Mar 23, 2006

Only the lonely

There's this girl in one of my classes.

For the first few weeks of the few months I've been teaching her, she just blended into the mass of students before me. I have nearly 180 students after all. It's taken a while to differentiate between them, but by now, I have.

She sits right up near me, in a very overcrowded classroom. Perhaps that was the reason I didn't really notice her. She is, after all, literally right under my nose, all of 2 feet under my nose to be exact. It's hard to see that close.

She's very tall, very gangly, ungainly really, wears thick glasses, with bad teeth, very, very smart, and very, very quiet.

Lately, for the past month or so, for whatever reason, I find myself thinking about her a lot.
I find myself worrying about her. I don't quite know why.

She's an honor student. The honor students use my classroom to help tutor other struggling students each week. Since their moderator is an inveterate no-show, I usually watch over them. (Gratis)
Of course, there's no tutoring going on, since tutorees are even more of a no-show than the moderator. The tutors, thus, are left to their own devices....usually a lot of arguing about restaurants.

A few months ago I was distracted from the monotony of grading and watched the social dynamics unfold before me.

I think it was then that I became fixated on her. As the other girls and guys clumped themselves into little groups, arguing, chatting, flirting, my student sat primly in her desk, waiting for tutorees who will never show.
She didn't use the time doing her own homework. She didn't talk. She didn't even put her head down and sleep. She ignored the chatter and giggling, the flirting and waited alone, silently, primly, for tutorees that would never come.

The other students don't actively shun her. There's no active ostracizing going on. It's nothing like that. I've never once heard anyone ridicule her (and Lord knows, they *do* ridicule each other, sometimes mercilessly), and as a smart, ungainly young woman she is certainly bait for ridicule...and we all know how horrible high school is. No, I've never seen anyone ridicule her.

But I've never seen one talk to her either. Ever.

It's as if she is just there to them, like she was to me for the first few weeks of school.

I think it was right there that day after school, as I sat hearing her peers chatter and argue and flirt, watching her sitting in her desk waiting primly, that I put aside my red pen....and felt my heart break.

I think I would have cried if I could have.

Now, I know, I know, it doesn't take a psychotherapist or anything to realize that I'm projecting onto her. That's pretty obvious. I have always identified with the lonely. It goes very far back, and is deep seated.

But it just feels more than that for some reason. Yes, it may be "about me" in way, but it's *not* about me too, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, last night I met her mother and grandmother, both very friendly women, the archetypal black church women, properly dressed, perfectly spoken, proper.

I was shocked to meet them. I had been through the endless line of failing and borderline students' parents. That's who you meet at these things. That's who you're there for. That's who you're prepared for. Certainly not for the parents of someone like her. I was actually taken aback by them being there. They disrupted my train of thought.

I was honestly flustered.

I didn't know what to say. My well honed spiel about "well, he/she just needs to study more" and "please make sure he/she does the extra credit" was derailed. I didn't know what to say at all.
So, as happens sometimes when I'm flustered, I blurted out the truth. I shook her mother's hand and said, "I just don't know what to say. I really can't say enough good things about your daughter!"

At that, her daughter, whom I've never seen smile, not once...not ever...lit up. That made me happy.....but not happy enough to not be still worrying about her right now.


Michael said...

heartbreaking, yet heartwarming...

Breezy said...

While revealing some of yourself, you also did a fantastic,honest job of revealing school life. You've actually allowed me to see you in a different light, Jason. Fantastic!

Julie said...

That's beautifully written, Jason. I didn't expect to come here and cry! You have a real talent for expressing yourself.

Marshall said...

What a great story, Jason! Please write a follow up story about her one day.

Anonymous said...

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