There are two things that happen in my mind, two streams. They seem to connect to each other. In the end, everything does. But they aren’t connected in a causal way exactly. They are connected tangentially.
One of them is that I have been chatting online with students quite a bit this week. I am a passive participant in this: “Good evening, ma’am” they say and the exchange starts up. Some of them were in my Class 5 last year or in my Class 6 the year before. They want to say something to me because I was their teacher.
But some of them are C’s friends. They were friendly towards me before she ever said anything to me, but they know me better now because of her. They talk to me about C. that is the point of connection. Is she with you? One of them asks. Another friend I reach out to—she was in my Class 6 last year. I have started to worry about library books I loaned to C. Where are they? One of them she lent to this girl. Maybe she has all three. As soon as the library book situation is settled, she asks about C.
What comes out of it is that C is not really in touch with her friends either. She is not in touch with me, and she is not really in touch with her friends. The first girl, the one who assumes she must be staying with me, is her neighbour and I think they are quite good friends. This girl has no idea where C is. It strikes me as odd. C left Y-town three weeks ago, and her friend left maybe two weeks before that. It means, probably, they have not really been in touch for three weeks, maybe five weeks. And yet C’s friend is in touch with other friends and wants to chat with me. Being out of touch is not a teenage thing. It’s a C thing.
The other friend of C’s, a football teammate, knows that C stayed behind in the city where the football camp was held and is staying with an aunt. Or was staying there. But she seems to have not heard from her since. That was a week ago, and again it seems strange to me.
What it also reveals is C’s lack of contact with me concerns her friends. They feel something is wrong. She is neglecting me. The first one, D, says, “But what about you?” As in, what about your feelings? She seems to think C ought to be with me. The teammate, TW, asks if I am meeting C. I ponder this for a minute and decide she must mean chatting online. I say no. “Why?” “She doesn’t respond to me.” “Wait, ma’am. Tell her to respond.” I don’t say I have told her this and it doesn’t make any difference. I suppose neither of them know we had a disaster of an argument right before C left, or that I think C might have mixed feelings for me, but it seems to put something into perspective, maybe something that was there before, but not in such sharp relief.
C’s attitude is always that she should not be with me, that if people see us together, they will make negative comments about her. At some point, this was probably true, but it seems like she can’t grasp this other piece. I have told her this, but I think it doesn’t register for her: people now expect her to be with me, and if she isn’t they will make negative comments about that. I think she actually feels this inside: she feels she is neglecting me and not listening to me and not living up to expectations. I think that is how she genuinely feels. But it seems to me she cannot grasp that other people feel the same way she does about it.
The problem for me is this frightens me. I am not particularly bothered by Country X village-style gossip, but I don’t like anyone saying negative things about her. I don’t want anyone to judge her. She is not bad. She is just mixed up, and she has too many people to please. It brings out my wish to protect her, and that is hard on me, because then I feel angry. Anger is hard.
But it makes me think about her perspective—maybe not her conscious perspective, but the one driving her behaviour even when she is not aware of it. Most people here think well of me. I don’t drink. I don’t date. I do my job the best I can. I seem to really care about students. That is what on the outside. Maybe it is also on the inside, but on the outside I am just a very decent person. What C sees of herself may not be so positive. She may see instead her failures, the hard shell of shallow relationships. She may be thinking what people will say about her amounts to the idea that I love her, but she does not deserve to be loved. The comments she fears are about wanting to be above her station in a sense and to aspiring to something she should not have.