cola bottle and twisted the cap off. “So, did you like your first day of work?”

“It was all right.” Daria looked over and saw Jane drinking out of the bottle, but she sighed and picked up an open notebook and a pencil instead of making a remark.

“You like teaching?”

“It pays the bills.” Daria began adding to the page where she was roughing out topics down to the end of the calendar year.

“You always say that. I mean seriously, you like it?”

“I do.”


The pencil, which had been in the midst of writing, “Spanish-American War” in the box marked “December,” lifted from the paper and hovered over the incomplete phrase. Daria sighed again. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at the carpet near her feet. “It’s what I want to do. When I was in college I took a freshman history class in which I had to write an essay summing up the twentieth century, and in the middle of doing it I realized I had finally found my voice. It was what I most wanted to do, to tell people about history and how important it was. Suddenly it was everything to me. People swim through history, but they never see it until they hear about it in stories. Someone has to be the storyteller, keep the legends going, the tales of how it used to be and why we do things like we do now. Without it—” The pencil wagged in her fingers “—we’re empty. We’re hollow shells with no past and no future. No one will remember us, what we did and why we did it, why any of it mattered.”

“Like your dad?”

Daria drew in a deep breath, then set the notebook and pencil aside. “Yeah.” She picked up the bourbon and cola and took a sip. “I’m gonna have to talk a little more about Vietnam tomorrow. I think I left everyone with the idea that war was bad, but that wasn’t what I meant to say at all. What I wanted to say was that we have to understand why there even was a war. We went into it trying to do one thing, and the harder we tried to get it done, the worse it got, until there was this big screw-up and it went all out of control, right to hell. I don’t want to put it like that, of course, but I want to say something about why the whole thing started anyway, why Kennedy and Johnson thought it was important to fight, and why Nixon kept it going, but it just wasn’t going to happen no matter what we did.” She swirled the contents of her glass around. “Dad didn’t die for nothing over there. I can’t believe that. I won’t let myself believe it. He didn’t want to go, I know that, but he went, and he died there, and . . .” She shrugged and drank down the last of the bourbon and cola, then put the glass aside.

“You’ve never talked much about your dad,” said Jane. She had her legs drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, watching Daria intently.

“Mom told me a lot about him.” Daria softly burped and stretched out her legs. “She and Dad met at Middleton College when they were freshmen there, in sixty-eight. They started dating right after Nixon was elected president. Sort of funny, she said, they were both at an antiwar rally and kept bumping into each other, and things went on from there.”



the hippie parents, c. 1969


She looked at the toes of her pink dog slippers. “Mom said I was sort of unplanned. She didn’t say ‘accident,’ but that was what happened. She thinks it was on Valentine’s Day; they both got stoned and got a little carried away by the moment. She found out she was pregnant on April Fool’s Day, she told me.”


“She did. I thought it was funny all this time, but that was it. She and Dad got scared but decided they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives, so they called their parents and told them.” Daria paused, staring into the distance. “That turned out to be a mistake. Mom’s parents told her not to come home again, and they cut off all the money they were giving her to go to college. Dad’s dad did the same to him. Mom said my dad’s dad was nicknamed ‘Mad Dog,’ because he was so mean, and he sure was. Right after he found out that Dad had gotten a girl pregnant, he emptied out Dad’s bank account and then went to the draft board and told them Dad was available.”

Jane was horrified. “Good God, he didn’t.”

“He did. Dad got drafted right after that, as soon as the spring semester was over. Mom said it almost killed them, but they were in love and I was on the way, so they had to do something quick. They were going to run away to Canada, but then my dad said, hell no, screw my old man, I’m braver than he’ll ever be. Plus he couldn’t find a job anywhere, and he wanted my mom to have a stable income. He told my Mom they should get married so she could collect his Army pay, because he was going to show his old man who was tougher. He hated the war, he didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but it was the only way he had to support his family, so he did it anyway. He told Mom he’d always aim to miss, because he didn’t ever want to kill anybody. So, he and Mom went to a justice of the peace and got married, then he left for the Army.”

She chewed her lip for a moment. “Then Mom found out that the justice of the peace they had used had been disbarred the week before then. The marriage wasn’t valid. She tried to move to the base where Dad was taking basic training, but they wouldn’t let him off post to get married, and they shipped him off to ‘Nam.” Daria raised her glass again, discovered it was empty, and set it aside. “He was with the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One. He hadn’t been in country but a couple days when they put him on a supply convoy from Saigon to An Loc, near the Cambodian border. That’s where he got shot, on Highway Thirteen. That’s a little too ironic, even for me, but that’s how it happened. He got killed, his body came back to his parents, and they wouldn’t let Mom go to the funeral. They even tried to hide where they buried him, but Mom found out anyway. She and I have been there I don’t know how many times, little church cemetery near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That’s my dad, a white marble tombstone in a churchyard. Jake Morgendorffer.”

Daria took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Jane rubbed her eyes, too.

“Mom always said,” Daria continued, putting her glasses on and sniffing, “that she wanted to do something to honor his memory, so she made up her mind to change the world a little. She was going to be a lawyer anyway, but she went into family law so people wouldn’t have to go through the sea of bullcrap she did, being a single mother trying to put herself through college and working part-time. It was really hard growing up like that, but after we moved here, it got a lot better.”

“Because you met Penny,” said Jane after a moment.

Daria nodded, still looking away. “Yeah. That really helped. Everything from fifth grade on was great, except maybe for everything that happened when I married Wind and he ran off with someone else, but that’s over the dam now. The hell with it. Finding Penny was the one moment of good luck I’ve had in my entire life, to meet up with another outcast who I could totally be friends with and not have to feel completely alone.” She gave Jane a sidelong glance and a smile. “And there was you, too. Almost too much of a good thing, but I’ll never complain.”

“But I’m not like Penny, though.” Jane looked downcast. “I’ve always wanted a best friend, too. I used to be so jealous of the two of you, you know? I envied you so much. You went places I couldn’t go, did stuff I couldn’t do, and I just wanted to scream. I wish I had someone like you to hang around with.”



the wavy perm look, c. 1986


Daria regarded her sister-in-law for a long moment, her face softening. “You do,” she said.

“But it’s not the same. I’m not like Penny was to you. You were a better mom to me than my real mom, but I wanted you to be my friend. You guys were already in middle school when I was born. I was just a little kid you and Penny had to babysit when Mom and Dad were out of town like they always were.”

Daria’s hand reached out. Jane took it, then scooted her pillow closer until they were sitting side by side. Neither thought it was odd that Jane was several inches taller, even sitting down, than her older sister-in-law.

“You laugh more than Penny did,” said Daria, looking down at Jane’s hand in hers. “She had a hard time laughing. Things always rubbed her the wrong way. She and I were almost too much alike, too serious about stuff to really have any fun. We’d get into these long discussions about politics, what President Reagan was doing right or wrong, all of that. When the Iran-Contra thing came out, Penny went ballistic.”

“I remember that, she did.”

“Yeah, that drove her crazy. ‘How can they get away with that?’ she’d yell. ‘Doesn’t anybody care what’s happening? Doesn’t anybody understand?’ She’d yell she was going to run away to Mexico and make pottery all the rest of her life, but after we’d argue it out, she’d try to think of something else to do, something to make the world a little better. We’d both try to think it out, but she was better at taking action than I was. I liked to complain and do nothing about it, but she wanted to get out and get her hands dirty. I liked that about her.”

She gripped Jane’s hand tighter. “I wish sometimes, though, that she had been more like you. You don’t take things very seriously, but it makes you fun to be with. You can have a good time when I can’t, and seeing you in a good mood cheers me up. Well, except for today when you gave me that dumb-ass answer about the War with Mexico, but other than that—”

Jane laughed and let go of Daria’s hand. They sat beside each other, shoulders together, and smiled at the memory.

“I do wish Penny had been more like you,” Daria finished, looking at the TV again. “She would have been a lot more fun to be around, not that I’m all that great to be around, either.”

“You don’t completely suck,” said Jane in a comforting tone. “Have you heard anything from her at all?”

Daria hesitated before answering. “Not since ninety-four, after she went to Texas to do some campaign work for—oh, look!” Daria pointed to the television screen. “There she is!”

“Who?” said Jane, looking. “Oh, yeah. Speak of the devil.”

The TV screen showed a grinning, white-haired woman waving to an applauding crowd. At the bottom of the screen was the legend: GOVERNOR ANN RICHARDS (TX-D).

“Penny and I always liked her,” said Daria with a grin. “Sort of a role-model for the two of us.” The TV showed Governor Richards shaking hands with other politicians and making a speech with a few jokes tossed in.

“I don’t see Penny anywhere around there,” said Jane. “I wonder what she’s doing.”

“Beats hell out of me. I wish I knew.”

They continued to watch the governor speak until the news shifted to another story.

“Whatever happened to that other guy, the one she ran against who turned out to be a drunk driver?” asked Jane. “Wasn’t he that President’s son? What’s he doing?”

“Who cares,” said Daria. “Screw ‘im.”

“Yeah.” Jane reached out and picked up the cola bottle, unscrewing the cap again.

“Save some for me,” said Daria.

“Sure thing, Mom,” said Jane, right before Daria hit her with a pillow.




Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. . . . It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

—Robert F. Kennedy, “Day of Affirmation” speech in Cape Town, South Africa, June 6, 1966


Payback is a mother.




Helen Barksdale finally came home at 12:11 a.m. and discovered Daria and Jane propped up against the family-room sofa, side by side, sound asleep in front of a late-night talk show. A large bowl holding only a few popcorn kernels sat on the carpet between them, along with an empty two-liter soda bottle and a glass that smelled of bourbon. She started to wake them, then changed her mind and went into the kitchen, where she found an empty bottle of bourbon in the trashcan.

“I didn’t know Daria even liked the stuff,” she muttered, putting down her purse and car keys. “She was always a martini person.” She checked the refrigerator, decided she wasn’t hungry enough to microwave the container of frozen lasagna, and had a bagel and a glass of water instead. When she was done, she went back into the family room and sent a bleary-eyed Daria and Jane upstairs to bed, Jane in the guest bedroom as usual and Daria in her own room. She then removed the popcorn bowl and drinks, tidied up Daria’s stacks of school papers, and recovered the remote from where it peeped out from under the loveseat.

Before she left, she clicked the set over to a news channel to see what was new. The newscasters were still talking about the recent deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Theresa. Al Gore’s fundraising practices were being questioned. Terrible massacres continued in Algeria. The movie Primary Colors was coming out soon, a thinly veiled look at President Clinton’s sexual life and its consequences. Asked if he would run in 1998, George W. Bush said he had no further political ambitions after his razor-thin loss to Richards in 1994 for the governorship of Texas, blaming the Democrats for their “dirty tricks.” Burgess Meredith, the Penguin of the Batman TV series, had died and was being remembered in a series of short film clips.

Same old stuff, nothing new. She turned off the set, put out the light, and went to bed herself.


* * *


Daria could not go back to sleep no matter how hard she tried, and after twenty minutes of fruitless tossing and turning, she got up, turned on the light, and sat up in bed to read Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason, which had never failed before to knock her unconscious. When that didn’t work either, she closed the book and stared down at it in her lap, remembering. The phone had rung. It was three years ago in mid-November. Hello? she had said.

Daria, I have to talk to you.

Penny? Is that you? Where are you?

I can’t talk long! Listen, I’m going to be out of the country for a while. I think some people are out to get me, and I have to lay low, but not here. I don’t know where I’ll be.

What are you talking about? What’s going on?

Swear to me you won’t tell anyone about this, okay? Swear it to me! Now!

Wha—okay, I swear! What happened?

You know that old drunk-driving citation that got Bush Junior knocked out of the Texas governor’s race? I’m the one who found it.




the last phonecall


I kept hearing that he used to be a party guy and I kept thinking if I looked someplace where his family—

YOU found it?

Let me talk, okay? I don’t have much time! I went up to Maine, to the area around Kennebunkport where his family hung out, and I used some forged credentials to get into the local police archives. I went all the way back to Labor Day of seven-six, and there it was! I found it! Payback to Bush Senior for Iran-Contra, yeee-haaaw!

Jesus Christ, Penny! I can’t believe it!

Believe it! I have to go! I owe it all to you, Daria! You got me to believe I could make a difference around here, and I did! They’ll never break me! Thank you! And I love you!

Penny, don’t hang up! Where are you going?

Gotta go, compadre! Bye!

Pe—I love you too! Penny!


Dial tone.


Daria took a ragged breath as she remembered. That was the last she had ever heard from Penny Lane. Was she alive? Who was she running from? What happened to her? Where was she after all this time?

She couldn’t even tell Jane about it. She could tell no one, ever.

Now there was nothing to do but wait and see if one day Penny returned from wherever she had gone—if she was still alive.

“That,” Daria said aloud, “and take my turn at changing the world, too. It’s my turn, now.” She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes. “Thank you, Penny. I would never have done this without you, either. You taught me to care enough about the world to do something about it, and I finally am. Thank you. And I love you, too.”

She put the book aside and turned out the light, put her glasses on the nightstand, then lay down and tried to rest.

Penny smiled inside her heart. Daria closed her eyes, at peace.

It’s my turn, now.





Author’s Notes II: In The Daria Database is a one-page section purporting to be a letter and photo of Anthony DeMartino in a psychiatric facility (Brookside) after having a mental breakdown in class and attempting to strangle Kevin Thompson. What if he had done that, and someone else was brought in to take his place? What if it was Daria? This and other ideas mixed together to produce this tale.

I confess I wanted to both lengthen the story and keep it short. Daria's alternate world could certainly be elaborated upon at length. I had once planned a fairly complicated plot for this tale, but over time I came to like it less and wanted to tell a story that was shorter and more to the point. While the story has a partisan flavor to it, it is in keeping with Daria and Penny's political persuasions, given what they've said on the show and in other canon sources such as the books and the MTV website. I wanted it to be faithful to their beliefs and some of the underlying philosophy of the show, which had a left-of-center political flavor at the same time it mocked the excesses of left and right.

I liked playing with the idea of the title, that: 1) Daria was the alternate history teacher, after Anthony's breakdown; 2) Daria was an “alternate history” teacher, teaching counterfactual history as a way of engaging her students in their lessons; and, 3) she was a teacher in a true alternate history, one in which the world did not come out as ours did. Daria, in fact, helped bring that change about, though she will never know how cosmic a change it was that Penny wrought. In the real world, W's drunk-driving ticket was not discovered until late 2000, before the presidential election. The November 1994 election for Texas governor was considered very close until the end, and a good shove could have changed the outcome.

Credit Where Credit Is Due: Dervish got me to thinking about this story with “Daria in the 1950's and 1970's,” a thread in PPMB’s Deep Thoughts forum (08/28/04) in which she related a dream. There, Daria was a TV show in other decades, because she had not been born at the time she was in the actual show. Then came a PPMB thread called “Taking Liberties in Fanfic,” which had many contributions (09/27/04-09/30/04) that helped me develop the timeline. Hiergargo, Kara Wild, Brother Grimace, Richard Lobinske, Staren, Kristen Bealer, Steven Galloway, and Mike Nassour take credit for contriubting ideas and encouragement. Roentgen (1/20/05) e-mailed me some ideas about the pros and cons of Lawndale High for Daria Barksdale the teacher. Finally, Kristen Bealer (3/28/07) created the “Iron Chef: AU Vietnam” PPMB thread relevant to Jake Morgendorffer's fate. Much of my own experience as a substitute teacher from 2003-2005 helped, too (oh, the humanity). And Waldnorm caught a major historical error that, thank heavens, could be fixed in the final version. Whew! Thank you all!


Original: 09/07/07, modified 11/04/07, 10/22/08