because none of us is fucking up like we think we are, is what i'm trying to say

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Lesson 101: Love and Shit.


I noticed their chemistry right from the start. 18- and 19-year-olds don’t need explicitly teaching English per se, so essentially means that my job is ‘spontaneous language acquisition’ i.e. I get paid to hang out and play drinking games adapted for the classroom. We get through a hell of a lot of vodka, and they learn how to inflect questions so as to successfully fit in with passive-aggressive Brits when they go on holiday. In that kind of non-typical classroom environment, love will always blossom. Laughter is horny.

They always seemed to end up sat next to one another, no matter what the activity. No big deal, no HEY YOU! COME ‘ERE! Just a quiet magnetism. During drama games she would look to him from the audience as he took the floor, and a smile from her sent his performance into comedic overdrive, as if the only pleasure he could ever expect to derive from the rest of all eternity was to hear her laugh.  He’d return to his seat looking at her, and she at him, and nobody else existed.

I know, right? Like ewwwww. Love and shit.


(Annnnnd I just got the title for this post. Brilliant.)

But when I suggested, one lunchtime, that I could see the magic, she was horrified. “No, no! English camp is only for two weeks, and after that I return to Milan and he to Rome.” I told her I didn’t understand the problem. “I’m not the kind of girl,” she implored. In my head I thought, Well you should be. 

When one evening I said to him, “Well? What are you going to do?” he shrugged and said, “Oh no, nothing. She told me that she hates it when boys are her friend and then get angry that she hasn’t fallen in love with them.” “Are you sure she didn’t just tell you that because she loves you?” I replied. And then I added the single most important thing I have ever learned about FEELINGS! “And anyway, in situations like this there is only one way to deal with it. Pay attention to what she does, not what she says.” I can hear you being surprised at my wisdom, INTERNET. Me too.

The days passed and the emotions visibly grew. In their part for the final show the pair of them were to get married, and so I choreographed a sort of 1950’s moment where she hooked her arm around his neck, and he could gently tip her back. Every time we practiced the build up to that moment had palpable energy- not least from the hoards of his friends and her friends observing something so very pure unfolding. “Take a picture!” one told me as the couple rehearsed the wedding scene. “I don’t need to,” I replied. “I will always remember this loveliness.” Because yes, my heart is a cold piece of hardened coal. But it really was delicious to watch. 

On the final day we did a dress rehearsal for the show, including a rousing rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes to introduce our concept of Superheroes and Villains. As the scene of the couple approached there was laughter and sadness and giggling and serious bits, and then came The Dip. Only instead of her placing her hand over her mouth to sanitise the kiss and block his lips, she let her hand fall. And he bent down to her in his arms and in front of everybody they kissed, and we cheered.

That evening somebody had left out company tee-shirts for the students to sign. On my tee-shirt, underneath their two names, they had written the Heroes lyrics, “We can steal time, just for one day…”

I just about freaking CRIED, and when she came to say goodbye to me after the final performance, she actually was. “Thank you,” she told me over and over before being engulfed in a sob so big that I cried too.  I couldn't not. “Everything… perfect… thank you,” she said, and then she left. They stole time, just for one day, in a way that I have never quite been able to master. Bastards. 

I knew he wasn’t leaving until the next morning so after meeting parents and air-kissing strangers, stealing some cake and nipping off for a crafty cigarette, I knocked on the door to his room.

There was no answer.

Two of his friends passing stopped, and when I told them who I was looking for they too knocked on his door, only instead of waiting for a response went right on ahead and entered. He appeared from the bathroom and looked a little dazed and confused.

“Hi,” I said, “I just wanted to check that you were alright.”

He looked as though he had been locked away in the dark, head in his hands and woe in his heart. It was heartbreaking. At 18, I remember feeling so strongly for my boyfriend that I cried to an Aerosmith song. In public. Loudly.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he replied.
“Are you sure?” I said. “She was pretty upset…”
“I know.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Nothing. I’m just… tired. I am leaving tomorrow, so I am not too sad. You can go."

I told him okay, and bid him goodnight. I had somehow expected him to be a little more, I don’t know, devastated. But he made it very clear he wasn't interested in my sympathies. I think out of it all, that was what was most upsetting to me. The stolen glances, the mystery, the newness of it all made me emotional by proxy. But for him not to care afterwards? For him to be so male about it? I WAS COUNTING ON THIS TEENAGE BOY TO RESTORE MY FAITH IN THE MALE SPECIES AS A WHOLE. And in those moments of rudeness, he did nothing but fuel my despondency. 

Some time later I was hugged from behind. “I thought you had left!” I said, when I spun on my heel to face her. “You are still here!”
“Yes,” she replied. “And he told me what you did.”
“Oh,” I said. “I just wanted to make sure he was okay. Goodbyes are hard. He said to me…”
She leaned in to interrupt me. "He told me. You are wonderful. Thank you."
I smiled and we stood in silence for a moment. She eventually put her hands on my shoulders and pulled me close. “Actually, I was there,” she confided. "I was in the bathroom."
And then I laughed, hard and all the way from my belly, because OF COURSE SHE HAD BEEN THERE.

We laughed together a little more, and I apologised for the interruption, in a sort of I-don't-teach-you-anymore-but-still-can't-really-condone-your-actions kind of a way. “No, no- thank you,” she said for the last time. "Thank you."

IT WAS YOUR PLEASURE, I thought. Bloody kids.
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