The aisles loomed over her; they crept closer and sucked the breath from her lungs. Advertisements hung above like guillotines while others waited patiently on the shelves, waiting to tantalize and romanticize. “Back to school sale”. “We heart teachers”. “Discount items”. “What every child needs”. “Don’t let them be unprepared!” They wanted you forget the realities of school in these bad economic times in favor of bright colors, playful puppies and erasers of all shapes and sizes. Come, they whispered, school is so much more fun when you have this…and this…and this…
There was an itch right in the middle of her back that she couldn’t quite scratch. She turned to find a display featuring a large picture of a wholesome, smiling teacher listening attentively to a child in her class, who had stood to give an answer. The classroom was clean. It featured student drawings and projects on every wall and had an entire row of computers to one side with microphones, headphones, keyboards and mice all neat and tidy.
“It’s the classroom from the twilight zone”, she thought. “Nothing but robots”.
An uncontrollable desire to laugh bubbled up her throat as she thought of the fire marshal strutting into that classroom and tearing into the administrators for allowing that teacher to put student projects on more than one tiny corner of the room. Think about the fire hazard! Oh, the humanity!
Laughter took her then and she couldn’t help shake her head at the woman next to her and point at the image. “Can you believe this crap?”
A smile briefly tugged at the woman’s plump face before she did an about-face and wondered into the next aisle.
She sighed, hunched her shoulders and barreled down the aisles trying to find what she needed.
The essentials, she thought, just the essentials. No need for the glittery, fancy, happy stuff. It’s bad enough the school has no money for supplies so I have to get dry-erase markers on my own.
The past year had been the worst yet. There had been endless parent conferences where they nagged about lacking resources, their kids’ grades, their kids’ behavior and how everything, anything at all, was the teachers’ fault and the administrators’ fault and the school board’s fault and how the whole system was at fault because their child was failing and there was no more money for field trips or, or… She stopped next to a shelf full of bright pink journals with fluffy pens and took a deep, shuddering breath. She couldn’t remember the last time she was happy about her job.
Fluffiness…fluff…she yanked off the fluffy pink stuff from one of the bright pink pens and watched it float to the floor. She wondered what the plump-faced woman would think of that.
Her bag had fallen to the ground in her rage against the fluff. A few pens spilled out and she bent to retrieve them. She paused and frowned as she saw the corner of a wrinkled envelope peeking out of the outer pocket of the bag, which she had not used since school let out for the summer.
The envelope was pale yellow and stained with blue ink. On the front it read: “For you, Ms. See you next year!”
The handwriting was sloppy and the exclamation point was in the shape of a heart with a circle underneath. She recognized it instantly and her eyebrows shot up her forehead.
Without being completely aware of it, she sat on the floor and opened the envelope to find a folded sheet of lined paper inside. All of the students from two of her classes had written in it.
“Ms., you’re alright”
“Love you, Ms.!”
“I hate summer…NOT! Will miss u”
“I was a jerk this year. Next year I’ll be better”
“I learned a lot! Thanks!”
“Class is boring, but you’re pretty cool.”
She read the little messages and student signatures that occupied every inch of the paper until it all became a wet blur. The bright pen she had damaged lay beside her. She picked it up and added her own little note on the paper:
“I love you guys.”
She folded up the note and put it back in her bag. The dry-erase markers were just a few steps away. She grabbed one of every color, paid for them and the not-so-fluffy pen, and walked out of the store.