You can never go back. (I know this, and yet I have repeatedly made attempts to do so over the course of my life, never with any good result.) So when I say I am going back to work, well, it doesn’t mean what I think it means. Or what it’s supposed to mean. Or something.
Permission to go back to work. What it really means is permission to attempt to return to some sort of routine. To go back to a familiar place, be surrounded by familiar people, and perform a very familiar job, all as a person with whom I’m not yet really familiar. To leave sick behind, and try to be normal. Or, my favourite, get back to my old self. It means changing my purpose from healing (on a good day) or surviving (on a not-so-good day) to heading a classroom full of spirited, hormone-riddled students and helping them get through this school year and emerge better than they were at the start. These kids very much need for me to be okay. And I will be.
It’s just that when they crowd in for a hug, and say ‘T’es retournée!’ or You’re back!, they don’t necessarily know that it’s not entirely true. The Madame Gouthro they knew is changed. She’s never coming back. There’s a new one, but what’s strange is that I haven’t met her yet. I’ll meet the new Madame when the kids do, and we’ll have to figure it out together.
I have spent time in her space every day this week, and I’ve started to try to make it just the way I think she’d like it. I’ve put out bowls of apples for the students (old Madame did that; they liked it.), cleaned out cupboards and drawers and organized resources for her. I brought a few talismans from home and put them on her desk, because I think she might need a few of these with her in the first few weeks. I’ve tried to choose natural fabrics and calm colours, and I’ve bought her some plants, because I know she’ll want as much green around her as possible. I still have a lot of work to do to get the room ready for her, but it will be done for Tuesday.
And then, Wednesday morning, after I leave my house and turn the key in my lock and after I drive to work, after I put my lunch in the fridge, check my mailbox and head upstairs, only when I turn the knob to my classroom and meet all those expectant smiles, will I meet Madame Gouthro.
I think she’ll be okay.