I had been counting down the days , of course – the days, weeks, months, the yearly ritual in anticipation of summer – and the days had passed like they were strung with glue, sticky and stubborn, filled with indistinguishable things, and with those indistinguishable things filled with the vastness of a desert.
I kept hearing myself issue the same phrases, to my students: pencils down, hands folded, eyes forward; my friends: I’m tired, I’m busy, I’m sorry; myself: I can’t, I don’t want to, I’m over it; and finally submitted to them, letting them gather into a box all around me, watching them encase me, while I wrapped my arms around bended knees and waited, helpless without being helpless.
It hadn’t always been that way, of course. At the beginning, there was the thrill: the dusty pink pleated skirt I had paired with the navy blue blazer for my first day of school, just purchased on credit to complete my vision of first grade teacher; the shock of exhaustion after the first nine hour day with the twenty-seven six-year-old somethings that had looked at me as expectantly as I had looked at them, each waiting for the other to know what to do; the nights my roommate and I sat on the kitchen floor sobbing until our throats were hoarse because we had never known failure before, not really, or what to do with all that sadness, all the stories that felt like heavy stones tied to our ankles; the 530am mornings of a bitter New England winter, where the thin pink orange light felt like the memory of light; and then the rising determination, the fight to do better, to become an actual teacher, to give more than to take, to control more than to struggle.
I didn’t think of any of these things as I walked to work on that last day. Nor did I think of the late spring sunlight dripping like honey onto the swelling Brooklyn brownstones, or of the coming summer, really the lifetime of summers and years ahead. Instead, I thought of how the air felt thick and still around me, like stopped time.