Trapped by Helena Toto

She begins the day as usual, with the realization that she is no longer dreaming.  The images that seemed so vivid and colorful languish in the back of her mind, drifting quickly from her grasp.  The whistling from her husband’s sleep apnea machine pulls her from slumber further, and her words, “I don’t want to go to work,” linger in the noisy air.

She wishes she had a few more moments of dreaming, and yet she knows staying stagnant won’t bring any type of release.  So she stumbles out of bed instead, chiding herself for not completing the morning stretches she was encouraged to do.  The morning Bible verse sits on the bedside table, unread.  The harsh light of day seeping in from the sides of the curtain influences her decision to read the text later, bringing another chastisement from within.

Trying her best to ignore the crushing and burdensome feeling pulling her down, she lists her morning routine tasks in her head: brush teeth, shower, lotion face, get dressed, and make lunches.  Taking a shower seems like too much work, so she wets her hair instead, applies product and brushes it out to make it look washed.  I did wash it last night, she validates to herself.  Her husband says he can tell the difference, but she doesn’t care right now.  She doesn’t feel pretty, so why should she try to look pretty?

An overwhelming feeling of gravity strains downward on her at every moment, like the earth attempting to subdue her soul.  She fights it minute after minute, hour after hour, but it’s a constant feeling, a constant struggling sensation.  Doctors always ask, What’s wrong? or, Can you describe that in more medically friendly terms?  But she doesn’t know how.  How can no one, not one person, look at her and not know how much she struggles?

Ignoring it isn’t an option, for the sheer force of it is so overpowering she’d have to be dead not to notice.  Her husband always says, Relax, calm down.  It will be okay.  How can she make him understand that it isn’t okay?  Existing is not okay.  She knows he’s just trying to help; they are all just trying to help.

_____________

She smiles at her coworkers as she walks down the hallway.  Hi, how are you? sounds like a distant echo.  She nods, indicating she’s all right.  She wishes she could break down right there, in the school hallway-just crumple to the floor and weep.  Not for the attention it would bring, but for the raw power of being in the moment, of being real.  She imagines it for a moment, the freedom.  But then the bell rings, hurrying her to class.

The students all wait for her and stare off into space, thinking of their own lives, their own daily struggles to fit in with the teenage social scene.   Struggles with homework, parents, girlfriends, and boyfriends seem so far in her past.

“How are you doing Mrs. T-?” they ask.

“Oh, I’m fine; just a little tired.  Today we’re going to learn about themes from The Yellow Wallpaper.  Please read the story, and we’ll discuss it afterwards.”

She picks up a copy of the story to take back to her desk.  She wishes she could close her eyes, just for a minute, and go back to the dream world she created the night before.  Instead, she smiles at them with eyes wide open, withdrawing deeper into the growing pit that is herself. When no one knows who you really are, it’s easy to hide.

______________

As class ends and the students shuffle out of the room, one extremely quiet student lingers back at a desk, looking through her bag.  The students are at that awkward phase, when they feel adult, but their bodies and personalities still defy them.  The teacher thinks back on her high school existence.  “Was it any easier to be myself back then?” she whispers.

“Um, Mrs. T-?” an uncertain voice breaks through her thoughts.

She looks over to where the student stands.

“I, ah, I really like the stories you shared with us the other day.  I heard you may be teaching creative writing next year.”  A pause.

She waits for a question, but as is frequent with this age group, guessing what comes next is a must.

”Are you interested in that?”

“Um, yea.  Can I sign up?”

A nagging voice persists in her head.  This is the student they said wouldn’t amount to much.  This is the student they said would never write anything new.

“Yes, of course,” she says.

She hears a barely audible, “Thank you,” as the student scurries out of the room.

She begins to imagine next year’s students and the possibilities they hold.  As the next class starts to wander in, she recalls her husband’s words – Relax, calm down.  It will be okay.

“Mrs. T-why are you smiling?” a student asks.

“Oh!” she says with a start, “I didn’t realize I was.”

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