When someone asks me what my summer was like, I will tell them it is the summer I did not sleep. It’s amazing what your body can do when you think it can’t do anymore. It’s also amazing how much your mental and emotional states are linked to your physical state. I have never known exhaustion like I did at the point after I had been roaming around the quad in the rain for two and a half hours and then sat in a cold and breezy archway for an hour and a half one night. Or after napping from midnight to 4:30 AM on the last night the kids were there, to shuffle some to the airport, suffering a sore throat and fearing I’d gotten the dreaded swine! BAJ told us that there is a certain point in sleep deprivation when the body just acts and feels as if it’s drunk. I think we reached that at around week four, after we had been working for two weeks straight between sessions. We would stumble around, barely forming sentences but somehow understanding each other’s grunts and grimaces. Somehow, we were able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. When did my life become walking around in the rain, making sure no kids were making out in dark, dank corners?
Sometimes I think when I am asked about my summer, karaoke will be the first thing that comes to mind. I sang an awful lot of it this summer. Every Wednesday night we had off, I was often the first person on the stage where we sang. I will look back at this summer as the summer of Bonnie Raitt, Annie Lennox, Grease, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and No Doubt. Even as I was beginning to lose my voice last week, I busted out Total Eclipse of the Heart as my final song. I just had to. Besides that, I frequented the karaoke activity that happened for the kids every week. That’s where I debuted my performance of Eminem and sang duets with RL. I had duty during our final days there and he actually assigned me to that activity, he knew I loved it so much. Our standard was Cruisin’, for anyone who’s curious.
Or maybe I’ll mention all the music. The dances where staff seemed to enjoy ourselves more than the kids. The flash dance in sunglasses during one of the hottest afternoons. The outbursts of song to keep our spirits up as we hustled from one repugnant task to another. The random musical references and spontaneous duets.
Maybe I will describe this summer as the Summer the Rains Came. First session, we were very lucky: cool mornings and nights and mild days. I wore sweaters, for God’s sake. Thunderstorms hit once or twice, but they were fast and fun, sending us scampering for cover after dances and duties, hearing the loudest cracks of thunder and seeing the brightest flashes of lightning right outside our windows; it was like we were in the storm! Second session seemed like one big rainstorm: days of downpour that kept us cooped up inside or roaming with umbrellas and wet shoes. The kind of weather where you don’t ever feel completely dry.
Maybe I’ll mention ALL the food first. I’m not saying I miss it, per se, but there’s something really special about our moments in the dining hall, isn’t there? The hot stickiness, the inexplicable two lines, the terrible bottlenecking at the hot food line. The endless carbs: pasta, potatoes at every meal, desserts that we took on the go. Scalding hot cups of tea and coffee that were our lifeblood. I will never understand how some people made such beautiful meals out of roasted vegetables, tomato sauce, French fries, and rolls!
Maybe I’ll tell whoever asks me about this summer about my first session girls. They’ve made themselves siblings on Facebook. Almost four weeks later, they’re still heartbroken at being apart. I was given a ring as a gift when I was first settling into life here in Boston. My friend, PM, told me to give it to a student of mine when I thought it was time. The night before the first session kids left, I decided to give it to one of my Italian girls. I told her the story of it being given to me and that she had to give it away one day as well. She was speechless for the first time I’d seen all session. We’re in touch almost every day now.
Or maybe I’ll mention my second session girls, who seemed to appreciate my kooky sense of humor and thought I was the most energetic RA on campus. Who nearly consistently begrudged every activity we did but eventually came around and worked together with generosity and warmth.
Maybe I’ll tell them about how time was weird there. How we could do so much in 10 minutes. How a day felt like a blink of an eye and a week. Because our days were packed with hours which were packed with minutes which were packed with seconds. We lost track of who we talked to when, where we were at what point. Where we needed to be next. How we needed to grab that 20 minutes of quiet time to nap or scribble notes about tomorrow’s lesson or strategize so the kids didn’t take over.
If someone asks me what my summer was like, I think I’ll mention Trivia Night, where I felt like an actress, a comedienne, a drama teacher all night long, playing four different characters without a moment of self-consciousness as I hosted the game with another staff member, ND. My girls even won third place that night!
Or maybe I’ll mention the surprise success of my 10-minute Shakespearean play activity, where I worked with DD and brainstormed settings and characters and made the kids run around the quad, and we actually put up Romeo and Juliet in seven minutes! Or maybe I’ll mention how I enjoyed that activity so much that I requested to do it the next week…and no one came.
Maybe I’ll mention being a hypewoman with PK at the basketball game. Where I did cartwheels and sang cheers and made kids do the wave. Where I danced with men who were 6’7” and screamed my voice raw and sweat through my orange staff T-shirt, even though we lost. Afterward, my boss told me he had gone to see a basketball game but ended up watching me.
Maybe I'll mention the pride I felt in doing things where I could be the silly, outspoken, unself-conscious version of myself that I found there. Whether it be walking around for half the day with a backpack full of candy, keeping people energized and satisfied through traffic duty or dancing to a drum circle on a free period with abandon.
If someone asks me how my summer was, I’ll tell them it was the summer I ran a classroom alone for the first time. And cried in joy and frustration and awe at what my students were doing, what they were giving me, teaching me, both good and bad.
Or I’ll tell them about that final performance night, where my eyes welled up at the sheer earnestness of the modern dance class and I stood up and cheered for the A Cappella class and watched in absolute astonishment at the genius of the Rock Composition and Stomp classes. How lucky these kids were to have these teachers! I envied them that night.
Or I’ll tell them about that last night. When we took off our orange shirts and lanyards and scrubbed the summer off ourselves and put on real outfits and ate and drank together for the last time and danced on the patio steps until we were weeping and laughing and dripping with sweat. How I just sat on a bench and tried to take in the whole summer. And thought how lucky I am to have met these people and connected with them in this way, even though it was sometimes really hard. Thought about how crazy life is, to put me in a situation in which I met people I never would have in any other time or place. And how magical that is.
Of course, the sad thing is, in real life, it’s impossible to describe all the moments that shaped this experience. As we’re overwhelmed with the realities of rent payments, roommate situations, classes beginning, hometown friends to see, how do you describe seven weeks like those that were shared?
So maybe I’ll just tell them it was the hardest summer of my life. And that I might have to go back next year.
I slept from about midnight until 430 am, headed to the airport with six students flying out early, got back to campus around 930 am, slept until noon, ate lunch, cleaned fridges, scraped paint off of stones, took signs down from dorms, and picked up trash until 315 and now will nap again until about 445, when I will shower, buy some booze, get ready for the final staff dinner and then party and relax with the rest of the staff until I imagine I will pass out from exhaustion and maybe even a little inebriation from champagne (I've earned this, dammit!)
Sometimes I feel like there is some other force pulling me through these days. I've been nursing a sore throat since Tuesday. I am exhausted. Duh. I cried in a meeting yesterday. I'm packing. I survived my last day of classes and the Drama Cafe, where both of my classes performed.
In fact. Dare I say it. The show even went well. They worked together. They had fun. They entertained the audience. The theater fairies definitely visited us today.
And, my clothes are packed. My closet is nearly empty; my dresser top is clear. Only the things I need for the next two days are still out. I've bought my train ticket back to Boston.
I wake up at 430 AM for the first airport duty. That will definitely hurt, but apparently, it's not so bad. There are only six kids we have to make sure get in the air safely, and then, we can head back here to nap until the 1230 staff meeting. I'm sure my body will be confused, but hopefully, I won't ACTUALLY die. I must say, it's discouraging in light of my sickness and UTTER exhaustion. But somehow I'll get through this too.
My head is muddy with this whole experience and my physical state. Hopefully, someday soon I'll be able to reflect back on it clearly and write about it here.
It's happened. We've lost 11 kids and 2 staff members to quarantine due to the flu. What crappy, crappy timing, and the fact that I have a sore throat makes me sad. BUT. I'm almost positive it's just a cold, and, frankly, I'm surprised I haven't gotten sick sooner. I just need to hold out for 3 more days and then I can rest and recuperate and take care of myself. C'mon, body! You can do it!
I definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn't yesterday, when I had an emergency meeting with DR and he came to assist me in my crazy, unmanageable classroom. I've reached my limit with them and they seemed to notice today, when I just got quiet or ignored the ruckus and continued explaining the day to the kids who were listening. They're like tiny puppies, lying and crawling and mewing all over each other. I've never seen anything like it before, and I'm not sure I ever will again, considering nothing like this would be tolerated in a real school setting. Or anywhere where teachers have any leverage over the kids. Anyway, point is, today went relatively well, which, for me, is a huge triumph.
We're going out for Karaoke Wednesday one more time tonight. Tomorrow, I was requested to help out with the karaoke activity that happens on Thursdays, which makes my whole week. And tomorrow night, I'm on duty and will oversee the end of session clean up and packing that is required of the kids before they can go to the dance. Friday night, I'm off, but because it's the last day of the session, we're required to stay on campus, so I will get my own packing done, I think...
Saturday is the great big departure and move-out day for the whole program and then Saturday night is our end of summer dinner, thank yous, and party. Not sure yet how or when I'll be home on Sunday, but, at this point, I'm counting down the hours...
Friday was another disaster in class. I went so far as to threaten that we not perform in the final presentation. Why would I let 16 frenetic, chaotic, disrespectful bodies loose in front of an audience EVER? I'm just bracing myself for this final week. Five more days of class with these kids feels like a lot.
The weekend was lovely. Yesterday's day off was nearly perfect. I slept late, showered, ate a great breakfast alone at a nearby cafe/bookstore, talked to S for a long time, deposited my paycheck, did some retail therapy, sat in Starbucks with some coworkers and got some work for the week done, took a nap, ate a good dinner, saw (500) Days of Summer, and had ice cream and sake to end the night.
Today, I was due to attend the Litchfield Jazz Festival as this week's trip, but it turned out that the wet weather would have meant sitting in the rain with 25 kids for hours and it didn't seem like the best idea. So, we ended up going bowling and then to a nearby mall, which struck me as a pretty lame alternative, if what we're trying to do is challenge these kids and introduce them to some culture. BUT. I bought a denim skirt and three tops, so I probably can't complain.
I know how quickly the week will go, and I'm already stressed about packing and figuring out how the hell I'm getting back to Boston. But, first, I have to survive another week.