I’ve been crying a lot the last few days. It has been harder to sleep because, actually, I can’t stop feeling long enough to get sleepy. The thoughts I have at these times aren’t coherent. They kind of drift slowly through, half-formed, disconnected, and sometimes not there at all. Just feelings with no clear articulation behind them at all.

I know it is, in some way, connected to C. The web of connections has been set off by something I am doing related to her. On Tuesday, we had a holiday and this was sort of a non-holiday, as we had to report for a public program, which involved waiting more than 3 hours for the guest of honour to arrive. Anyway, I talked to my friends about their kids. I talked to them about college, because one of their children is just starting college and she’s going to a private college, because her grades were not good enough to get into a public college. One thing to understand about Country X is that private schools are sort of the lowest rung on the educational ladder. Anyway, I was talking to her and I was talking to VP Ma’am about her kids, who are grown now but not long out of college. And I mined them a little bit for information on C’s behalf, because I think it helps to have information as you are making decisions about how to proceed. I think C needs information, and I need information too.

Then I went home and looked up some things on the internet. What kind of marks you need to have to be promoted to Class XI, because not everyone attains that. What kind of marks you need to have to be admitted to different colleges. The cost of private school if you don’t get promoted to Class XI. The cost of private college if you aren’t admitted to public college. I tell C she can do it, but I need to be able to tell her exactly what she needs to do in order to get an education beyond Class X, so that she can see whether it seems attainable. And I also want to know what I can afford if various Plan As don’t work out, so that I know what I can promise her in terms of actual, tangible support if her parents can’t or won’t do it.

Wednesday, I mulled it over. Today, in the morning, I told her I had thought about her future and I wanted to talk to her about it. At recess, I saw her sitting alone, so I went and spoke to her. I laid it all out—the marks she needed to get, the private school option. I had asked in the morning what her dad does. He’s in accounting. How far up in accounting, I don’t know, but he’s educated. He makes a decent salary. There are 5 kids in the house, so maybe they aren’t wealthy, but C’s family does okay. They might be able to afford private school. I ask her about that. She says yes. Would they do that for her? She doesn’t know. But she says if she doesn’t get Class X, she will go and work in her village. She won’t say why. I ask her four times and she says, “Just like that.” She says at last if her parents tell her to go to private school, she will go, but if they don’t tell her to go, she won’t ask them. She will just go and work. I have the strong sense the reason she says that is that if she cannot attain Class XI on her own merit, she doesn’t deserve anything better than that anyway. She will have failed in her eyes.

I tell her I will send her to private school, and her eyes water. She looks down so that I cannot see her behind her bangs, but after a while she has to blow her nose. I tell her she only gets one chance to be a child. If she doesn’t want to pursue a career after she finishes her education, she can always work in her village. It’s fine. But she cannot give up in Class X and then try again for Class XI when she is 30 and changes her mind.

I tell her if her marks are not high enough attend a government college, she can attend a private college, and I will send her there too.

So my thoughts are related to this. They are related to having this kind of conversation with her, the one I do have with her in the end, after a long bout of crying the night before and a long bout of crying in the morning and prior to a long bout of crying at lunchtime.

Because what I feel as I think all this through is that she matters. Her education matters. It matters only partly as a practical concern—it matters because this little spark inside C that makes her C matters, and no one else is really looking after that spark of a child. I’m telling her all this not for the career options it will give her, but because she wants those options. I know she does, because she told me that in one of our first conversations. “Last year, I really wanted to be a teacher, but now it’s not fixed.” That was the difference between being 12 and being 13. Her dreams died. We all get more realistic as we get older, but 13 is no time to lower your sites down to ending your education at 15 and spending the rest of your life doing hard physical labour. It does not really matter to me what C’s marks are, or whether she ends up succeeding or failing in her dreams, but I want her to hold onto hope long enough to give herself a fighting chance.

What it does is make me aware of a shift in perspective. There is the perspective of life and people generally, including oneself, as something like vending machines. You press the right buttons and certain things come out: certain experiences, tangible rewards, maybe certain emotions. If you have high self-esteem, in this view, you would see yourself as having very high quality items inside your vending machine. You push the buttons and you get name-brand potato chips, not the knock-off kind. If you have low self-esteem, then you see yourself as having lousy items to offer: soggy potato chips, expired biscuits, rancid cookies, things people might actually pay not to have to eat. But in terms of your approach to live, they might not make much difference.

If you were raised by someone empathically impaired—someone who couldn’t respond to you—then this is the view you most certainly have of yourself and others. It’s a view of people as objects, but it isn’t necessarily selfish. You might very freely reciprocate with your own high-quality vending machine items. I press your buttons: you press mine. That kind of thing. However, it is a diminished view of the world and for some people it’s quite a depressing view. The experiences available and the tangible rewards are not that satisfying. They feel rather empty, in fact. If life is a struggle for you, as it is for me, that’s shit to look forward to.

But then there is a different view possible, which has to do with an affective experience of life and involves a deep connection to oneself and others. It’s authentic in some way.

C thinks I can’t love her because I worry about her and because she believes she hurts my feelings. I think she sees herself as a vending machine. She isn’t providing me with the kinds of emotive experiences someone who saw her that way would like. She’s providing me with rancid biscuits and soggy potato chips, as far as she is concerned. Actually, she isn’t, but I am not hungry. I don’t need a snack and a particular kind of emotional experience is not what I’m looking for when I talk to her. She has no idea that the reward for me is seeing this little spark every day. It’s this little tickle of joy inside I have that she exists. It’s something she can’t control at all and it’s totally undefinable, and it happens whether she remembers to do her homework or not.

It is this feeling about her that motivates me to help her, and it is also motivating me. I feel I am doing what I want with my life now. I am responding to my own internal world, instead of to vending machine items I don’t even know whether I want or not. So while I am helping her, I feel “worth” more: I don’t feel like I’m offering better-quality snack items. I feel instead that I know what this spark is inside me that makes me Ash. I think C sees it also, and that’s why this relationship has developed. She sees the spark inside me and responds to it. I see the spark inside her. We both, I hope, are starting to understand we are human beings.

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