Glancing at my watch, I put my bags down by my desk in the classroom. Good. I have a few minutes before the faculty meeting begins. I stopped by the ladies room to freshen up before I headed to the teachers’ lounge. As I pushed open the double-doors, the custodian called out to me.
“You’re not supposed to be in the building yet. School hasn’t started.”
I laughed. He was always joking. Maybe not for students, but I’ve been on the clock for twenty minutes now.
I thought about my to-do list for the first day, and wondered about the new student we had in eighth grade this year. I hope she has a good day. Approaching the sink in the gray-tiled room, I glanced in the mirror as I reached to wash my hands. An unfamiliar reflection gazed back at me. The mouth of the twelve-year-old girl was open in a silent scream. I gasped as I touched my own open mouth.
Stumbling back, I winced as my shoulder collided with the cold door of an unoccupied stall. A polka-dotted backpack slipped off my shoulder and crashed to the floor. Where did that come from? Who does it belong to? I shook my head. Clearly, I did not have enough coffee this morning. Taking a deep breath, I tiptoed back to the mirror and closed my eyes. Ok. This is not real. Relax…. it was just a weird dream, or hallucination, or something. I opened my eyes and that young girl stared back at me.
My heart beat in my chest, booming louder than the drums during a football game rally. My knees buckled and I grabbed the edge of the sink for support. Looking at myself, the first thing I noticed were the suede bucks and blue knee socks. The polyester skirt itched and too tight collar of the white blouse threatened to completely close my throat. Why am I in the school uniform?
Loud pounding on the door snapped me out of my panic. “The bell rang,” the custodian called. “Go out on the playground with the other kids. The teacher will get you soon.”
“Ummmm, ok.” I picked up the backpack and rushed by him. Not knowing what else to do, I ran to the teacher’s lounge and pulled open the door. Twenty pairs of eyes stared at me as I stood in the doorway. “I…..um…I…”
The principal looked at me and smiled. “Welcome to St. Joseph, Honey. We are almost finished with our meeting. Please go out to the playground. We’ll be with you shortly.”
Not knowing what else to do, I complied. I heard the teachers referring to me as the new student as I opened the door to the playground and stood on the steps for a minute, watching the younger kids run and play. Scanning the playground, I found a group of girls who were to be in my class this year. I rushed over to them, noticing the sideways looks and whispers as I did.
“Hi,” I said to a girl who was busy holding court as several other girls listened to her story of visiting Spain this summer. “I’m…I’m…new here.”
“Hi New Here,” the girl answered, annoyed I had interrupted her. She continued talking about her adventures as the other girls snickered.
Man, I thought she was a nice kid. Guess not if you’re another kid.
The bell rang again and the students rushed to line up by the door. I joined the eighth graders, moving to the front of the line. “Ssshhh. Voices off,” I said, out of habit.
The line erupted in laughter as a woman in front of the line looked at me with a forced smile.
“Thank you, Dear. I’ve got it.” She turned to the class, asked them to get in line quietly, and led them into the building. That’s my job. Who is this chick?”
We followed her to our classroom and took our seats. I sat in the last available spot in the back of the room. The teacher welcomed us back to school and introduced me to the class.
“This is our new student, Michele. I’m sure you will all welcome her and show her around.”
As I glanced around the room, I noticed the girls from the playground smirking at each other. Girls at the next table smiled at me and one waved. A boy called out, “Hello,” as his friends nudged him.
I settled in, easily maneuvering my way through the morning. During art class, some of the other kids approached me. There were lots of questions about where I was from, but mostly, they seemed to want to explain how things worked at the school.
“Watch out for that teacher. If you talk when she does, she stops the whole class to yell at you. It’s really embarrassing.” Is that teacher me?
“This teacher is really nice. Her class is fun and she doesn’t mind if you talk as long as you get your work done.” That’s true, She’s really good.
“Make sure you don’t wear any make-up or nail polish. Then you have to go to the nurse’s office and everybody laughs at you. We wear clear mascara and nail polish because they don’t seem to notice that. Just smile and don’t get in trouble and then no-one bothers you.”
Fascinating from this side of the desk. Hmmmm….guess I should be more sensitive to how these kids feel. Things that seems like nothing to me are a big deal to them.
We went to lunch, and the aroma of coffee filled the cafeteria. Several parents were there, holding large styrofoam cups. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the aroma.
“Wake up,” my husband said, handing me a steaming mug. “You’ll be late for school.”
“You won’t believe the dream I just had,” I answered as I reached for the cup.