My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

(part one)

At some point after the 2020 election, my husband’s oldest sister had to find a new hairdresser and was terribly upset. COVID restrictions had been somewhat recently lifted, and she’d been looking forward to her cut and color ritual, the meandering and soothing chitchat that typically accompanies such salon appointments. However, instead of the usual innocuous topics–families, movies, meals, vacations–the hairdresser talked politics non-stop. Despite months of speculation, investigation, and bipartisan evidence that the presidential election had been neither rigged nor stolen, the hairdresser remained convinced that the defeated candidate had actually won, repeatedly offering debunked and fallacious conspiracy theories to support their claims. 

She told my husband the story as an aside to one of their phone conversations about their mother’s care. Her retelling was peppered with f-bombs that carried across the room to where I sat, trying to read a book. She’d felt trapped, assaulted almost, by the virulence with which the hairdresser condemned those who disagreed with them, by their refusal to accept evidence that disproved their conclusions, and by their professed willingness to act on conjecture rather than truth. They couldn’t be reasoned with and she couldn’t justify continuing to patronize a business whose hate-filled vision ran counter to her own. She just did not understand how people could be like that.

I nearly dropped my own f-bomb, because that’s EXACTLY what she had done to my husband, when she and the middle sister conspired to granny-nap their mother.

Have you ever done something that later you really regretted?

Have you ever been talked into something really stupid?

Of course you have. Me, too.


In Act II, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus awaits dawn in his orchard, musing about joining those plotting Caesar’s assassination. While I’d read the play several times before, I first taught it in December 1990, as a UN-backed coalition of international forces prepared to defend against Saddam Hussein’s annexation of neighboring Kuwait. A TA in the University of Delaware’s English Department, I had taught ESL, remedial English, and Freshman Comp throughout my graduate program, but the convoluted requirements of public school certification mandated I student-teach a five-week Winterim. 

Thus, I found myself assigned to a cooperating teacher a few months shy of her retirement. Before taking over her sophomore classes, I observed from the back of the room as she lectured leaning against the chalkboard, arms crossed behind her back. She ignored her students’ questions, ignored their chatter. Ignored their spitballs missiling non-stop at her head, and come time for tests and quizzes, ignored the blatant, rampant cheating. Every class, every day.

To paraphrase the aforementioned oldest sister, what the effity eff?

I was dumbfounded.


Not with the students.

With the teacher. 

She was the adult, they were the kids. Sophomoric, by definition.

And she was stealing from them. Not money or things, but opportunity. Possibility. Theirs and ours. Recall please, that humanity benefits from an educated populace, not an ignorant one.

Good luck, she said when I stepped in. 

I should probably mention, I also had to teach a research paper unit and three units of vocabulary. 


She expected me to fail.

I refused to. 

Not only for myself, though I do HATE to look stupid. 

I refused to fail for her–for our–students. 

But Shakespeare? Lordy.

In high school, I used to watch recorded BBC performances in the library while reading along, just so I could figure out WHAT was happening, let alone WHY it was happening and WHY it mattered. And I loved to read. English was my favorite subject. 

Fortunately, I had some pretty terrific teachers throughout my schooling, and I drew on what they’d modeled for me: Education isn’t merely the absorption and regurgitation of information, but rather the ongoing acquisition and development of critical thinking, communicating, and creative skills that enable us to navigate our shared world, regardless of discipline and post-secondary vocation. 

In other words, the complex becomes accessible and actionable when first made simple and relevant. 

So I focused and layered my units’ objectives. I determined what I wanted my kids to know and be able to do at the end of our time together, and then I worked backwards to locate my starting point. I asked them, Have you ever done something that later you really regretted? Have you ever been talked into something really stupid?

Of course they had. 

Of course YOU have. Me, too.

Now let’s discuss WHY. 

Brutus’ s Act II, Scene 1 speech is a soliloquy, a literary convention in which a character is alone on stage and we have direct, unfiltered access to his thoughts. To his version of truth. On first reading, it seems like he’s debating killing Caesar, but he isn’t. He’s already decided to act and is justifying that decision to himself.

Just look at not merely what he says but HOW he says it. His monologue begins with his conclusion that “It must be by his death,” and what follows lacks concrete, verifiable evidence to support that claim. Instead, he offers his  “reasons” in the conditional (would, could, may, might), a tense used to SPECULATE rather than REPORT on events. Brutus even discounts his own firsthand knowledge of Caesar’s character and admits he’s lying to himself, saying “since the quarrel will bear no color for the thing he is, fashion it thus.” In other words, he’s perfectly willing to MAKE THINGS UP if doing so will enable him to get what he, Brutus, wants. Even if that means murdering a man in cold blood. 

Okaaay, but WHY? 

What does he want and why does he want it? And what about all those other senators? Brutus doesn’t act alone. Cassius woos him. Casca flatters him. Dozens of senators join and execute the plan to murder Caesar which–SPOILER ALERT–precipitates the fall of the Roman Empire. The very thing they claim–alone and to each other–that they are trying to prevent.


And HOW?

And while we’re on the subject, what does any of this have to do with hairdressers and granny-napping? With anything really, in the right here and now?

Come back again next month and I’ll tell you.


May means the STORYADAY writing challenge, which I’ve participated in since 2019. As I write this, it’s Day 5 and Story 5, though my rough drafts are more rough than story. Oh well! Revising is for June. Here are some links to stories I wrote to past STORYADAY prompts:

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

7/10/98, A Truish Story

Lesson Plans

I hope you find something you enjoy 🙂

Thanks for reading!


I usually post the first Saturday of each month.

Next up, June 3rd: IT MUST BE BY HIS DEATH, Part 2

And coming July 1st: THE WORLD’S GREATEST LIE, On 5-Year Letters and Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist

One thought on “IT MUST BE BY HIS DEATH: On Character Assassinations and the Lies We Tell

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