The new principal strongly suggested that we take our picture. He is very passionate about yearbooks. Something about the lasting impression we can potentially make in a year and what will others remember when they find our portrait in the midst of all the others? This is my third year at this school and my first picture as a teacher. I found a sheet of copies of my portrait in my mailbox at school and when I run into a senior student who was in my class last year and is on the way slowly back to class, I expose them laughingly saying, “I look so crusty!” He laughs too and clutches them with precisely the sort of awkwardness I have learned to ignore. “You look like yourself. You’re not getting these back,” though I do as I reach for the door of my classroom and wave him off to Math. A few of my peers are in my room. I show them the sheet of me’s. We comment on the size of my eyes and whether or not one looks larger.
What this picture doesn’t show: I left before the final bell rang. Right out the front door of the office. And I didn’t even tell anyone. My duties technically end a half hour after the bell though most days I stay until 4:30 or 5:00PM. But this day the walls are thick and the walls and the walls and the walls and who thought of a building with no windows? I never knew light could feel so much like darkness in its heaviness. I never knew caves could be so bright. Sometimes when I leave the 200 building I feel like I’m emerging from a hole. My eyes take minutes to adjust. My fingers tingle from the heat that melts their frozen tips. So I leave and walk out of the office around the perimeter of the school campus because all exits closer to my car are locked until 3PM and it is 2:52 when I leave and the further I am the faster and faster I walk. My shoulders relax a bit as I spot my car in the distance and when I reach it I tug on the door handle for a good minute until I realize that this is not my car. I look around and find Chance my Honda mocking me from the opposite row. I get into my car and quickly back up and drive out of the parking lot which is already packed with early parents, ready to peel out of the place as soon as their pupil slides into the back seat. I press on the gas as I exit the school zone. My heart races a little. The time is 2:58.
What this picture won’t show: I yelled at them today. Sometimes we trust God with big things like our souls and deny him things as insignificant as 2nd hour, Reading Class during a lesson. I denied my body breath this hour. I felt it, the breath, suspended in my chest, pounding on my lungs, asking for release. The muscles on my back tightened; my brow distorted the front of my face. Rest and release were the last things from my mind. Instead, I spun. My mind swirled with the voices of a few in the back row. Are they two who are talking? Are there ten? Are they all? And I add to the noise, my own voice swirled into, colliding and silencing the others. “Why is there talking?” I yell. Tiny, creaky. Like a teapot whistling. My anger a mere pocket of steam pressed through a small hole. A lecture follows. Short. Forgettable. But the heat from the whistle bubbles inside me. I take it with me. It simmers. My energy drained; my brain powers down to low battery mode.
What this picture can’t show: When I stay late, so does she. “I know, I’m tall,” she says when I use tall as an example of an adjective, “But why does no one ever shut up about it?” When I stay late, she works on her credit retrieval on the computer so she can reach her goal to graduate at the end of the school year. Her friend stays late, too, and visits with me. We talk about self-expression, Brazilian-Japanese people and assimilation. We talk about frozen salsa, my younger brother’s love of frozen fried foods and the things we all lose as we make a foreign land our home. They leave before my batteries die. Some kids recharge me.
A more accurate, inaccurate picture: When I tell her that she should start looking at colleges, she tells me, “I don’t know what I want to be.”
“Neither do I,” I confess, during my lunch I scroll through job searches and imagine my life in another place. I hope for windows. In the middle of my daydream, I remember this graph:
“Do you want to go back to school Miss?” she asks, “don’t you get tired of it?”
Her friend gestures to the whiteboard covered in marker. “She is in school.” We laugh. “For her, it never ends.”