I am trying to do this before the kids wake up
. We really shouldn’t spend any more money, so the longer they sleep
the longer I can hold up a front that I have plans for them today. Yesterday, we went to the camp they will go to for the month of July, then to a butterfly exhibit, where fat bright blue ones fluttered heavily under their own weight, like birds. We watched them thrust their proboscis into rotting fruit. It was lovely and somewhat sad that these beautiful and delicate things had to be housed to survive. Walking out with “hitchhikers” was a federal offense. We trudged around goose shit and found our way back to the car. They were winded, and it had only been an hour. The day before, we checked out books from the library. I re-read Girlfriend In A Coma
in two days, just to rev up my mind for reading, although I am staring at a copy of the 7th grade Language Arts Curriculum that’s been sitting on my desk for a week now, and I’ve only leafed through it. It’s funny: seasoned teachers tsk tsk when I tell them I plan to plan over the summer, but then they’ll make raised-eyebrow gestures if I tell them what we did in class today, that "well, I wouldn’t have done that" in their eyes. Make up your damn mind.
Next summer, I say again now, next summer will be different. I have already signed up to have my income spread over 12 months instead of 10 so I won’t have to fret every day about how the bills get done, so I won’t have to take Jake’s help from his freed up support to cover things till school starts again. He says it’s not all my fault, but I feel I’ve failed myself again.
Again, life, the thing that is happening, is daily and it’s just the effort to stay afloat each day. Getting anything done means the kids didn’t fight too much or that I was successful in being a good babysitter (people want to say stepmother, but I’m just not ready yet) for these two weeks. I am barely pulling any shifts as a tutor, and I worry. Life today is about worrying.
Also, with the kids here, Jake and I seem to become sexless. By the time they’re in bed, Jake disappears downstairs to draw and ink, and I fail each night to get to bed early, so I can get to the gym before everyone awakes. Life is happening when no one’s watching yet.
I recount the long angelic prophecy at the end of Girlfriend in a Coma. Audibly, I envision Jared booming his instructions to his friends, who have now seen life after the world of time has ended, and how they failed to do the right thing for a year. Instead of question question question, they goofed around in the world after electricity and fresh food. They cleaned out the safety deposit boxes at the bank just to see what people saved. The whole planet was rotting from plants and factories running on their own after the rest of the population dropped down, fell asleep, and died. And I agreed with Jared: all the modern conveniences, all the efficiency of our lives, and we still have not changed as people. We didn’t improve. Things seemed to get even uglier and less ideal. Coupland, who once was my spokesmodel, now seems dated. I seem dated. I have to work hard to not shop at the same stores as my 7th and 8th grade students, because I have to look, well, more professional. I feel like a counterfeit of myself.
As long as I could remember, my own stale sweat, after enough time (maybe two days) smells to me like pizza. Not sure why. Now without a course of hour-by-hour expectations, I forget to shower or wash my dried up hair, dyed red again to hide the grays. The first day of summer hasn’t yet brought the crescendo of heat, so I wait. I wait with my cable TV and the hum of this machine as I plug along.
If anyone would ask me what my plans are (and they don’t ask, really), I could only tell them about the next year, all these glittering plans I have to make next year better. I rattle off lists to myself. Do I do this to seem productive, to fool myself into thinking that this is a life that means something outside of itself? Perhaps I look inside so much because I really am not all that bright and cultured, because I am not as confident as I’d like to believe.
The few hopes I have rest in my students and Jake’s kids. Not sure if that’s sad or not, but seeing any of them with a light of recognition, with a spark of learning (god, that’s cliché), it makes me happy. How fast they grow. Teaching middle school can mean that you are forever young because the people you’re trying to reach are. They keep you young and age you at the same time, as trends and fashions and music all cycle in and out and your slang is dated and you’re fighting a losing battle because you can’t show films that aren’t pre-approved and it’s limiting your “creativity” and these kids have nicer cell phones and cameras and they tire of ever hearing that you’re broke. If I am young, it is because I am immature and can’t seem to act like an adult. The simply silliness I exhibit is automatic. I’d drop it if I could. You can’t see it here, perhaps, but I am a very silly person.
This year, I kissed off a batch of 8th graders, many of which are bound for greatness because they come from good homes with few divorces and a lot of extracurricular activities under their belt. They are over-familiar with the Catch-22 of standardized testing (one group asked why they should care if they do well on the MSA’s this year, since it only means more money for the school and they’re going to high school, and I was startled). I got lucky and taught Honors for two years. However, I am not as excited for them as for the struggling ones who didn’t do well but had more, well, enriching personalities. The budding death metal guitarist who thought we talked too much about the Holocaust. The black girl who went goth after her mother finally died from cancer. The Hot Topic girl who managed to get suspended for things the school didn’t have rules for yet. What will happen to them? How will their lived be more extraordinary? Already, I am working this summer to try to be a better teacher for them, to not waste their time trying to be the “cool” teacher. Even now, my desire to be liked and for people to laugh at my jokes is confusing my purpose.
So here it is, what revelations I have: life is, sort of, the thing that happens when you’re making other plans. It’s the things that get documented that you come back to, to verify that you were, in fact, alive at one point, and made a lot of mistakes. If you’re lucky, you seized any chance you could get to try something new, to grow and evolve, and take a few people with you. You were learning and you taught something to someone. You can tell me that the Census predicts the U.S. population will grow to whatever number, and it doesn’t matter, because we really can only hope to impact a few in a small circle, not aware of how things ripple out and spread, covering the world.