“Can I talk to you?” A student lingered by my desk as the others rushed to lunch. The words brought a lump to my throat. One of my first teaching memories is when a student started a conversation with those words and then three seconds later pulled up her sleeves to show me the scars on her wrists.
“Sure,” I said, bracing myself.
“I don’t know who else to talk to,” she began. “It’s about that movie…2012…” she said. Relief instantly washed over me, until I realized how terrified she was. “Everyone’s talking about it, and I’ve been thinking about it, and if the world ends in 2012, I won’t even be done with high school,” she continued.
I imagined the world ending before I was done with high school. The thought was in fact terrifying.
“And I don’t want to be away from my family…I think about it every night…” she continued.
“The world is not going to end in 2012,” I said, using my best comforting teacher voice.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
And I realized that if I said yes, I would be lying. Yet, I did anyway. “I’m sure.”
A few years later, I still think of this student and this conversation all the time. I thought of her last week, on Wednesday night. It’s the night when our neighborhood puts out its trash, and our dog Rosie hates it. People come to dig through our recyclables, and she barks at each and every one of them.
Last week, she couldn’t seem to calm down, and so I got out of bed and came to sit with her. We curled up on the arm chair by the window together, and she nestled her head into my chest the way she likes to. I stroked her, trying to use gentle pressure like the books I’ve read have told me to. While I did, I whispered, “it’s okay. We’re safe. No one will ever hurt us.”
Of course, I was lying again. But I kept saying it, over and over again, until Rosie was almost asleep. Even when she was calmed down, I sat there longer, and I imagined that one day I would say that lie to my children, and I imagined hearing it from my mother, and I wondered how many mothers were whispering it right now. I wondered how many times, for how many ages, women had said those words.
I don’t think the world is going to end in a few weeks, but I do think that it will be radically different for my students when they reach adulthood. But I also believe that no matter what happens, mothers will still take their young ones in their arms, and whisper that same lie that’s not really a lie.
I imagine all of the women’s words, from all of the different languages, floating up into the dark, and weaving together. And even though I was just pretending not to be scared, when I think of that, I’m really not.