By S. J. Praino
PROMPT — Who am I today?
Is the stomach bug real or a result of escalating anxiety? I'm ready to shift employers or assume homelessness if that's what it takes. I've been ready a few times, but this year, I've actively pursued want ads like White Fang's wolf pack after he shot the she-wolf. I've been in the same school system for ten years, through school closures, crises, and turnovers.
Now, home sick, I wait to witness what the anticipated offer in my inbox outlines upon delivery. I know it will be a salary cut, but change is priceless and families there buy books and pencils. Besides, when I visited last week, people smiled in the hallway even though it was the first week of May with AP testing underway.
Our principal said he would endorse a year off without pay. It’s that moment before leaving a toxic relationship where some deep seated faith assures everything will be okay, but the scabs remain with the daunting unknown. I tend to hold on longer than healthy recommendations. As in, I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore, but let’s be friends. Yes, please call me at 2 AM three successive days in a row, telling with weighted sighs how you can’t live without me. This is what friends do. But if I were my own friend, I would confiscate the phone, block his number, and run my fingers through my hair, braiding little braids and humming a gentle tune about fish in the sea.
I’ve tried to be helpful: I listened while she told me between sobs about a morning altercation with her father, I reviewed the distinction between positive and negative connotations, I read a thank you sticky note he posted on my door. I don’t know if projects will outlive my potential departure, but I need a classroom with windows. I need time to darn my socks so my feet don’t freeze. Some afternoons, I wonder what would happen if they found my body unresponsive under my desk in the morning. I couldn’t do that to my students, but I could to society in its failing to equip our nation’s children with adequate resources. Schools have become the HMOs of childhood without health insurance. I regret not using more of the 43 days of accrued sick time, but I have today to weigh decisions.
S. J. Praino resides in Massachusetts with her partner, one remaining son, three dogs, two cats, and a prolific population of houseplants. S. J. wants to own chickens, but is afraid of what the neighbors will think. A teacher, writer, musician, and parent, S. J. is a doctoral candidate at Lesley University and received an MA and BA in English from Salem State. Staring off into space is a favorite activity. Nothing’s wrong, just dreaming.