I seem to be swinging around to anger this morning. Okay, so I am angry. Just enraged.
I was thinking about a dance performance C was in last October. It happened to be a point in the year when her own mother was gone for 2 or 3 weeks: she had gone to Timbuktu to help C’s stepfather set up his new house there. He had moved in July, I guess. I saw them moving the day he left. I had happened to be at VP Ma’am’s house, and they are neighbours, so I saw C carrying furniture down to the hill to the road.
Anyway, there was something special about this particular performance. I had gone alone, but many of the teachers were there, and they were getting together afterwards to eat something that one of the teachers had brought to share with everyone. I don’t know what the occasion or if there was one, but at the end I wanted to see C and congratulate her. I suppose I had felt very involved with this process, because C’s friends had all asked me to look at their dances, and so I had watched them after school quite a few times. C had not said anything to me, but she must have felt something that I was there, and she probably also knew that I watched her when they were dancing.
It was also around this time that C had stayed too late at school in the evening practicing or pretending to practice, and her class teacher had scolded her harshly, and I had held her while she sobbed inconsolably. That might have been a few weeks earlier. Her mother might have been home at that point. Then also it was around this time that I came to C’s house for the first time. I had told her to come to my house to study for her IT exam and she had agreed and then not come, because the games coordinator had insisted that she dance instead, although the exam was the following week. And I had insisted she come to my house and study. I had been very angry at her and I made her come to my house, and the confrontation over this was very intense. Because I had been so angry I was speechless for about five minutes, and then I was very tender with C. Afterward, I insisted on walking C home. I didn’t trust her to get herself home, since she had lied to me about where she was, although only kind of. I think reason for the intensity might be hard to explain, because it was a quiet angry. I never raised my voice at C, and I did not say anything about why I was angry until she got to my house. Then I tried to explain that the games coordinator is not thinking about her future: the exam was next week, her marks are going to affect her future, but she is already a very good dancer, and it won’t impact her future.
Well, what I was explaining probably wasn’t relevant. She wants to please the dance coordinator and she is afraid to be close to me, but I didn’t know any of that at the time. Anyway, she cried again, but not inconsolably. Just gently, and I talked to her softly and held her hand while she cried. Then I answered her questions about IT, and I walked her home. She wasn’t happy about it, but she was resigned to it.
And at her house, I stayed for maybe 10 minutes before leaving. I didn’t let her make tea, because I wasn’t staying long, but I sat in her house for a while. When I left, she walked with me to the door, and I turned right before leaving and stroked her face. After getting home, I felt totally panicked. What have I done? I hadn’t adopted her as daughter at that point, and I thought what kind of line had I crossed? So I chatted with her and got nowhere (negative questions are impossible to get a clear answer to), then I called her. Well, nothing got cleared up, except that she was happy.
I know now how she felt when I did that, but at the time I had no idea. She felt overwhelmed with tenderness and warmth and longing, because she felt I wanted her. It must have felt that no one had ever seen her as someone you might be tender or gentle with. She is either a workhorse or foolish for having so many tender, vulnerable feelings.
It might have been the following week that she danced. So all of that happened, and her mother was still gone. After the dance performance, the teachers wanted me to eat with them and I remember IT Ma’am’s friend holding onto me and not allowing me to leave, but I wanted to say something to C. I finally got her to let go of me, explaining I will come back, and I went and said something to C, and I think I put my arm around her, and her shoulders were stiff and stooped. Then I went and ate. Somehow, by the time I had eaten, C still had not left. Maybe there was cleanup work to do. We left around the same time, and we walked somewhat together. When we parted, C said, “Goodbye, Ma’am,” very gravely, with her big, wide eyes on me, and I said good night to her. It was a lovely night.
I think I feel angry because she is so delightful, and her parents have hurt her so badly and I cannot imagine how you can hurt a child like that. She is just trying to grow up. I know I feel a joy in her existence that they do not feel, and I do not know how you cannot feel it for your own child. Her cousin is in my Class 4 this year, and they are very much alike. They are both so full of life. Her cousin delights me. I cannot help being delighted by the life in her. She laughed very loudly in class yesterday and I could not punish her for being too loud, because I was too delighted by her joy in life. It is so much like C, just to be so alive and so fully engaged in living.
I think that is the thing about the dance performance. Dance brings out that spark in C that is her life force that is otherwise suppressed a lot of the time. I think her parents recognize that C is a good dancer and feel a pride in that, but not the joy in her being herself when she does it. They are getting narcissistic supply, but not connection. And I cannot understand it. I can’t understand how they have raised to feel as though she can never be loved or wanted or appreciate, because she is such a delight.
I was also thinking, during the dance performance, of a literary activity last year, where C helped out as a captain, mostly just controlling the students, but also with keeping score. I think it was a spelling contest. I was trying to squeeze in time to check she was studying. In retrospect, it seems fairly stupid. But anyway, that was my project. She was in Class 8 and 13 years old and didn’t know her times tables. Not even her 3s. So I was quizzing her and she was far from in the mood for this. I know she really wanted to tell me to shove it, but she put up with it. She didn’t have much choice about it.
If it happened now, I am sure she would be enraged. But last year things weren’t as clear in the relationship and I think she was a lot less frightened. I sat with her on the steps leading down from what would normally be the green room, but is just an alcove here. Children kept walking back and forth. She said, “Go, they are disturbing.” I have this odd sense about small things she has said and done like that. Picking lint off my clothes, which she used to do all the time. Once, I was trying to help her work on her auditory processing issues, and one little girl who is one of my student’s sisters came and leaned against my back. C scolded her for disturbing me. Scolding her hostel mates and telling them to sweep. Once, her (older) cousin was at her house, and I came and they argued, because C would not walk her cousin home. It is not far. She could have gone and come back, but I was there and she did not want to leave me. C cares about me, and it is really very genuine. I think when she feels frightened and angry, she really, really wants to hurt me, but the care she feels deep in her heart is nonetheless very genuine.
And she loves me more than my parents ever did. I cannot come to grips with that. It is just absolutely too much pain, but the contrast is striking. She is a child. She is very deeply hurt and does not know how to have relationships, but the care she feels for me is stronger than my own parents ever felt. I know that is true. I don’t know how it is true. It is just a feeling of certainty inside. It is not a certainty that keeps me safe or anything. She will certainly get angry and want to hurt me and she is not my caretaker anyway. It is not about that. But she cares.