He doesn’t know where I am. He just knows that when the bell rings for first period, I’m not at my classroom door.

“Hope everything gets better.” Pillow cradling my head, I read his text two times, three. Somehow, he says precisely what I need. Without knowing. I didn’t call out because I’m sick. I called out because I’m not OK. My God, I also hope everything gets better. I just don’t trust that it will.

Instead of asking him to show his work — “How did you know this is bigger than me having a cold? The flu?” — I thank him. Tell him to have a good day. Say, even though he knows, “I love you.”

The next day, nothing is better. I still don’t know when, if, they will be, so I go back to school. Before the bell, I shuffle around my classroom, trying to talk myself into being ready to teach.

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Buses are still pulling up to the building when he comes to see me. Even though it isn’t, his question feels loud.

“Are you OK, Ms. Graham?”

There is no right answer. He’ll know if I lie. The truth seems unnecessary.

I compromise.

“Meh, not really.” Hoping to distract him, I smile. Lift my chin. “But I’m going to pretend to be. How are you?”

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He shakes his head. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Pretend to be OK.” I can’t tell if he’s disappointed. Betrayed. “If you aren’t OK, we should know.”

kerry.graham@thebaltimorebanner.com

Kerry Graham is a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher and a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.

Kerry Graham is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region. 

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