by Ruth Draves
For the Writer's Cramp contest. Two co-worker discuss going back to school.
As I replaced the roll back in the bowels of my desk drawer. "No, thank you for returning it," I smiled. "This stuff is more precious than gold around here. Everybody wants the magic blue tape."
David laughed a bit, then leaned back against the counter. "Its just tape," he shook his head. "It's not like there's a world-wide shortage of it."
"Every school has it's precious commodity that makes no sense," I shrugged as I turned back to my computer. "The I was at before, it was red gel pens. For correcting, you know?” I picked up a pen and waved it at him. “This school, it's painter's tape. We're always in short supply, creating a demand. And a desire, I guess."
"So that roll you stash away makes you, what, rich?" David raised an eyebrow.
I snorted. "If I were rich, would I be working here?"
"You mean, this paradise is not for everyone?" he said. He made a show of looking around. "I mean, you don't want to live under the flickering florescent, the inefficient AC, and, don't forget, the multiple opportunities to be in contact with body fluids?"
"You like it, you can have it," I laughed.
David suddenly quieted, his shoulders sagging. With a sigh, he straightened up, then looked around again. For once, the office was empty except for the two of us.
"Can I ask you something?" he said quietly.
A pinch of worry crossed the nape of my neck. "Um, okay," I said.
With a sigh, David leaned the bulk of his upper body forward and rested his sun burnt forearms on the edge of my cubicle. "You went to college, right?"
"Yeah," I said. I squinted at him. "Did the dorm thing, and the regrettable boyfriend bit, the whole nine yards. Why?"
"Well, it's like this," He said wiping his forehead. "How would you feel about going back now? Like, having to sit with a bunch of kids?"
"You mean, as a student?"
David sighed and looked down. "Yeah," he muttered.
I shifted in my chair. Going back to school and finishing my degree -- the degree I gave up in part due to that regrettable boyfriend -- had been a dream of mine since the day I had quit going to classes.
"The older I get, the more weird that thought seems," I said. "I look at how my kid's doing her assignments. Everything's a group project, and online. Even the way they format papers is so different than what I learned."
"But what about actually being a student in a class full of kids young enough to be your children?" he asked. "I'm like, how do you deal with that?"
I looked at my computer screen again, just to give me a second to think. The attendance report I had been struggling with earlier did not sooth my mind.
"I know when I started community college, way back in the day, everyone seemed so much older than me. One of my professors even talked about how the average age of students that year was something like 30, and there I was, a really young 16 year old. I honestly was intimidated by the older students. So I get being the youngest. But being the oldest in a room as a student? I really have no clue."
"Wow, you were 16 when you started?" David's eyebrows shot up to where his hairline should have been. "What were you, a genius or something?"
I scoffed. "No way. It's just complicated." I cocked my head at him. "Why are you asking? Besides the obvious."
That grin came back on David's flushed face. "I signed up for an English class at Del Oro Community College," he said. "I'm kind of done being just a janitor, you know?"
I felt a similar grin creep across my own face. What little I knew about David flitted through my mind -- talk of a history of addiction in the family, a series of odd jobs and periods of living in his car, the struggle to lose weight and stay healthy enough for the strains of his current position while dealing with Diabetes. Despite all of the setbacks he probably dealt with, he was still looking forward
"You have life experiences that can be an asset to a college classroom," I said. "And college, even community college, is different than high school. Most people are there because they want to be there, not because they have to go."
"Yeah, but what if the kids give me a hard time?" he said. "I see how our students act, and I'm walking into a room of kids not too much older than them. I don't have the patience to deal with it."
"You just have to remember who is the adult in the room when you're in the classroom," I said. "And unless you have it on your paycheck you're the one teaching, you are not that adult. If any of the babies give you grief, just go to the adult."
David laughed. "Good one, thanks," he said. As he turned to leave, he suddenly stopped. "Ever want to go back?"
"Sometimes," I admitted.
"Want to sign up and be my study buddy?" he grinned.
"What? And give up this paradise?"
His laughter echoed down the hallway as he left the office.
I glanced around the empty office, then opened up my personal email account. The email from the admissions office at Del Oro was still there, waiting for me to click it.
Word count: 938