Losing Matilda

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Chicken Love

Matilda died.

Just a bit before midnight.

And I knew immediately.

As those that have suffered great loss always do.

Something woke me from my sleep.

The house a bit stiller.

Something a bit off.

I got up quickly from the bed and tip-toed to the bathroom, praying… just as I once did on Christmas mornings… that I would get my wish and find the thing I wanted most… but she was gone.

Still elegant in her death.

Her long rusty red and white tipped neck draped gently over her towel laden bed, as if she had only fallen asleep, and in the morning, would be mine to love once again.

She sits now, next to me, wrapped in her burial blanket, waiting to be laid in the ground, and I think of how only a few hours ago she was staring me down in a way that only chickens can, accusing me of being selfish.

And I was.

I had tried to care for her on my own, but feeling that I had done it all wrong, and worried that I had waited too long, I took her in to the vet, hoping he could save her but fearing the worst.

He walked in and smiled at her… reached out and brushed her soft feathers.

He said she was the sweetest bird he had ever met and then… that she was the thinnest chicken he had ever seen.

And though he meant it without judgement, I felt a failure in the way of a parent, that I had let my child down… so sure in my ego that I could give her better care at home… and now feeling as if I was a Judas who betrayed her trust…  had brought her to be put down in the company of strangers.

I made all the promises then that we all make when we lose those we love:

I’ll do anything to save her.

I”ll do it all differently this time.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

And so the doctor left the room to get her fluids, and food, and the medicine she would need.

He made no promises but said that we would give it our best shot.

“Our best shot,” I whispered to Matilda after he left so pleased that we even had a shot.

But she sat there with her eyes closed… ignoring my words, pretending not to hear me. Obviously wiser than I would ever be so I pushed it and whispered again, really more of a plea:

“Please don’t die, everyone else is an asshole.”

She opened her eyes immediately, glared at me, a tight knit scowl that seemed to say, “Jesus Christ, lady. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a chicken.”

And I laughed.

It was always so with Matilda.

There was always something that was more human than chicken about her.

The way she first found me that night in the park. Popping out to say hello, sure that I would take her home before the coyotes got to her.

The way she would hear my mini-van pull up and run wildly pell-mell to the fence, so excited to see me.

The way she would hunker down, preparing for me to pick her up… as if she had positioned herself for freeze tag… before I would scoop her into my arms and hold her close while she cooed and cooed, eyes closed… sure in my love for her.

Stephen tried to comfort me when she was gone, “Don’t you see how you have done right by this animal? Don’t you know that you saved her?”

But do you ever see the things that you’ve done right when you are in the middle of a loss?

I don’t think that you do.

I think that you cry… you beg… you ask for a take back… and you say.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

Hoping that you can somehow stop death in its tracks… and find a way to hold tight to those that you love.

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The Day the Substitute Custodian got an Eyeful: Or also known as… Ms. Wood’s Accidental Full Monty

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caught

Boobs are something most female high school teachers try to hide.

Having large boobs in fact, is a detriment in this particular profession.

You have to constantly check that they do not bounce, jiggle, shake, or incite ANY type of movement that may provoke an inappropriate remark.

And, you might be surprised what topics will cause an inappropriate remark.

Take the time I was talking about getting an EKG, thinking I was making students aware of screening and good health when I look down from my perch, on top of an empty student desk, and see my 11th grade student, Zach Smith, staring up at me lovingly, mouth agape, breathlessly imagining me topless and connected to electrodes, on an examining table, before he breathes in a whispy whisper, “God I love when you talk about your doctor’s visit, Ms. Wood.” (student=1, ms. wood=zero)

Or just recently, when I bought a t-shirt from Old Navy. Not realizing when I put it on in the morning that it was completely see-through and that my nude underwire bra made me look like I had the best pair of perky breasts since the days of the Playboy Vargas girl drawings. Student commentary? Uh, no comment. (students=2, ms. wood=still zero)

Yes, we work hard to protect our reputations as stand-up teachers but sometimes our bodies just get in the way. And though at times high school boys and yes… sometimes girls make an inappropriate remark regarding my mammary glands… these incidents are of course, few and far between in my twenty years of teaching, but have made enough of an impact on me to still fill me with complete despair when they return to my memory.

But in my WORST nightmares… I never imagined that my breasts would make a public appearance on a school day but OH let me tell you… they did.

It was the substitute custodian, actually who enjoyed the full monty of my breasts.

He was a slow man (think Portagee Joe in John Steinbeck’s, Tortilla Flats) who shall ever remain nameless due to this “incident.”

Mr. Marshall, my regular custodian, was out on sick leave and so the district added “PJ” temporarily to our night time crew.

Now, “PJ” loved to take his break in my room.

He would sit at the desks and read my plethora of books.

He would eat his snacks and watch my classroom videos on the dvd.

He would saunter about and flop on my couch.

The only thing the man WOULDN’T do was clean.

I tried time and time again to tell him that I appreciated his love for my room but that it was filthy and he needed to clean it properly.

He would nod his head seeming to understand, a big sweet smile on his face, his hands wringing his dust rag in anticipation of the great job he would do for me and then… I would leave and find the next morning… my room still a dirt pit from the day before… his leftover snack crumbs trailed from the couch, across the floor, to his attempted deposit in the trashcan. Filthy, filthy, filthy.

My bungalow buddy, Dr. Hawkins was sure that he had something wrong with him. “There’s nothing going on up there,” she said one day as we were conspiratorially whispering during our nutrition break. “Brain like a bag of rocks” she added as she tapped her temple repeatedly… and I knew… that if Satinder Hawkins, a woman who can communicate with anyone and teaches advanced psychology couldn’t get this guy to pick up on our message and clean the fucking rooms… then no one could.

Days passed.

Mr. Marshall did not return.

PJ was our sub and there was nothing we could do about it.

All of the teachers on his run tried to reason with him but no matter how we cajoled and pleaded: the empty stare, the large smile, the wringing of the hands, the nodding head, the filthy rooms remained.

We gave up and assigned students to take over the cleaning until Mr. Marshall returned from GOD KNOWS WHERE but man… did we want him back.

For weeks nothing changed… until a Wednesday.

A non-descript Wednesday.

I’d stayed late that day… a group of alumni water polo players, our current coach and I had decided we would all get in the pool after regular practice and rip it up “after hours” with an alumni scrimmage. It was great fun… alone in the pool… a small crew… playing hard and laughing each time someone made a goal… until it began to grow dark and worn… we decided to get out and call it a night.

The girls all wrapped in towels headed off to the parking lot to get in their cars and shower at home but since the locker room was still open, I decided to stay and have a quiet shower alone… a bit afraid of my old high school locker room but… feeling grown-up and responsible and silly for giving into childhood fears.

I walked in and noted the half lights… the quiet calm… the emptiness without the sounds of a hundred girls shouting or giggling or blow drying their hair and headed to the first stall. I left my towel on the bench and stripped out of my suit in the shower. It felt good to be alone. I finished my rinse and then reached for my towel. I did a quick pat down and then wrapped it around my hips before I bent over and wrung out my hair. My head was down… my breasts were bare and dangling… when I did an extra large hair flip and bounced up to feel my long wet hair slap the middle of my back.

It was then that I heard a loud gasp and looked straight into the large stunned eyes of my substitute custodian.

I tell you the moment seemed to last forever.

The eye contact.

The amount of force I used to throw back my head must have showcased my breasts in stunning jiggling glory.

I imagine the uplift alone must have startled him silly as I watched his eyes roll back in his head and his breathing become ragged.

I yelped and rushed to hide in the shower stall.

There were no words spoken.

He scurried off… ashamed that he had entered the lady’s locker room without first shouting out. His little bowlegs painfully working to gallop away… his back hunched as if he had just received an actual physical blow… as I peeked at him from the top of the shower wall and waited for his shadow to disappear before pulling my suit back on over my hips…. Running for my pool bag… towel pressed to my chest as if it’s terry cloth fabric could erase the scar from my bosom. I hoofed it to my car, rushing to the warmth of the private interior, where I laid my head upon my steering wheel and moaned, “Oh God…” at the realization that I would have to see this man actually SEE this man on a daily basis until Mr. Marshall’s return.

I wanted to call in sick until further notice.

The next day, I headed to my classroom late…. terrified that he had left me a note about my improper impromptu show as he “innocently” tried to clean the lady’s locker room. But as I turned the key and flipped on the light… I found nothing… absolutely nothing but…

A SPOTLESSLY CLEAN ROOM.

My mouth dropped open and my face flushed.

‘God damn it,” I whispered.

I felt like I had a scarlet letter burned across my chest.

My own breasts used against me!

My dirty room now spotless not because of my voice and my brain but because of my abundant naked boobs.

When I finally got up the nerve to tell Dr. Hawkins several days later why my room was now each day…  “sparkling clean” she laughed a deep throaty laugh that made me feel connected and comfortable as a woman. “If that’s what it takes,” she roared.

It was two weeks before Mr. Marshall returned, and I refused to stay late after the ‘incident” and thankfully… I never had to make eye contact with the substitute custodian again. But now… as I grow older…. and my breasts give way to gravity (as they all do) I like to imagine the moment… and even have a bit of a giggle… knowing that somewhere in the LB Unified School District… I am legendary and considered “Custodian Porn.”