Shoebox


Sometimes the most challenging part of my day is fitting my thoughts into a shoebox by the closet before I fall asleep. You don’t start thinking until your shoes are on, Ms. Crawford, my sixth-grade gym teacher, would say. She would complain to us when Richie wore flip-flops to class. “Weren’t you in class last week when we talked about this, Richie?” She would then repeat how clothes, and most importantly shoes, kick-start our brains. Better than coffee, she said. “What you wear reflects how you feel, how you feel reflects what you wear! LeBron James doesn’t practice in his sandals!” My mind would race with questions.

When you wear a tuxedo, do you feel rich?

When you wear jeans, do you feel tough?

When you wear nothing, do you feel nothing?

But she never told us what to do when it’s bedtime, and our shoes lay carelessly on the floor, and our restless thoughts like barbarians pillage and scour our heads, searching every room for something torturous to remind us of, something sacred to latch onto with tear-soaked arms, or something comforting to keep them safe from the lurching quiet of the night.

Outside my door, cannibals rave about how I might want to feel tomorrow, when I have to slide into my ill-fitted suit jacket and dress pants for my first job interview. They know there’s no sneaky excuse, no way out of this one.

Eight people in a room. Intelligent, distinguished, experienced, exhausted. They have seen enough people like me. Staring from across a half-circled table, fiddling through paperwork and folders and binders. In a dark room, decorated with half-imagined paintings, charcoal walls, thin suits, thin expressions. One of them leans their hand forward, not to shake mine, but to motion for me to sit.

Why are you qualified for this position?

I freeze. But then I collect myself, remembering my rehearsed lines.

I love teaching: the constant need for adaptability, validation, interaction, and academic learning; the growing community among teachers, among students, and throughout the school; the insightful, pure brilliance of youth; the latent potential in every student to succeed their own way, and the satisfaction when you see it happen; and the unbelievably polarizing highs and lows each day can bring.

Terribly cliche. Didn’t answer the question. They have already given up on me. It was a mistake to come here. I shouldn’t have done this. I sound too prepared. I can’t catch my breath. I feel my chest burst through the suit.

I reach down through my imagined undershirt, unbuttoning the middle button, and feel the shame nesting, growing inside and outside as one waits for their body to ignore the belt’s usual and terrible sensation when around waists too large now to contain. I worry for when wardrobes are not malleable enough to impress any more.

I worry and cry, and they shuffle their papers, and I am escorted away. I scramble for the reset button. It’ll be at least three minutes until I am back to normal. I’m not wearing shoes, but I feel everything all at once.

It’s 2 AM and the sound of an ambulance brings me back to life.

Sometimes all you can do is think, but my thoughts, too, want peace. If I were in debt, owing money to the Bank of Sanity, I would pay my bills in one sitting, no interest statements, no follow-ups, no deferred action plan. One sitting would be all it takes, and then I’m freed.

Sometimes I forget to put my thoughts in their shoebox, and so they run like hell until I realize I can’t sleep until they get to sleep, too. Sometimes I forget about the equitable treatment of thoughts.

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