By Lacey Vargas
I get offered a job near the end of the summer. Everyone else in our alternative certification program has one already and it kind of feels like schools have picked me last for their kickball team.
Then again, most of my college friends have yet to enter the workforce, so at least I’m on a kickball team at all.
“Don’t worry if you’re not a content expert,” the special ed chair tells me.
I’ll have a co-teacher to take care of the math stuff. All I have to do is help students learn.
With my employment letter, Carlos and I rent a studio on the fifth floor of an East Harlem walkup. The week I start work, he starts his PhD in linguistics.
“What will you do with that?” people ask him, and he breathes deeply and bites the inside of his lower lip.
Some thoughts don’t need words, I think. I also think, I probably shouldn’t tell him that.
When a student asks me for help, I start by copying the problem, slowly, onto a crisp sheet of loose leaf.
The co-teacher approves. “That’s a good way to keep the kids organized.”
But I am sneaky. It buys me time so I can remember what to do.
On Monday nights, I go to Methods in Primary Science. I teach high school algebra, but it’s the only class open by the time I remember to register.
I make sure to write down the important things the professor says. For example, he really hates The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
“Children should know,” he declares, “that caterpillars don’t eat cupcakes!”
For parent conferences, I wear my one suit to look older. I look like someone who thinks grown-ups are people in suits.
I ask Carlos if he wants a tree.
“That might be nice. Should we get you a menorah?”
I ask Google when Hanukkah is supposed to start. Five days ago, it answers.
I blame my mom for not saying anything. Though, come to think of it, that Amazon box with the blue pajamas inside could have been from her.
I tell Carlos I’m on the fence about his department’s holiday party. I’ll get intimidated by all the grad students in one room.
“But you’re in grad school too.”
I ponder this comment.
“Did you forget?”
Something like that.
The co-teacher has begun to let me grade. But never in red, she tells me. It calls to mind failure.
Even more than the F? I want to ask.
A student gives us each a thin glass ornament before we leave for break.
The co-teacher winks before stowing hers in her backpack. “We’re not really supposed to take gifts.”
I never carry a purse, so I shove mine in a jeans pocket and hope it doesn’t fall out.
On my way home, I remember we were supposed to buy a tree.
On Christmas Eve, we take the train to Islip to stay with Carlos’s parents. They show me into his sister’s old room and I realize I’m supposed to sleep on her pink canopy bed.
When he sneaks in at night, I think he’s a burglar and start screaming.
His parents pretend not to hear.
“You’re full of surprises,” he whispers, kissing my ear under the ruffled sheets.
In the spring semester I have Intro to Special Education. They make us buy a book on ADHD. Beside each bullet on the checklist, I write “yes,” “yes,” yes.”
I spend at least an hour reimagining life with a diagnosis. Then I remember I’m supposed to be reading the next chapter.
The special ed chair fills out my evaluation form. It says I am developing. I run to show it to my co-teacher, like a kid with her first report card, and she says developing is not as good as I think. Next time, I should aim for effective.
We’re supposed to file the form with the rest of our important documents. I don’t have a file of important documents, so I fold it until it fits in my pocket.
A week later, Carlos saves my evaluation form from death by washing machine.
I am developing, I tell him, straightening out the creases on the paper.
“Like a photograph?”
I imagine myself as a blank page in a darkroom tray, my shapes slowly revealing themselves below the water.
I quite like developing, I decide. It would be boring to see the whole picture at once.
Lacey Vargas teaches Humanities at a middle school in New York City, where she lives with her husband, her five-year-old daughter, and too many turtles. "Developing" is her first published work of fiction.