Wanting to go back and erase everything
The large plastic envelope holding my night’s work slips out of my grip and slides under the car. Anger and angst pummel my chest.
As on every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the three weeks my Children’s Lit Class has been in session, my head is telling me a 7 a.m. start time isn’t fit for student nor professor. This particular Tuesday, every part of my body is saying that, too.
The first midterm is today, and having never taught this subject, I didn’t have my usual drawer of assignments or tests that I could use as models. I had to create everything from scratch.
Life, however, detoured me into a sudden road trip over the weekend to visit my Mom at her nursing home because she had to undergo an emergency procedure. Three other English 101 classes on my Monday/Wednesday schedule ate up any hope I had of preparing the test yesterday until after I got home. Preparing dinner for my husband and two high school-age daughters and straightening up the kitchen enough to not feel like a slob of a housekeeper took precedence before I could attack what my husband calls my “teacher homework.”
Life, however, once again detoured me when Amy, my sophomore, made it two feet inside my home office before throwing up.
At midnight, the nurse’s hat finally off my head, I stacked The Little Prince; Charlotte’s Web; Bud, Not Buddy; and The Giver on my desk next to the class textbook and began composing the 15 multiple choice and two short essay questions that would constitute the midterm. Considering how people holding up stop and go signs for road construction get paid more than I do sidetracked my train of thought now and again, but I persevered.
Around 2 a.m. my husband mumbled something unintelligible when I crawled into bed. I found out four hours and 23 minutes later that what he’d said was, “Be sure to set your alarm,” which I hadn’t, and then 15 minutes down panic alley, I spit toothpaste on the front of the only blue blouse that went with the cute skirt I’d pulled on because its hanger stuck out from everything else.
Laden with a purse, a copy of the book we’d be reading next, a travel cup of hot chai, my class binder, and the plastic envelope, I should have recognized the folly in attempting to get keys from my purse while at the same time using an elbow to press the plastic envelope against my ribcage.
I nearly swear watching the envelope disappear.
That’s how rattled I am.
Of course, retrieving it, I smudge both knees and rip a couple of stitches at the top of my skirt’s kick pleat. Great, that will go nicely with the water-blotch on my top.
At this point of degradation, I determine I will get to campus on time even if I have to exceed every speed limit on the way. Surprisingly, though, traffic is unusually light. I decide the angels are on my side in the vast west parking lot, too. I find a space right away.
Striding into class a full 10 seconds before the bell, I face a sea of somber faces. They were hoping I was sick.
“Good morning, everyone,” I say with deliberate enthusiasm. Not hearing any replies, I proceed to take role. One female student, Stephanie Barron, is absent.
I’m in the process of marking her square on my chart when a male student from the back of the room asks, “Are you giving the midterm? Are we having the test?”
I look up and almost laugh.
“Of course, we’re having the test. It’s on the syllabus.”
And so we do. And I follow that with a brief introduction to “Holes” by Louis Sachar, a personal favorite, before dismissing what appears to be a bunch of sleepwalking zombies as they file past me and out the door. No chitchat, no noise, no facial expressions.
Now imagine me, five minutes later walking into the English Department to get to my university office and seeing, room center, a television. An image of an airplane crashing into a tall building fills the screen. “At 6:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175, ploughed into floors 75 to 85 of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.” I hear the words, but cannot comprehend.
What’s happening? I ask, dropping everything I’m carrying to the floor.
Linda, the department secretary, stares at me with that look of hers that can instantly silence a request being made mid-sentence. “Where’ve you been? In a cave? Terrorists hijacked four planes. Two destroyed those two towers in New York City. One hit the Pentagon. The last one crashed in a field.”
I cannot move. I cannot take my eyes off the screen. The new image is what I now know is the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City … New York City … in America … collapsing in a dust cloud.
I want to run back to where I’ve been and erase everything I did and said. I become those tests in the envelope, every question a knife point cutting a slit in my heart.
I arrive early Thursday and apologize the minute class begins. We talk about the horror and loss. We start knitting ourselves together.
Stephanie Barron is absent again.
I find out a week later, her brother, his wife, and their two small daughters died in the North Tower. She never returns to class.
Virginia Starrett is a Foothill resident.