Holding a cup of coffee in my hands, I’m standing in the hallway to greet the students as they come in. As the girl with red ribbons braided into her hair hops through the door, her blue tu-tu flouncing around her, the warmth of my coffee mug feels like it’s coming from another time and place. The girl announces to the class that she’s dressed in red, white, and blue to celebrate the addition of a new ride at Six Flags called The Dare Devil Dive in the USA section of the park. As she describes the ride, the way it pulls you to the top, stops you, and then sends you hurtling down straight into the ground, I’m thinking that this ride sounds a lot like my re-entry into the classroom after so many snow days. And I’m thinking that my coffee and its heat in my hands is a piece of those snow days lingering the way good food smells linger in the house after I’ve prepared and devoured something especially yummy like grilled cheese with basil and tomato soup.
“All we can be called upon to do is to take a start from where we are, at the time we are there…” ~Stephen Toulmin
Last night I slept the kind of sleep that makes you forget what the pit in your stomach grew from. I was awake two minutes before my alarm would go off. I laid in bed for a full half hour trying to make sense of the thick darkness I’m unaccustomed to at 6:00 am. Once I’d quieted the residual tension in my gut from the events of yesterday, I stumbled to Ruthie’s room where I found her wrapped in a fleeced cocoon with only her hair sticking out.
My stomach knotted itself against the coffee steaming from its cup perched on the lid of the toilet while I dried my hair. As I slowly began to coax my mind and my gut to release yesterday and focus on today, I couldn’t stop thinking that today sucks. Today sucks. But I moved through the mantra (and, really, what other choice do I have) despite the seeming futility of such movement. And eventually, it began to work itself out.
Of course, even a morning painted in a darkness as thick as this one has its brighter moments that shimmer anyways. For me, most of them generally have to do with Ruthie who proudly dressed herself today and who gave me a fierce hug and a bag of Fruit Loops “just because you’re my Mommy and I draw pictures of you all the time.” Also, I didn’t cry when I dropped her off as I usually do when she does something especially sweet on an especially bleak morning. Also, it was cold this morning, which made me relish my coffee. Also, there are tree-tops outside my window in my classroom with bright green leaves and I can see the Fall air that moves them even if I can’t feel it myself.
This isn’t what I was planning to write today. This is something else. This is about The Thing you want to forget. This is about the proverbial pebble in the shoe of every kind of important human relationship. This is about The Thing you fight about when there’s nothing else to fight about. When all of your other issues have been rubbed out, this is The One that remains. Like a cut on the roof of your mouth that you can’t stop tonguing long enough for it to heal.
Maybe it’s because the weather was perfect. Maybe it’s because I was hungry. Or maybe it’s because my jeans had decided to hang on for one more day before their last fatal rip. Whatever the reason or the occasion, I somehow managed to find the invisible, hidden trigger that would shatter my perfect fall morning with a silent BANG! And then there it was, The Thing That I Can’t Seem to Stop Fighting About, right there on the table next to the plate covered in powdered sugar where the beignets had been. And once it’s Out There, it just hangs heavy between you, sucking all the air. You’re both quiet because there’s nothing new to say about it. You both know that you could be kinder, but you’re both kind of pissed that the other hasn’t moved past it yet. Because, let’s be honest, in order for the Thing to exist, both parties have to feel that it is a Thing, because if it were a mere thing, then one of you would be able to dislodge it.
What really sucks is that there is no human relationship that is exempt from The Thing: parents, children, siblings, friends, lovers, colleagues, they’re all marked by a Thing. And even though you (and whoever) have The Thing in common, you wrestle it alone (seemingly forever). Until all you want is to have is a normal conversation, where there’s no trace of The Thing left in either of your voices. Until you’re pretty sure The Thing is more of a thing that you perhaps shouldn’t have given so much voice and energy too. Until you’re pushed to the point of making ridiculous claims like I won’t let it bother me again, when what you should be saying is Next time it bothers me, I won’t blame you, I won’t pick a fight about something else, and I’ll do my best not to pull any triggers. Because here’s the thing: even though you know somewhere in your Thing-laden mind that you’re both probably sort of responsible for The Thing (and the re-hashing thereof), you really just want to be forgiven for pulling the trigger. Again.
I woke up this morning to an orange-pink sky:
Made coffee, made lunch, made the bed.
I’m too sensitive. I want
to leave the house not for work.
I want to leave
for a place where I am a stranger.
Where people don’t know me so well
that they can call me a bitch
and be sure of it.
Where someone else
makes the coffee, makes lunch, makes the bed.
Where I can get by on
wit and good looks.
A place where there is no history
unraveling itself at my feet.
Instead, I sip back tears
with room-temperature coffee: nothing worse
than a pack of fifteen-year-olds
watching you cry.
I send an honest email and immediately
regret sending it: I care too much.
My raw little soul tapped into
the keyboard, onto the screen.
I see myself too clearly,
know myself too well.
All day today, I feel like I’ve just been swallowing stress. And I really tried to focus on happier things, but it just wouldn’t stick. Like this morning, after I dropped Ruthie off five minutes late, I did have a chance to appreciate the middle-school boy and his father both walking towards the school with back-packs on or the cross guard who high-fived every little kid who passed him crossing the street to the elementary school. The kids at school today were neat-o as usual for this bunch. They laugh easily and often, but not at each other. They willingly engage in discussions of symbolism and figurative language (two of my favorite things). But every little happy seemed to be accompanied by a burp of stress: the classwork already piled on the edges of my desk, the forgotten lunch, the parent conference that ran until I had to sprint to my car to pick up Ruthie on time. Even right now, Ruthie is singing in her bed, which is so sweet, but I’m a little panicky because it’s 9:00 and she really should be asleep if I’m going to wake her up with any amount of success in the morning. It feels whiney, but I can’t get away from wondering if this is really it. I’m beginning to think it is. And then I start thinking about Julia Child. For some reason, it always comes back to her and the fact that she was in her late forties before she got the acceptance letter for the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a project that was borne of her own boredom in France. And I think, when does the part begin where I really, really love what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and who I am? When I’m not working for what I’ll have tomorrow, because what I have right now is what I want? The troubling piece of all of this for me is that I’m pretty sure that part begins with me.
It would be remiss if I didn’t mention one bright spot that squelched a hiccup of stress: public poetry. So when I’m not whining about how boring it is to be an adult, I’ll be working toward doing a bit of THIS with myself and my students. Another yawp-errrific idea brought to you by one Emma Bolden, the presiding Queen of the Power of Whatever and Poetry whom I miss terribly and often.
Also, I’ll be writing earlier tomorrow because I think there’s not enough of me left over this late at night to piece together a post. See you in the morning.
As I was running off copies this morning before the 7:50 bell rang for advisory (homeroom), staring out through the metal bars covering the windows in the teacher workroom, the sound of the pitifully stocked vending machines humming four feet away, it hit me: I missed a day! Damn it. Today is Ruthie’s first day of school, so last night was spent furiously packing up her school supplies, her lunch, her ballet clothes for after school, her cheerleading uniform for camp this afternoon, two changes of clothes for her new class. On top of all of this, my mind has been preoccupied with personal matters such as my fierce desire to control everything and my tendency to repeatedly frustrate the people I love with my quick temper and lengthy list of grievances. And then there’s the laundry that never ends and the dishes that have been stacked in the sink since Tuesday. I did manage to make the beds this morning–no small feat at 5:30 am.
You’re awake before the alarm, eyes wide-staring into a strange blue morning dark. Your stomach catches, remembering what you said last night. When you were tired, hungry. When you needed. When you were met with a closed voice.
You get up anyways, take your guilt with cream and sugar, start the shower. Curse the water for being too-hot, too-cold. With your towel on your head, wearing only your underwear, you wake the sleeping child. Whose cheeks are fat with dreams. Who explained away your tears last night: Mommy’s crying because she has to go back to work.
Turn the key in the ignition: your only choice. Leave the sleepy house (a hundred years old, its foundation is sinking) and drive to the end of your street, your coffee splish-splashing over the brim. Greet the morning with a grimace, promise yourself you won’t be such a bitch today.