The Boy with Milk Chocolate Eyes in the Bays
April 13th 6:50 AM. I find myself in a familiar environment yet feel an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. Similar to when you walk into a room with a specific purpose, just to realize you can’t remember what you’re looking for. You scan the room with squinted, serious eyes, hoping the object you seek reveals itself to you, but it doesn’t. I let out a sigh, placing my over-sized bag on my desk with a thud and raise my eyes to the window, seeing a less-than brilliant sun hiding behind clouds. “I thought it was supposed to be nice today,” I said with slight disappointment, thinking of how cold I will likely be due to the taupe-colored dress I was wearing that I deemed to be ‘the one’.
“They’re mean, difficult, lazy, and hopeless,” said my friend as he chugged his Cherry Wheat beer. He has been practicing in the field for years now. “You’re fighting an uphill battle,” he continued. I felt my eyes roll, but he was too caught up in his sense of satisfaction to notice. These endearing words of “wisdom” is a mere sample of the plethora I’ve heard when people describe my new environment and clientele. I subconsciously shake my head to clear the thoughts, similar to a child with an etch-a-sketch revealing their failed attempt to create art of any kind that varied from the usual square. “I don’t know,” I said skeptically, “sounds like an overgeneralization”. “Alright”, he says, disbelieving. “I’ll be waiting for your phone call”. And for a split second, I picture myself in my pajamas on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, crying, calling my friend saying he was right.
My eyes then fall upon a weathered piece of paper with heavily indented marks that practically perforated the page as if the force used to engrave the contents on the paper was correlated to the necessity and ability to do so in one’s memory. I wrote everything I thought I would need to make my day perfect. “Screw it,” I said aloud, as I grasp the paper with both hands and tear it right down the middle. I continued to rip the sheet until it was confetti. Looking down at my pile of self-sabotage, “What if I need this?”
And then, similar to when a ferry signals it’s timely departure, interrupting the current peace if just for a moment, a long, monotone sound breaks the stark silence that surrounds me. But just as the ferry’s signal comes and goes, so did this sound, leaving one to wonder if it even happened at all. Silence. One second…two seconds…
Suddenly, I break free from my trance and my eyes find the clock. 7:45! I am then aware of the actuality of my situation. I turn my head slowly towards the door. The door. Wood, solid, strong, with one area of vulnerability at its center, a window where you get a small glimpse of what lies on either side. Right now it separates me from everything else. I could lock it, I thought. Pretend I’m not here. “Enough”, I reassured myself.
And just like that, I sprang to my feet, my natural energy pushing me forward. My hands quickly gather the brightly-colored flecks and discard them without a second thought as if I knew all along that’s where they belonged.
I walk to the closed door, the single object still protecting me, suddenly becoming aware of the similarity between it and me, feeling my heart beating vivaciously within my chest while taking one last look out of the window. Taking hold of the handle as a new driver would the wheel of their parents’ car for the first time, I open the door and carefully put the doorstopper in place as if to say “open for business”.
My eager eyes rise to meet several others conveying a variety of different emotions, some with a resemblance to those of my “endearing” friend, others matching the happiness of mine. A thumbs up is extended in my direction a sign of reassurance. A crescendoing symphony of sounds begins to fill my ears, indistinguishable from one another but together representing the values of the place which they fill; growth, change, passion.
I hear the practiced defense mechanism of nervous laughter paired with a glance towards the floor, the snarky comments of the “popular girl” that stem from her own insecurities, the pretense of fake smiles and head nods, an effort to display a sense of genuine interest, and of course, the awkward opening discourse between two people who don’t know what to say to one another. For the first time that whole morning, I feel a smile crawl across my face. The realization of why I could readily recognize these situations and behaviors. My 8th grade self comes to mind, laughing at joke told by Alex, the class heartthrob with perfect, white teeth. I desperately wanted him to like me. Then, I thought about the time jealousy caused me to critique my friend’s perfectly fitting dress that seemed as if every stitch, flower, and hue were made specifically with her in mind.
Interrupting my moment of nostalgia, a boy comes into my view. He has soft, brown eyes, like milk chocolate, with black, bold-rimmed glasses. In his hands he carries a worn, heavy-duty binder and a backpack bulging at every seam, surely housing everything he may or may not need during the day, but packed just incase. I briefly thought of my own bag sitting on my desk, jam-packed with things I may or may not need. I feel a warming sensation throughout my body, not fueled by anxiety or uncertainty, yet by a sense of familiarity, a sense of safety.
At this point, my thoughts must have transformed into a physical representation because looking back at me was the boy with the milk chocolate eyes which were now slightly squinting due to the brilliant smile on his face. “I like your binder,” I said, excitedly, the last shred of uncertainty latched to them. “Thanks!” he said, a sense of surprise and excitement in his voice. “Are you the new teacher?” he asked. I looked at him, wondering if new teachers had a certain look about them. I quickly replied, “I am actually, how can you tell?” His smile widens and he says, “you look like a teacher,” he said gently. My heart warmed as he confidently walked past me into the room, my room, my safe space. “Welcome” I said kindly, as I watched him set down and open his binder to reveal a sea of papers, pencils, and dividers. Student after student walked into the room, replacing the silence with the sounds of middle school and my feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability with optimism and confidence. I exchange smiles and small greetings with each of them as they walk in. Some shy students look at me, awkwardly smile, and go back to staring at the floor, other students give me high fives, and some don’t look at me at all. But that’s okay too.
The same tone I had heard just two minutes ago fills my ears again. It came and went as quickly as it did before, and with it went all of the what ifs and back up plans and in its place settled a sense of trust and faith in myself and in these students, my students. I close the door to my safe space, encapsulating us in preparation for the journey we are about to embark upon. Our safe space. I glance out the window as I make my way to the front of the room and I smile once again. Clear skies.
April 13 6:50PM. “So? What’d I tell you?” he said, a pretentious tone in his voice. “You were right, I said. They are mean, difficult, lazy, and hopeless and I am fighting an uphill battle,” I said, a false sense of resignation in my voice. I heard a snicker come from the other end of the phone. “But,” I said, I could almost hear his confusion filling the silence. “I also think they are passionate, misunderstood, underchallenged, and in need of motivation, preparation, and support in order to fight and win their own uphill battles, whatever they may be”. I named just a few of the endearing words of wisdom I now tell myself. A sample from the plethora that come to mind when trying to describe my current environment and clientele to others. I heard nothing but the sound of crunching pieces of milk chocolate chunks between my teeth, looking down at my pint of Ben and Jerry’s. My mind drifted back to the events of the morning and the boy with the milk chocolate eyes who started it all and opened my eyes and heart to the reality of my situation. In one day you’ve shown me my purpose and potential. I’m ready for you, Hampton Bays. My new home.