Composition Students Pity Me in English 101

All term, I gimp around, first with wires poking

from beneath my sweaters and crutches, then a staid brace

and brown cane, now a flexible brace, which is sweaty and itchy.

I try to make light of my plodding, but their smiles hold pity:

my injury has made them model students.

They even take turns passing Xeroxes and collecting homework unasked.

It's awkward—like the teddy bear a man from the community theater

gave me on Sweetest Day when I was sixteen. I do my best to ignore

these little gifts proffered by unsolicited emotions,

and the students act too, as if they'd pick up dropped chalk for any instructor.

The painful days, I take Valium, and they peer at me

during writing exercises as if they've placed bets on when I'll topple.

The Monday after spring break, I wait for the students, ready

to begin a well-rehearsed discussion of revision. But I'm distracted:

I'm in love and the overhead projector whirs.

Highlighting editing marks on the screen, I'm interrupted

by Brianna in the front row. "Is that a new ring on your finger?" she asks,

loud and enthusiastic as a nervous cheerleader.

My cheeks burn. Flustered. I was told not to talk

about my personal life, but I'm excited and say, "yes."

Immediately, students in the first and second rows nearest the projector

stand and lean, hover like bees admiring the diamonds from Kevin's

grandmother's wedding ring, ooo-ing and ahh-ing like my mother.

"So, what, are you getting married?" Matt asks from the back row.

"Settle down," I say, and they settle into their seats.

They beg for a magical happy-ever-after story

about a young crippled woman who patiently teaches composition.

They've paid attention in literature classes and want to believe in a theme

of marriage + recovery = happiness, so they can believe everything

will turn out well for themselves. And I indulge a little,

joy burning my face, because don't I want to believe that too,

that all my patience and hard work will pay off? Can't the pain go away?

I summarize my surprise proposal in a little Appalachian cabin

high in the mountains—they applaud, like it's the best thing

that's ever happened to me or to them. I hold up my hand to silence

their clapping, say, "let's get back to work."

Therapy's Song

The purple carpet smells of stale sweat.

The soft thud of steel plates in the circuit

supplies staccato for the grunts of men

and women who've come here to work.

Voices join this found song:

chipper encouragements, annoyed chides,

lude jokes between sets, and murmurs

of this week's doctor check-ups.

It looks like a gym: worn, white muscle

systems and strength training machines;

elliptical trainers, recumbent bikes,

and treadmills; balls and bands and benches

that flex and snap and groan; and snowy

towels that hang on parts not moving.

You can tell its therapy from the raised

beds and bandaged ice packs, TENS units,

massages and ultrasound machines. Here,

canes, crutches, braces, and wheel chairs

litter the few empty areas where exercisers

and therapists step over, through, and around

them, their focus on the next set in the circuit.

Men and women, their faces pinched in pain,

haul wooden boxes filled with weights in the narrow

hallway past the green mats where others stretch

unwilling muscles. Fluorescent lights hiss and pop,

and hope corrals them through their exercise lists.

The redheaded trainer shouts his litany in the corner,

you can do it. You can do it. Only one push more!

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Copyright (c) 2012 Liz Whiteacre

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