Alternate Histories:

[Note: I took 2 days a week off during the first round of Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions, so this is an alternate history from a day I’ve already visited.]


School. They have such high standards for grades, for getting into college.

Do you want to go?

Yes. But teachers put a lot of pressure on us.

Are there school things you’re good at?

I like to write, and I like to draw, but art class at our school is mostly curriculum-based.

Do you ever draw while you’re taking notes in class? Does it help you concentrate?

Yeah! I think this stress is more prevalent in this generation because of the economy and debt.



The next day, CC asked her two friends to help her make a list of everything that partakes of them. One said, “What’s partake again?”

“It gets a piece of you,” CC said, opening her notebook to write things down.

“Is that bad?”

“Maybe not always.”

They listed their families right away. They talked about their jobs. One friend remembered from science class the mites that live on your eyelashes and eat your dead skin. The other friend said, “Oh yeah, bacteria! Mr. ________ said there’s more bacterial cells in your body than human cells.”

“Yeah, say more science stuff,” said the first friend. “You pay attention in science.” CC drew swirls and lines around their words.

Three days later, CC raised her hand in science class and asked, “Why?”

“Because that’s what makes a person a productive member of society,” said Mr. _________.

“I am extremely productive,” CC said. “I make eyelid skin for mites to eat. I make a home for a lot of bacteria.” (The other friend nodded approvingly.) I make time for my sister to take a shower by herself, without the baby. I make dinner for my family on Thursdays, even though I hate cooking. I make drawings every day. I make money for my boss because she doesn’t have to pay me very much to sell donuts and coffee, and that makes money for her boss, and that makes money for whoever else is up there. I make carbon dioxide and methane.” (The other friend nodded again.) “If I go to college or if I don’t, I’ll still be producing all those things, so maybe we don’t need to judge people like that.”

Mr. __________ blinked and closed his book. “Okay,” he said. “What do we need to do?”

In this story, a teacher might listen to a student, an administrator to a teacher–hierarchies matter less and less each time this happens–a boss might even listen to an employee. In this story, the standardized testing strike that CC’s school started spread to seven high schools the following year; to forty-eight high schools and ten elementary schools the year after that, when CC graduated; throughout the entire state and into neighboring states the following year, while CC helped to cook the day’s big meal in the kitchen of her former school, even though she hated cooking, and then came to sit at one of the cafeteria tables with her mom and sister and niece, during the time to eat together built into their day.

Who do you work for? CC in the early morning, riding the number 22 and then the number 40 bus up to help transform the old university buildings, drawing the trees outside her window in velvety lines, bacteria at pasture in her innards. Indebted, and owed, by the most constant, shifting, and expansive set of measures.


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