Yeah About That:
Tea and…, Part I
“You’ve been pretty quiet lately,” Notta observed.
It was a rare morning that, for any number of reasons or no reason at all, none of my students came to class. Notta and I had decided to organize, catalog and file the forest-killing number of handouts I had for Science and Social Studies.
“What are you talking about? Didn’t you hear me last week? Twice I lectured for almost a quarter hour and then taught math to three or four of the students individually.”
“That was you the Teacher.”
“I talked to my husband and kids over the weekend.”
“That was you the Wife and you the Mother.”
“And I suppose calling my parents – “
“Would be you the Daughter. I’m talking about the You you. The real you.”
I sighed. “Is there a difference?” This was dialogue better suited to a therapist’s office, or a self-help website; and, frankly, I’ve had my fill of those folks and their patter.Give the right answer, try a new list of affirmations or a pill, and they are happy.
Notta shrugged, sending her cardigan slipping off her bloused shoulder. “Those are parts, yes. But there’s more to make up the whole.”
I gathered a pile of labeled and filled folders into my arms. A sort of cardboard version of the warrior’s breastplate. “If you say so.”
Notta waggled her index finger. “You know I’m right. When was the last time you slept?”
“Without a melatonin tablet?” She nodded. “A while.”
Notta opened her arms, palms up. “That’s what I’m saying. Something’s out of whack. Has been for a while.”
“How are sleeping?”
“When my joints don’t ache and my husband don’t snore, I sleep fine. Don’t change the subject.”
“There’s a lot on my mind, that’s all. Like most people these days, there aren’t enough hours in the day to remember everything that I’d like to do, let alone do them. Then I try to fall asleep and I remember it all. Takes me a good two hours and the occasional melatonin tablet to put the nags aside so I can sleep. OK? Now, where did we put the copies of the Native American map?”
“I put them with the Newsela.com articles on regional tribes and their histories.”
“Good call. Now do we really need to have all of these explorers? I doubt the GED folks had Peter Minuit in mind when they developed the new test.”
Notta made a sound I rarely heard from her: a half-sigh, half-groan she saved for the students who did not want to come to class, did not want help, and did not care to do anything other than thumb their iPhones.She put her papers down. “I need a cup of tea. You?”
“Sure. No milk, please.”
She grunted, going out of the office door.
In five minutes, she returned with a mug of steaming water and tea bags in each hand. I reached for another pile of folders to put away. “Leave that. Sit down and we’ll take a break.”
I sat across the long table from her and waited.
Notta kept me waiting until she’d churned her hot water with the tea bag to a deep auburn color. “Did you ever remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?” I laughed, more at the memory than the question. “I remember wanting to be a Mother Earth type with supportive husband, six kids and a home where I made everything for them myself from baking bread and sewing clothing to knitting socks and making mayonnaise.”
“Bread you bake. What happened to the rest of it?”
“I fell in love with a man who didn’t want six kids and liked Miracle Whip. I did try once to knit socks, but they would have fit a giant with a size 35 foot.” That earned me a smile.
“And the sewing?”
“Not my gift. I end up sticking more pins in my fingers than in the material. To this day, I also can’t cut straight. What about you?”
“We’re not talking about me. The conversation is about you.”
“Conversation or interrogation?” I saw her shoulders hunch. “Sorry.That wasn’t necessary.”
Notta looked at me for a long moment. “OK, let’s try this again. Did you always want to be a teacher?”
I shook my head no. “Never really considered it for a long time. I jumped from business to business, boss to boss, city to city because we moved so much and all I came away with was that I hated working for lawyers and insurance seemed as much a Ponzi scheme as a benefit. Or I used to think, ten or twelve years ago. Once a body passes 60, the benefits of insurance come into sharper focus.” I knew her next question. “Not my gift. I could do the work, but I didn’t have the passion for it.”
“And you have the passion for teaching.”
Not a question.
“Looks like it. Never stayed in any one line of work for this long before. What about you?”
“I did what I needed to do at the time, for the people who needed me to do it,” she said. “Now, stop changing the subject.”
“Remind me: what the subject?”
“What’s keeping you up at night?”
I closed my eyes. Had it been possible, I would have dozed off then and there. Anything to stop the questions. “You know how I feel about the government situation and the general ignorance that keeps it running.Can’t listen to the news without the latest flatulence from Washington taking up all the air time.”
“There’s always the self-appointed social media authorities who can’t seem to grasp that people may not have similar political opinions, but they might share an idea or two, and that might be a place to start a dialogue.”
“May be they’re trying to be protective. Most of the whiners I’ve read would take any support – even about kittens, for crying out loud - to mean they’re right about everything else in the world. Pinheads.”
“But if one didn’t at least try…”
Notta shook her head with a sigh. “Skin’s too thin out there these days. Best you steer clear. Now what else is eating at you?”
“An arthritic cat, kids with job problems, friends with health problems, aging parents – do you want the whole list?”
“Nah. I have the same list. But there’s something else. You know I’m right.”
I swallowed the last of my tea. “Do tell.”
Notta leaned towards me, elbows firm on the table top.
“What about your writing?”