A Name Like the Desert

This beautiful young woman walked into my classroom, one day and 30 minutes late. She had pursed lips, dreamy eyes, glistening curly hair tied tightly in a long ponytail, and a pair of starkly white earbuds. She had a name that sounded like the desert in the wintertime, and she wore a short, black, tight overalls/onesie? Not sure quite what to call it. She stayed for a day, barely there, talked about a twin sister that does not want anything to do with her and keeps her from seeing her niece/nephew, when I asked students to write about a problem they have concerning their neighborhood.

The next day, she asked to talk to me outside, motioning me with her beautiful ear-budded head. I was distracted at first, trying to do the stupid grammar diagnostic with my students, which I think intimidated her. We spoke by the window at the end of the hallway, and I closed the book after a few words. She said she’s not made for the classroom or that education is not her “thing”. That she belongs to the streets. Only 20, she works in security, and I could not imagine that brave bold body in a boring security uniform. I told her I am not going to convince her otherwise, if she believes she’s not ready for college.

“You don’t understand; I’ve taken this class three times. I know myself. I’m not gonna pass,” she reiterated.

In my head, I wondered why she was telling me this. Did she want me to convince her otherwise? Did she want me to reassure her that, yes, it’s gonna be fine. You’ll make it this time, eventhough I wasn’t certain.

At the beginning of the semester I always tell my students not to be deceived by my calm and patient demeanor, because many have failed my class because they simply were not ready. Not emotionally. Not mentally. Mostly emotionally, really. They are still in high school, cutting classes or coming to school glassy-eyed, submitting crammed homework peppered with run-ons and misspelled words. Why should I give reassurances now?

At the end, I felt that we talked but did not really have a conversation, because I was not really hearing what she was saying. I just wanted to get back to a classroom full of students who actually wanted to be there.

When we got back in, she took her stuff and left. I wished now that I had listened better, because I think that’s all she wanted. Someone to talk to, someone to reiterate her beliefs to. But I can’t deny that I was not annoyed by her nonchalance, the way she thought she could just waltz in to my classroom as if she was going to a party, dressed to impress, fashionably late.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2015 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2008 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. (filinthegap.com.) She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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