Sometimes I think the only moments I have of joy are caused by utilitarian objects. Sharp scissors that cut construction paper and are where I last left them? Googly eyes with auto-adhesive backs? A hardback version of a classic book with wipe-down pages? The dopamine spike is sharp and immediate.
I read my gratitude journal and ask myself when it was exactly that I became a school marm? Am I unquestionably one? I must be, if I know the word.
I know how to pronounce Nietzsche too, but no one asks.
Should I go to work tomorrow? I turn the thought over in my head, over and over, carefully, like a tangible thing.
Sometimes things end well by not seeming over. The unfinished quality can be a sort of crutch – a conversation that was left on pause, a discussion that was to be resumed, measurements still to be handed over, paint swatches to compare – a deposit, a guarantee. It’s easier, later, to roll all the intangible remaining bits up into a little ball that can sit somewhere until it dissipates.
Goodbye never does what it should, so I don’t say it. It doesn’t provide a pat ending – not even an ellipses. I’ll be there, at work, tomorrow, knowing that I’m about to be gone – temporarily, but far – and there will be no goodbye to create a false sense of urgency, of poignancy. No one will suddenly hijack what should be my experience to tell me that whatever form of transportation I take is the least safe, or how to stay alive five seconds longer if I’m set on fire. Hot Dad won’t start a hugfest that will vividly remind me of chiropractic work. Instead I will hear a long story about how a banana that was supposed to be eaten in the car has somehow made it all over the face, into the pockets, and smeared on the shirt. “Can you tell Miss Lola you’re so sticky?” Offending Parent asks, unaware that his or her child is mortified to be banana-smeared in front of teachers and peers.
The richer the parents, the more inept they are at feeding their offspring a banana. Fact.
I don’t know if I’ll go in tomorrow. My vacation has already technically started. My existing memories of bananas might prove sufficient.
The degree to which I am sick with a stomach virus is directly inverse to the amount of generosity I can summon. For the children? Oh come on they’re children, I didn’t say I became an ogre. For their parents?
I feel like a southerner of the bad dental hygiene variety when someone approaches his porch.
“Where are you going, Miss Lola?” Clary asked me when I stood up. “The bathroom, Clary,” I answered, wondering why it should interest him so much. Usually I get up, sit down, walk around – without incident. “Are you going to be gone a long time?”
“I hope not.”
“Can I watch you in the bathroom?” Amelia gasped. Should I give the ‘he’s a little kid and doesn’t mean anything by it speech’? I wondered. Nah, guess not.
“No, Clary, you can’t watch other people in the bathroom. It’s private time.”
“Are you gonna be back for lunch?” At this point I wanted to see what his mind was working at so intently. “Of course. Nobody takes that long in the bathroom.”
“Mommy does,” he said, looking down. “She goes in the bathroom with her phone and then I have to go to bed.”
I should probably not even say anything about this. Skeletor will only eat me alive and replenish her youth. Or something.
Amy does not now nor has ever been employed at any of our child storage facilities (child storage being an inside joke I feel certain you are all clever enough to comprehend).
She does, however, work in the industry, which means she is a teacher. We met at a workshop where the host dispensed such gems as “Don’t even pretend to yourself that you know all the names of your kids. Count them. You got a fire drill? Count their heads. Tornado busy destroying the town? Count their heads in the basement.”
“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?”
“Amelia is such a great teacher,” Mary told the director. “Her idea for the paper-bag costumes was really cute. I loved it! I would never have thought that it worked but it did! You can really tell the difference when you have a real teacher with a proper education and training, right?”
The director smiled. “Actually, that was Lola’s idea. Wasn’t it great though?” Mary looked at me. “You? You thought of that?” I nodded. “Yep, I just thought that – ”
“Well when you are young you have all kinds of crazy ideas and sometimes they work out.” She said, then turning to Carl announced “Mommy is so tired! I bet Carl is tired too and wants to go home right away. Let’s go home and see daddy!” She left with a quick wave.
“What was that?” asked the director. I sighed. “I don’t know.”
“I think she doesn’t like you.” I looked around. The room was empty and the stacks of paper fluttered in intervals from the ceiling fan. Maybe nobody does – not as a teacher.