7 comments

Contemporary Fiction

Honestly, it feels like I’m tipping, struggling to maintain my balance while my legs cramp and buckle. I change positions. I go from sitting on the chair, cross-legged, to sitting on the floor, to kneeling like a monk. But that changes nothing.


I remain here, looking at the black mirrors, my reflection through the lens, into the screen, into a box. I ask a question, longing for an answer, for white noise, even giggles would suffice. Instead, I wilt here looking at myself, calling, explaining, ignoring, fighting back the lull.


Silence, an awful sound devoid of rhythm, of breath, of life. No one knows true silence, the pinnacle of what it means to hear nothing, but I feel that I have gotten close. I’m in a space harbored inside a window that's inside a metal plaque perched on a desk inside my room. I linger along the braid of communications, shut off from the world aside from the contaminating interfaces and this classroom. They are my world; they are what I see, these white sigils, faceless frames, black figurines.


I ask Samuel, Marcos, John, Marie, Gabrielle, which I often call Gabi, questions, only to receive crumbs flicked at me like marbles, feeding me like a hungry stray with empty words that serve no purpose, just “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know”. I care even if they don’t. I still care. Why do I care? That is the question that I want an answer to; instead, all I can think of is, “I don’t know”.


“Are you listening?”


Silence.


“Are you there?”


Silence.


“Can someone answer me?”


“Teacher?”


“Yes,” my tone rises with excitement. Yes, a question, interaction, sound. " What is it, Gabi?””


“What page are we on?”


I grunt under my breath, mouth words internally, feel my smile fret. I inform the page, the paragraph, sum up the topic. Ask for her to read, which she unwillingly does, probably while on her cellphone, eating, or lying on her bed. I thank her, compliment her participation, for fulfilling my desires, even if simply for show, because she broke the extensive silence for a minute.


My gaze diverts to the taskbar. The clock moves like a razor, slowly bleeding me, taunting me with seconds. My fingers itch, my head pulses from all the light being refracted against my eyes. I continue, persist, finish the class. I close the meeting. I stretch my legs, feel the muscles expand, and relax. I breathe heavily and force my tears back. I go to the kitchen, I smoke a cigarette, I fill a glass to the rim. I drink, but I refuse to give in.


I look at the clock over the coffee maker. My next class starts in fifteen minutes. I’ve got enough time to burn my throat with smoke and liquor, enough time to ease into shape, to anticipate the silence, to think of ways to combat the lull.


Our meetings are for show. I write what no one seems to want to read, words on a digital whiteboard that become print screens, mere memories forgotten in a gallery, tapped upon to be deleted. Digital slaughter, cuts, cancelation, influential hypnotics while they empty themselves every day. I labor like a water bearer; they are my gods. I satiate myself by instilling thirst, gulp down bitter honey, breathe in and out, drown myself in solace after class, lose myself in the nicotine and ash.


I plan for the next day, the lessons, the didactics. I fine-tune my subject like a mechanic, attempt to dust off my settled sentiments before going to bed. 


I run in the night, my head doesn't stop. I plunge myself into the pillow, breathe less, gnaw on cotton, choke away the sorrow. I sleep out of spite, knowing that I’ll need it for tomorrow.


*


The alarm sings, but I’m unaware of ever having slept. My eyes were closed, but intrusive thoughts probed my temples, fed on my faith like a plague. I wake knowing body aches and duties. I drag myself to the kitchen, and before flipping the light switch or turning on the coffee machine, I fill a cup to the rim.


I turn on the computer, get the classroom ready hours before the required time, stare at my projection, at what I’ve become. The screen amputates me, cuts me off at the head, erases everything about me, my sore legs, twisted heart, and tainted lungs. It hides the cup in my hand, the ashtray on the center table, the stains on my clothes. So why don’t they turn on their cameras? Why is it that in their darkness, I feel the most exposed?


Twenty minutes to class, I run to the bathroom to wash away yesterday’s traces, to enlighten myself in the mirror, to pray for an epiphany. I make the bed, knowing that if the covers are swayed and unraveled, I will dive into them like a gulf.


I check the clock, ten minutes to spare. I run to the kitchen, fill up another glass, drink. I light a cigarette, mask my vision in swirls, French inhale through my nose, release. I grab my book, flip to the page, gather my notes, memorize today's lesson with surgical precision. I scramble for fun facts, for games, for pop culture references. I laugh at my own wit, at the mental links, the intricate web I constructed out of words and song lyrics.


I kill the cig, put the glass on the sink, run to take a seat. I cross my legs, erect my back, and chant words to the air religiously.


“You’ll be fine. You’re good. You can teach. You care.”


Silence.


“Why do you care?”


Silence.


“I make a difference. I'm valuable. These kids need me.”


I send them the class link with a fast-beating heart. I wait for my students to trickle in, watch the black tiles invade my screen uniformly like a game of tectrix. They brick me up, close me out, and I smile.


“Good morning class, how are you?”


I receive scattered monosyllabic answers. I crack a few jokes and grapple at any hint of laughter. I refuse to give in to the lull.


“Alright, everybody. Shall we begin?”

May 27, 2021 03:19

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7 comments

Kelly Dennison
14:37 May 27, 2021

I’m still feeling his melancholy as it permeates his teaching, his routines, and the daily unanswered question of his purpose. How sad, watching him wilt like that. How impersonal their response to his exposure. It stung when they called him “teacher” instead of his actual name. I can’t imagine what this might feel like for both the students and the teachers. It sounds like, from both ends, there’s unending exhaustion in the boredom, the monotony, the depersonalized new norm. Thank goodness for teachers that still care, even when ...

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K. Antonio
03:23 May 27, 2021

Short, (very short) not sweet, and real. I think very few people might know what it's like to teach during the pandemic. I can say that this narrator in a way was me, and my constant struggle to be decent, to do teach decently, to fight against something as difficult as the digital lull that can easily be instilled in a classroom. Feel free to comment and share your opinions. Stay safe guys, and respect your teachers!

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Beth Connor
17:42 Jun 01, 2021

Your voice is strong in this one- Lots of thoughts swirling around. I need to go tell my 15-year-old to turn on his camera...

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Ayesha 🌙
03:17 Jun 01, 2021

I love this dramatized take on online learning. Much respect for any teachers that go through this!

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Cathryn V
20:09 May 29, 2021

ooooohhh, how frustrating for a teacher! I can feel it, the cigarettes, the screens, the coffee, If this is really how it is to teach on Zoom, then all teachers deserve a halo. Sounds like a lonely day. Something I really wanted to know is what age group the kids are. Good story, good job showing!

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Amelia Bowen
18:04 May 27, 2021

Great story as always!! I love your use of metaphor, the comparisons and images you bring to mind never fail to amaze me.

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Shea West
08:51 May 27, 2021

I think what you exhibited here is a common theme among educators over the past year. Hell, even over all the years of teaching. Educators will explain these periods of time where that lull is just so dang hard. This made me think of being a student. Feeling similar things, the lull of learning and how it can drag on in attempts to be a decent student. I hope you can find some grace for yourself through this difficult time. May your students return to you in person sooner, rather than later!

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