I never want to ask the unhappy couples if they’re okay. Sometimes I can’t help myself, the words come out and I feel like a fool but they’re out already and there’s no stopping the response. “We’re fine!” they tell me, us, whomever. “Never better!” “Great!” “Happy!”

And then one morning you see pink around their eyes, or the sunglasses never come off, but the wedding ring is off, and they’re too busy to say good morning.

Invariably the children’s clothing is rumpled, his or her hair isn’t brushed – and no one is happy I said this.

Teachers aren’t supposed to notice.

small refractions

I wish I could tell John the stories I want to tell him. I guess I never say what I set out to say but most of the time I don’t really care, or else the rhetoric of work is basic and easy to follow.

I wonder how it is for people who get to know friends and then see their children, smaller fragmented reflections. I’m only used to getting to know the children until one day I see a smile – a walk, a casual mannerism – in the adult that I immediately recognize from the child.

It isn’t the sort of thing to talk about, but I feel my lips curving into a smile nonetheless.

drunk man vs. light bulb

“Just because you can reach the light bulbs with ease doesn’t make you into some sort of superior human,” I told him. He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Just leave them alone, Paco,” I wondered which tone of petulance was the right one to use, which one would remind him of his mother –

Right, I reminded myself. He never had one. Mostly.

“Your light,” he started, looking up at the ceiling fixture, “it wants to smash me in the head, and also I think it is dying.” I sighed. He thought everything was after him once he started drinking. My cheap light fixture? Murderous. His wife? Homicidal. The cows on the side of the road? Obviously plotting his doom.

“Come here!” he yelled suddenly, grasping the light bulb, then recoiling and sitting on the ground immediately. “Did you – did you burn yourself?” I asked, my mind jumping between Serves you right – I hope he’s okay! – What are the repercussions to a burned dad? quickly and repetitively. He wiggled his fingers. “Good thing I have this ice-cold beer!” he was cheerful again. I could relax. Mostly.

“Like I told you, Lola,” his grandiloquence – or imitation of it – was returning, “cold beer cures a multitude of sivels.”

“Are you trying to say ‘sins’ or ‘evils’?



“Can you think of a better name for this trenchcoat?” Lizzy’s mom asked me. I don’t know if she is a good person or not, but she has a charming manner. Enough so not to feel degraded by providing words on demand. “A better word than coat?”

“No, I mean I think it’s tacky but my mom wants me to wear large florals so, well,” she belted it over her tiny waist, “here we are.” I looked at it carefully. “I honestly don’t think that it’s tacky,” I told her “I think it’s vibrant.” She smiled, widely, and looked down at herself. “It is vibrant, isn’t it?”

drunken tiger racer

I don’t know what peculiar synthesis of fate brought Chubby Hump and his wife together; all I know is that she is altogether too much for him. She is beautiful, and he is not good looking, not any type or sort of good looking, not even sexy ugly. She is funny and witty, and he is not, his jokes being of the either completely confusing or knock-knock level variety. She is sexy, statuesque I think is the word – and he is round, like a dinner roll. In fact the man is entirely too much like a dinner roll, round and soft and white and equally bland.

This assessment is harsh. I refrained from making such assessments of him earlier, kept the thought of him suspended in a sort of opinion-less ether, never revisited. Then one day I saw her looking on the verge of tears, and I felt that familiar chest tinge that meant my empathy was acting up again, and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that it was nothing, but she had a job interview, and in bits and pieces it came out that she couldn’t afford a new business suit for the interview, but it didn’t matter of course, she was just on a budget, after all it was fair. I consoled her without verbal opinion – what good could it possibly do – but you must know the man is rich. Whether or not she was bringing in ‘her share of the bacon’ there would be no shortage of money. If our state was plunged into fiscal drought, there would still be no shortage of money. If their child grew up to become a drunken tiger racer, there would still be no shortage of money. If the western part of the continent fell into the ocean – still, no shortage of money.


There is always at least one moment in time in which people are happy with their babies. At least one moment that they can hold them up to a mirror and smile at each other’s reflections and agree this is a good thing. The dissatisfaction sets in later if it does.

Everyone was someone’s baby once, even if no one likes to think about it much. Babies are babies after all, not humans but proto-humans.

I was someone’s baby once, even though I know nobody thinks about it at all. I must have been held up to mirrors too like all the babies I see are held up to the big plasticky mirror in the main classroom.

There must have been hopes and dreams for me, maybe even wishes too. No one could have known what the future held.

No one could have even guessed.

guinea pig grandma

“So the guinea pig bit it?” I asked, looking at the empty cage. “Hmm?” asked the director, not really listening, looking over the month’s lesson plans. “Guinea pig,” I pointed to the cage. “The sad sot finally bit it, huh?” She gave me a look that implied I was heartless. “Oh come on,” I protested. “There aren’t any kids here right now and it’s like ‘guinea pig the 15th’ so one gets a little, you know, inured to small rodent death.” A new thought struck me. “Can you even remember its name?” She put the papers down. “Of course! It was . . . George?”

I shook my head. “No. Bonnie.”
“Oh yeah Bonnie of course I was thinking of the, um,”
“Hamster. George was the, well, hamsters.” I wonder if she noticed the plural. She didn’t seem to be in a very good mood.
“So what did you tell them happened to it?” I said, hoping I could steer the conversation away from the sudden chill. “Oh!” she smiled. “I told them he’d gone to see his grandma.”
“Grandma?! That’s novel.”
“Well you know how right now the parents are discussing whether it goes to Heaven or it just dies? I thought it would be best to just say something no one could argue over. So: grandma’s.”
“Did the kiddos buy it?” She brought the papers in front of her, stood them up and aligned the sides. “Not at first. They said they’d never heard of a guinea pig having a grandma. Then I told them ‘You know how all of you went on vacation for Christmas? So did the guinea pig. And you know how all of you came back to go to school? Well the guinea pig didn’t.”

It suddenly stuck me a little sad. “That guinea pig is a callous bastard, you know.”
“I covered that too,” she continued. “I said that ‘oh, the guinea pig doesn’t want you to be lonely, so he’s going to send his cousin,”
“Her cousin,” I corrected before I could stop myself. She glared at me momentarily. “The children corrected me as well. Anyway,” she sighed, “then they were all excited to meet the guinea pig’s cousin.”
“Great story,” I told her. “But where’s the guinea pig cousin?” She looked at me blankly, then quickly at her watch. “Shit! I have to buy a little furball don’t I?”


“I can always talk to you, Lola,” he slurred, but not too badly. I am inclined to view him as more of a sloppy drunk than he is/was. “Yes, you can talk, Paco” I said flatly, hoping he would pick up on the faint note of hostility. He didn’t.

I know that the 30’s are generally regarded as too early for a midlife crisis but there must be some word for what I see morning after morning. There’s quarter-life crises so perhaps those just sort of extend for some people into sagas of crises.

He’s an orphan too, I thought. At least he has more substantial claims to the whole ‘I’m sad and alone bit’ than most. Than the rest.

goodbye teacher

Sometimes I look at them, the stubby little bodies and tops of heads, and hope that they’re okay – in the larger sense. I hope their parents are good to them. I hope they’re loved, and protected, and I guess I have to hope they’re lucky too, because so many weird accidents can happen before adulthood, and maybe it’s saddest when it happens before adulthood, because how do you know who they are? Who they would have become, rather, and the path of that sort of thinking is morbid and torturous and best avoided.

They aren’t my children, I didn’t make them with my body and I don’t get to keep them. They grow up, age out of our programs and into other schools, and the parents leave promising to write. They seldom do. If they do, it’s the kids who ask. “Can we send Miss Lola a Christmas card?” they, the parents, repeat these anecdotes to you when they bump into you next, in a grocery store aisle, completely confused by their offspring’s request. “She remembers you!” they squeak, amazed and proud. I always, always feel a little tempted to ask them where they thought their kid was all day – it wasn’t with mommy and daddy. It was in school, day in and day out, and sometimes late at night, and sometimes weekends, and then one day there is no more Misses at all, and the friends from school only appear awkwardly in the park or coming through the front door. I always just press my lips together and conclude it isn’t worth it, that whatever I said they’d write off as rude, and that after all none of us are going to change. I shift my groceries from one hip to another and remark vaguely that isn’t it funny how they always remember, isn’t it nice, I guess we were all such a part of each other’s lives . . .

Paper, plastic, or nostalgia.


I touched the inside of his elbow. “Hey,” I whispered hopefully. “It isn’t all that bad, right?” He looked down. My attempt to cheer him was not truly working. “At least,” I continued in the whisper “you’ll come to see me, if I . . . ” my voice began to crack. “If I actually have to stay in the hospital awhile?” I looked down quickly. I knew the answer: I don’t want to drive that far. I don’t have time.

“Of course, Lolita.” he said, and my head jerked up because I hadn’t heard my name in so long, not in the diminutive, and because of the assuredness of the instantaneous yes.