I am sitting in our staff office, listening to a concerned parent on speaker phone.
Our Christmas party is in full swing outside the door. Students are eating shape cookies; an Alvin and the Chipmunks song is playing. I want to be out there with them, but I can't.
Since my return to this classroom, I promised the Special Education Gods that I would be more involved. This has meant sitting in on a lot of meetings and taking notes.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
Part of the problem is that I can't stare down at a blank piece of paper without doodling on it. This habit has plagued me for years, earning me the scorn of teachers, administrators, job interviewers.
As the mom on the phone keeps talking, I try to mouth to my co-worker the message that outside the office door, a fabulous Secret Santa gift exchange is unfolding, and I should be there. I need to be.
She frowns at me deeply.
Angela is always getting politely asked to not come back to things.
She neglected to put on underwear for one of her family parties and flashed the entire gathering when she sprawled on the living room couch. She was not invited to the next one.
Her rendition of a Backstreet Boys tune given at the school talent show ran "overlong", and even as the host frantically gestured at her to stop, Angela closed her eyes and soldiered on. They changed the entry conditions for the show after that.
When her mom mentions something about church, I can't help but be a bit intrigued.
Apparently, a member of the congregation heard some kind of whapping sound during the Sunday service.
She followed the sound through an open door, down a few stairs, and to the little classroom where the children attend Bible school.
There she discovered Angela, on her hands and knees, being vigorously spanked by her boyfriend, a short, squarely built guy with Down Syndrome. He was Angela's guest at the church that day.
The general consensus in the office is that I am not taking things very seriously, and I am told to leave.
This suits me fine, as I am so desperate to party.
The revelry has moved out of the classroom.
One student slumps in her chair, tremoring a bit as her sugar coma begins to peak.
I spy the gift bag with my name on it and perform a greedy rubbing of my hands.
One year, a kid gave me a spoon for Christmas. Yes I realize I have written of the Christmas spoon before, but this time you get a picture:
I don't know what it says about a man, that the great circularity of his thoughts seems to orbit around the gift of a utensil, and despite all that has taken place in his life, he still looks to that singular moment and finds it worth writing down not once, but twice.
Maybe my memory is a useless butthole.
Anyways, he handed it to me while his mother stood by, politely smiling.
"He picked it out for you. It was in our kitchen drawer and he just grabbed it and said your name."
She had tied a small bit of red ribbon around the handle of the spoon. When I thanked him, he just paced away, clamping one hand against the side of his face and muttering.
As I empty the contents of the gift bag, the other students trickle back in.
Instead of running through the streets, caroling wildly, squeezing every possible high from the euphoria of Christmas spirit, they had all just been in the bathroom.
I am one of those people that always feel like some greater party is taking place just outside of the party in which I am trapped. That somewhere in the night, people are doing large things: having a fire on the beach with a crowd and a DJ, or flying on a whim to Thailand to catch a fashion show.
That's it. Those are the only two things I can imagine anyone doing.
But the point is, it's stupid to think this way. No one is having fun at all, they are just doing mundane things like going to the bathroom. Never forget that.
The students gather around me to see what Santa has brought.
With each gift, their anticipation brings their bodies closer and closer.
They are practically on top of me as I pull out the final present, a bottle of baby oil
"Uh...what's this for?" I ask.
The kids look at each other, searching for answers. Their Christmas smiles falter when faced with such an inexplicable gift.
"It's for your head," one of my co-workers offers.
"You know," and she pantomimes rubbing it onto her own scalp, "to make it shiny. So you can have a shiny head."
The music starts up again in earnest.
Students sway to a particularly emotive rendition of 'Silver Bells'. They form a circle and close their eyes.
They beckon for me to join them, but I am always an outsider at these things. Forever alone.
I put them off with a subtle gesture meant to convey, 'you guys are great, Christmas is wonderful, no way in hell am I slow dancing with ten girls murmuring ding-a-ling.'
It ends up looking like I am dropping invisible groceries while trying to keep my pants up, but the dancers somehow get the message.
They leave me to my crayons and my little bottle of baby oil.