The Drug Addict and the Conspiracy Theorist
I see my night class, Third Class, once a week on Tuesdays for two and a half hours. Two-and-a-half hours after a full day of teaching makes me slur my words. Third Class and I spend a lot of time in the computer lab doing in-class writing. It’s your time, use it wisely, if you get done, you don’t have homework, I tell these kids.
Kids. Half of my class is older than me. I originally had this fear that my older students would look at me and go, who the fuck is this chick teaching me about paragraphs? I’m old enough to be her mother.
However, I was pleasantly surprised about my older students. Older students care. Older students see me after class, contact me over email, ask me questions during class, and participate more. Older students are also getting up at 6:30 every day and doing laundry and washing dishes.
I like Third Class in a different way than I like First Class. First Class is comprised of people I would probably drink with; they’re quirky. With some notable exceptions—a few high school students taking freshman comp to “get it out of the way”—Third Class and I are meeting each other in the same stage of our lives. We’ve all tried on a few careers, a few lifestyles, and nothing’s worked out. We’re all giving academia another go. We’re all waiting for the gate to swing open to something more brilliant.
I have working moms. I have a conspiracy theory guy. I have a recovering drug addict who wrote his first paper about how he got off heroine with methadone, but how he’s now back on pot, and I suspect he was smoking pot while writing because the piece made no sense. He talked about how much he loved marijuana, which was not, as you would imagine, the assignment. He’s 18, and he’s been through recovery. And he’s already backslid. He comes to my class with red, glassy eyes, and sometimes he gets distracted by what his own hand is doing. I’ll catch him staring at his fingers and wiggling them around.
In a rare and strange burst of authority, I pulled him aside during a break and asked him what was going on. I didn’t ask him if he was on drugs. I asked him if he was taking medication because he just seemed so sleepy. He spoke like he’d just woken up from a coma. The words that rolled around and out of his mouth felt heavy and unsure of themselves. He told me about his struggles with addiction, but he was turning his life around, and he was committed. I was like, I think you’re about to fall asleep, but let’s see what happens in your second paper.
The political conspiracy guy is oddly endearing but completely inappropriate. He sits in the back of the room. He has long black hair he pulls into a ponytail. He is always dressed in khakis and a red shirt, and I’m starting to think he works at Target.
Our current unit is definition.
“Let’s define,” I told Third Class. “We’re really going to focus and wrap ourselves around these words and make them dance for us.”
Usually, I’ll teach for awhile, and then I’ll ask if anyone has questions. The political conspiracy guy will raise his hand. I’ll call on him and he’ll say, “Do you mean how the Republicans have defined the Great Recession to fit their political agenda?”
This guy sits at home and blogs about how much he hates Republicans. I know it.
We had a discussion about abstract words and how they are difficult to pin down. I said, for example, you may say success is a Mercedes, but I say success is publishing a novel while the Duggars on TLC would say success is having many children.
In response to that, Political Conspiracy presented this gem to the class, “Do you think those people are Mormon? And do you know the Mormons try to baptize people who are already dead?”
Teaching is all about thinking on your feet, which is something I’ve never mastered. I think that’s why I’m a writer. I can think of a response to something four months later and go, yes, that’s what I should have said. But then the moment is over, and it ends up in a story. That is my therapy.
To the Mormon comment, I replied, “That is neither here nor there.”
“I’m just trying to define them,” he said.
Christ. He got me.
The thing is, he’s not really being disruptive. Like, maybe he has a bit of an impulse problem, but he only speaks when I ask if anyone has questions. And whatever he says is followed by a laugh. He’s like a live version of the kind of person who always updates Facebook with things like: “I just washed my dog, LOL.”
Because my three classes are so spread out, I spend the bulk of my day on campus. A few days ago, I saw one of my students from Second Class in the bathroom. I washed my hands. She washed her hands. I went out one way. She went out the other way. I kept my eyes down like I was nearing an angry dog and trying not to show my fear. When I thought about it later, I thought it was probably weird for her to see her teacher in the bathroom. Even the teachers I liked used to freak me out when I’d see them outside of the classroom.
They’re just as afraid of me as I am of them. Right?