The first time a kid commented on my appearance I was a little nonplussed.
I could not even imagine saying something to a teacher that was a personal observation.
Wait. I take that back.
When I was in kindergarten I followed a yard duty person because I had never seen a face like hers, like it had a map on it.
I didn't know that many old people.
I said, "How did your face get like that?"
All I remember feeling was wonder and a kind of awe.
Until she answered.
And then I was sad and ashamed, because I got yelled at and I had to stand in a corner and I was scared to death.
Things like that happen when you are five.
And then you are supposed to learn "tact."
And you are also supposed to be truthful.
This is a fine line to walk for just about anybody.
So here I am in a classroom with about forty kids who are labelled "at risk."
I learned early on that labels are not really helpful.
Anyway, one of my girls looks at me and says, "You didn't put any makeup on your right eye." Turns to a friend. "Damn, girl. That woman only did one eye."
My first response was dismay and chagrin, because I knew I had forgotten something, but no one in the carpool said a word. Not one adult said, "Hey, you only did one eye."
And now all the kids are looking at me and talking about my naked eye.
I tried to steer them back to poetry.
They would have none of it.
They wanted answers.
"How you leave the house and your face is not on?"
"Didn't your mama tell you?"
"You still live with your mama?"
"Shutup. Maybe she can't see."
A paper airplane flies by.
"I can see," I said.
I'm standing there in my Little House on the Prarie /Consummate Professional clothing that was required for student teachers, an utterly non-fetching sweater and skirt ensemble. I remember that I had on a pair of green pumps, and a green jade apple necklace, and nylons that had started to pool around my ankles.
I pulled a really tall stool into the center of the room and sat.
It got kind of quiet. Still too loud for Management Purposes.
"Here's the deal," I said."You can ask me three questions. I may not answer if I don't think it's your business. And then we need to do this other stuff."
It's the first week of student teaching and I had a lot of learning to do.
I am keenly aware of my Naked Eye, and that mortification will get me nowhere.
"So how did you leave your house and your makeup wasn't done?"
"I don't know. I get busy in my head."
"It doesn't look that bad," said a kid. Hooray for the sympathy vote.
"Thanks," I said.
"Do you still live with your mama?"
Argument ensues. Doubt as to whether or not the whole class wants this to be a real question. I wait.
"No, I don't live with my mother."
Protests. This is not enough of an answer.
"Then you better ask a different kind of question."
"Do you really like this shit?" A kid waves the packet of poems.
Everyone is really quiet.Because even though they swear a lot, here was a swear word in a question to the adult.
When in doubt, go to Atticus Finch.
I gave the kid my Naked Eye. "Don't say 'shit' in class. And yeah, I like most poetry. I like it all except (and then I named a poem that I don't like)."
And I told them why I didn't like it.
And many of them listened and some of them didn't and a lot of them didn't care one way or the other and that's how I made it through one day.
And I stopped and looked in a mirror on my way to the carpool.
The eye with makeup looked all sad and stretched, like how my nylons felt.
My Naked Eye looked just fine.