The Old Man in That Book By Nabakov

The other day I was picking up a couple of things at the local Red Dot Boutique when a voice called out behind me in excitement.
"Mr. Luft!!"
Next thing I knew, one of my former students came running over and gave me a big hug. She was one of my first years -- a girl who sat in the back of my worst (yet most beloved) class -- a group I still lovingly refer to as 4th period.
I taught 8th grade English for almost three years and had lots of
4th period classes -- but trust me: there was only one 4th period.
This particular student also had the distinction of being one of my drama club kids. The school I was at had almost no extracurricular activities that weren't related to sports, and being an ex theater bum myself it only made sense to start up a troupe. It started out as almost 300 kids who couldn't believe they were being allowed to have fun on school grounds, but it eventually whittled down to a tight group of the schools misfits, goth kids, and class clowns that became my weekly sanctuary from what ended up being one of the most turbulent periods in my recent history.
God, I loved those brats.
We did improv games, stage combat, teacher impersonation skits -- it was a blast. We even cobbled together a little show at the end of that first year that started out as a complete comedy of errors but ended up being a half decent thing that I think the kids were really proud of being involved with. The show I did my last year there was a million times better -- but that inaugural bunch who stuck with me while I did my best to try and figure out how to run an after-school theater program with essentially no budget or support from the administration -- those kids were my warriors.
And this particular girl was their stage manager.
For those of you who've never done theater -- the stage manager is your hammer. They call the cues, they manage the backstage area, and they lay down the law while you're out front with the walkie trying to keep the kid working the spotlight on track while you whisper line cues to the actors who freeze up on the stage. A stage manager (especially in kids theater) is part anal retentive schedule keeper, part cheerleader, and all bitch.
And she rocked it.
But now, years later she's standing before me -- a taller version of the kid I used to know; telling me about her life, her struggles, her boyfriend, her plans. Anyone walking by could have imagined it as two old friends catching up -- and in a lot of ways that's exactly what it was, except maybe for the age difference.

For the record, she's doing well. Getting ready to graduate high school, looking on to bigger and better things.

The only thing about the conversation was that she kept going back to this whole "Now that I'm 17, I'm beyond all that stupid drama.." type of thing. And immediately there was a part of me that was just dying to look her in the eye and say,
Honey, if you thought the first 17 years of this roller coaster
were hard -- just wait until you hit the part with all the loops.
But there's this other thing. This part I'd kind of forgotten about in the years I've spent away from the classroom. This look that these kids get in their eye, even when they're whiny little zit-faced 8th graders. This look that says like no matter what happens, things are going to happen for me. It's all gonna fall into place. I don't know how, I don't know what -- but once I can get out of school, everything I want will be right within reach, and all I have to do is grab it.
Do you remember that feeling?
When you teach kids, especially kids who are within reach of the world past their parents -- you kind of swim in that water every day, and although sometimes the pressures and stresses of being an adult are hard to get past, that naive sense of invincibility starts to seep in. It's one of the secret reasons teaching is the greatest job, and one of the reasons that so many people stick with it regardless of the pay, the benefits, or the idiot administrators you've got to deal with on a daily basis.

Corporate America doesn't have tons of that. Corporate cubicle life is much more infected with a lot of people who have been through their own private Vietnams, and now they're just happy to be anywhere but canopy jungle. Which is perhaps why the overwhelming optimism of a child that hasn't been spit out by the world is a drug that you never really want to quit once you get a taste for it.
So I bit my tongue.
I'm not saying that optimism dies, or that hope is a lie -- because it's not. But there's a difference between the dedication it takes to hold on to your dreams through all the slings and arrows that the world wants to throw at you, and the shiny new car that is the star in the eye of a kid who believes that nothing can ever stand in their way.
To know that perhaps in some way I was a little part of that is a good feeling.
..But it's still a little weird to be called Mr. Luft.

[Listening to:  Cornelius"Gum" ]

Comments

whatigotsofar said…
Why is it always the school misfits who end up in the drama club?
Werdna said…
Fantastic Entry Mr. Luft.

@ whatigotsofar: Who you callin misfit, misfit? ;)


Drama was good for me. It turned me from introverted and lame into almost extroverted and a big man on campus.
Peanut Angel said…
Ahh the stary-eyed optimism of youth. How I wish I could get that feeling back.
Your former student will learn the hardships of the real world soon enough. Let her enjoy those rose colored glasses as long as she can.
Hex said…
WIGSF -- Because the drama club is usually run by people like me who clearly have a screw loose, and who wouldn't want to hang around someone like that while learn hat-and-cane dance moves?

Werdna -- The first week or so in Fritton's drama class I was determined to hate it, because I'd actually signed up for the school newspaper. But as whacked out as Mike was, ther was something about how free and fearless he seemed that made me wanted to find out more.

Of course, now I know it was just the chemicals in his bloodstream -- but that doesn't mean it didn't lead to some of the best times I had through those years.

Peanut -- I know that in the end I barely had anything to do with it, but I'm always really happy to see it when my former students turn out well (like most of them have).
The Kaiser said…
Damn, the stage manager thing brings back memories. Specifically, fond memories of physically restraining actors who refused to admit they were about to go out several minutes before their cue.
Hex said…
The Kaiser -- In a lot of ways, SM is the job that separates the men from the boys (so to speak) when it comes to theater, because not just anyone can do it. But one thing I do know is that once an actor does it, they instantly become better at their craft.

It's like they're forced to realize some of the habits/mistakes that are hard to see underneath the greasepaint, you know?