There’s a woman I see almost everyday on the subway. She always wears black slacks and a blank jacket. She has very long jet black hair and dark eyebrows. She’s a French teacher (as I discovered one day when I sat next to her and noticed her writing a student recommendation letter) and often grades paper during the subway ride. I estimate that she’s in her mid thirties. I’ve never seen her smile. I find something sad about her. Yesterday towards the end of the ride she looked to be in pain, perhaps as the result of a headache.
Students called her Madame Jorgenson because she was the French teacher. The Jorgenson surname came from her idiot husband Greg whose parents were from Sweden. Sometimes she wondered why she took his last name, not that Madame Bartkowski would have rolled off the tongue. Her first name was Linda. She’d been teaching French for seven years at The Academy High School, a private school. Most of Linda’s students were from families that earned twice as much as a goddamned French teacher. Linda knew there was more money and more stability in teaching in public schools, but who wanted to deal with the kind of kids you come across there? Anyway being a French teacher was pretty cushy, especially compared to teaching other subjects. English teachers always had huge piles of essays to grade. History teachers were dealing with bored students. Math teachers, well they had to teach math for chrissakes — what a drag. And Linda could not even imagine teaching PE where you deal with sweat and showers and towels and equipment. Never.
When it came right down to it Linda thought she’d made a mistake going into any kind of teaching. The pay was for shit and the tedium of doing the same crap over and over and constantly dealing with snotty adolescents and their parents....Oh god the fucking parents. Always whining about something. Too much work, not enough work, the wrong kind of work. And then there were administrators who were the ultimate losers. They couldn’t hack it in the classroom and segued into desk jobs in order to collect a few more bucks. Her colleagues were generally okay although the young ones were ridiculously idealistic and the old ones were even more cynical than Linda.
But Linda felt stuck. At 34 she was getting a little too old for any radical career change and there sure as shit was nothing else in education she would consider. Her idiot husband was going nowhere in his job at the bank and everyone knew that but him. They’d be taking out a second mortgage soon because his salary had stagnated. It was four years since they’d been to Europe and the next trip might not be for yet another four years. Linda also was facing the possibility of never having a child though she was ambiguous about the idea on her best days. Greg would raise the topic from time to time though not with any more enthusiasm than she felt. The fact that they almost never made love anymore made the prospects dimmer. If her goddamned mother complained about not having any grandchildren one more time Linda thought she would scream.
Sometimes Linda would daydream about an affair. The new science teacher was cute and young and kind of flirted with Linda but he probably had some hot girlfriend or was gay. It excited and frightened Linda that she would sometimes imagine sex with another man, even to the extent of looking at those websites were married people hook up for assignations.
All this crap was going through Linda’s mind as she sat in the same damn seat on the same damn car of the same day train that left at the same damn time every morning and took her to within a two block walk of the damn school. It was making her head hurt. More than that her head felt like it was being drilled into. Like that one time in college when she had a hangover from drinking vodka. For a couple of years now Linda had been avoiding making any kind of big decision. She had been content with just making it through each day. Trudging through the same routine. The only variety in her life was what she decided to watch on Netflix. But she knew, deep down inside, that something had to give. There simply had to be a change of direction. Linda felt nothing significant had happened in her life since the day she started teaching. The job and her marriage had sucked her into a black hole and it was time to get out.
Well it was Friday so the digging could easily wait until she finished her work day. By 3:45 she’d be out of school and free. Greg would be home late because of some dinner meeting and he had a golf date the next day. He’d taken up golf about a year ago and that had meant they were together a little less. This was a decidedly mixed blessing as far as Linda was concerned. Anyway she’d have plenty of time to decide on an earth shattering move that would change her life forever and for the better. Just thinking this made Linda’s head feel just a little bit better. Well that plus the tylenol with codeine she’d popped. It was left over from a recent injury. Linda had needed only a couple after breaking a toe and carried the bottle around for nasty headaches -- or just to feel better.
Linda’s work day was spectacularly ordinary. The fact was that there was usually some hiccup, if not several, during the course of a normal teaching day. But today was as smooth as silk. No student incidents, nor angry emails from parents, no hassles with colleagues or staff. Linda loved such days. Linda hated such days. More to the point, she hated that about the best she could hope for from a teaching day was that nothing bad happened. Linda had noticed this year that she no longer got much of a thrill from seeing student’s learning French. At first it was a big deal to observe the improvement a student made over the course of a few months. But now she could give a shit. Oh sure it meant job security and fed her ego that she was good at what she did but she really didn't give two shits about the students. Most of them just wanted to fulfill a language requirement to get into Cornell or whatever. They didn't have any passion for French so why should Linda get all excited by teaching them?
So the school day ended and Linda did her usual “have-a-nice-weekends” with everyone and headed out the door for the subway. And yes, she was resolved to find a way out of her rut. Something, some momentous decision, some great change. She could do it. She would do it. Maybe the first step would be not to get on the usual subway train. No. Linda was going to deviate from the norm. She got out her cellphone and called Allison. Allison had been her roommate in college and they were still good friends, especially since Allison’s divorce which had given her more time and prompted her to move back to the area. Allison worked just a few blocks away and got off at 4:00 on Fridays. They arranged to meet at a nearby bar.
Unlike Linda, Allison was a pretty big drinker. Not like an alcoholic or anything but on Fridays and at parties and such Allison could keep 'em up with the best of them. On this day Linda found herself keeping up with Allison. They were drinking whiskey sours, which Linda had never tried before. By 7:00 Linda was pretty well swacked and hungry. They went to an Italian restaurant and had huge plates of pasta preceded by appetizers and accompanied by a bottle of wine.
Linda had explained to Allison everything she’d been thinking about that day which was really just the culmination of what she’d been processing for a good long while. Allison’s advice was clear: do something.
“You only get one shot. That’s why I immediately got a divorce when I could see things with Rupert were never going to work out. Why hang on when the end result is inevitable? Ya know what I mean? You need to make a clear decision about what you want to do and do it. And for crying out loud, don’t waste your time talking to some fucking counselor or shrink or anything. They’ll suck you in for years by which time your life is nearly over. You’re a big girl. Decide for yourself and trust yourself.”
Linda thought that this was brilliant advice. The fact was that Linda had long admired Allison's smarts and that she had always had the courage of her conviction.
The two friends spent most of the rest of their time together reminiscing and gossiping about old friends. It was nearly ten o'clock when a drunken Linda finally got on the subway. She fell asleep straight away and nearly missed her stop. Like the school, Linda's house was just a short walk from a subway station. She staggered home dropping the keys several times as she walked up the steps. Greg was home and heard her so he opened the door.
"Where have you been?" He sounded angry, worried and exasperated.
Linda just looked at him with a crooked smile.
"Why didn't you answer your phone?" he demanded.
To Linda, Greg, who was tall blonde and both All-American and boyish looking, sounded utterly ridiculous. He had no capacity for expressing emotion. Greg had always just seemed silly when trying to be angry. In truth everyone who had ever met Greg agreed that he was just about the sweetest man on Earth. Linda had fallen for how genuine and kind he was. He was the polar opposite of most everyone in her family. Okay he could be dull as dishwater but no one was more considerate.
"You're no good at expressing emotion. Ya know that Gregory," she slurred, still sporting a goofy grin and swaying as she spoke.
"You couldn't call?"
"Sorry." And with that Linda plopped onto a chair. She looked around the living room at all the furniture. She peered around Greg at the dining room and marveled at how big it was. Beyond it was the kitchen which was also much bigger than they needed.
"Why do we have all this space? Why do we need such a big house? Why don't we sell it and move into an apartment? We could...."
"I can't talk to you when you're drunk," Greg said.
Linda waved her hand at him and slumped deeper in the chair.
"Here, let me get you to bed. You were with Allison, weren't you? I've never seen you like this before. You shouldn't ever have more than a cocktail and two glasses of wine. Ever."
"I'll get myself to bed, thank you very much," Linda said. With that she stood. Linda undressed on her way to the bedroom just letting her clothes drop. She collapsed naked on the bed and was soon dead to the world. Greg walked in after brushing his teeth and peeing and saw her naked ass staring up at him. For the first time in months Greg was turned on. He was, in fact, very turned on. Greg pulled off his pajama bottoms and and without a moment's hesitation screwed Linda. Although she would never remember it, Linda became conscious and moaned with enjoyment throughout and even had an orgasm.
Linda spent the next day at home with an awful hangover. She watched TV and surfed the web. No great decision was made. Even thinking hurt. For many days after Linda felt chastened by her drunken behavior and was particularly solicitous of Greg.
A few weeks later Linda found out that she was pregnant. She was going to be a mom. Greg actually did a get a promotion at work. Linda gave birth to a baby boy nine months to the day after her husband gratified himself with her drunken body. She quit teaching.