"Dear Prudence" by Amanda Grieme

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Frieda...listen

4/3 - Listen
Dear Frieda –

I feel comfortable telling you everything in person, with the exception of how I met Jack. It places a whole new twist on why I don’t want to continue being an educator, doesn’t it? I didn’t continue to teach when Jack and I decided to make a go of it, I worked in the fashion industry as a Stylist’s Assistant, and then I bartended. I waited a year until he was finished with school, until I pursued another teaching position. . . and I procured a maternity leave English position, and it turned into a full-year, then this year, until I cracked up and had a break down. Although I really respected the people that I worked for, I always had a looming feeling that somehow my past would sneak up on me, and I would be misunderstood as some sort of strange bird, rather than just a woman who fell in love with a younger man. In the world of education, those perceived as strange birds are not welcome. When I was teaching Hawthorne’s, “The Scarlet Letter,” I constantly envisioned myself as Hester Prynne. Although, I wasn’t an adulteress with a scarlet “A” on my chest, but I had an “L&T” for lousy teacher, or a “W” for weirdo or wild woman, or worst of all a “N” for nonconformist.

I’m not even one of those conforming nonconformists who claim to be odd, but have jumped on a “what’s odd now” bandwagon. I am my own bird, and that is one of the many reasons that Jack and I were so attracted to each other; he, too, is a unique soul. When he was my student, we formed a platonic friendship that oozed our attraction for one another, but we controlled our unspoken passion, and applied it to art. I was the theater director, so every day I stayed after school for theater practice, and Jack and another student Lynn and I would have art therapy sessions, where we would sit, listen to great music, and would create fantastic oil pastel collaborative murals, while we’d talk about everything and anything. I was blown away by what Jack and I had in common, as was he; his quiet introspection and passion for art and music were/are refreshing, and there was nothing young about him; he is an old soul, and although chronologically he was 17 or 18 years old when he was my British Literature student, his eyes and his mind said differently.

Unfortunately, another thing that Jack and I have in common is our mental illness, although he is not medicated and VERY changeable. I remember that was one of the first things that I recognized about him; he shuts down and nods off, and I thought that he was a junkie. But then I watched closer and noticed his obsessive-compulsive habits, and profound sadness dripping from his green eyes and crooked smile. In addition to being Manic Depressive, he has Tourette’s Syndrome and Narcolepsy. He doesn’t have the atypical “fuck you, damn you,” kind, but instead suffers from twitches and vocal tics that are exacerbated by stress and his downward mood swings. . . and then he falls asleep. But it’s amazing Frieda, when he plays music, he doesn’t twitch at all. Nor does he when he sleeps. But when he becomes depressed, his physique, his demeanor, everything shows it; his body exudes misery, and it is really difficult to be around.

Hopefully he will be able to attain medical benefits through a job, or will be able to afford a prescription plan. Is there a prescription plan for guitarists? No? I thought that I would ask. Health care certainly is a financial kick-in-the-bottom, isn’t it?

A positive thing about us both suffering with such strange afflictions is that we empathize with one another, and we can talk each other back into the world of the living when it seems like nothing is worth it. He and I have saved each other many times; people definitely join for a reason, even if it is unusual circumstances, don’t you think?
Regards, Ana

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dear Jesse...Stars

3/19 - Stars

Dear Jesse -

Did I ever tell you how I met Jack? I know that you know short of the long, the scandalous condensed version. But did I ever tell you how it really happened?

It was my first day as a teacher, and I was so nervous and especially fearful of one class that I had to teach; British Literature in a Geology lab. I was nervous because as a student teacher at this school, I had a talented guitar player named Ernie in a Public Speaking class that I taught with Goldie. She was the reason that I procured the teaching job in the first place, and when I looked at the class rosters, Ernie was in my class. You may think that it sounds ridiculous that I would be frightened by a 17-year-old guy, but it’s me we are talking about. If you catch me on a strange day, I am afraid of my own shadow, literally. He was different, interesting, talented, unusual, artistic, and I was intimidated. It was my first teaching job, and I was afraid that I would be inadequate, uninteresting, and unable to use my creativity as an educator, and he would see right through my “educator” facade. Ok, so I was a bit analytical, but when I am nervous, my mind races. It was the first time in my life that I had to be somewhat serious to make a buck, so I thought.

I didn’t have a classroom, or even a desk for that matter; my home base was the stage in the auditorium, which was fine by me. It was quiet, secluded, and it had a piano on the stage that I could play when I was feeling especially down. In addition to teaching British Literature, I was also the Theater teacher, and in charge of productions for the year. It was quite a feat, considering I had no experience as a theater director ...but I figured it out. Eric Fienstein, a young teacher who had given up, happily, his role as the theater director helped me considerably. He was great.

I remember I had the first period free, so I sat on the stage in the auditorium and took in the feeling. It was green, and outdated, and there was a row of windows at the top of the room that sunlight shone in through, and dust danced against the toothpaste green cinder block wall. The back of the stage was borderline creepy. There was a storage space behind the curtain that I became very familiar with, later. It was unusually cold; ghostlike. I played with the light board and switched on the red and blue lights, lay back on the freshly waxed wooden stage, and stared up, secretly hoping that they would fall on me, to end the anxiety. I fantasized about the headline, “New Teacher Crushed by Theater Lights: Students and Teachers Shocked.”

The lights were warm, and if I closed my eyes, it almost felt like I was lying under the sun. I tried meditating to net the butterflies in my stomach. Then I played the piano, and when I stopped I swore I heard someone clap in the distance. “Was that for me?” I thought.

There were ten minutes until I had to go to the science lab to teach British Literature. I then fantasized about running out of the side door in the auditorium to my car, never to return. Then I sat silently in the musty auditorium, and smelled the linseed oil drifting in from the art rooms next door, coupled with the faint sound of the chorus learning a Christmas Carol in September ...and the bell rang. I somehow collected myself, tightened my bun, fixed my pencil skirt and glasses, slipped my heels back on, and grabbed my grade book, textbook, and pencil box off the table I had behind the curtain. I left my quiet, curtained tomb and ventured into buzzing mayhem; high school kids in new clothes, rushing to their lockers talking about summer, and parties, and their last class: “that teacher’s a bitch,” and “his breath smells like coffee.” I quickly popped a mint into my mouth as I made it down the hall toward my class, and I heard, “that’s a teacher? Are you sure she’s not a narc?” I started to get really nervous. I thought that the tight bun, pencil skirt, glasses and lipstick would transform me into a seasoned-looking adult.

I took a deep breath and entered the classroom, glancing at the pathetic British Flag that I made out of construction paper the day before in an attempt to make it look less scientific. Then I glanced down at the cart of textbooks that I was to assign to each student. “Christ,” I thought, “the books are larger than some of the freshmen students. How the hell are they going to cart these around?” I attempted to look busy to avoid making eye contact with the students who were venturing in. I know that it was not a good public relations tactic, but a necessity when faced with peeing in your pants.

Then the bell rang, and the majority of students were there, physically, not in spirit, and I turned around and smiled. “Welcome to British Literature … I’ll be your host, Miss Guida!” My lame attempt at humor dove and bombed like a kamikaze fighter jet. The class just stared at me, emotionless. One kid yelled out, “Hi Miss Guida.” His name was Jimmy Varga, a student who I grew to adore, and who passed on from a heroin overdose two years later.
“Hi, and who are you?”
“They call me Vargs,” he said with a big smile. He had a mohawk that was slightly off-kilter, like his grin. He was great!

I looked over at Ernie who was staring down at his desk, drawing on it, and I decided to conquer my fears immediately. “I know you,” I said, and walked over to his desk. Then all the males, the majority in the class said “oooohhh,” and made cat calls. "C’mon guys,” I said, trying to unsex myself. “Oh god,” I thought “Did I sound flirtatious?”

Ernie looked up and smiled and said “hi.” My fear was conquered. Then I decided to take attendance. As I reached over to grab my book, I dropped it on the floor, reached over to get it, my glasses fell off, and I overturned my ankle leaning over to pick everything up. Everyone got hysterical at my expense, but I was glad. The ice was broken. I called out each of their names, and silently labeled them to myself as I made eye contact: “Stoner, stoner, motorhead, confused, airhead, intelligent, stoner, stoner, stoner, stoner, and stoner.” I found it ironic that I had been one of the majority when I was in high school. Then the door swung open five minutes into the class and a tall, swanky fellow rushed in, reeking of cigarettes, breezed by me, gave a second look and said “hello, hello, hello. Trick Petersen’s the name. I’ll sit back here.” Everyone was laughing. “You’re late.” That was my attempt at being a disciplinarian. “I know,” he said. At least he was honest and didn’t try to bullshit me, I guess.

As they were completing preliminary “getting to know you” exercises that I had for them, I looked out at the sea of bodies and thought “So this is my fate; I have a group of unruly derelicts to contend with for half of the year (block scheduling).” Boy, was I wrong. Although they could be difficult, they were one of the greatest groups of individuals that I have ever encountered. I’ll never forget them ... especially the day that they taped Bob Greenwich to a chair, with his consent of course, and I didn’t notice until we had a fire alarm, and everyone went out, while I untaped Bob, laughing like a Hyena. We both swore to secrecy.

When that first class was over, I felt like I could’ve handled anything. I had another free period until my Theater Arts class, so I was collecting my things to go to my sanctuary, the auditorium. As I was squeezing through students walking into their science class, commenting on the British flag on the bulletin board, whispering “is this the right class,” I got stuck in human traffic, face to face with a very tall, green eyed stranger. We stared at each other for a moment, which seemed like lifetimes, and I turned away, afraid of what I felt.
“Hello Miss Guida,” he smiled, unafraid.
“Hi,” I said pushing by, to no avail.
“I’m Jack,” he said gently as I passed.
I knew him, and I had never met him before.
“Hi Jack,” I shouted back, as I made my way toward the auditorium.

I was different, somehow. I’ll tell you more later.
Love, Ana