Dear Braxton-Hicks Contractions,
First off, screw you. I was in the middle of a really tiresome morning—before class started, the school secretary told me a parent called to get confirmation or denial on the rumor that the Creative Writing teacher (me) was teaching sections of 50 Shades of Gray as examples of popular fiction. My irritation for this wasn’t completely faded when the bell rang to start class, and then you showed up. Thanks. (I’m not teaching that, by the way. If I’m going to teach smut, I’ll at least find some artful smut. Here’s looking at you, Robert Herrick!)
But more importantly, screw you for visiting T. You strike me as a real impersonal bastard, BH, so allow me to introduce you to the student whose day you made even more complicated. Being pregnant is hard enough, but being pregnant while 15 and Black and in rural Mississippi is, well, harder. Not rural enough for a pregnant teenager to be the norm, mind you, but rural enough for kids to occasionally drive tractors to school when their trucks break down. But back to T. She’s a smart girl. At the beginning of the year, I noted how she often took care of the girls sitting around her, saying that she’d text them to remind them about homework assignments, or walking them through the rules for formatting a works cited page. After one class, I complimented her and thanked her for being “the momma bear for those sweet, lost cubs.” She didn’t laugh. She wasn’t showing. I had no idea how far I had shoved my foot in my mouth.
Months pass: the rumors, the giggles, the sweatshirts that grew tighter. I’d let her slide on assignments she missed because of doctor’s appointments. Her friends, those cubs she helped earlier, surrounded her, roaring and slashing at whoever made fun. She started standing straight up—metaphorically speaking.
Then yesterday, she asks to go to the bathroom. “That bladder getting squeezed, Mr. D,” she says as she pats her belly. I write her a pass. In a few minutes, her friend slides to my desk. “Can I go the restroom? T just texted me, say she don’t feel right.”
Since I have no idea what on earth to do in situations like this—I’m a dude whose only son came via Caesarian—I stick my head in the hallway. Just in time to see T wince and grimace her way down the hall, the contractions fading. “False alarm,” she says. Of course, the girls who heard her screaming in the bathroom look plenty alarmed. One was alarmed enough to run to the front office, as evidenced by the assistant principal running down the hallway. She walks up to T, notices the lack of broken water, figures out much quicker than I what just happened. Mrs. B turns into her own momma bear. “T, if you’re not feeling good, baby, stay home. It’s going to be better for both of y’all.” T tightens up her face, wants to look like she’s not about to cry from embarrassment, from the stress from uncertainty of what’s going to happen when the contractions are real and she squeezes a little life out of her belly and into her arms. The stress of holding her child before she’s able to hold a diploma. The stress of being the daughter of a stressed mother who’s about to become a grandmother too damn early. The stress of having to walk back into first period English with those eyes looking and saying nothing as loudly as they can.
“Please, T. Listen to her. I’m an OK English teacher, but I can’t deliver a baby. Can you imagine how that’d screw up my lesson plans? They didn’t teach me about birthing babies in teacher school.”
She grins. “Shut up, Mr. D.” I do. I smile, too.
Back in the classroom, everyone’s still working, eyes on desks. I imagine T’s cubs have scared everyone with very credible threats. T sits back down, takes a breath, gets back to her independent reading quiz. She chose Katy Simpson Smith’s The Story of Land and Sea from the list I gave them—a beautiful novel about three generations of tough women in early America. Before she went to the bathroom, I asked the class to write a few paragraphs about the themes of their books. T’s paper had this scrawled across the top: Hope Conquers Struggle. Each word pressed firmly into the paper, underlined several times. What can I teach her? Nothing. This is why you can’t derail her, BH: she already knows so much.
10th grade English/ Creative Writing Teacher