Being Stronger Isn’t Always A Good Thing… Or Is It? 

March 18, 2015  |  

When I was in graduate school studying bilingual education, I had to complete my student teaching in a school that was two and a half hours away from me on public transportation. And for the most part, I took my licks like every other commuter on New York City transit without complaint for most of the semester.

But that was until I awoke one morning writhing in such a devil pain. My behind and my mouth made at least a dozen sets of contact with the toilet seat that December morning before 6am. All I wanted to do was die right there on the bathroom floor. It would have saved me from having to deal with an immune system that had an agenda of its own.

My mother, a retired nurse for more than three years, was still an early riser. When she saw my face and heard my story, she told me that I should pull myself together, toughen up and make my way to Washington Heights. And by the looks of the clock on the cable box, I did not have much time to get ready.

Unlike any other student teaching day, that winter morning I was scheduled to do my final demonstration lesson of the semester. Just do it and be done, my mother said, then you can come home and rest.

I did not agree with her logic but I obeyed nonetheless. She even paid for a taxi to the subway to cut down on my journey.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get a seat near the window in the corner so I could tuck away and rest my increasingly sweaty head against the window. Instead, I was wedged in the middle of two commuters.

Through a series of stubborn swallows I managed to keep the vomit that yo-yoed up and down my throat in check. That was until we hit train traffic delays. Then it was over. Although my main priority was to keep myself calm, I found myself apologizing in my head for the behavior of my messy insides. When the train finally stopped and the doors opened, I was able to get off the train, where alone on the platform I was able to continue to being sick with some privacy and some dignity.

The funny thing about this subway stop — 50th St. — was that it was the figurative fork in the road. It was midway between my home and my destination. I could have crossed over to the other side of the train tracks and taken my brown sick body back to Queens and back to bed. Or I could, as I had been taught by the Black women in my life, to fight the good fight.

I made it to the school on time and completed my final student teaching lesson flawlessly. In fact, I slayed it.

But that was the only part of my mother’s plan that went off without a hitch. I asked to leave early once I completed my task, but I couldn’t make it back home to Queens to rest because my body had shut down. I was able to call a good friend that lived in Harlem to see if I could stop by and pass out. For the rest of the day, I became as intimate and familiar with his toilet as I had done mine earlier that morning.

There is the saying that what does not kill you makes you stronger. But sometimes I have to wonder why is death the measuring stick. For whatever it’s worth, I believe that I received an A as my final grade for the course. At least, I think I did.

 

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