Wednesday, February 17, 2010


In which we see Ms. Bradstreet stretch in unfamiliar directions

The Maria Chronicles, #40

The old, familiar pain is evident to Maria when she moves from her bed to the bathroom on Tuesday morning, and the thought of its return hurts as least as much as the sharp twinge every time she puts weight on the knee. She still remembers the doctor showing her the arthritic fragments on the x-ray two years ago, ascribing it to the aging process. He prescribed Vioxx, which worked, but she worried about the side effects, especially since her dad had died of a heart attack. But that medication is long since gone, in any case. She'd have to go see someone new.

Maria had been pleased when the chair of the History department, Jen Abruzzi, invited her to lunch at her upper-west side apartment for President's Day. The walk the two subsequently took in Riverside Park with Jen's chocolate Labrador retriever had gone on much longer than either of them had anticipated (they turned back when the reached 72nd Street, which meant the whole excursion was about three miles). Maria likes and respects Jen, and was glad to hear about the new guy she's been dating, mindful of how sorely lacking she is for friends here in New York.
The weather was surprisingly warm, and the park had a stark beauty. She probably would have kept going even if her knee started to hurt then, which it hadn't. In retrospect, Maria realizes she should have taken Advil before going to bed, but didn't even think about it. She wasn't hurting, and three miles really isn't that much, for God's sake.

The pain accompanies her as she putters around her apartment, getting ready for work. It abates for the drive to school, but resumes when she walks across the parking lot. Maria is at work early today, hoping to grade a few essays before her first class, but she sees as she arrives that the first buses are already there, disgorging their human cargo onto the sidewalk. Some of the kids mill around, talking and laughing, while others trudge into the building. She finds herself envying them their rude vigor. Although she in many ways loves working with young people, there are times Maria finds it a psychically punishing experience. The lean frames, firm asses, taut stomachs, good skin (well, maybe not that much good skin): it can be so exhausting.

Like right now: Maria is walking down a corridor of sophomore lockers, where a group of boys are playing lacrosse in the hallway. A heavy white ball hits a cinder block wall with a thud, and bounds away from her, leading a boisterous pack of three in hot pursuit. It takes her a moment to figure out what's happening, which prompts a series of thoughts:

One: This is not good, and I need to intervene.

Two: I don't want to intervene.

Three: Will they respond if I do intervene?

Four: This is not good, and I need to intervene.

Maria is just about to shout "Boys!" above the din when she suddenly sees the white ball bounding right at her. She holds up her hand and the ball flies right into it, the pain surprising but bearable. It all happens at blinding speed; she'd never be able to do this if she thought about it for more than a millisecond.

The three boys at the far end of the hall are standing silent; the fourth boy, facing her in the aftermath of his failed attempt to intercept the ball, is still wearing an "oh shit!" expression.

Maria gives him a rueful smile. "I think you guys better take this outside."

"I'm really sorry," he says, taking the ball from her outstretched hand. "We'll move right now. C'mon, guys," he says. "We can go to the lower field."

"I gotta go to the computer lab anyway," a boy at the far end says. "Me too," says another. The fourth just drifts off.

"I guess that wasn't very smart," the first boy says, turning back to Maria and walking past. "Thanks, Ms. Bradstreet."

Maria is surprised the kid knows her name, and that he thanks her, which, she thinks, is about right: this could have gone a good deal worse for him. She's also a little surprised at herself for how well she acquitted herself in this set of unexpected circumstances. Guess the old mare isn't quite ready to be put to pasture, she thinks.

Which is not to say the pain in her knee has gone away. Maria knows it's not going to any time soon, just as she knows she's not going find, much less get an appointment with, a doctor any time soon. Maria remembers that she forgot to take the Advil she intended to before she left home, but also that she has some in the top left hand drawer of her desk. That'll do for now. She'll manage.