The Hardest Answer: Lauren & Juliabycawastedyouth©
Lauren was puttering around on her computer when the phone rang on a Friday mid-morning. Nothing incredibly important occupied her at the moment: just a favorite video game. She lunged for the handset while placing the game on 'pause'; a lock of ungainly wavy brown hair fell in her face. It was August cool in the central valley of California and there was some hope of an internship in Long Beach, California. She prayed it was the project manager she had so hoped to hear from and answered. Even better would be an agent for her writing. She didn't care, she needed some sort of income and soon.
"Lauren Hatfield?" It was a male's voice.
"Speaking." She crossed her fingers and reached for a Parker pen in the mess that was a desk she had long outgrown. In the front room of her apartment a childhood desk saved from her home was stacked with mementos of the woman the child longed to become. Some tiny part of her would be happier if she could organize the mess on the desk, but since she didn't have much other furniture and she lived alone, she ignored the mess in general.
"My name is Paul. I got your number from Jody, I was wondering are you still on the sub list?" The voice on the other end referred to Lauren's current job as an on call employee for a local school. Jody was the teacher in charge of the special needs program at the school she worked at a few months back.
"As far as I know I still am." She moaned internally, wondering what Jody had given her name in recommendation for.
"I've got a proposition for you. I have an aide out on maternity, so I need someone to cover full time at the new middle school. Would you be interested in doing so?"
'Full time!' Lauren would have done back flips in her chair if she could have done back flips in the first place. And while she wasn't great with special needs kids, she had the patience demonstrated time and time again. It would be worth nearly fifteen dollars an hour. Her mind raced, she could work and stash some cash away and not fret over her bills, something few former college students, who were interminably unemployed, as she had been these past three years, could do.
"Certainly!" Lauren squelched her excitement, hoping not to scare the person on the other end. Very quickly and thoroughly she took notes on her new job. Middle school. She had wanted high school from the beginning, but middle school was better than nothing. And in-between the heartbeat of euphoria, Lauren briefly remembered her middle school years with a shudder, and then took a vow to keep those thoughts away from the forefront of her thoughts. It was full time work, and that was all that mattered.
Lauren took down the information on a scrap piece of paper and then hung up the phone. She quit her video game and whorled around her living room for a moment. A job! A job! And then Lauren stopped. This was the hardest part of getting used to being on her own: there wasn't anyone to celebrate milestones with her. Even if this one was just a route marker. It didn't matter; she was going to find some way to celebrate. She went to the counter in the kitchen and grabbed her keys and stuffed them in her grey cargo shorts and slipped on beaten sneakers she hadn't bothered to untie from the last time she had worn them.
Out across the street at the grocery store, she headed to the alcohol isle and picked up one twelve-ounce bottle of her favorite malt liquor and purchased it with every coin in her wallet. A tiny part of her was sufficiently embarrassed. If the store clerk hadn't one who saw her regularly, she'd feel like a total junkie trying to get her fix.
'It's not okay to drink alone.' Her conscious nagged at her, but her excitement was still all over the place. It didn't matter. She was going to enjoy drinking this one bottle. With dinner she decided. In her bare apartment, the one bottle went into her nearly equally bare refrigerator. The freezer wasn't much better, but there were four cheap TV dinners in there. She wished the macaroni and cheese tasted better, but the kind she liked, the blue box, needed too many other ingredients needed to make it and she could hardly afford that.
Lauren made a list of things that needed to be done this weekend so she could show up for Monday's meeting like she knew her business. Unfortunately, she realized she would have to do laundry. She apprehensively looked over at the quarter pile she kept separate from her money; there was enough for a load, maybe two if the dryers were kind and efficient. Even with the new job, her first check was going to be two weeks away. It would not do to have stained, or questionable clothing worn the first two weeks. Especially with a new boss and new co-workers. Lauren swallowed hard and forced that thought out of the way for now. She'd take time to work on those anxieties with a therapist later.
Later that night, basking in the glow of her good fortune, Lauren remembered the echo of a voice in her mind. "I'm sorry I've been so busy, but continue to write me as often as you can." The ghost of the hand that lay on her shoulder sent a shiver through Lauren's body. She knew the voice and the woman it belonged to. They had seen glimpses of each other every now and then. A few times in the grocery store, but no real conversation. It was as if the girl she was, had grown into adulthood without much change.
But for Lauren, everything had changed. The nightmares dulled now. And she could remember one or two fond memories. She also knew that life for the person behind the voice had changed as well. The bumper stickers that plastered the back of her car were a testimony to how radically things had changed. It was a gay pride bonanza. Lauren had tried to reconnect. She wanted to dearly. Though she hadn't visited the new middle school yet, she fell asleep with the dream that the voice had awakened in her mind's eye.
On the other end of town as Lauren was getting her phone call, Julia Lasting, an English teacher with nearly fifteen years of experience with middle school students, was up to her neck in cardboard boxes. Her six-year-old son was playing in an empty corner with a small crate of action figures. All morning she had meetings, now she had a few hours to unpack and get her room set up the way she wanted. Furniture was still being delivered to every classroom and there was some question as to whether or not there would be electricity in her room when the first day came around. She could hear the grumblings of the subcontractors as they went around poking things and running wires in and out of walls. As it was, all the doors to her room were open but a heat lingered and the lights were off. All the same, Julia was bursting with energy. She was looking forward to teaching her classes of a new school year.
Julia opened a box and began to arrange a bulletin board. She started with the poster for information PFLAG. And then a small pride flag. Every poster promoted a gay tolerant community and assistance for gay students. She knew that it wasn't a total acceptance in the town, but if a student was helped then that was all that mattered. Privately, she resolved no longer to be quiet about her sexuality at this new campus. There was no reason for rumors that the students had spread around the last campus she taught at; being upfront would just eliminate the issue at hand. It was a non-issue in her mind anyway; she wasn't dating and all of those intimate details were not for the students anyway.
Middle school had been the cornerstone of her life for the past several years. She eagerly looked forward to the age group, finding that observing their growth was reason enough to keep coming back every year. She found just the students themselves a dynamic mix ask they grew not only as academics but also as individuals.
It was times like these, she'd think about all the students she had touched across the years. Certainly on all levels there had been simply hundreds. If she had done nothing else than convinced her most unprepared student to just have a pen and a piece of paper every day, then she had made her mark in that student's life. Without a doubt, there had been more achievements that were less strenuous: most were down right comical. And she briefly recognized the dramatic interventions she had been a part of. If they had a whisper of a prayer, the student received whatever help they could and they were quickly shuffled on. She didn't like to dwell on those too long. Most were more successful than failures, but at the time they felt all consuming. She had been in this job too long let those moments eat at her.
Down the hall, she could hear a rhythmic metallic clank as wheels crossed the grooves in the concrete. The custodian came in with a flatbed cart stacked with chairs and began to unload as Julia began to settle her desk and address a general outline of what she wanted to cover in her classes for the next few days until books could arrive.
"Ready for the first day Julia?" he asked as he cut the plastic on a pile of ten chairs and began to put them around the desks.
"Absolutely! There is just going to be so many good things this year. I can feel it!" The custodian gave a non-committal friendly smile and delivered the rest of the chairs, opting to shuffle out quietly.
For the next thirty minutes, Julia made notes of pages to photocopy and other things she wanted to get done the next day. She was about to start looking at putting away some miscellaneous supplies, markers, highlighters, and various sized paperclips when a little scuffle in the corner from her son distracted her.
"Mom, it's four!" her son piped up from his corner covered in his mass of action figures using one to gesture at the red digital clock. He set about scooping all his little action figures onto the nearest table. He was eagerly anticipating a show on TV later and a promised dinner of chicken nuggets, a rare treat for him.
She set her mouth and made a few final notes in her planner. "Okay, let's go." She picked up her briefcase and left her classroom. She would finish digging through the remaining boxes tomorrow and then start organizing the prep room that was shared by the other teachers.