Thursday, March 15, 2012

Generation Sophomore

Going to school at a large university isn't easy. Going to school when you're old enough to be the mother of most of the students you go to class with every day, and they find room in their hearts to adopt you, it's a totally different thing.

My pals at school are a blast. Many a time I've sat in amazement just listening to them, hearing what they have to say, encouraging them and doing my best to be a shoulder when they need one. At least once a day I remember to give to my fellow students what I think everyone needs, to hear that someone believes in them, that they deserve every good thing and I don't care if they're blue, green or aquamarine, I'll always love them just the same.

Last semester alone, I fed quite the few students, especially the ones from my Advertising Strategy class.  One of my fellow Acid Trippers (remember, our group was named "Bernbach's Acid Trip" in homage to the Great Bill), well, she looked at me and said, "Sheri I love coming over here, the food is terrific.  It's like being at my Mom's but not..."  That made me laugh because she summed it up.  I'm their Mom, but not... I prefer "Honorary Auntie", but "Mom but not" will work for me.

My close friends at school have my phone number and I have let them know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am what is known as a "safety-call".  They know that if they get into a situation where they don't feel safe, they can call me and I'll go get them or do what is necessary to ensure their safety.  They know I am a safe place should they need one.  If they find themselves in a bind and need a ride, or if they've drank too much and need me to come pick them up, they know they can call me or show up at the house, but they need to give me at least 15 minutes warning if they're going to show up.  The only thing they know I won't do for them is bail them out of jail.  I've told the lot of them, "You can crash at my house, you can watch my TV, you can eat the food in my fridge, if you need me to come get you, I gladly will, but if you get your butt thrown in the slammer, call your REAL Mom because I'm not bailing you out."

I go to school with students who I refer to as "My young people" just like I do my niece and nephew.  I'd scoop them all up and wrap them in a blanket of love if I could, doing my best to protect them from the big bad world. When I call them that, it is my way of giving them respect along with exercising my Mama Bear complex.  If someone hurt one of my young people, oh, I'd be upset and growling loudly at the perpetrators just to make my young people feel better. Long ago, my nephew and I had a conversation about being babied and the impression we get when those who are supposed to be wise would treat us like we were nothing more than a 4-year-old in the way. So, we made a deal. When he turned 16, I told him, "I'm never going to treat you like you're four.  You're an intelligent adult and I'm always going to speak to you that way and that will never change.  You are my darling, and I value your outlook because you're smart and maybe I can learn something from you. Whatever you tell me I'm going to take seriously and if I can help, I'll try to pass on something useful so that you can benefit from the lessons I've learned the hard way."    

I view my young people at school as a true fountain of youth that reminds me to stay young at heart. They are so smart and fun, and they accept me for who I am, arrested development and all.  Every day in class they make me feel right at home, allowing my 20-something inner spirit to fit right in.  To be honest, every time I say I'm 40, most of them reply, "NO WAY!"  Yes, way.  

More than once, my fellow 40-something student Dan, and even Ace, has repeatedly told me, "You're a teacher. When you talk there is always a lesson to be learned from what you say."

Well, along the way I guess I've been minting Sophomores. 

Last fall, I had the privilege of meeting a young woman in my Electronic Media class. A petite 21-year-old fashionista (who sometimes shops on the Internet during class on her laptop...ahem, like I can't see what's in front of me...) that always looks pressed and perfectly groomed. Under her pristine form resides the heart of a lion.  But as I protect the names of the innocent as much as I can, I'm going to give her the moniker of "Lliona".  The day I met Lliona, she was smiling up at a gangly young man who I came to find out was her boyfriend.  We quickly learned his name was "Lake", and by what would transpire over the course of the next year I realized that the young man had a very fitting name.

As I mentioned earlier, Lliona has a fighter's spirit.  She had walked into class one day a few weeks into the fall semester and she was noticeably shaken and rather upset, so when fate would have it that we would run into each other one day after class over at Einstein's across the street from school, Lliona told me the tale of Lake.  

Lake, like so many young people these days, has substance abuse issues.  Lucky for all of us, Lliona doesn't do those kind of things (and she better not...), she's tougher than that.  When she met Lake, she made it her mission to straighten him out, from a haircut to new clothes, strong female presence and discipline, she was determined to make his life better.  You could tell Lliona was in love with Lake, but as much as I hate to say it, young love does like to be tumultuous.

Like a scene out of Romeo and Juliet, there were problems for both young people from both of their families.  Lake's family has a history of addiction, along with an older sister that likes to make him into her enabler.  Many a day Lliona would come to class and express absolute dismay over the tragic events that would transpire, and as she told me about them, my heart became heavy for her and I began to worry about the situation.

After she told me about the misadventures of Lake and his addiction, I told her about my issues with substance abuse, the last 11 years of sobriety and the pitfalls of addiction and how it affects not only the addicted, but those who love them, who are forced to watch first-hand the addict's decline into dire circumstances.  Many a time I looked at Lliona with a heavy heart, trying my best to hold back my tidal wave of experience on the subject and give her advice on how to deal with an addict.  Without showing my growing concern, I would check on with Lliona and ask her how she was doing.  She'd talk.  I'd listen.  The sad part is that I was watching her get so torn up over the situation, the family pressures from both sides, atrocious events and overwhelming drama descending on her, I could see her heart wearing thin.  At that point I looked at her and said, "Sweetie, some people just can't be saved.  As much as we love them and want the best for them, if they can't see that they're hurting you, much less themselves, you can't do anything about it. If he won't listen and isn't aware of how his actions are affecting you, you've got a choice to make, you're either going to go down with him, or you're going to rise above it and decide you've had enough.  I wouldn't tell you this if I didn't think you were great and you know I love you to pieces, but sweet girl, you deserve much better.  Don't drown in the Lake.  Love yourself enough to know when you put YOU first.  I know you love him, but remember, you have to love yourself first, only then will someone love you the way you want to be loved."

Eventually, Lliona had enough.  She told Lake to jump off the nearest cliff, to which I told her "Good for you!"   When spring came and she and I ended up in our First Amendment class together, I got to hear more about the Lake.  She reminded me of that line Richard Jenkins said in Eat, Pray, Love, "If you want to get to the castle, you've got to swim the moat."  And that's just what I told her.  "You can't drown in the moat.  It's there to swim because the drawbridge hasn't been lowered yet - the castle is still there all the same.  Out there in the universe somewhere is a guy built just for you, who is going to love you come hell or high water and isn't going to have all the baggage that is the depths of the Lake you pulled yourself out of!  You are not an emotional baggage bellhop!  Sometimes we have to be alone for a while, it's only normal, but don't dare settle for someone who makes your life hell, trust me on that.  I've settled for someone like that and look where it got me, back in school while the doodah I married lives in his girlfriend's basement in Kentucky.  You can do better than the Lake.  I know you can.  You're young and gorgeous and you deserve to be treated right.  He may not show up until six weeks or six years from now, but you've got to make sure you're ready for him when he shows up, not drowning yourself in Loser Lake!"

Well, her birthday came along last month and she was upset that it was going to be her 21st birthday and she didn't have a guy to spend it with.  She mentioned Lake.  I immediately became filled with dread; come to find out she had reconciled with Lake - who had sworn himself to sobriety, subsequently giving her all of his drug paraphernalia, asking her to throw it away... and... you guessed it, he was back a few hours later, basically dumpster diving.  It was clear, he couldn't stay sober and she wisely told him to fly a kite again.  But, there she was, alone on the most important day of a twenty-something's life.  The magic number, 21...and finally able to go out and have a well-deserved drink.

Knowing that her date for the evening had hopped the next kite-flight to the great beyond (Mama Bear says: hopefully never to return), Lliona was feeling the loss.  She felt alone and panic-stricken.  I hugged her tight and wished her Happy Birthday, then recounted my two years of birthdays without an ounce of feral man-beast in sight.  Yes, the hot guys may have hung out at Lowe's, just a mere half-block from my apartment, but for 38 and 39, all I had for my birthday was family.  I reminded her that her birthday was about HER, not who took her out, not the guy who had made her life messy and chaotic for the last gosh-knows-how-long and how she was worth far more than a scum-covered Lake.   I looked her in the eyes and said, "Sweet girl.  You are beautiful and smart.  Look at you!  You're stylish and you always look perfect!  Why are you wasting time on that doodah who most certainly doesn't deserve you!  Sometimes we have to take time for ourselves.  Go out, spoil yourself!  Go get a mani/pedi, go get a massage, and for heavens sake, give yourself love!  You don't need that doodah Lake to make you happy.  You make you happy.  You deserve it!  If you have no one else, well then, darn it, take yourself out!  Do you know how many times I put myself together and took myself to Spago alone!  Plenty.  I don't need some guy to take me out, I can do just fine on my own.  And you know what, I've had a blast every single time.  So your fun doesn't depend on anyone but you.  Don't stand there depressed!  The world is all yours for the taking, so what are you waiting for!?!  If the day becomes completely dire and there is no hope in sight, then call me,  I'll take you out -  we'll get gussied up and I'll take you to Spago."

After my pep talk, we went to class and I didn't see her again until the following week.  Lucky for us, Lliona had a great birthday without having to swim in a scum-laden Lake.

A few weeks later, Lliona walked in beaming from ear to ear.  She had met someone new.  A 32-year-old car salesman from Georgia.  Ok anyone would be an improvement over Lake, so I was happy for her.  It was just what she needed, a nice, stable fellow with a good job.  I figured he'd take her out, she'd get to see more than just Lake's drug-infested world and she'd be having new experiences, hopefully ones filled with fancy-schmantzy and more than a few glasses of champagne.  I was praying that he wasn't what we all fear on a used car lot...driving away with a lemon.

Well, don't you know it, Lliona walked in on Monday to class, and I asked how things were going with the car guy and well, she said that her phone rang and it was that new fella's number.  She answers it, expecting to hear his handsome Southern tones, instead, she gets a 19-year-old girl asking her if he had told Lliona that he had a girlfriend.  I nearly flipped out.  My mind immediately thought, "Oh hell, sweet Lliona has her own Bassett Hound Faced Bitch to deal with.  Oh how history likes to repeat itself."  I braced myself to hear her sooner did she get rid of the scummy Lake, two seconds later only to find herself in a rotten peach orchard.

As she told me the story of the young woman who called her, I notice Lliona had a smile on her face, one borne of confidence and "I can do better."  As a matter of fact when I asked her how she felt about it all, she said just that, "I can do better."  I sighed with relief, overjoyed to hear her say it.  Come to find out the car salesman wasn't 32, he was 34, and Lliona ended up staying on the phone with his girlfirend for I believe it was 37 minutes in an effort to get her calmed down.  As Lliona tells it, the girl cried to her asking, "What do I do!?!?  I don't want him to leave me!"  I think it was right about then that Lliona heard me in her head saying, "Puhlease...throw him back, and go get yourself another..."  Then after all that and Lliona finally hanging up the phone, the car salesman's girlfriend called her back not but 20 minutes later to ask if Lliona would talk to her some more.

The following day, Lliona had to get her oil changed at the same dealership where the Lemon Lothario grows his orchard.  He walked up to her and said, "Lliona, I'm so sorry!  Damn it, I meant to tell you..."

Lliona didn't skip a beat and I figure she sure as heck had swam in the Lake long enough to know better.  She looked at the Lemon Lothario and said, "Please don't swear, it's lent."

Today, lo and behold, as we were getting up to leave class this afternoon, Lliona's phone rang, it was the Lemon Lothario's girlfriend calling...  Lliona looked at me and just rolled her eyes.

Then she said, "I deserve better than him."

That's my girl.

No comments:

Post a Comment