Katrina Stonoff

Hard Times Come Again No More

I woke this morning mid-panic attack. Though I woke from a nightmare (my only recurring nightmare), it was the world I woke to that kept me from breathing deeply or evenly for a full two hours.

In my recurring nightmare, I am standing in front of a high school class and suddenly realize I am completely unprepared to teach. It hits all my “shame” and “incompetence” buttons.

This time, there were a few differences. For one thing, it was the last day of school, and I had virtually no memory of the entire year. I knew I had come in every day, probably, but even the room was unfamiliar.

Also different, the students were all very sweet and supportive, even the one who handed in a late assignment I could tell was plagiarized. Usually it’s the students I’m afraid of (my last year teaching was a living nightmare, and I was left with PTSD; for many years, I could not be around groups of teenagers without hyperventilating).

Also, my co-workers kept coming in to give me words of support, which felt very weird because I was painfully aware that none of them had set foot in my classroom all year. I had felt alone in the building all year.

The principal came in to tell me he had given me tenure after all. In fact, he was a bit embarrassed to admit he’d actually done it months before but didn’t tell me. The man himself was actually the guy who was principal at the first high school where I taught (far too good-looking in a smarmy kind of way), which is funny because I had tenure there.

All I could think was that he was nuts. I hadn’t come anywhere near an acceptable minimum level in my opinion.

Another thing that was different is that it didn’t get better when I woke up. Usually when I wake from that nightmare, I can ground myself in my life (which is pretty darn good) and remind myself I’m not back in that classroom where I had no chance of success. I take a few breaths, notice my space—the light, the air, the sounds—and I’m fine.

Not this time. I had slept soundly for ten hours (no small thing when it never gets dark, and jet skis were still roaring around the lake in my backyard when I went to sleep at ten p.m.), and I woke with a very full bladder. Painful enough that hurt like the Dickens to stand up and walk to the bathroom.

That was easy to fix, of course. But dealing with the overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear and dread was much more difficult.

I went downstairs for a cup of coffee. I checked my email and saw that WTFJustHappenedToday had sent a precedent-breaking, week-end edition. And Heather Cox Richardson’s Letter from an American wasn’t very reassuring either.

Seeking comfort, I turned on my music, specifically my KFavs playlist. Music I rarely allow myself to listen to because I love it so much, and I don’t want it to lose its magic.

The first song that came up was “Mad World” from Donnie Darko. How fitting is that?!

But the next song was better, Ray LaMontagne’s reminder to stay in the moment, to “Be Here Now.”

That one gave me enough hope to fix some breakfast and actually eat it. Then I went into my office to try to capture some of what I was feeling here.

I had just sat down when Girly Girl popped in. Since COVID started, she’s been sleeping odd hours and rarely gets up before noon, so her smiling face at 9:30 a.m. was a surprise.

What she had to say shouldn’t have been.

“Hi! Good morning. Hi, Mom. I just wanted to … to remind you … it’s June.”

We give her $25 a month on iTunes, to spend on music. And it is June 1, so of course she got up early. Music is as important to her as it to me.

I promptly sent her music allowance, and she went away happy.

It was such a normal interaction, on a day when nothing feels normal. A good reminder that there is sweetness and joy and wonder still to be had.

About then, the song changed on my iPod, to James Taylor’s gorgeous cover of that Stephen Foster standard, “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

I am filled with gratitude to realize that even in these troubled times, my children feel safe. But I know that’s my white privilege speaking, and the white privilege of my children (though heaven knows they are marginalized in ways other than race). I own that privilege, though frankly, I’m ashamed of it. Ashamed that it exists.

So I commit myself to doing everything I can to change the world, so children who aren’t white can wake up worried about nothing more than whether or not they’re going to have money to spend on music.