I will be the first to admit that it doesn’t take a lot for my slightly bitter and sarcastic heart to be warmed by the words or actions of the students I am surrounded by. They are a constant ego boost as many of my ‘regulars’ think that I can do anything. They help shed light on how ‘cool’ something might be when I am feeling jaded. They are a constant reminder of how happy I am not to be their age anymore, as even the most trivial things seem as if the apocalypse is coming. But the thing I am always taken a back by are the rare moments when I get a flash of them all grown up. Where they say something or do doing that surpasses the wisdom of a 16-year-old and makes the 23-year-old in front of them take in a breath of fresh, mature, non-jaded, non sarcastic air. On a rather uncomfortable Sunday during Spring Awakening rehearsal (what Spring Awakening rehearsal wasn’t somewhat uncomfortable?) I sat with a 16 year-old to talk about friendship.
We all remember what it was like to be in high school or worse, middle school. It was dreadful. Friendship was a word used on bracelets and broken heart necklaces but no one had any real idea of what it meant. With the slam of a locker or a three-way phone call, you could lose your ‘best friend’. You were trapped between the anxiety of feeling like someone was mad at you and the knowledge that the probability of someone being mad at you was almost 75%. I never envy my kids for this reason. Especially the girls. I see them coming in to rehearsal crying, angry, upset, gossiping about the details. I want to tell them it doesn’t matter. But it does matter.
So here I am, staging an intimate ‘make out session’ scene between a real life 16-year-old Catholic School theater kid and beautiful 16-year-old cheerleader who is sweet as pie and attached to her phone. When you are attached to your phone at that age, only drama can ensue. While taking a break from the staging of the making out(I needed the break more than they did), I notice the girl looking at her phone, getting upset, trying to hide it… the usual. Thankful for something to talk about that didn’t involve the ‘how he should lay her down’ or ‘put your hand on this side of his face’ and genuinely worried about one of my dearest students, I asked what was wrong.
‘I cannot wait until I have a friend like you have in Anthony… a real friend’
I asked the girl to elaborate
She then went on to discuss how hard high school is and how it is only made harder by the things her ‘friends’ put her through. She talked about how this is the time in your life where you need true friends the most and where unfortunately, they don’t exist because no one really knows what it means to be, and I quote ‘invested in someone else’.
She then went on to talk about things she sees us do in rehearsal. We bring each other coffee, we have a lot of inside jokes and small side comments but we also know how to work well together. I can say the part where she does ‘the thing with the swirl’ and he can know exactly what I am talking about. And then there are the things she doesn’t see. We’ve spent endless hours in his jeep talking about who knows what. We eat a lot, we drink a bit, we laugh 90% of the time. When it’s time we cry, we laugh about that too. The last thing she said during this conversation I ended up writing down later. I found it in an old notebook two days ago, having completely forgotten it was there.
‘You and Anthony look at each other with love. Not boyfriend/girlfriend love but just regular love. I didn’t think it could exist until I met you two. I can’t wait to get out of high school and find my Anthony’
I assumed that when the kids looked at Anthony and I they thought we were crazy. I wouldn’t blame them. But they aren’t blind to what is in front of them. They use my habits, stories, teachings, relationships as examples and in this specific case, as hope. Whether you are a dance teacher, a science teacher, a softball coach or even the cafeteria lady, you are setting an example for what life can be. You are teaching them what to believe in and what to look forward to. I always try to remember this when I want to yell at a director in front of them or talk about romance or being an adult in a negative way. They see it all, they hear it all, they absorb it all. I’d rather give them the good things to look forward to than the bad things to have looming over their innocent little heads. I’d rather them see how much fun I have at work and NOT my credit card bill, the amazing degree I have and NOT the student loan bill, the fact that I live in the fabulous New York City and NOT that my apartment is in queens and the size of a refrigerator. Reality will set in for all whether I tell them about it or not but believing in ‘real’ love… you have to show them that. You have to prove that to them. You have to give them all hope that they will find their Anthony.
So, Happy (20somethingth) Birthday Anthony. Here is to another year of regular love!