Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Pusher

Some people are so sweet and innocent looking that you just never realize the sort of mischief they will get you into. Mrs. Carter, who had taught culinary arts at our school for 20-some years, is a sunshiny individual, ready with a kind word and a cheerful smile for everyone she meets. Her students love her, as much for her encouragement as for the fact that if mischief makers flip her switch to the dark side, she will put them in their place so firmly they tread funny for a month.

Debbie and I would talk occasionally in passing, but we really got to be friends when we had lunch together one semester. If you've read any of my other writing, you've probably picked up on my irreverence and the lack of filter that my brain often has. Suffice it to say, Debbie Carter is one of those friends who would laugh just the proper amount when I'd go off-color--a giggle to say she'd gotten and appreciated the joke along with a raised eyebrow to tell me to curb it back in since I was approaching that line and about to vault over it with my usual lack of grace. On the occasions that she dished it out, she'd leave me rolling with laughter with her perfectly placed one-liners.

She became one of the teachers that I'd run to when I had something that I was dying to say back to a student but just couldn't because it trampled that professional line a little too much. I'm pretty sure that there were many days when she would see my eyes sparkling with that look and she'd start thinking of escape routes, but she was always there for me, both with laughter and indignation when needed against the often frustrating elements of our profession as teachers. Our lunch that year was one I remember as overall hilarity, just waiting to see what our little group was going to come up with each day. About halfway through that semester, Debbie inadvertently gave us fodder for a solid month of teasing.

Up until I had my wisdom teeth removed at 33, I rarely had headaches. When I would get one, I turned into a whiny baby, and because they were so rare, I never kept meds with me. Typically if I had an ache, I'd run to Barbie next door and she would pull out the ibuprofen.

On this particular day, Barbie was out of anything resembling pain relief. I stuck my head in every classroom and hit up the bookkeeper in our building, but nobody had any ibuprofen or acetaminophen, my two typical go-to meds. After every single teacher, including Debbie, had turned me down, I returned to face the second half of the day by turning out my classroom lights and letting my students watch a video that was loosely connected to something I would eventually teach, promising not to make them do the accompanying worksheet if they just didn't make any noise at all. I only had to finish that class and third period since fourth was my planning.

Most of the way through second period, Debbie tapped me on the shoulder and I raised my bleary eyes from where I cradled my head and shielded my eyes from the light of the screen.

"I didn't find any ibuprofen," she dashed my quickly raised hopes, "but I did find some of my daughter's Excedrin migraine if you'd like some."

I'd never taken Excedrin before, both because of the fact that I so rarely had headaches and because ibuprofen always just took care of me, but I was at a point of desperation and would have taken just about anything anyone would give me. Going home had crossed my mind, but the pain was so intense that I was frightened to drive.

"Oh, please," I gulped and thanked her profusely. We walked back to her office since we weren't inclined to pop even over-the-counter pills in front of students and she shook two out of a bottle into her hand.

"Do I need two?" I queried. I didn't know the standard dose and usually didn't need as many pills because not taking them often meant they always worked well for me. The bottle she was pouring them from was a general pill bottle that many women carry in their purses, containing extras of her prescriptions and various OTC stuff, including several of the Excedrins.

"I assume so," Debbie replied in her sweet voice, her brow furrowed in concern at how awful I must have looked. "My daughter always takes two."

I thanked her again and ran to the water fountain to wash them down just before the bell for class change rang. Third period shuffled in and asked about the lights. I offered them the same deal as second, and since my usual persona is overly bubbly and somewhat hyperactive, seeing me so quiet and squinty made my kids very agreeable. The light of my monitor as I took attendance shot knives right through my brain, and I put my hands on my temples as I rested my elbows on my desk to maintain an illusion that I was still watching what was going on in my class while the video started playing.

When my head dropped between my hands, I jerked upright. The pain in my head was quite muffled, but so was the world around me. Everything with a light had a soft glow and I felt like I was swimming through the air. I looked at my hands because they felt like they were vibrating slightly and while I didn't actually see color trails, I felt like if I could just get the right angle, colors would become visible. I petted my own arms, feeling how soft my skin was as my classroom wavered in front of me.

A couple of my students scooted closer to my desk as they watched me looking so closely at the pores on my hands.

"Mrs. Williams? Are you okay?" one of them asked.

"I'm fine," I said and giggled at the way my words echoed inside my head. "Do I look fine?" I asked.

"How's your head?" another one inquired.

"It doesn't really hurt any more," I answered as I struggled to lift my face up to look them in the eye. It felt like the air was molasses and when I finally raised my head up, I think it wobbled. Then I tried to wobble it and my eyes went wide with the ensuing vertigo.

"Woah!" I exclaimed. "I'm dizzy!"

The kids frowned and several others were taking note of my behavior to the point that I heard whispers about calling the nurse, but I told them I'd be alright and that I was just going to put my head down on my hands again for a little. Somehow, I managed to stay awake until lunch time, mostly by pinching my leg and smacking myself gently.

I teetered into the lounge after the halls cleared and put my lunch in the microwave. I rested my face on book pile on a desk while I waited. I awoke to Barbie gently shaking me.

"Are you okay?" she echoed my students.

I couldn't have actually been asleep for long because we eat lunch together, but the speed with which I went under was new to me.

"I don't think so," I said. "I'm not sure why, but I can't stay awake."

"Just go to sleep then," Barbie said. "I'll wake you up when lunch is over and maybe the nap will help."

I thanked her and added another book to the pile to keep from getting a crick in my neck. When she woke me up about 30 minutes later, I stood up and went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. Some stretches helped to get my blood flowing a little and I thought maybe I was better.

Back at my desk, I tackled a stack of papers only to find my head drooping down and my lids weighted beyond my power to open them.

With Herculean effort, I forced my way down the hall to Rhonda, our bookkeeper, to tell her where they could find me if they needed me. Plus, I wanted someone to be aware that I was in this horrible state. I legitimately thought that the headache was the first symptom in whatever hideous bug had attacked me and was knocking me out now.

"Hey, Rhonda," I began while she looked up and started to rise as soon as she saw me falling like a drunk against the doorway. "I don't, like, ever do this, but I'm going to go into the lounge and sleep. I don't know what's wrong, but I can't stay awake and I surely can't drive home right now."

I'm pretty sure that my eyes were closed while I was talking to her because I remember being startled when she somehow transported to right in front of me. She leaned close into my space and looked closely at my eyes.

"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure," I replied. "I had a horrible headache and now I'm too sleepy to function."

With her close look at me, she apparently saw that my pupils were dilated. "What did you take?" she asked.

"Huh?" My brain stumbled through the thoughts. "Just some Excedrin Debbie gave me."

"Are you sure it was Excedrin?" she said.

"Well, that's what she said it was. I'll double-check," I added as I headed for that comfy book pile.

I did plan to double-check with Debbie, but I sat down after making it all the way down that interminable hallway. Debbie woke me up a while later when she came in to gather her things to go home.

"Emily? What are you doing?"

My cheek stuck to the top book with a little drool as I tried to focus on her.

"I'm sleeping. I don't feel good," I managed to get out. "What were those pills again?" I remembered to ask.

"My daughter's Excedrin," she said, "for her migraines."

"Well, I don't think they work the same for me," I slurred. "Maybe I should have just taken one?"

I laid my face back down on the pile and told her I was going to sleep again until my children got off the bus so I could drive them home. I recall her frown as I drifted back out.

With the state I was in, I have no idea how much time passed before Debbie woke me up again.

"Emily, I called my daughter," she said with a distraught expression. "Those were Excedrin PM, not Excedrin migraine. Also, my daughter only ever takes one. She usually just takes a half pill or she's too sleepy the next morning."

My impression of an owl was quite excellent she assured me later, what with my wide, blinking, disbelieving eyes. She and Barbie teamed up to get me and my kids home that evening since I was not going to be in any condition to drive for several hours. I had a lovely afternoon of napping in my recliner while my kids enjoyed PB&J and lots of TV. Once I got them put to bed, I had the best night's sleep I'd had in years.

I was back to my usual hilarious self in the morning and I waited until she'd started teaching her advanced class with my yearbook editors in it before I struck. With a smile, I walked in her room.

"Good morning, Mrs. Carter." I grinned.

Her eyebrows took on that familiar wrinkle, knowing that something was coming, but I could see the humor lurking in her eyes, too.

"Good morning, Mrs. Williams," she replied. "I'm glad you're back to yourself this morning."

One of my editors hollered from the back of the room. "What was wrong with you yesterday, anyway? I've never seen you like that."

I threw a smile in her direction before saying, "I don't want to get into it right now, but let me warn you guys that you should never, ever take any medicine if Mrs. Carter offers it to you. Ever."

Debbie sputtered as I laughed hysterically and ran out to a chorus of confused "What's she talking about?" echoing behind me.

During the class change, Debbie marched into my classroom. She didn't speak, but grabbed some thumbtacks on my bulletin board, stabbed something up there, and walked back out. As my kids filed in, they stopped in shock as I collapsed against the wall, holding my gut and cackling with laughter.

Next to a note that said, "I will never share with you again!" was a coupon for Advil.

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