The teacher’s lounge television cast images of protesters, or as Staci would say, mobs of people, in winter coats and gear carrying black signs with white lettering that read: Don’t Shoot. We Will Not Be Silent. Is My Son Next? Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.
Various pockets of teachers murmured while they ate their salted chicken, peas, and grapes—
“Is this really the only news going on? What about the game last night?”
“Did you watch last night’s episode of The Bachelor?”
“You know, I have a black friend from college and I never heard her complaining.”
“I get what they’re going for, but I mean, isn’t this like reverse racism?” Staci’s hands trembled with excitement at her insight. .
The bell rang, and the teachers packed their food into the various colored quilted lunch bags and clicked down the hallways of Jefferson high. With five hundred students, Staci liked to brag to her high school girlfriends during their weekly wine nights about her diverse work environment: “Each of the five classes I teach this year has an Asian and a Black student! I think all schools should be diverse, the kids learn so much more this way.”
Tonight was one of those wine nights. As Staci got ready in her bathroom, the news woman’s voice and cold glow of the TV screen peeked through the crack in the doorway. “Reports suggest that more than two thousand people gathered outside Congress today in thirteen below weather and a foot of snow!”
Staci glanced out to catch a glimpse of the blizzard on the television, but all she saw were officers in full bullet proof protection armed with pistols and rifles standing in opposition to people with paper signs. The snow made the mob’s faces blur, they seemed distant almost. Staci let out a quiet huff and rolled her eyes.. I just don’t get what all the fuss is about…aren’t they worried about catching the flu!
Clad in a pink cardigan, white shirt, bootcut jeans, and her going out boots that gave her an extra two inches in height, she descended the stairs to show her outfit to her husband, Tom, before heading out. Tom worked as a construction manager in town. He made a pretty penny, but always dressed like he shopped at Walmart once every two years. Staci hated this about him. But, besides his lack of care for where he bought his clothes and how he looked, he was a good guy. He provided for her, let her go out for wine night every week, and didn’t complain when she watched reality TV.
“Looks great, babe,” Tom said, barely looking up from his soup, “New cardigan?”
“Yes actually! Thanks for noticing.” Staci batted her eyelashes haphazardly, attempting to look flirtatious and young, but her fake lashes stuck together making her look a little crazed. Good thing Tom didn’t seem to notice. Jessica would love these new lashes.
Jessica had a big house, one of the biggest in town. She had a nanny and a maid, Linda, which always made the other women jealous. She had beautiful long blonde hair with natural icy highlights and an equally outstanding body. Though rumor had it she got some work done during the holidays. Her husband was a real-life Gatsby, winking at Staci whenever he got the chance, making her feel especially special amongst the other women. Naturally, wine nights were always at Jessica’s. Linda would walk into the room where the women drank, bringing in wine that cost more than she was paid in a week, and the women would swoon over how well-behaved she was. Jessica’s husband would greet the women, kissing them on the cheeks and patting the smalls of their backs. How does Jessica get so lucky?
There were five women in total, all high school best friends. Jessica married rich so she didn’t work, but the other women all went to college and somehow graduated with bachelor’s degrees. All were married by twenty-three, right out of college, and at twenty-seven, they each had a decent house, steady jobs in accounting, teaching, or sales, and their weekly wine nights. Although they had been friends for years, Staci couldn’t recall their weddings; she had been a bridesmaid at each—never the maid of honor—but the days all blended together like one long princess story she skimmed over.
“Linda, could you bring out the bags that are in the dining room?” Jessica asked sweetly.
Linda came in with four white bags filled with pink tissue paper and set one next to each of the ladies. Jessica always did this sort of thing, and even if Staci was largely jealous of Jessica’s life, at least she got free stuff,expensive wine, and some eye candy. The friends opened the gift bags to reveal wine glasses that read in funky cursive black font, “Drunk Wives Matter”.
They squealed in excitement and poured each other full glasses. “Cheers to friendship and wine!” Staci said, shaking slightly and smiling as if she just won an award. Excited to share a work story, Staci put on her best disappointed woe-is-me face she had pouted in the mirror a few hours before and began the night’s gossip, leaning in and speaking in a hushed manner, over-articulating every word.
“So, one of my students, Ali Jackson—she’s black—,” the women leaned in closer, eyes more open than their ears. Staci had rehearsed a few opening lines in her head with various inflections and seemed to have chosen the right combination. She continued, feeling important. “She hadn’t been coming to school last week, so I called her house the other day. You know, I was worried that something bad was going on at home.” She contorted her face into a worried frown. “Maybe her dad went away, or she was hungry, a number of things passed through my mind. So, her mom wanted to meet with me after school, which shocked me, they usually never have the time to do that sort of thing during parent teacher conferences.” Liz, who had the longest eyelashes amongst the women, rolled her beautiful brown eyes expressively. Was it at Staci or the story? Staci clasped her manicured hands and began mindlessly picking at a hangnail. She shakily laughed, trying to sound nonchalant and beautiful, and continued from where she left off.
“So, yeah, they never have the time to do that sort of thing during parent teacher conferences. Ali’s mom comes in the next day and she tells me that her daughter is being bullied. Of course, Jefferson high takes this sort of thing very seriously, but only if it has merit; as you can guess, this didn’t.” She formed her mouth into a straight, pursed line and coyly raised an eyebrow. “Apparently, Ali felt that a student movement was directed against her. You see, students designed and ordered t-shirts that read All Lives Matter, and a lot of the students have been wearing the shirts every day. Ali and her mother seemed to think that this was an attack? I tried explaining that the other students were clearly showing their support for Ali’s life and the lives of every student at Jefferson high, but they didn’t get it. I tried thanking her for taking the time to meet with me and said that I thought we made some progress. But get this, she just walked out! No handshake, no ‘thank you’, nothin’! Ali didn’t come back the next week either. Two weeks with no school, and then they wonder why they aren’t getting into colleges?”
Staci smirked slightly and adjusted her cardigan, sitting up tall with her air of superiority and importance The feeling passed when she looks around at her friends reactions. Jessica laughed lightheartedly and called for Linda to bring more hors d’oeuvres, dismissing the story as quickly as it had come. Liz fell back in her chair dramatically, as if shot with feeling or exhaustion. The other ladies were talking all at once about how brave it was of he to defend her beliefs in the face of the opposition! But why were Jessica and Liz unamused? Staci had imagined them sitting at the edge of their seats, eyes glued to her perfectly ironed hair and new cardigan…it must have been that stupid hiccup in the middle of the story. Why did Liz have to ruin it?
While ruminating, her thoughts were interrupted by the word hero. Staci was a hero, Liz said. Staci took a deep breath and took a sensual sip from her glass.
Later that night, lying in bed and waiting for Tom to get back from the bar, Staci watched the news and drank her Walmart wine from her new glass. The main story, again, was the protests going on across the nation. This media is always so skewed. I bet there aren’t even that many people goin’ on about this. The media screws with our heads. A young black woman came onto the screen with tears in her eyes. “My name is Aliyah Jackson and my life matters! Why can’t they see that?” The woman looked familiar. Staci put on her clunky black glasses and rewound a few seconds, pausing on the young woman’s face. It was Ali. A pang of guilt surged in Staci’s stomach, so that’s where she’s been.
“Stace,” Tom slurred happily, clambering into bed like a starved animal ready to pounce on wounded prey. She tossed her glasses into the drawer of her side table, hidden and out of sight. “New wine glass, huh? Hah, that’s funny, get it? It’s like a meme, isn’t that what your kids say at school?” She looked down at the words on the glass, Ali –Aliyah’s pained reflection glimmered across it. Staci quickly turned the TV off and the image disappeared. She took another sip, smiling to herself as Tom began undressing; he really was a nice guy.
Remember to love each other, grow, and be kind.