Yesterday, I was with a group of people who have known me at least five if not twenty years. One of the women there and I bonded over the hard-scrabble adjunct teaching life, providing each other with driving tips for the many Bay Rea roads we traversed to get to our work and helping each other get gigs at the schools within our 100 mile radius.
One woman there was my former Spanish teacher. After teaching three classes every day, I would rush over to the Humanities building to take Spanish because at the time, I was married to a Spanish speaking man and had ideas about fluency and more Mexican travel. One man there and I shared an office for three years, until I realized he was a much better teacher than I and too many of his damn students were in the office morning, noon, and night. I could write all his papers I knew so much about every assignment. Three of the women there and I had been in a writing group together for years, and I know the nuances of their work, the way their sentences would arc or flow or stop or twist. I'd traveled with four of them, had short writing retreats on the coast of California. One of them is truly a dear friend, someone I've spent some of my best and hardest times.
This group of people got together to talk about our friend James, who died last week. We didn't want a gathering infused by alcohol (meeting at 10.30 in the morning sometimes prevents that) and we didn't want the sadness and somber mood brought on by a memorial. We wanted to eat brunch and talk about James, and we did, for an hour or so, sharing stories about this man we'd all known for a long time.
James was one of the traveling adjuncts for a while, a teacher with a car--have car, will teach. He and I met at a job faire at Diablo Valley College in 1990, both of us there to schmooze a bit and gain insider information. He was in a suit, his hair smoothed back in that "I just made it through the 80's" way. A group of us desperate teachers took the fliers and handouts and job announcements, bitched for a while, and parted.
Later, I met up with him again, after I was hired that year. He was holding his youngest son in his arms, but his son had other ideas and decided to crawl around the English Division office, while James tried to conduct business with the department secretary. His son was earing a stripped sleeper and laughed as he crawled away. I thought that James would be upset that it was I who was hired, but he greeted me warmly, and then chased after his son.
The group of us at this James discussion told all sorts of stories, the bad and the good. The silly and the strange. I told a few, having a number of James stories at the ready. Later, Michael said that he could tell that all the people there knew me enough to expect the way I would tell the story. In their faces, he said he saw the way he felt when I began to speak. They knew the rhythms of my stories, the way my voice would shift and move.
"They know you," he said. "And they like you."
I drove on after he said this. We were heading out to more of our pre-holiday Saturday, and I realized that not everyone gets this. Not everyone can work in a place where the people are known and understood, even if not completely embraced at all times. Like James, I have a feeling there would be stories about me at the end of the end, stories that invoked my wackiness and impatience and irritation. But there would be stories, things that I did and said and thought. And people who remembered.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org