Quondam

January 2013
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Bruised from within

The school parking lot is crowded with people who have gotten out of their cars to chat in the cold gray drizzle of an Oregon winter day. She threads her minivan through the conversations, avoiding eye contact. She parks and busies herself with her phone, refusing to look up, refusing to acknowledge the other parents. It’s Friday, and she has no words for these people.

She disappears into her own silence so completely that when her daughter throws open the car door and climbs in, the woman jolts to awareness, frightened for an instant. She collects herself and manages a smile, “Hey, babe. How was your day?”

The girl reaches to buckle her seatbelt, “It was good.” She looks curiously out the window, “Why is everyone standing in the rain talking? It’s like they’re having a party or something.”

The woman shrugs, tells a small lie, “Maybe they’re talking about the holidays.”

The girl turns her head to look back as they drive away, “OK, that’s weird. Nobody ever gets out of their cars at pick-up.”

The woman grabs this small segue, “Speaking of weird . . . anything interesting happen today?”

“Nope.”

The woman relaxes a bit, “No good gossip to share with me?”

“Nope. Oh wait . . . there was one weird thing today.”

“What’s that?”

“We had a substitute, and she went crazy.” The girl giggles, “Seriously, Mom. She went off the substitute rails.”

“Tell me.”

The girl settles into her seat, “OK, so you know how substitutes are. They never know anyone’s name. They never know where anyone is supposed to sit. They’re never certain about the rules. So the day always feels different when there’s a substitute . . . like time is passing over train tracks, all bumpy.” She turns to her mother, “You know what I mean? When the regular teacher is there, everything is smooth. Even when there are surprises, you know the teacher has it under control. Times just ticks along. But when there is a substitute, there is this weird tension in the class . . . everyone feels it. Does she know when we’re supposed to go to PE? Does she know what the second bell means? Does she know what assignment we’re on? Does she know to stop the loud boys from going to the bathroom as a group? It’s like we’re all a tiny extra vigilant on the substitute’s behalf. It’s not bad, it’s just tension. We’re paying so much attention, we notice time too much. And then it’s like time is bumpy . . . it slows and speeds and stops and starts . . . it’s hard to explain.”

“No, I think I understand.”

“OK, so the substitute we had today? She was doing alright. Time was bumpy, but she was alright. And then suddenly? Everything changed.”

“What happened?”

“We came back from lunch, and the classroom was noisy because everyone was putting stuff away and getting other stuff out, and the substitute was just standing there looking . . . fragile. Mom, you know what I mean? That’s really the only word for it . . . fragile. Like she was all bruised from inside.” The girl shakes her head, “Never mind. She just looked weird.”

“Uh huh.”

“Everybody started quieting down, ready for class to start. This one boy got up to sharpen his pencils, and he dropped one and then he somehow stepped on it and it cracked in half. I don’t know how he did it, because the pencil should have been flat to the ground, but it made this neat little snap of a sound and it just broke in half.”

“OK.”

“So the crack of the pencil? The whole class heard it. It was that sort of noise, the kind that just cuts through, you know? And so people started giggling, because that’s what you do, and then? The substitute just started yelling.”

“Yelling?”

“Yeah, yelling. She started yelling at the boy who stepped on the pencil about how dangerous pencils are, and about how he needs to be careful with pencils. She yelled at the rest of us for laughing. She said pencils can put your eye out. She said pencils can stab right into your brain and kill you. She yelled and yelled, like really loud.”

“And nobody came into the classroom to see why she was yelling?”

“Nope. And then she started yelling about a boy she once knew who got badly injured with a pencil . . . stabbed in the eye or stabbed in the brain . . . she was yelling about both things, so it was kind of hard to know exactly what happened, and no one wanted to raise a hand and ask a question while she was flipping out.”

“Huh.”

“And then she started yelling at us about how we need to learn respect. About how we need to be aware of the dangers in our everyday lives. About how danger is everywhere, and we don’t even know. About how we take our lives for granted. And we were just all staring at her, not sure what to think, because all that actually happened was that a pencil broke in two. So we just sat quietly and waited for her to calm down.”

“What happened next?”

“The quiet seemed to startle her . . . almost as much as the pencil snap, but in an opposite way. She was ranting and raving, and then she suddenly seemed to just see us . . . like we hadn’t been there a moment before and then suddenly we were there. It was weird. And then she just went on with the rest of the day.”

The girl reached to turn on the radio, “So then the rest of the day was fine. Extra bumpy, because time passes differently when you are waiting to see if there is going to be more screaming, but the rest of the day was fine.”

“Did she apologize?”

“Nah. It was like a storm . . . there and then gone . . . nobody’s fault but the weather. It only lasted about two minutes, and it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about any of us. We all knew it was about something else.” The girl is thoughtful, “You know what I think? It was about whatever that fragile bruised thing was . . . the thing I noticed about her when we came back from lunch.”

“Maybe so.”

The girl thinks for a moment, “Like she was maybe carrying a hurtful small storm inside.”

The woman says nothing.

She has no words.

She will have to find some soon.

They travel home together, pressed beneath a fragile bruised sky.

December 14th, 2012.

    45 comments to Bruised from within

    • Words found later.

    • Tammy Proctor

      Lots of parents felt bruised from within that day. I still want to just cling to my baby boy (6) and never let him go to school again. Every day I just hug and release him out into the world and hope he is safe.

    • Crazies from within or crazies from without. It’s scary beyond words.

    • You try to think that something like that couldn’t happen where you live. . . But the scary truth is, it can (and has) happened anywhere.

      My heart is broken for the parents who lost their children.

      I can only imagine being numb if I lost my daughter.

      I want to hold her close and not let go.

      But I do.

      Because what else could I do?

      She has to live her life. I can’t let my anxiety control her. Right?

      • Here where we live?

        There are now police officers stationed at the girls’ school. Every day. They are there when I drop off the girls in the morning and when I pick them up at the end of the day.

        Their presence does not make me feel safe or reassured.

        Not in the slightest.

        Their presence makes me feel as though the world is very fucked up indeed.

        But no . . . I cannot let my anxiety rule our lives.

        And so every day the girls go to school in this new normal.

        Sigh.

        Me

    • Heather Weidner

      Beautiful. Your daughter also has a way with words.

    • Mishelle

      That was beautiful.

      Just beautiful. Bruised from within. What a descriptive turn of phrase.

      I had a teacher look like that the day the shuttle blew up in grade 10 (’86 – yes, I’m aware that dates me). Her blow up had her in tears then walking out of the room and she was the last teacher you’d expect it from.

      M

      • Mishelle

        As for what happened that day, I’ve been listening a lot to the plans for cops at the school and arming the teachers (ohmygawdwhatabadideaTHATis)and thinking that if a crazy was to go anywhere he’d walk right past him or take the officer out first…

        It’s a sad, crazy world and it just seems to get a little crazier every day, and that makes me so sad that I just can’t deal with it so I push it away.

        M

    • BethRD

      My daughter had her second round of chemo on December 13th and I’ll be honest, I was feeling pretty bad for her, and for myself, and so on. And then the 14th. I really, really wish that it wasn’t true that it can always be worse.

      • Beth?

        My thoughts are with your daughter and with you.

        Just as it can always be worse?

        So too can it always be better.

        I wish the better for you both.

        Me

    • Sigh. I’m still not sure how I feel. Fragile sounds like a good word.

    • Shawna

      In a world not so far away, but so very, very far away, I watch. In horror, with sadness, with a desperate hope that the people in charge in the country just below me will see that something has to be done.
      Did you know that in Canada we can’t buy bulletproof vests? The shooters always seem to have them. All the cries to arm the teachers…would they have to wear them all day too, just in case?
      The world grieves along with you, and hopes that the bruising will heal, the anxiety will fade and the bad guys don’t win.
      I Love your words Kris, you make me feel it so deeply.

      • Shawna?

        I am not a person who writes of my politics, at least not explicitly, but yes . . . something has to be done.

        It saddens me more than I can say that we as a country cannot agree on this.

        Something has to be done.

        Me

    • Every night I put my 5.5 year old to bed. I look at her sweet little face and I think of all those kids. How scared they must have been. I think about the survivors and how their innocence is just shattered. I think of all the teachers I know and how hard it must be for them to go to work.

      Then in the morning she gets on the school bus and I just pray that she comes home. It sounds dramatic, but it’s really the way I’ve felt ever since that day.

      I still can’t read about it or look at pictures. I just cry.

      • I avoided news coverage of the events entirely.

        Our whole family did, actually . . . for 48 hours.

        So entirely that Mark and I were able to put off discussion with the girls until Sunday afternoon. I would have wished for a longer unknowing, but the girls had to go back to school on Monday. Sigh.

        We were able to give them the gift of a bit of distance from the immediacy and the emotions and the heartbreak of the events before they had to process the truths.

        A small gift, but one for which I am grateful.

        Me

    • I’m still feeling pretty fragile and bruised within from that day. Thank you for sharing this Kris.

    • I felt I had to comment publicly on this one, Kris. I have a six-year old granddaughter who shares a name with one of the Newtown angels, and is equally beautiful and bright. If we can’t memorialize these innocents with some form of effective gun violence measures (I’ll buy into the more moderate language on this issue if it means winning over responsible gun users) then I’m dubious about our future as a society.

      Now back to stealth mode….

    • Ben

      That took me a while to figure out what the story was about. Then I did. Well written.

    • Jess

      I cried the hardest on Christmas day. Every time my daughter opened a present I would think of the gifts that had been bought but would never be given and the tears would roll.

      We arrived State-side on Saturday for a long holiday. I know that kind of thing can happen anywhere, but I was terrified before we left. It’s the first time since we moved that I did not want to come back to visit.

      I’m so tired of being scared. Also, I am so grateful that my girls are too young for the kind of talk you had to have with yours.

      • Jess . . .

        That last thing you said, about how you are tired of being scared?

        Yes. So very very much.

        Doesn’t it feel, sometimes, as though the world is closing in? Getting smaller somehow. More immediate. More threatening.

        I hate that feeling.

        Paradoxically, my solution is to close things down . . . make my corner of the world even smaller in hopes of staying safe.

        I retreat into my own life and the few people it contains.

        Sigh.

        Me

    • Amy

      My almost 6 yr old has no idea what happened. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to explain why 20 little children just a bit older than her, were now stars in the sky, instead of here with their mommies and daddies.

      But sometimes? I think that’s worse. That we didn’t tell her.

      Thank you for writing this

      • My daughters are older, obviously, but not so long ago, Maj was assigned the task of watching the presidential debates.

        Kallan watched with us, because if the TV is on? Kallan watches.

        I realized, as I answered the girls’ questions about the various points raised in the debate, that we shield our daughters from MUCH of what’s going on in the world.

        I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

        It made me sad, though . . .

        To watch their eyes open at the truths and cruelty of the world.

        It made me sad.

        Kris