I went to a reunion of the school where I used to teach. I hugged people, and then we asked how we were. I asked what they were up to, and I worried that unless the answer was, “I have conquered the world with my college degree!” or had a baby to show me, they would say, “Not much.”
We pushed college so hard.
One of my kids (who isn’t exactly a kid anymore) said, “I’m driving a school bus.”
“That’s an important job!” I said. “I’ve been subbing and I’ve seen how important those bus drivers are, making sure the kids get on the right bus and behave and are safe.”
“It’s not what I thought I would do.” And looked wistful.
“Most of my life has not been what I thought I would do,” I said.
So, Dear Former Students,
Life is much harder than we told you. We told you GO TO COLLEGE, and if you went, that didn’t solve everything, did it?
It was hard to stay in, once you were in, wasn’t it? It was for me, too.
I know it didn’t solve this violent city, or whatever family shit you have, everyone has some, and some people have a lot.
It didn’t make you taller, or make you feel like you could handle things.
(And I know, I’m 30 grand in debt. I hope you kept all your scholarships.)
I went to my ten-year reunion because I was going back to school to be a teacher, and this was a good story to tell people. When you go to parties, you always have to have a story of what’s going on with you, and it’s best if it’s not, “I don’t have a fucking clue,” at least not until after midnight and several drinks.
One time at a party, a guy told me he had been molested by a priest.
Another time, someone told me he was on a payment plan for his incredibly huge credit card debt.
But these were anomalies.
My twenty-year I did not go to because I was in New York, which was something, but I was also broke as hell, and I didn’t particularly want to discuss that with any of my former classmates from one of the fanciest public schools on earth.
Yesterday I dropped by a thrift store my stepmom had recommended. Found a pair of pants and a skirt that fit me, and a dress, too, what a deal!
The guy who runs the place is Australian, or speaks with an incredible fake Australian accent, one of those two things. A lady who was a nun, in habit, was in line when I walked in. Most of the rest of the shoppers were speaking Spanish. I was out in Johnson County, which for my east coast friends, is like Westchester. Or it used to be. Perhaps parts of it are now Yonkers. (I am housesitting in the Park Slope of Kansas City, pretty swank, without the famous people.)
I lined up to pay, and a couple next to me had a shopping cart full of shoes and clothes. The man was looking at a list and reading things off, as if they had made a list for a whole lot of people.
“I’ll get you first,” the cashier said. I paid for my pants, skirt, dress, and the Nancy Cunard bangle I had found, last minute (50 cents). “You helped three people eat today!” she proclaimed.
That was nice. They feed people for $3. Apparently.
It was nicer to be among recent immigrants so close to the 4th. And see a few of ’em cleaning up at the thrift store. They had a lot of good shit there. And help the Australian guy hold the door open for another dude who was buying a table.
Driving a bus is important. You’re being a good citizen. That’s all we wanted from you. That’s all we want for you. We’re proud of you.
I went to see the Mr. Rogers documentary last night, and that is one of the things I have taken from him: how powerful it is to tell someone you are proud of them. That’s one of the things I miss doing, as a teacher. People can hardly handle hearing that. It blows their damn minds.
I’m proud of you, women arrested for protesting immigration insanity. I’m proud of you, union fighters who try to get us treated fairly, even though, lately, over and over again, you are shut down and turned back. I’m proud of myself for writing to my congresspeoples even though sometimes I feel like I don’t care anymore and it doesn’t matter. I’m proud of everyone who came to the March for Our Lives.
I’m proud of the times I asked questions instead of snapping. I’m proud of asking for help. I’m proud of you for reading something someone else wrote. You can bet I look at the page views occasionally, and when there’s some numbers there, it feels good.
I’m proud of the community our former students have, how they still take care of each other and show up for each other and care about things bigger than money or power, because that was the main thing we were really trying to model.