After almost 30 years of teaching in a Brooklyn Intermediate school,
writing this was cathartic.
As she slipped terror stricken to the floor, the horrendous crush of
bodies shifted, pinning her to the corridor wall. The blessedly cool,
satiny smoothness of the beige tile against her cheek soothed her, even
as the coarse irregularities of the paler grout searingly abraded the
skin from her face. And as bitter tears of frustration welled in her
eyes, manic laughter rose in her throat.
“Dear Jesus, I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t do
She desperately tried to regain her footing and with it some sense of
order and a measure of control, but the mindless power and authority of
the laughing, tripping mob was not to be underestimated or predicted.
It surged in yet another direction and the momentum caused her to
stumble as her legs became hopelessly ensnared in the tangle of feet
shod in Nike Air Huaraches and the discarded designer book bags packed
with Now-N-Laters and guns.
She came down hard and her mind seemed to implode. The babble
surrounding her became muted, fading into a backdrop of indiscernible
sights and sounds and smells. She turned awareness inward –
becoming her only source of stimuli – much as an autistic creates
ultimate personal reality.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Something about resting objects.
And immutable force.
Or immovable objects and excessive force.
Like the resounding thwack necessary to free the trinkets hidden in a
child’s piñata, the jarring fall precipitated the release
of a torrent
of seemingly inconsequential and insignificant bits of information and
non-information from her subconscious.
The force be with you.
And with you, too.
U2. And UB40.
And 54’40’ or fight!
She tried not to focus on these tattered gifts of memory, this cerebral
confetti, recognizing that her sanity was in jeopardy – even as
kaleidoscope of academic nonsense syllables continued to absorb her.
Life begins at 40.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
And Martin Sheen.
Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Sister Marylena and BAM.
Wham, bam and hic, haec, hoc.
Like free association run amok, the half learned and even less
remembered intellectual trivia of a lifetime cascaded onto her
conscious mind. Like sound bytes shrieked by a schizophrenic’s
voices, they were compelling and almost preferable to what reality had
in fact become. Distraught, she found it difficult to determine what
She was aware somehow that the hideous non sequiturs, the random
thoughts and disjointed ideas flashing and popping in her head were
substitutes for reason – much as the psychobabble touting the
Dr. Phil and Oprah were unreasonable facsimiles of human discourse.
“I’m losing my mind.”
“Dear, sweet, merciful Jesus, I’m losing my frigging
her own voice out loud startled her. Hearing the despair in it dismayed
her, but the psychic fallout diminished and her head seemed to clear.
She struggled to get up and once again confronted the horror that was
going on around her. She again tried to stand. Her failure to do so
became inexorably and symbolically coupled with her inability to
latest outrage. At the moment, she was incapable of excusing it or
explaining it away.
She wanted to yell and scream and kick and bite her way through the
stampeding horde – the charging, stomping, Arsenio whopping swarm
was roiling over her towards the exit. Instead, she did nothing.
The insanity of this situation and the myriad contradictions intrinsic
to her workday became crystally,
blindingly clear. And she knew it was over.
In that icy moment of clarity, she gave up. She stopped struggling and
let the surrounding bedlam engulf her. After more than a quarter
century of teaching, she gave up.
And her resignation was heralded only by her own silent weeping.
I left Brooklyn, NY for Bigfork,
MT after a brief but particularly harrowing series of events: my new
car was stolen, its replacement stripped, I was held up at gunpoint by
three men and there were shots fired in my backyard by men being chased
by police. In living cliché, I set about to write the
about urban education against the backdrop of the magnificent Swan. A
sort of Up the Down Staircase a deux which is, as yet, unpublished. My
daughter, who was 14 and a dyed in the wool Manhattanite at the time,
may never get over the bears in the yard or ditching the Drivers Ed van
in a snowbank, but fondly remembers her first job washing bear hairs