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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

No Life Tip - Just A Lifetime Ago

Some things are too dark to write about, really.  So, you think them and you move on to something nicer to think about. And then some things are so dark that UNLESS you write about them, moving to a happy thought will be about as easy as climbing Everest in high heels and a miniskirt.

Brock doesn't often sit down to watch movies.  He's got too many thoughts, too many ideas, too much work. And if he's going to sit down, it's usually because he has a guitar in his hands.  But tonight we had dinner at his folks' house.  The food is always terrific - homemade everything - but the atmosphere is . . . well, I liken it to the way my grandmother's house made me feel when I first came home from college for Christmas - exhausted, safe, and completely lazy.  This house doesn't know seasons. It matters not if it's hot or cold outside, wet or dry.  Once you walk in, you just want to lay down and go to sleep.  So, when we make ourselves leave, we're usually just as bleary-eyed and child-like as our kids. We pout the entire way home. Emma needs a bath.  Pout.  Ava needs a bottle. Pout, pout. 

Anyway, by the time we got home, Brock sat on the couch like a weeble-wobble planted securely in the sand, and a movie caught his attention. It was a movie about teenagers.  Stupid teenagers.  Stupid teenagers who were on drugs and had little parental supervision.  And had cars. And money. And no fear.  I knew almost immediately that I couldn't watch it.  I recognized the speech patterns, the defiance in the faces, and the feeling that something was going to happen before it did.  There are educators who just know when there's going to be a fight, and I was one of them. It's just a feeling of unrest, of nervous energy.  Even when the kids are all tucked safely away in classrooms, you just know. 

So, I'm on the treadmill, and I'm doing these lateral side skips that my trainer assigned me, and I keep having to turn and face our great room, where the TV is playing.  I have my ipod playing, but my eyes catch the violence of one teen stabbing another.  They're at the beach, and there are many of them. The girls are hiding their faces, curled up and screaming in a car, and the boys are getting turned on by what's happening until one after another takes a turn at bringing the victim to his end. That's all I saw and needed to see.  It made me feel like I could have crawled out of my skin and just melted into a puddle on the ground. It's a MOVIE, you say.  Yes, it's a movie.  A movie about kids I knew. Kids who sat across from me in my formidable desk and had the look that other kids don't have.  Like the gangster girl who stood up and told me in a quiet voice that I would give her her cell phone back if I knew what was good for me. (I didn't.)  Or the overgrown and gangly pot head who didn't even flinch when I pulled a long, fat joint out of his shirt pocket - where it wasn't even hidden from view.  It made me think of the 7th grade girl who sat across from me and told me she had come to like cocaine and she didn't see anything wrong with selling bumps of it off her pinky nail in between classes.  Or the 12-year old who put a needle in his eraser and went through the halls slicing at other students.  His big brown eyes were so surprised by my shock and horror.  "I was just playing," he said.  There was the girl at one school who was so doped up on Xanex that I couldn't wake her.  She was passed out in the middle of her art class, and I had to have the teacher help me carry her to the nurse's office.  I waited until 8 PM that night for her parents to come and get her.  Parents who told me I was lying and had no proof she was high.  Parents who laughed in my face and told me I was crazy.

There were so many.  Some I've forgotten, some I laugh about, and some I try to never, ever think about. Like the one who died after he lit himself on fire. On purpose. I don't think of him, and I've never said his name. Not in 7 years.

I think that some people can handle it and some people can't. I think I became a school administrator because someone told me I would do a good job.  I was a teacher, a cheerleading coach, and soccer coach, department head, and on and on. And I believed them when they said that.  I was flattered, and I believed them. So, I did it.  Check.  For six years. Check, check. And the love I had for the kids I knew in my classroom evolved into suspicion and frustration. I never again looked at a tween and thought, "What a neat kid." I never again believed a kid when they swore they were telling me the truth.  I learned that all kids lie after an honor student on an important school club was found to have been cheating for weeks and weeks.  After a mild-mannered star athlete assaulted another child so badly that he was charged with a felony.

When you're a teacher in your classroom, you have the dynamic to help propel your agenda.  That's why, year after year, you find that you love your 2nd period class but hate your 7th period class.  It's all about the dynamics.  But when you spend your entire career in low SES schools and time marches on, you spend your days looking into the eyes of children who don't trust you any more than you trust them.  Children who didn't get to be children. Children who know a world they shouldn't know, and who calmly admit that you're just stopping them for the short term. 

Oh, it wasn't like this every single day, but what I'm saying is that once you've seen that side, you never forget it. And it humbles you.  And it scares you. There were many times over those six years that I messed with the wrong kid or the wrong parent, and I knew there could come a time when it would all come back to me.  It's not the only reason I left, but it played a part.  I was never meant to be a suspicious person. And the investigations wore me out.  Kids can lie for days before you finally catch the weak link and get him to roll on the others.  No, I'm sunnier than that. And I'm sorry, but you can't be sunny and a junior high administrator without prescribed drugs. A teacher, yes.  By God, yes.  Junior high teachers are the best and most fun of any people I know.  But administrators are NOT.  I think my teachers could watch that movie and draw comparisons to kids they know and even laugh about some parts.  But I couldn't.  There was a real fear I carried after so many kids and so many punishments.  And I was glad to let it go. 

So, Brock comes in later and says that movie reminded him of stupid things he and his friends did.  Things that could have gone terribly wrong and didn't, and he said, "That movie was bad."
"I know," I told him. "I know."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Life Tip #10 - Keep in Touch

     Rare moment: me, a large cup of hot coffee, and my blog.  It's been a while, and I have a strong appreciation for moments of clarity that also allow you enough time to record them . . .

     It's hard to capture what I am feeling in words. Over the last few days, I have caught myself smiling or laughing to myself before I realized I'd been remembering the good times I shared with my college dance team.

     Remembering the day Judi and I arrived at our dorm and the wonder we felt when our parents finally left us to start college life together 10 hours away from home.  Ranger was a tiny town of little more than 1000 people, and that included all of us at the college. Judi got a dance scholarship, and got me on as a walk-on. It was the best favor any friend ever did for another. It was there that we saw the clearest skies and brightest stars in Texas. Where we stood in complete darkness on the overpass on I-20 and leaned way over it so that when the semi trucks passed under it and us, we felt a rush of wind and power and adrenaline unlike anything else.  It sounds crazy, but when someone was having a bad day, Judi and I looked at each other knowingly and took them to the "bridge." It only took one truck to get a smile, and after 10 or 12, talk turned to where the evening would find us.  It was there that we learned to run the 5 mile loop without stopping - mostly to prove to our hard core dance instructor that we could it and not because we could actually do it. 
And it was there that we learned both how to country dance and how to skull a beer and how not to have high expectations about places called "Sandy Beach" or "The Hill."  In the plains of North Texas, the first was a field and the second was the side of an overpass that was hidden from view.  It was also there that we learned to buckle down and work hard.  We studied as much as we partied, and on many nights, you could find one or more girls sitting out in our everlit hallway, working on something that had to be turned in the next day.  I myself learned that I could study quite well when I was drunk. As long as I got an hour or two of sleep, almost all of the information stayed at the top of my brain, like the foam on a draft beer.

     Independence was a better teacher than anything I'd ever experienced.  Being hours away from home meant we had to do our own laundry at a laundromat.  It meant we had to be careful with the money our parents sent to us in the mail.  It meant we had to nurse ourselves and each other when we got sick. Judi got me through the flu, and the two of us called Shannon's mom when she got so sick we knew she had to be hospitalized.

     I think of each girl . . . Judi, Carrie, Shelly, Trisha, Renee, Misty, Ammie, Tiffany, Shannon, Stephanie, Leticia, and Dianna, and I marvel at how such strong young women had the good fortune to end up in the same place.  Each was determined.  Each was compassionate.  Each had a fighting spirit that never let her get down for longer than it took to get her to The Bridge.

     We talked. We talked all day, every day, and late into each night. And every Sunday, when those who were close enough to go home on the weekends were back, we gathered in someone's room expressely to hear about how the weekend was.  Everyone got a turn to share, and we thoroughly enjoyed all the details that made up our days apart.  Fridays were great, but I think many of us thought Sundays were better. 

     On more than one occassion, we learned how to "mildly" break a law.  It wasn't breaking and entering at the bass house, it was "exploring."  And when we found the perfect pier for laying out, we figured no one would question six fit girls in bikinis.  And they didn't. :)  And stopping on I-20 in the middle of Fort Worth to pee on the side of the road?  We called it public service in the form of entertainment for the passing drivers. And when we were stopped by our security guard, Rocky, as we headed to Bostock's in Stephenville, I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust when he opened our ice chest full of Zima's.  "God, Rocky,"I said.  "Zima's are energy drinks, not beer.  We're on the dance team, for crying out loud!" The girls in the car expressed equal disgust as he meekly apologized and let us go off into the night, hooting and hollering the whole way . . .

     Oh, and there were boys.  Boys who turned our worlds upside down and made us crazy and broke our hearts. Shelly and Stephanie found the loves of their lives, and the rest of us found life lessons and inner strength and frankly, some duds if there ever were any.

     When our two years were up, I don't think I was the only one who struggled with the separation.  It was too sudden - too hard - too over.  And there was no one who understood what it was like to lose a team of sisters all at once. There was really no one to talk to about it, and I guess we all assumed that we didn't need to impose on each other as we moved on. Talking to all of them now, I wish I had been stubborn about these friendships. I wish I had looked at it as normal instead of an imposition.  I thought more than once that I must have needed them more than they needed me. Sixteen years later, I find that I was wrong.

     Tomorrow I will see the friends who I have missed for so long, and I can't stop smiling.  I have old photos (some incriminating, some just plain strange.) I have my old dance captain jacket and the last issue of our college newspaper. I have some acting medals and my diploma, and I have a heart full of great memories to boot. I've talked to Shannon, the BEST person in the world. I've talked to Leticia, the most motivating and positive person in the world, I'll be heading out on this road trip with Shelly, who is the FUNNIEST person in the world, and today I talked to Judi, the person who knows who I am even after all these years.  And we've all agreed to one thing: we will go way beyond reunions.  We will pick up where we left off and not miss a beat.  Saturday afternoon will be like our old Sundays and Saturday night will be a step up from Bostock's, partly because we won't have to sneak drinks and partly because we're still the crazy girls we used to be . . . Southern Belles after all.