by Sheree Shatsky
She discovers the photographs sealed tight inside a sandwich bag in the mess of her desk.
Thinking it might be fun to review her aging process, a morbid curiosity enjoyed by those photographed every year the length of their career (in her case, thirty) she lines the wallet-sized photos corner to corner in perfect solidarity.
She tacks the last picture on the bulletin board and looks at herself looking back.
She had been sick as a dog the first year, plagued by beginning teacher’s flu. The shadows circling her eyes lessened to hollows as her immune system fought back the onslaught of kid germs but after five years of teaching under her belt, she was back to her old healthy self and wearing the smile of the newly married.
At ten and twelve years, she lit up the frame, pregnant with her own children. At fifteen, she took on grad school and welcomed back the black circles, the bane of all who juggle kids, spouses, work, school and impending college loans.
Yet, she was happy in the craze of her life. Others, not so much.
Twenty or so years on the job, the economy failed. She witnessed friends and family lose homes and jobs and face what the media called the new normal—a discouraged middle class suffering its own black eyes called poverty and public assistance.
People were beyond angry. With no recovery in sight, the fury and the blame exploded toward the steady of the working world–teachers, police, public safety and state employees, all paid far less than counterparts employed by private industry. Pension envy and calls for union busting blasted nationwide as the unemployed turned economic and personal frustrations on those whose salaries they paid through tax dollars.
The campaign to strip public education hit her school district hard, but she had survived the deep cuts. I wonder, she thought, comparing wrinkles earned between years five and twenty-five, if taxpayers realize school photos are provided to teachers free of charge.
Her eyes scan the pictures left to right along with the memories — graduations, deaths of friends and family, the birth of her grandson — to settle on the last.
She plucks the photo off the board to study the image taken during her last autumn as a teacher. Retirement had finally caught her, no longer two to five years away, but today in the here and now.
The school photograph is an annual ritual that, shot with the right lens integrated with great lighting, can reflect the fervent optimism stoked from that place within that inspires those who do good work to keep on keeping on, no matter how difficult.
The love for the job, the respect for her students, her core unflinching belief that one person can effect positive change was as plain as the nose on her photographed face. She would leave this dance with the convictions she brought with her, onward and forward to the next chapter of her life.
Gathering the photos together, she thought her grandson might get a kick out of thirty years of grandma. Every picture, she would tell him, tells a story.
Sheree Shatsky has called Florida home for fifty years. Her writing has appeared in print and online. She writes flash fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few simple words.