Lancy came back to Wuhan for a few days last week. Of course, she and I would get together. Other than being pesky sometimes, she really is a sweet girl. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see her. And so it came, on Friday morning, after I finished teaching my class that I lay eyes on her for the first time since she graduated over a year ago.
She has changed a bit. She is a little slimmer, holds herself a bit straighter and now wears a teal green eye shadow. Her hair, dyed brown while in school, has grown out and back into its natural glossy black color. Somehow she seems less girlish, more worldly.
She was walking around campus with Vivian and Rita, two of her former dorm mates. You’ll recall these two young ladies from the Seven Pony-Tailed Heads entry posted June, 2011. Lancy had earned only an associates’ degree, so she and her class graduated a full two years before others in her dorm. Vivian and Rita are on the four year program, so this is their last year on campus. In spite of their ongoing residency here, I’ve not laid eyes on them in quite a while either. They too seemed changed.
In fact, all of the students I’ve embraced and taught since I’ve been here have changed. Carrie, a precocious girl and advanced English speaker when she first entered my class two years ago now has the air of a wise matriarch. Sasuke, of the ‘Who will save Sasuke’ entry posted back in March 2011 looks completely different. Her skin is now blemish free. Her hair, long and flowing, frames her face in gracious waves instead of being pulled severely back. She is as skinny as ever though. Best about her appearance is that there are no new cut marks. She seems to have found balance in life.
Sometimes the kids and I stay in touch and sometimes we don’t. Life tends to get in the way. Have you ever noticed that? No matter how much you want to keep in contact and what pledges you make to do so, often that speeding train called ‘Life’ just goes too fast to even have time to see the world go by. Summer and I have been trying to get together for a month. Her calendar is too full.
Vanessa, who, with Summer gave me so much comfort and was so helpful during my ‘head bashed open’ stint got back in touch too. You’ll remember those two from that series starting with ‘The Things I Do in the Name of Research’, posted December 2012. Vanessa now lives Shanghai and works at a KTV with her older sister. It seems that the student turned friend I was referring to in ‘The Sex Trade’ entry posted last month is not the only beautiful young woman caught up in the sex trade. Vanessa is a KTV hostess. Her job entails dressing up in fantasy-inducing garments and allowing drunken patrons to paw and slobber all over her. Her recent messages to me detailed her bewilderment at the grown up world.
The list goes on. Some kids I’ve had the pleasure of teaching are now entrenched in an entry level job with some factory or business. It is always great to hear from them and even better to see them again. Zhanny and Dash – remember those two, the original Cookie Cutter girls from my very first days at this school? They were my most constant companions. They are set to graduate this year. Their only obligation between now and mortar and tassel wearing is their thesis. They didn’t even return to campus after winter break. I miss them.
When I stop to think about it, a lot of kids have danced in and out of my life. Estimate 30 kids per class, 4 classes per semester. So far I’ve taught 6 semesters. That’s over seven hundred eager minds… well, some not so eager. Still: 700 some-odd fresh scrubbed faces that, at some point or another have looked up to me, listened to me, talked with me, played with me and sought me out for advice.
Some, like Claire, Grace and Leo have confided their deep secrets to me. To this day I hold counsel on their dilemmas. I would never betray a student, or a friend. Many, like Stephanie, Surveniere, Tristan and Tony have openly wept, right there on my couch and in my arms. I still see Stephanie. She is a Junior this year, and the one I’m so concerned about because of what she does for a living. Tristan graduated 2 years ago and lives in Shenzhen, but we are in touch regularly. I was there for him while his father was dying, and again when Dad died. That was a long, tearful night. Of course, if you read this blog with any regularity you know Tony and I are in near constant contact but even he is set to graduate next year. He is currently doing an internship off campus. Most likely we’ll stay in touch; his home is in Wuhan.
Why did I take this job?
I raised my own two kids with my heart and soul, my shoulders available to their burdens and my arms to embrace their fears. For nearly two decades I devoted myself to them, almost to the exclusion of all else. It almost ripped my heart out to watch them walk away. Even now that we have a great relationship I recall vividly how rent I was when they left home. Sure, neither of them left on the best of terms, what with teen rebellion and all but it was all I could do to let them go into the big, bad world.
I wonder if teenaged rebellion is a psychological tool designed to make kids leaving home easier on both parties? The kids get to look down on their parents, even hate them a little bit and the parents get to be glad those horrid little so-and-so’s are fleeing the nest. I just might be onto something with that theory, don’t you think?
Whether true or not, after my two left home I battled my emptiness, my loneliness, my longing to turn back the clock – just one year, or one month or even just a day so that we could be together again.
And now, here I am with group after group of kids that grow attached to some degree or other, and that I get attached to. I have them in class for two or more semesters, see them socially or just around campus for another two years and then, off they go. Sometimes I don’t even notice or see them slink away and sometimes they give me no choice but to watch.
I am always so surprised to see ‘my kids’ after a long absence. They fill my classrooms for the first two years of their university experience. They are all essentially still children: barely 18, their faces still rounded, their bodies still not fully matured. They are innocent of drink, sex, the power of money and much of the adult world. After those 2 years that we interact on a weekly basis, they are absorbed in their doings, and I go on to my next group of students. When I see them next, those students of years past, they look much older, as though they had come into their own. The transformation is downright shocking.
Recently I ran into several kids who graced my classroom in past years. I’ve actually made comment on how completely different they look. “Why do you say that?” they invariably ask. It is to them I dedicate this blog entry. They have forced me to think about it.
They have morphed from the children I taught into full fledged young men and women. They have learned from their forays into the adult world. Maybe, like Stephanie, they have tasted the power of sex and money. Or, like Tristan and Martin they know the pain of death and the sickness brought on by drink. Male or female, their faces are more etched, their eyes more knowing, their walk more assured. They appear, if not ready to take on the world then at least ready to find their place in it. I wonder if, upon their return to their hometown, their parents notice the difference.
After lunch I had to go downtown. Lancy had to get some rest before her big exam that afternoon, the reason she came to Wuhan. That evening she would board a train back to Dongguang and the life she’s made for herself there. Vivian and Rita had a job interview the next day; they were going to go prepare for it. Group hug! Right there, by the basketball courts we embraced, individually and then all of us together. Quite naturally, I kissed each of their glossy heads. Promises of devotion, of course, and of future visits that will most likely be kept, insofar as we are able to, what with our other commitments and if time and circumstances permit. And then we parted company. A few steps apart I turned back and watched them go, arm in arm and best of friends.
Even though they are not my natural born children they are still my kids. Let me tell you: it never gets any easier to watch them walk away.