‘I have a secret to tell you.’ The room is painted mustard. Her voice is a thread above a whisper. They watch her like a dreamed President. She stands before them with a promise; they all want the truth. No one is older than 10 in her 5th-grade classroom. 15 sets of eyes are sunken into 15 watching heads. 15 gangly bodies hunker down in 15 little desks. Expectant, giddy, they lean like rabbits at the stick.
After months away, she’s come back to them. Back to this school, this room, these wooden desks, this nubby carpeting. They wrote her cards because she was sick. “When will you come back?” “Get better and come back soon!” Their questions seemed to chirp and pucker, voices unused and new. She was their teacher, and they missed her.
She stood before them, speaking in edifying, lesson-planned tones. “I’m sorry I was away for so long, but I was sick…with cancer. Does anyone have any questions for me about it?” Hands shoot up high as pipe dreams. No one’s ever asked them something like this. It feels like an opportunity. It’s when they’re done asking that she whispers it. “I have a secret to tell you. This isn’t my real hair; it’s a wig (eye-bulge, jaw-drop). I’m not telling any other classes, it’s a secret. And…if you close your eyes, I’ll show you.” A fellow teacher in the back of the classroom stifles her laughter, such moxie.
Fifteen sets of eyes shut like snakes in the night, 15 bodies feel bright and chosen. When they open, she’s before them, bald, transformed, Queen-like.
The next day she sees one of her fifth-graders in the hallway. The girl scampers over squinty-eyed, “Is that a wig?” she wants to know. My mother nods. The wave of specialness returns to the girl. She feels relieved that it’s just as she was told the day before. No one’s hiding, despite the costuming.