Monday, July 18, 2016
UNFORGETTABLE, Part 2
UNFORGETTABLE, Part 2
Another look way, way back, and another person I can never forget…this one is tinged with regret…the things I would love to say to her.
I was probably as unprepared to cope with high school as anyone in my class. I had barely made it through eighth grade, most likely because the principal and my teachers were tired of putting up with my scholastic underachieving, often misconstrued humor, (coupled surprisingly with an extremely introverted personality,) and general social ineptitude.
To make this particularly frustrating, it was coupled with upon receipt of the standard I.Q. test results, the highest scores in the class. The verdict of the school professional staff was: Unmotivated and lazy.
So my goal in high school was to simply try, as I had in grammar school, to ‘get by’ with the least possible amount of effort.
My homeroom class, my Freshman Algebra Teacher, and my personal contact with the school guidance department was Ruth Boyle. Mrs. Boyle had the reputation as a ‘tough but fair’ teacher, homeroom disciplinarian, and ‘no nonsense’ member of the guidance department.
So I did learn to behave myself in the homeroom. That was easy since that was always first thing in the school day and lasted for about half an hour.
Not so when I returned to Mrs. Boyle’s room in her roll as algebra teacher. By the third week of my freshman year, I had decided I would likely fail algebra, and thus should not waste brain power in an attempt to interfere with the inevitable. This was a behavioral pattern I had perfected in grammar school, and it was both self fulfilling, and some sort of psychological crutch which had served me well. But when my various test scores belied my performance in algebra (and to a lesser extent most of my other subjects) I was referred to the school’s guidance department. That’s when I found out that my homeroom/algebra teacher would now further torment me with the echo of those prior educators who had shown frustration…I was really sick of hearing that I was not living up to my potential…I was a chronic underachiever. One nice thing about Mrs. Boyle in her role as guidance professional was that we did not meet in the wide open space of a classroom. She sat on one side of a desk, and I on the other. No one else was there.
“Bobby, you’re on the track team, but you know you have to keep up a certain academic standard to compete. You’re on the verge of losing that…do you understand that?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You know, your test scores on the general tests indicate you should be doing much better academically.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that before.”
“But, the fact that you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
It went on for about half an hour. Instead of welcoming her attempts to reach me, I parried every reasoned approach with a combination of lack of interest with a level of resentment that she was probing me, and I found it uncomfortable.
As to my classmates, I was sort of “Just There.” It was a very large high school, and you really didn’t know everyone. I was just below the radar as an athlete…anonymous second stringer at best. I rarely had a date…when one was needed for some special event, I would revert to a female grammar school classmate who, too, was usually ‘dateless,’ and the two of us would show up together, although never really having any romantic interest in each other. There was a certain non threatening familiarity between us. It would be at least three months between ‘dates,’ and there were no expectations.
I need to mention now that Ruth Boyle, aged 35, was an outstandingly attractive young (35…YOUNG? It took me years to recognize that was not an oxymoron!) Nevertheless, this ‘ancient’ educator was the subject of many an adolescent boys hormonally inspired fantasies and dreams.
My school would have monthly dances in the gymnasium…usually on a Saturday night. The professional staff always had one of their own assigned to chaperone these events. This time it was Ruth Boyle.
A lot of us, both boys and girls, attended these dances ‘stag.’ There was always the chance one of us might get up enough courage to ask someone to dance. Usually, though, the boys were on one side of the gym, girls on the other. And so it was that night. We were not the athletic or academic superstars. We definitely were not the socially adept uber class. We were sort of …just…there.
From her perch on a chair, monitoring the events, Mrs. Boyle rose and slowly walked over to the boys side. “Bobby, will you dance with me?”
There were many Roberts in my class, and I looked around to see who was being addressed. Most assuredly she was talking to me. “Really? Are you serious?” I asked. There was a soft tug at my shoulder, and, probably red faced, I was holding my teacher/would be mentor in the mode of that generation, (touching while dancing.) The music stopped and I was escorted back to the ‘male wallflower’ section. But that dance put me on the map as a ‘someone’ in my High School. A tiny, but needed, reversal to my lack of self esteem.
I’d like to say that dance single handedly awoke my academic and social self awareness. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Through my entire uninspiring high school years, I was still the one who ‘got by’ with the minimum of effort. But Ruth Boyle frequently called me into her office to try to instill some feelings of self worth. And in spite of that one two minute dance, I still greeted her efforts with parries of humor, coupled with resentment that someone was ‘pushing’ me.
By the time I graduated, Mrs. Boyle had moved on to other schools, and was never to be heard of again, at least by me.
The years went by, and others succeeded where she had failed…although the failure was certainly not hers…it was my lack of understanding…that instead of appreciation, I hurled resentment. And yet she had tried.
Lately I’ve thought a lot about Ruth Boyle. I know she’d be well into her second century by now, and most likely gone. But how I would love to spend a few minutes with her. To thank her for how she went out of her way to try to do something to benefit this unappreciative teenager. To apologize for my consistent and somewhat successful to parry and disarm her sincere efforts to reach me. But mostly, to tell her…”Ruth, it DID work. It took a few more years and the efforts of a few others. I didn’t appreciate how much time you put in to install a feeling of self worth in me. From taking your free time to cheering me on in the track meets, to hiding what must’ve been hurtful pain to my lack of heeding your advice, and yes, to that short dance at the gym. (I found out later that chaperones weren’t supposed to do that at risk of their employment,)
But it’s too late now. I can’t go back and spend a few moments with her. I just want to send my ‘thanks’ out to the cosmos. I’d like to think that she somehow knew that I’d come to this someday. . I hope so. It took many years and a lot of unlearning old habits and several other mentors on my life’s journey to establish some feelings of self worth in me. All played a part in me becoming who I am.
But if, just IF I could, I think it would go something like this: “Ruth Boyle, you pushed me. You tried so hard to make this work in progress come to fruition. But it wasn’t ready yet. It had to ripen at it’s own pace. As the years went on, I had other mentors who were more successful in the task. But it wasn’t due to any superior skills or more importantly more CARING. I had to be ready. Looking back, you were the first to test these waters. Is it any wonder it needed to be nurtured and aged to ripen? But you were, in fact, the first. I can’t show you my appreciation now, and to tell you that those sessions of your cajoling (or as I perceived it at the time, ‘pestering,’) ultimately were successful.
“What a patient and caring soul you were. How much potential rejection you risked by trying to shock me into self awareness. The one or two minute dance at the gym was, of course, designed to do that…and for about an hour, it did. But I wasn’t ready. Self esteem would have to wait. I turned out OK, Ruth. Not rich or famous or especially talented, but OKAY! I want you to know that. It took me so long, TOO LONG! To love and appreciate you. Please KNOW that!”