Friday, 7:30 AM. Your eyes wear a familiar, teenage alertness during these morning and afternoon hours. Like the teenagers whose longing matches yours, you await the powerful, restful silence that only home can bring. Like them, you too feel lost, unfocused, discouraged.
But Block A drags. Your usual time-wasting activities worsen the lull. You feel a sense of vertigo from following a moving object, the minute hand on the classroom clock, too closely. Time is not on your side. It tempts your constant attention. With dazed impatience, you imagine the vertigo grabbing you by the forehead and shaking to and fro until your brain’s fleshy goo spews from your ears and eyes and mouth, forming a slow-crawling desk puddle. Perhaps then the whole school will see it, and then nothing embarrassing or scarring would be worth hiding any more. Maybe, after an extended time poking around at your cerebral spinal fluid, the students and faculty will finally see you have the same insides they do. If only they knew how closely they match. They would bask in each other’s true, raw selves, no superficiality or strings attached.
You wait until the bell rings before leaving Block A. Can’t set a bad example.
While walking to your next class, you view the bright and brilliant sun, and then feel anxious about your clothing. It’s hard not to notice from peripheral vision that the eye in the sky faces you, in every room in the building, even the air-conditioned cafeterias, where your warm-weather outfit feels dangerously uncomfortable. Sweat drips from your eyes to your socks. You wonder if this is judgment day and, in this moment of finality, you are the one being judged. You debate whether you would prefer a cold or warm apocalypse.
When it is time to leave again, you wonder whether to temporarily remove every dark-colored item of clothing from your closet, and stuff them under the bed until winter. Walking down the pavement to and from school, the long stretches of sidewalks and parking lots, your feet grow perfectly circular sores, leaving a dime-sized, vacant space in your socks.
You wonder if you have enough light-colored clothing and socks to last these two remaining weeks. You wonder if the students will notice if you wear the same light-green dress shirt twice in five days, because it fits well and you don’t want to squeeze into another painful costume. But you know they will. How judgemental attitudes are often communicated, but not spoken. Harmless giggles, lips squeezed flat and pulled inward, eyes like arrows piercing flesh. In December, when your trusty brown corduroys no longer fit neatly below your waist. You remember that you aren’t being paid for this. You can’t afford another shirt. You see the flattened lips again.
Remembering what forty inches of snow felt like. How snow day enthusiasm kept you all alive and connected, for a few months. The anxious period before receiving a WTNH text alert: school is closed, delayed, nothing. When it’s 6 AM, you imagine students, staff, admins, parents all waiting at their phones, curling their bodies further into themselves the longer the town waits to announce school status, until there is nothing left for them to curl into. How, on an early February morning, the snow drilled the mailbox into the cement, waking you before your alarm, and yet they waited to close school. You remember sharing your story with colleagues. They applauded you for speaking for the first time.
Remembering this time of inter-personal growth. How the department office dialogue drifts increasingly towards college and injustice and middle-aged angst, even in the heat.
“When I die, throw me in the dumpster by the auditorium. I’m sure it gets cleaned better than my classroom.”
“Dave Grohl is hosting Saturday Night Live this week!”
“Can hardly believe Oliver got into Harvard!”
“I wish Gus would open the cafeteria in the morning.”
“Do you want to join our department’s PowerBall ticket pool?”
After fifty dollars spent in the pool, your return is five. You wonder if your social anxiety is worth spending fifty dollars just to have a regular, shared conversation topic with your department colleagues. You allow it one more run, because the PowerBall is taking a break soon and you can make it through this last pool. You wonder if the price of your self-destructive, social anxiety is worth wearing the light-green dress shirt again.
You rehearse conversation lines in the mirror while brushing your hair. Anxious to say hello in the correct tone, to properly convey both sincere joy and a desperate need for human connection, something to strip away pretense. The easiest connection between colleagues is mutual dislike. The school or the news or the system or the election or what’s on TV or the slippery sidewalk conditions or the unstoppable misuse of hall and office passes, the complete and unfathomable “absence of student accountability IN THIS SCHOOL LATELY!”
This is the way it goes, and it goes, so it goes. Two passes a day. You sit in front of the library and wait, silent. Last block of the day. Weekend approaches. Discipline notices in hand, an expectation in mind. One slip for the student resting on the benches outside room 212, one for the student passing time in the bathroom by the workshop, and another, slouching in the library’s hybridized lounge chair-desks after leaving class “to go to the bathroom.” Just a piece of paper, crumpled under their trampled sweatshirt pockets. These students have a lot in common but have never spoken to each other, and maybe never will. The last bell rings. You watch them pass by, wordlessly, sharing in something more than their cerebral spinal fluid. You envy their silent solidarity.