This feels important. For once, I don’t have to waste time thinking… ookay, do I love myself? There’s no positive self-talk required. I just go ahead anyway.
Monday 27th April, 2009:
Just got home from the first day back at school. I feel a bit torn in my heart – this term’s topic for the 11 Social Science programme is geography, and I don’t like geography. I find it Dimario hard to be enthusiastic about the subject, and so there’s an ache in my heart when I see Dimario and Alexander drift off, in the nicest and sweetest manner – but drift off. Only Jack (back at last) plods through it, after he and I hit it off from (almost) the first moment today. He comes in, slips in, looks at me waiting for the axe to fall – he knows he didn’t come to the test last term and that he had no excuse.
I say “Jack?” and he looks up with a pre-emptive belligerence, like: What? – but without any words.
I just go over quietly and say, “I need you to do that assessment – but not today, ok?’
His expression softens considerably, as he realizes I’m not even asking for an explanation, and he just nods.
I say, “Let’s see… when can we do it? What do you have for your option tomorrow?”
“I don’t have one,” he says.
“Why – cos you haven’t picked one yet?”
“Yeah,” he says, and shows me his timetable – sure enough, option space is blank.
I say, “Good!” which makes him smile, cos actually he should be in trouble for not picking one.
I go on, “Ok – so come and see me tomorrow at option time, and you can do it then. Is that ok?”
And he nods and smiles, feeling a tiny bit better, I think, at being given a special dispensation.
I don’t want to make it hard for Jack. I want him to feel like it’s ok, and it’s fine to come back and give it a try. I think (but I’m not sure) that he might show up. I tell him, “I’ll email your tutor teacher and get her to mark you as present for option tomorrow.” He knows I’m asking no questions – it might be enough to make him come along. I hope so, I really do.
After that, he does his work, even though the other two aren’t. Dimario does a little, Alexander tags quietly. But I talk to them, and they look at me quite openly.
Tuesday 28th April:
Jack – yes, he turns up right on time, and I sit with him in the Faculty office, where he writes the assessment. He’s quiet and kind of jittery at first, but he eventually relaxes and starts writing, checking with me every now and then as he goes along. Afterwards we have time so I mark it and he’s passed – no problem. When I tell him, he says, “Oh Miss, that’s a weight off my shoulders; that’s a weight off my shoulders,” in such heartfelt tones that my heart goes out to him immediately.
We talk after that, and he tells me he was sure he was going to fail, because of the classes he had missed. I say to him honestly, “Jack, let me tell you a kind of secret – it’s not that hard to pass. You don’t have to come all the time, you just have to do the things that matter; and I’ll let you know what they are.”
He grins at me.
Thursday 30th April:
11 Soc. It ain’t bad – not at all. My class are right there with me, and they’re funny, friendly, and happy – just like always. We have a laugh, and they do their work, and it’s all good. But I don’t know how to make geography ‘important’ in the way I did the first topic. I can’t quite swing it; not quite enough for Dimario and Alexander to be convinced.
Dimario starts off today, and I see his mind drift… drift… he goes back and forth between the activities and tagging on the back of them. So does Alexander. But I persist with them, and they smile at me, knowing I want to see them not give up.
At one point, Dimario says to me, “Miss, you try so hard.” He says it real nicely, and I just look at him and say, “Yeah, I do.”
And then they do the first activity, and the second… and finish them, but the third gets put away in their bags and taken home.
I say, “Homework?”
“Yes, Miss,” they reply, meaning it. But will they do it – I don’t know.
I really do try with them – he’s right. And I don’t need to try harder, exactly, but I need to find some way of keeping them going. I can’t just see them fall, and not care. Jack too (he wasn’t there today). Cos they don’t want to fall. They want to hold on – I can see that. But I don’t know how to get them to hold on by such a slender thread. I feel like if I lose them now, it won’t matter how interesting it is next term – it’ll be too late by then.
Only, I have to start thinking different about how to do it. I have to not get stressed by the geography thing. I have to sit loose to it.
I knew from the start it wouldn’t be easy with Dimario and Alexander. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far, and we’ve hit a brick wall, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way through. I’ve got to remember how intelligently they’re behaving, even now. I can’t fault them for that. It is boring, and they’re the sane people here. They see right through the stupidness of things, but without the smallest hint of defiance or disobedience. That’s two things they’re emphatically not, in here. They know I’ve got them covered on that score. They feel relaxed, they don’t even try to be tough. I overhear Alexander murmuring to Dimario, in a fragment of conversation, “Cos I just want to drink…” without the least swagger, like they’re just planning to meet for a coffee.
I have to think of all the good stuff, the bit of trust that Dimario has in my intentions, and that even Alexander is starting to have. And the one thing I can do is let them know that I’m on their side. I’m 100% on their side, whether they work or whether they don’t. And I think that’s the only thing I can offer right now: solidarity.
Sunday 3rd May:
Haven’t really done any work. Watched ‘Bloodsport’(!) on TV, as I tried to think about an emerging pattern, at school. There is one… for sure there is, but more about that another day.
Last time I watched this movie was in Orongo, more than 10 years ago. Brayden and I lay on the floor and watched it. Little things stay in my memory.
It was a crazy time, all in all. Everything that happened seems backed now by that cold sky, the icy bright sky of winter; and the hills with their sparse military camouflage… we walked with Nate right out in the hills for hours. Later, at Brayden’s, Nate (who was stoned, who was nearly always stoned) said he’d talked to the sky; “I did! Up on top of the hill!” – and we all laughed at his air of slight incomprehension.
Why do I think of all this today? I’m not sure. But I remember the frost on the ground, warmth of breath in the cold air, the ice on the brown car, the sweet brown shoes I had from Minnie Cooper, far too expensive for me.
When I think of Dimario and Alexander – I think how they must have been just little kids, that year I was in Orongo, and for some reason it makes me wanna cry, remembering how I had the little kids with me most times there, just sitting up close with me – and I made them noodles and stuff. Jam sandwiches, instant noodles, or I’d just go get fish and chips. I was the only one who could drive. Everyone else too drunk. They all trusted me to look after the little kids. It was so cold, like it is tonight.
I didn’t… I still don’t feel that it was alien to me. That world just enveloped me, made sense to me, even with all my pretensions, with my lack of comprehension; sense was made.
Monday 4th May:
My day: what can I say? I feel temporarily defeated. I’m tired, and it’s cold, and I feel quiet, and I can’t do geography. My words, all thin and poor – I can’t find the warm rush of air to give them lift. And it doesn’t matter how much I plan for geography, it doesn’t resonate with me yet; I can’t think of a way.
Jack tries so hard. I hear him say to the others, “It’s harder than last term aye?” But he does about half of the work today – Dimario doesn’t even do half, and Alexander less again.
Alexander and Dimario try, for a while. They do try, and that’s why it hurts me to fail them. Dimario like a young wolf, Alexander with his swirly eyes like two green marbles.
I ask a question and Alexander’s hand goes up… half up, bends and rubs his shoulder… then hovers, half up and half down.
I say, “Alexander, is your hand up?”
He grins and nods awkwardly, then says, “Process, Miss,” which is the correct answer; sounding surprised at the sound of his own voice proceeding all the way from the back to the front.
I say, “Yes, that’s right,” and kids laugh in surprise – not because he gets it right, but that he bothered to answer; first time ever.
But all too soon, they drift… and Jack… they just drift away into their bombing books, their writers books. Alexander says, looking earnestly at me, “It’s boring, Miss,” when I come around, as if I could just magic it back to being interesting. He adds, “I hate geography.”
Dimario tells me, “Miss, I started.” He shows me one page, amidst all the bombings. Then he smiles, but says, “Miss, geography though – it’s all just words and pictures.”
I say, “I know.”
“Couldn’t you just spice it up? Like last term!” he asks, as if he thinks it’s easy for me. I want to cry and laugh. He looks so hopeful, and I say, “Oh, guys, just hang in there.”
Alexander really looks at me when I talk to him now – his whole demeanour has changed, and though he’s not doing ’work’ exactly, he’s still on board somehow. He goes to get felts from my table, takes them back to his desk, and chooses a bright red to draw a narrow but velvety outline around his piece.
I say, “You just keep right on going, Alexander.”
“Sorry Miss,” he says, with a gentle apology, and I say, “No, Alexander, I mean it – just keep going,” and he looks up at me in momentary surprise.
When I get home, I think about everything that hurts and tears me, and what I’ve tried to do and what I find almost impossible to do just now. And I can hardly stand to see them fall, even though I want so much for them to hold on. I don’t feel brave and I don’t see how I can do anything to stop my heart getting broken and pounded by school. I don’t see how I can do anything but willingly submit to it. So, I take a breath and just let go, it’s like I’m plummeting and I don’t know for how long or how far I’m willing to be heartbroken – cos there’s nothing else that means I tried. If I can’t do this, I tried – I really tried, and I will try.