I wear a mask when I go to work. It’s the Mr. Vilson mask, and it provides me the distance from people that my age (and respect) otherwise wouldn’t give me. I wear it when I get off the A train on the Dyckman – 200 St. stop. I wear it as I race up the stairs out of the train, aware of the teachers and students behind me. I wear it past the supermarket, the car wash, the library, the parking lot, and the custodians working around the garden in front of the school. I wear it past the school safety agents, down the hallways, and into the main office. I wear it into the office I share with the principal and a few others. I wear it all the way to the classroom, in the classroom, into the professional development I’m about to run, during the plethora of errands I run, while putting out fires I never started, and under immense amounts of pressure.
It’s not that I’m not smiling because I’m sad. I’m not smiling because I’m reserving the energy I’d expend on smiling and joking for the work of the people.
The way the mask comes off is in the small pockets when order ensues. In no way do I mean to keep the mask on for prolonged periods of time. It’s as necessary as my OCDesque routine of checking for my wallet, belt, watch, cellphone, and keys. As I try to navigate my position as a math coach, a liaison between teachers, students, and administration, the one piece I’ve learned is that, despite the negativity, I had to be the better person. I have to upgrade everything I’m doing because it’s my professional duty.
I don’t chill.
None of this reflects what I actually feel about people. This wasn’t more evident than today’s baby shower, where some of the people I have a great relationship with came to the shower that was evidently just for me. On an Election Day PD day, I didn’t expect anybody to actually go to it, honestly. As people trickled in to eat Dominican appetizers and drink soda with us in the teachers’ cafeteria, I remembered to be myself. There was a certain sense of relief taking off my mask and reminding people of Jose, the outward version of the person who still looks out for people. As we joked and laughed, I didn’t even care how many actually showed up because the people who made it made me feel like I mattered in someone’s life. That’s good enough for me.
I got nuttin’ but love for my people, even when I have a hard time showing it.
Jose, who thinks the importance of Heavy D’s music cannot be understated …