The September after my mother left, I started second grade. Someone had told my teacher, Mr. Mendosa, about my mother, and he asked me to stay behind at recess one day early in the school year. Though no one had said anything to me, it was widely known that my mother had left us and moved into the guest house of one of the richest families in the valley, the Falks, who had made their fortune in backhoes.

Mr. Mendosa leaned against a bank of desks. “If you need to talk about anything, you can always come to me.”

I nodded.

“Or, if you’d feel more comfortable talking to a woman,” he said more quietly, “Lori said you can talk to her anytime.”

Lori was Beth’s sign language interpreter and Mr. Mendosa’s wife. Mr. Mendosa was my first male teacher. I had been excited when his name and classroom number came in the mail the month before school. “Your teacher is: Mitch Mendosa. Your classroom is: 11.” They were young, and they had just moved to the valley. Mr. Mendosa had a handlebar mustache, and his family was from the coast. They owned the grocery store in Mendocino, and they were Portuguese, which was why his last name was spelled “s” instead of “z.” Lori was pale with permed blond hair. She wore gloves when she wasn’t signing to keep her hands warm. I’d once patted her gloved hands at recess. “Why do you wear these?”

“Because I have poor circulation.”

I hadn't asked what that meant.

I looked up at Mr. Mendosa. His smile was tight across his face.

“Oh, okay.” I wanted to say something more. “Thank you.” I searched for something I could share with him and Lori. Maybe he could call Lori in from recess and the three of us could sit down and talk. I had a fleeting thought that they would make good parents.

How are you doing?” he asked.

“Okay.” I answered absently.

We were silent. The chalkboard was white with dust. The sky outside was cold grey. Beside the door was a poster the second-graders were drawing together of an imaginary town. Brian had drawn a restaurant like the Drive-In his mother owned. Christina had drawn a horse ranch. I had drawn a motel at the very end of the main street. “The biggest street in a town usually goes through to the next town,” Mr. Mendosa had explained after I’d drawn it in.

I could hear the other kids outside, their yelling far away.

“I know this must be a really hard time for you, and I just want you to know that it isn’t your fault that your mom and dad are apart.”

I felt a wave of shock at his words. My fault?

But I was a good girl, even when I had to do boring stuff like sitting around at Aunt Jean’s house while the adults talked about farm stuff on Sunday afternoons or going to work with Dad and waiting in the pickup while he pruned apple trees.

I felt my heart shaking again in my chest, looking at the threadbare brown carpet on the floor between my teacher and me.

I ate all my food, even the weird stuff only Mom liked, like liver or cream of celery soup. I would try anything.

I suddenly felt tired and far away.

I was smart and I got good grades and I was funny and I had a good singing voice. What more could I do?

I know.”

He was still smiling at me when I raised my head. I smiled back, looking away almost instantly, red-faced. “All right, then. You’d better get out to recess.”

“Um, thanks.”

I walked slowly down the breezeway toward the playground, running my hand along the cold wall. I didn’t really feel like going out to play. If my mother didn’t want to leave me, then why did she?

from The Book of Revelation

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