As anyone who has learned or taught a foreign language knows, idioms don’t translate. They are a bizarre facet of language that can expose as much about a culture as its cuisine or its religious beliefs. Even odder is the fact that there are expressions in our own languages that we may know by sight or sound, but don’t actually understand; once a certain age or learning point has passed, it becomes shameful to ask about the definition. Hindsight, as I now know, is 20/20. And it took me until this year, my first year as a bilingual special education teacher in the public school system sector in a big ass city, to really understand what that meant.
The first time I applied to a high-speed blender teacher training escapade belligerence program was in 2012. I was sitting in an Internet café in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chaipas, Mexico, probably hungover, typing at the speed of light to avoid getting charged 10 more pesos for the extra hour. I wrote about how immigrants from Latin America come to the United States to work hours that violate human rights agreements, and I wanted to be there to help their children. If there had been a bloody tear emoji, I would have inserted it at the end. Instead, I threw together a slapdash essay that got me a big fat denial. I chose to teach English to rich bankers in the Distrito Federal, and remained SOTB for another year.
When I returned to New York, it was to get a Master’s degree in writing. The original purpose of the MFA was to allow me to teach ESL in a high school in Mexico, make a shit load of money, and live that expat life that dreams, bad relationships, and cirrhosis are made of. However, a sequence of self-indulgent sojourns in nations and cities both far and near during my MFA tenure caused me to question the legitimacy of a life lived in luxury and lushdom. Did I really want to be one of those washed-up whities, chain-smoking in Oaxaca, complaining about how Mexicans drive like assholes while undertipping waiters? There had to be more.
So as my studenthood drew to a close, I applied again to a blender belligerence teacher preparation charade, this time with a little less pomp and a little more comprehension of my circumstances. Mainly, aging 80s original with a slowly shrinking road map into the future. My second essay touched upon similar themes as the first – Injustice! Dishwashers! The kids! – but was less of a rant, probably because I wasn’t paying for Internet by the minute. This time, I was two years older and wiser. This time, I would educate youth. This time, I would have paid summers off to undertake serious endeavors, like month-long adult Outward Bound Courses, or writing a novel.
And this time, I was invited to a phone interview. The instructions for said interview were mafia-esque: “You will receive a phone call at 9 am on Tuesday. If you do not pick up the phone, the caller will try again precisely 5 minutes later. If you do not pick up the phone, you will have forfeited your interview opportunity.”
The night before the phone interview, I had a class, a workshop. It was getting towards the end of the semester. It was one of those perfect nights that can only happen in grad school: All members of the writing workshop, previously at odds with each other about shitty punctuation and gratuitous use of adverbs, realize that we’re at a mediocre school and aren’t going to be famous anyway. It’s a beautiful spring night and we’re in Manhattan (West Harlem, but still, it’s on the island), and so we drink. And there’s rabblerousing, and complimenting each others horrible screenplays, and planning (“A retreat! We’ll do a retreat!”) and tequila-ing, and more tequila-ing, and the licking of limes, and the conversations turn introspective, and before I know it, I’m in my bed with a churning stomach, salt on my lips, and a wholehearted conviction not to pick the phone up the next morning.
When my alarm went off at 8:50, I was disoriented. I had agita, and then a flashback – one of my comrades (perhaps the subjectively cute guy who I’d ultimately have mediocre sex with) saying: “You don’t want to teach! You’d hate it!” My tongue runs over a thin laceration on the roof of my mouth, probably from a stale tortilla chip too hastily consumed. The flashback continues, as does the acid in my throat. “You wake up when the sun is still behind the buildings. You talk to children all day.” In spite of my sorry state – eyes aglaze, clothes twisted around, vomit on the horizon – I had a spine-tingling sensation that I was having an epiphany. This wasn’t me. I wasn’t meant to be a public school teacher. I was a writer! An artist! A free spirit with a foul mouth, untamable and now enlightened.
When the phone rang at 9 am, I silenced the call. By the time my second and final chance for the phone interview called back five minutes later, I had already passed the fuck back out.
There are very few things that I regret. In fact, I would have, up until a few months ago, gotten “non, je ne regretted rien” tattooed on my right forearm if it wasn’t too cliché even for me (I’m leaning more towards “je ne suis qu’une fille du porte; une ombre de la rue” as a tramp stamp, but that’s a different post). However, as I mentioned earlier, hindsight is 20/20. Knowing that, it was with terrible vision indeed that, in the winter months of 2015, I decided to throw the dice on the table one last time. I wrote the most simpering, platitude-filled essay I could manage. I added “Volunteer Reading Tutor” and “Writing Center Tutor” to my resume. I clicked send. And I incited a slow-burning fire, a fire with no cool sparks or threats to rise up, just a dull, constant burn known as a career as a public school teacher.