Saturday, October 18, 2014

Don't upset the rhythm


Angela tells me about talking to her mom on the phone pretty much every day. 

Both the conversation and the way she tells it are always the same. Sometimes I stop her and change the subject, but other times, like when I have just bought a large bag of potato chips and want all of it inside me quickly, I can't be bothered with non-essentials.
 

"Cause the doctors told her to have an abortion, and she told them doctors right back-"

At this point, Angela always yells her mother's line.


"....and then she had me," Angela continues, at normal volume.  "And there was nothing wrong at all. I was perfect. That's why I'm her miracle baby." She folds her arms in satisfaction, but I know what's coming.

Her inventory of diagnoses, which I have heard many times, seems to leave her doubting the miracle.

"But you're not missing a leg or anything," I point out helpfully. 

"Well, duh. Do I look like I'm missing a leg?"Angela waves her feet in front of me, first one and then the other.

Lately I've noticed that the students seem to have very little respect for my intelligence. 

Recently, one of them wrote "I'm a Pretty Princess" on a Post-It note and stuck it to my back. I walked around for several hours like that.

I'm not a Pretty Princess. I'm a boy. A boy. 

When I finally discovered the note, there was much young laughter at my expense.

"Didn't you wonder why I was touching your back?," the guilty party asked me.

"I just thought you were being weird." They laughed all the more, and I scurried away to the bathroom to check myself for any other unwelcome labels. 

I stayed in there a little bit longer then I should've, because I thought I looked kind of handsome that day, and I wanted to stare at my reflection hungrily.

Angela continues on with the inevitable second half of her story.

"Now, my one brother, my mom says he came out like a bullet. She pushed one time and he shot out, did a flip, and landed on the bed." I always picture a little baby in a top hat, doing some post-womb gymnastics, sticking the landing, and finishing up with a deep bow to the midwife. The image pleases me.

"She should've called him her miracle baby."

She looks at me, unsmiling. "Yeah, probably."

We walk along a few more blocks, our shoes slapping through rain puddles.

"That brother, he was supposed to be a twin. But she miscarried the other one."

"Oh." Miscarriages are terribly sad, and I do not mean to come off as insensitive. The first few times she told me this, I tried to have the proper responses: apologies, sad clucks, pats of hand or shoulder. But forty-something times on now, and I'm running out of material.

"Yep. She wanted to tell my brother about....about his dead twin, but she thought she should wait. You know, till he was older."

"Did she ever tell him?"

"I think when he was in high school, she did. He didn't say nothing though."

We make it to the bus center and sit on one of the black benches that line the curb. They are designed to discourage loitering: too firm on the buttocks, backless; they push the body forward into a grim slump.




I launch into a long explanation of babies and their comprehension levels, how they are kind of tiny idiots, etc. but Angela pulls out her copy of Divergent and begins reading as if I wasn't even there.

When we wait for the bus, I try to sit very still and appear as non-confrontational as possible. There are a lot of angry people in and around the bus system, and they are always on the lookout for anyone with a staring problem.

If loud laughter breaks out amidst a circle of smoking hobos, it's best not to turn your head suddenly to look.

However, if you forget yourself and make that mistake, just be sure to smile. 

Not too broad of a smile, though. Not a smile that says 'awww, look at the laughing homeless, how precious', but one that implies you heard the joke as well, and by golly, it was rather amusing.

You want to appear as someone who is unfazed by loud noises in public places, not as a patronizing racist.

The closest I've come to an altercation while using the system was when I had to firmly correct a student for squealing uncontrollably on the bus. 

A blind man sitting nearby waited for a moment, and then said, "You're an asshole" loudly into the air.

To this day, I don't know if he was talking to me or to his helper dog, as we were the two living things nearest him. The dog, a sad eyed Golden Retriever, was cinched up in a red vest with the words, "Don't pet me, I'm working!" in large, cautionary letters on the sides. 

If he was the asshole, one can only imagine what he must have done to earn the insult. Perhaps lead his master into a series of low-hanging street signs, or through freshly laid turds.  

It doesn't matter now. The moment to get in an argument with a blind man on the bus has long passed. 

Angela and I arrive at the stop right in front of our classroom.

As we get off, she complains loudly that someone had farted during the ride.

"So what? Like you never fart," I tell her.

"I fart in the bathroom, like a lady."

We can't all be ladies, I want to say, but I'm afraid it would make her think I was the bus farter.