Internship

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.

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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.

Awkward Fridays

Where the days of the week elongate

And every hour seems a solar system away

Creeping closer every interplanetary minute and

Star citizens remind you by the hour how

Wandering minds never dream in numbers

Get ready for the illusion to reform and

Take over your mind while you’re writing 

Away the words you were told to write

 

Where the books are weights upon 

The arms of literary bodybuilders 

Up down lifting the heaviest words

Penciled by French and English 

Altogether European geniuses 

(Authors satirists and novelists mostly)

Verbs and nouns and adjectives

And every synonym in between 

Carry a thesaurus to the park before

You start writing that paper or else

The masters of language will crawl

Into your thoughts and haunt you

Pushing backward into that essay

Their doubts fears and nothing else

The figment of anxiety or stress

A waste of precious energy 

On an awkward Friday night