skeletor vs. world

“How is Elsa doing, seeing the world?” Skeletor asked me abruptly. I glanced quickly over my shoulder. She is talking to me, right? “Does she like it?” she continued loudly. “Where did she go anyway?” I smiled. “She likes it very much, I’d say,”

“What? Speak louder. I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” I sighed. Any louder and I’d be pushing my voice. “She says,” I continued in a voice I should be typing in all-caps “She says she likes it a lot.”

“Stupid girl. Likes it now. You know what’s going to happen to her?” I shook my head, and looked down at Clary. His eyes were wide and he watched his mother expectantly. “RAPE. That is what happens to women who think they can travel abroad solo. RAPE. That girl is so going to get so raped so quickly -”

“Oh well wow who knows! Look who that is Clary is that one of your little friends you should go over and say hello and look there are the drums you like what is the guinea pig doing?” I squeaked out quickly.

“Rape,” she muttered.

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elsa + zara

“What’s wrong, Elsa?” Her hands were shaking – I’d never seen her hands shake. Was it fear or anger? “Are you alright?” I asked her quietly. She smiled, a little embarrassed. “Oh, it’s nothing really. I just – you’ve talked to Zara, right?”
Shane’s wife. A nightmare.
I refrained from saying it, although I more or less knew what had happened to Elsa by this point. “Yes, I know Zara. We’ve talked. What happened?” Her eyes widened, and she glanced around, as if her answer were sitting somewhere in the air. “Well . . . I was telling her that it seems that Shane, you now, really is a very caring father and she,” her voice faltered. “She just, started, pulling out her eyebrow hairs.” Elsa looked at me, eyes full of dismay. “She really was, Lola! I’m not making it up!”
“I know you’re not. I’ve seen it.” I sighed. At least she hadn’t dragged her nails up and down her arm until there were bright pink streaks. That – at least to me – was slightly more off-putting.
“But that’s – it’s pathological!” She pressed her lips together, and said in a quieter tone, “I think she needs help.” I shrugged. “She’s got really thick eyebrows. It’ll be fine.”

Elsa smiled, at last. “But no, really – just don’t bring up Shane.” I told her.
“That’s all I have to do?” I thought for a moment. “I think so, E. That’s always seemed like the trigger to me.” She looked at the ceiling, then sighed and straightened her shoulders. “Alright. I’ll try that. Okay.” She smiled again, but I knew we were both thinking It’s not like you’ll be here that much longer, so what does it matter.

elsa vs. world

“I want to see the world,” Elsa said, smiling. I wanted to ask why. I wanted to ask are you sure you’re cut out for that? I didn’t want to sound unkind. I tried phrasing it differently in my mind, but she started talking before I could arrive at a new and satisfactory re-phrasing. “I’m going to CouchSurf.” she said happily. “That way I don’t have to pay for a place to stay. And there are CSers all over the world. I could go anywhere.” I picked up a plate and began drying. “Have you – have you done it before?” I asked carefully. “Oh, um, no – but lots of people have.” She shrugged. “It’s easy.”

“Did Elsa tell you about wanting to see the world?” I asked the director, hours later, dishes dried and stored. She nodded. “So I guess she’s quitting?” I mean – of course she has to quit to see the world. Another nod. “Since when does she not want to devote her life to children?” I felt vaguely betrayed, at the very least disappointed. “Honestly?”
“Yes, of course honestly.”
“Since you made it look so easy.”

some kind of

“So how’s our new family?” I asked the director, excited and sorry I hadn’t met them. “Well,” she began slowly, and I waited for the caveat. “They’re very nice – according to Elsa.”
“You didn’t meet them yourself then?”
“No.”
“Then what did Elsa say, exactly?”
“She said,” the director sighed, began organizing the new file in front of her, “that the lady was very nice and was some sort of mixed, and that the man was very polite and some kind of black.”
“She – um, what? Did you just say ‘some kind of black’ or is it the fan?” She gave me a long look. The fan was not that loud, really. “No. It isn’t the fan. That’s what she said.”

I chewed the inside of my cheek (gently) and thought. “I’ve got it!” I said, sitting up suddenly. “You had this conversation in another language! Something in which ‘some kind of black’ translates to dark-skinned gentleman, right?” She shook her head. “Or – or – you’ve never wanted to tell me but Elsa’s native language isn’t English!” She sighed. “No, Lola. Her mother tongue is English and the conversation was in English and she said exactly that: ‘some sort of mixed’ and ‘some kind of black.’ ” I slumped in my chair. It was hard and wooden anyway. “Don’t tell me she was scared, too?”
“Oh no – not remotely. She was excited. Said something about how exciting it was to have parents from Hawaii.”
“And how does she know they’re from Hawaii? When did they say this?”
“She said mixes are from Hawaii.”

I put my head down on the desk, on top of the papers. “I just can’t believe . . . I don’t know what to . . . ”
“I don’t either, Lola. Like I told you – a college education isn’t what it used to be.”

contagion

“What is that?” asked the director, poking my bottle with a pencil. “What are you drinking now?” I looked over my shoulder. I was painting a rather dodgy flower on our chalk board. If all the minions in the grocery store can paint produce in such exacting detail, I can surely replicate a single flower. “Basil seed . . . banana . . . honey . . . ” I murmured, deciding that no one would possibly mistake the flower for flames of destruction if it were pink rather than red. “They look like pollywogs.”
“Like what?”
“Tadpoles. The seeds look like tadpoles.” I made some noise of affirmation. The flower was growing wildly.
“They’re crunchy, Lola. It’s actually pretty good, despite its looks. Hey, I might have to get me some of this stuff.” She walked off holding it up to the light, looking at the little seeds suspended like so many polka dots.

Two days later a case of basil drink appeared at school. I grabbed one and toasted Elsa during break. “To cultural understanding via oral – via food.” She smiled. “I wish the director were feeling better,” she said, picking at the label of her drink. “What happened now?” I asked, stomach sinking. She shifted one shoulder and shook her head. “I don’t know. She just says she has a headache and doesn’t feel too well and – what’s wrong, Lola?” I had covered my mouth with both hands.

I was thinking about mono.

lumpy bodies

Sometimes Elsa watches the director teaching. Her head gradually tilts sideways and she – as gradually – ceases to move, her entire body stiff.

If you catch her eye at this point she breaks into the widest, sweetest smile – all lips, no teeth, eyes crinkling. “It’s sweet to see someone who loves children that much, isn’t it?” she asks me.

I twitch my nose at her – which, now that I’m writing it, is really a strange form of nonverbal communication, isn’t it? Hmmm . . .

Well, I am, after all, a preschool teacher. We are, as a whole, renowned for dispensing wisdom, being practical, and finger-painting often and well. We are not known for being alluring – and this is rather true. Walk into a room full of teachers and you will see a lot of lumpy figures, mussed hair in outdated cuts and rather wrinkled clothing. You can surmise that no one has time to cut her hair if she has to plan lessons week in, week out. And you can guess how the clothing gets wrinkled. But the round figures – have you ever seen a very young child cry on his teacher’s lap? Those lumpy, dowdy bodies feel the most nurturing to a small body wracked with sobs. They are excellent pillows for careless little elbows trying to find the best spot on a lap. They don’t terrify the sexy moms who think every female is trying to upstage them. Sometimes they’re testaments to lonely nights with a high-calorie meal right before sleeping. Or to a naughty candy habit. Sometimes they’re the result of a large family and a large, delicious dinner.

I could go on, you know, on and on about these gentle, high-energy, self-effacing women that everyone seems to take for granted – except the children.

Whatever you, as an adult, think of the appearance of teachers in general, however you see her – to a child she is a magnificent figure, wreathed in light and love.

elsa is sad

Elsa is sad. She walks around looking too pale, too morose too – too Edgar Allan Poe. “Nevermore” whisper her stooped shoulders.

This is distressing in the immediate because teachers are not supposed to manifest, well, nearly any qualities one would associate with Poe. Teachers are supposed to walk with a bounce in their step.

Teachers, while educating the tender minds of the young, are supposed to not think.

besieged

Either I give too much, or – now – I feel secretly guilty for maybe not giving enough, and I don’t know which feels better. Or less bad. When I’m stressed, stumbling and bleary-eyed I can think only of what will ensure my survival moment to moment, such as sleep.

I’ve never worked anywhere where there seemed to be highly motivated individuals with a strong sense of self and dedication to the company as well. Take Elsa: so much dedication. Endless dedication. Personality of – well, I was telling the director “You know, the thing that gets to me about her is that -”

“She’s a sweet girl, but you know,” she cut me off, but didn’t know where to go next. She is, by all accounts, a sweet girl. Educated too. “The thing that gets me about her,” I continued with an attempt at vigor, then paused.

“The essential thing to understand about Elsa is that if we were all in our coonskin caps in a fort being besieged by attackers and we told her ‘Open fire when they get here!’ She would see them running up, and ask ‘Well, do we want them to get here, like the immediate vicinity, or like here here, like climbing up the fort? Should I waste my ammo on the ones leading the attack or should I wait until more arrive – how much ammo are we in possession of, anyways?’ and then we would die, coonskin caps and all.”

“Really? That’s the analogy you’re going with today?” I touched my forehead. I’d broken out into a sweat: I should have been flat in bed, resting with the mono.

“Fever dreams,” I told her.

leaving mentality

Sometimes I get so stressed at school that my stomach sinks when my foot hits the third step, the one that creaks, and I know I am two more steps from being inside and greeting my long-suffering coworkers, who are undoubtedly vacuuming and dusting and brewing coffee, who will have seemingly aged overnight – and so on.

“Leaving mentality” – what the parents evince when their greener pastures are imminent – is never exactly easy to endure. Some leave because their children outgrow our school and then, well, the parting is melancholy at best and at worst, well, a relief. I have been explaining it, in short stops and bursts, over the course of several days to Elsa. She is new and her eyes are unbelievably wide – so much so that I can no longer watch movies with young, naive protagonists.

I see something more convincing each day, at work, vacuuming and making coffee.