A student of mine from last semester came to visit me today. We’ll call her Missy.
It was nice that she came by. My composition kids are getting “work periods” as classes at the moment: lessons are pretty much over and I’m giving over the class time for their research projects and portfolios (for which I am expecting – but not with much realistic hope – that their work will be better than it would be if I weren’t giving them this time) so she and I got to talk a bit.
I like Missy, and I liked her when I had her in Foundational English last term. She’s troubled and searching for her way, but she’s also smart and determined and capable. She can be great; all she needs is some guidance and people who care about what happens to her. I think she recognized some of that in me because I was someone she sought out last term to help her work out some of her issues. I helped her recover her grade in my class, I counseled her in an issue with her roommate, and she came to me first when she decided to come out publicly as a lesbian. I bonded with this girl.
She had come to me today to give me some news in person; what she had to say to me couldn’t be fired off in an email, she said; she needed to tell me to my face – she felt she owed it to me.
She’s quitting school.
She explained that her decision to leave was complicated and not entirely of her own choosing. Her mother pays for her schooling, she said, and her grades have been slipping lately. Because of this, her mother suggested that she take some “time off” to get herself centered. Missy is overly fond of her mother and doesn’t want to go against her wishes, even though she’s not sure that she wants to leave school, either.
Missy also told me that her grandmother is ailing and that she feels a responsibility to care for her. It should be noted here that Missy is not even 19 years old yet; my humble opinion is that the responsibility for caring for an elderly relative should not fall on someone so young – particularly on someone who’s not even figured out who or what she really wants to be yet.
Missy came to me, I think, so that I could give her a hard time about the decision to leave school. She joked that she KNEW she’d get my “look” and that I’d not let her “get away” with just dropping out. She wanted me to fight for her – I could sense that in her demeanor – and fight I did. I argued that while it’s often a good idea for people to take time between high school and college – a lot of people don’t know what they want to study until they’ve had a chance to look around their world for a bit – it’s also very difficult to come back once one has dropped out. The stresses and demands of the “real” world often keep people from coming back to school; we never have the time or the money to get back to college because the responsibilities we’ve accepted in our lives keep us from sufficiently devoting ourselves to study. I told her that I was afraid for her, and I meant it.
We didn’t have the time – or the privacy – to talk in depth about the situation, but we did exchange contact information and I promised her that I wasn’t going to lose touch. Missy seems to me like a child on the edge of a knife; I feel as though she doesn’t have a lot of leeway to make too many poor choices. I desperately want to see this girl survive – no, I take that back; I want to see her succeed – because I see in her a strength that will only grow under the right conditions. At the same time, though, I recognize that I have no control over the decisions she makes. The best I can do – indeed, the only thing I can do – is to be here for her to rely on when and if she needs me.
Still, that doesn’t feel like enough.