Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Weird day

What an odd, odd day.
First, drove to school in a torrential downpour. Lots of water on the interstate. Feared I would die. Did not die. (Fortunately.) Got to school a wee bit early. Forgot magical plastic card that allows me entrance into the building. Waited five minutes for a colleague to show. Followed him in. Managed to get poorly constructed but pretty umbrella through the door but dropped important papers. Muddy wet.
Got to classroom but forgot key (attached to magical plastic entry card); had to hunt down a custodian to gain entrance to my own classroom. While waiting, I pass a woman in the wall who looks vaguely familiar, like I knew her once, maybe ten years ago. "Kathleen," she asks. "Is that you?" Why yes, yes it is, I respond, looking at her like a dog might look in the direction of an odd sound. "It's Betsy," she tells me, her Southern accent reminding me of our collegiate relationship. As I am thinking, Why do you look so much older than you should? the answer is provided. "I'm a breast cancer survivor," she says, smiling shyly. She points to her short, curly hair. (Didn't it used to be a different color?). She doesn't explain the wrinkles and tired face. Doesn't have to. Stupid cancer. Stupid, stupid, stupid cancer. Robs a person of vitality and youth. "So that's why you weren't subbing last year," I say. I reach to hug her. "I'm so glad you're well." Betsy, dear, dear Betsy, was my longterm sub the spring my dad was dying from lung cancer. How could any of us have known that she'd be fighting for her own life just a few months later?
I walk back to my classroom, thinking about my dead father.
While the rain beats a steady thumpthumpthump, I set about getting organized. Suddenly, I feel ill. Lower unit failure! Ugh. Stomach cramps. Bowel issues. Bathroom emergency. I either have an intestinal worm or should never eat chili again. Now I'm depressed and sick.
Homeroom children file in. I sell precisely three suckers. Not good for the fundraising effort. (We're raising money to support our team account. For field trips and ice cream socials, that sort of thing.) Do agenda checks but only three students have managed to write in their boardwork.
First hour begins. Time to collect homework. Five students have done so.
Small lecture begins. "If you're going to come to school, then doesn't it make sense to do the work? It's a simple worksheet, really, about setting. You know, time and place. (Blank looks.)
Where was 'The Highwayman' set? (Answer: Texas (wrong). New York (wrong). England? Dingdingding.)
The phone rings in my classroom. I am annoyed. Why on earth does the school allow incoming calls when I am teaching? Oh, wait .... It's the school nurse at my daughter's high school. Your daughter is ill, she tells me. Migraine. Visual disturbances. You need to come get her, please.
In addition to managing a class of 26 12-year-olds, I now must contact the school secretary to find out What to Do Next. It is a crappy part of the job, needing to leave suddenly. Just can't get up, grab the purse, and head out. You've got to find someone to take over the class. Really, trying to be absent on a school day is ALWAYS a difficult task.
But here comes the instructional assistant in charge of in-school suspension. She will be with my class. (Relief!) I head out into the pouring rain to retrieve my ill child. More thoughts of highway death. Again, I survive. (Thank God.)
The nurse is an angel and says wonderful things to me about coming to get Elizabeth. "I knew she was having a migraine when she walked in," the nurse says, making a sad face. "The migraine kids, you can always tell just by looking at their eyes." I look at my child, who squints to see me, as the lights are too bright in the nurse's room. I have a sudden thought to pick her up, to carry her out of the nurse's station. Mama to the rescue!
The two of us get home and I make her a comfortable pallet on the couch. Put on "Peanuts Christmas" album, one of her faves. Sit beside her, stroking her hair until sleep comes. Remember all the headaches she's had. Praying there is nothing SERIOUSLY wrong with her.
I am now reminded of Being Home During the Day, which happened with great frequency when I was a stay-at-home mom. Ran two loads of laundry. Made coffee. Read the paper. The obituaries. Saw that one of my favorite newspaper writer's wife had died. Cancer. STUPID CANCER. Sherri Eberhart, only 47 years old. Died Monday, Oct. 13. Forty-seven! She had no children, her husband John (my fave KC STAR books columnist) now a widower. About a year ago he wrote openly about his wife's illness, and about a year ago I remember thinking, Dear God, she's going to die.
And now she has.
So I think of setting as I type this entry. It is a gray day. The kind of gray, rainy day that makes death seem sadder somehow. I think of W.H. Auden's poem "Funeral Blues."

"... The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good."


Bee said...

I have been stricken lately with days that seem all about sadness. But as I read the account of your day, I do see little seams of comfort and happiness.

Beloved music.
The peace of being home.
Being able to be "mom" again and have that really matter to someone.

Big hug, K.

Susan said...

Hey, Kate ~

So sorry to hear of your loss - setting does seem to underscore tone, doesn't it?

I remember you telling me that Auden poem was one of your favorites - mine as well, as I was first made aware of it in the scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral (accompanied by aching heart, great heaving sobs and snotty nose on my part)...