by Hava Kohl-Riggs
it’s late and too late for me to start writing in my journal. i wonder why i even care about this. i think maybe i don’t care anymore. i’m tired of trying to make my life more meaningful, accomplished. hoping to get jazzed-up about something. anything, to be engaged with, excited about. I’m failing at learning how to speak Hebrew and i’m failing at getting to Hebrew classes on time. I’m failing at writing anything worth reading, and i failed the on-line Passion Test, which about sums me up.
I remember, years ago, i had a client who was then the age i am now. Sixties. She’d accomplished a great deal in her life and just didn’t seem to have much of any inspiration for a new project and it worried her. It worried me then, too and i did what i could to help her access that deep well of creativity that i was certain had to exist within. Instead, she mended a jagged relationship with her adult son, learned better communication skills, and started taking water aerobics. After six months of counseling, she moved on. Did she even remember why she’d initially wanted my help?
I have a few ripped-up relationships in my life, i’ve recently put on a few pounds, and, Lord knows, i’d probably have more friends if i tamed my smart-ass mouth. So now i’m beginning to wonder, maybe all that really matters is to take good care of myself, do things that i enjoy, and be nice to everyone. Do no harm. Learn to be patient. Clean up after myself, make my bed and do my dirty dishes. Daily. what a chore.
Could it be that i’m done learning how to do new things? Maybe it’s just about enjoying what i already know. because i never did get to be highly accomplished at much of anything, just sort of good enough at lots of things. it’s time to face up to the fact that i’m leaving no legacy of note. And the things i know how to do, i’ll just go on doing them in a mediocre slipshod manner and not hit the big time. And maybe that’s just fine.
I admire John, and am learning not to be jealous of his achievements. I need to remember that we’ve been following entirely different paths through life, even during those thirty years of our married life, our paths only sometimes intersected. He’s been more focused, driven to set goals, master and accomplish them. I’d just as soon enjoy myself hanging out with people who laugh with me. He wasn’t one of them. How to find those people? If I do what I feel like doing each day, will I be led to the right place? I do know that I need to do, not watch. Not just read about it or even write about it.
Talking about writing, I could probably write a Mrs. Eisner story if I got myself in the zone. I can see her right now, sitting at her desk in the front of a classroom that looks a lot like one of the rooms in Madison’s West High. Her hands are folded on her desk, her short dark hair falling over her eyes because she’s absorbed in looking down at her hands, not out at the students the way she typically would. I can’t see the expression on her face, though, but I see myself, sneaking in to class and realizing that I’m getting away with it cause Mrs. Eisner just doesn’t care today. She hasn’t cared at all this week. She isn’t paying attention to me or to any of us, really. But it’s only the first few minutes of class–the bell just rang to signal the beginning of sixth period and there are still a few kids rushing the door. Which Mrs. Eisner didn’t bother to shut today. Good thing, cause I don’t know if I could make up a good enough story without dissolving into tears. What a mess I’m in, feeling a little sick this week, just sort of nauseous in the mornings. And now Mrs. Eisner.
She just called Art up to her desk for a few private words. I wonder if he’s got a Milky Way stashed in one of the pockets of his huge green parka. He’s still got my IOU from last week which I forgot all about until just now, now that I’m dying for a chocolate fix. Damn, he’s giving her a Kit Kat. I wonder if that means he’s all out of Milky Ways and Snickers?
So, she must be having a hard time, too, Mrs. Eisner. Divorce, dog, death. The three big D’s. I know she got a divorce last year cause my mom heard about it and I know her dog died last month cause she told us and her father died, too, and she was gone for two weeks in October. That’s a heavy pile of stuff to be dealing with. More than my stupid problems with Stu.
Me, I’m just trying to figure out who I am now that Stuart and I aren’t. Next year I apply to colleges, and it’s the start of my new life and I have to get great grades this year to make up for that C in Health and Human Relationships cause I was so busy having a human relationship I skipped out on half the classes. And it was a guaranteed “easy A”. I am so bored.
Mrs. Eisner’s got me worried. Art’s hiding in the closet again and she doesn’t notice he’s missing. She’s barely looking at our homework assignments either. I know cause Art showed me the extra bonus points she gave him. And all he wrote was a lot of gibberish. We were supposed to write answers to questions about the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Anti-War Movement of the 1960’s and he just wrote the lyrics to three different songs, none of them remotely connected to racism, war, freedom or even kings. True, his handwriting is mostly illegible but still, I bothered to read some of it and there’s no way she could have read even a few sentences and handed him 35 bonus points. He says she just wants to see that there’s lots of writing on the page, sort of an A-for-effort approach. I can’t believe she’d do that, but he says he’s been writing songs for weeks now. Honestly, I can’t be bothered. Still, I do need an A in this class.
I like Mrs. Eisner. She’s always been so with it. Friendly and kind and seemed to get what was going on, like when she saw me with Stu. Even when we were getting all hot and bothered on Maple St. that night during the football game. And she didn’t go poking her nose in and calling my mom cause I never heard anything about it.
But now she’s spacey and doesn’t pay much attention. And what happened to her smart remarks–dry and sharp but kind of affectionate, you know? Like she gets when we’re not exactly telling the truth, and it’s as if she doesn’t care about the truth so much as, you know, like what’s really happening inside. Somehow she knows when there’s more to it than what I tell her, or so it used to be. And it used to matter.
Mrs. Eisner looks up at the class and sees Elisabeth staring at her. When their eyes meet, Elisabeth flashes that oh-so-winning, campus queen smile of hers, the one that hides the truth and blanks out her eyes. You can practically see a red Ferrari convertible reflected in those luminous baby blues rimmed with thick lashes. But today, Mrs. Eisner isn’t troubled by that vacant model’s smile–she studies it, hoping to learn how to replicate Elisabeth’s attitude, her poise. Her pose.
“I’m exhausted, ” Mrs. Eisner thought. “What am I going to do with this class today? It’s spring and I can hear the birds outside and I’d rather be anywhere but here, seated in front of twenty-nine juniors eager to wiggle their way out of anything to do with American History. Yesterday I found my dream job. Parking lot attendant. Ticket-taker in the city parking garage. I want to dispense tickets, collect money and make change. I want to push a button that raises a bar and grant each driver entrance, one by one. I want to be cheerful or sullen and not care. And when I collect the ticket and take the money, I want to push another button and usher those people right out of my life. I wonder how you get one of those positions? Will I need to take a civil service test?” She sighed and looked around the room.
”Do these kids think I don’t know that Arthur hides in the storage closet? I wonder if he’s in there counting the change he collects from his customers, my students, dreaming up new ways to complete his class assignments so that he can get his precious bonus points. The way he participates in class, he must have read the text. So why he crams his assignment sheets full of the weirdest things like the lyrics to songs, I don’t know. But he writes a lot. Fills up the pages. Gotta hand it to him. As long as I keep being supplied with Kit Kat bars and he stays out of trouble with Mr. Pendleton, what’s the difference? I’d hide in the storage closet if I could.
So what am I supposed to do? Make a big deal of the fact that Arthur’s missing? They’ll think I’ve lost control of the class. Call him out of the closet? Can’t do that. Just ignore it. Be preoccupied with something else. What? Ah yes, the lesson. I’m showing a King documentary today–that’ll fill up the hour. Art can crawl out of the closet during the film, like he did last week. And after class, I get to go home to my empty house. No Chico to greet me at the door, thrilled to see me, ready for our walk. I miss him so much. How can it be that of all the men in my life, I miss my Schnauzer more than my husband? More than my father?”
It was time to take action, be decisive, take command. So she did.
“Elisabeth, please get the lights. Class, pay attention please, and watch for three important landmarks in 20th century American history. Oh, and Arthur, candy bars for everyone. They’re on me.”