A Recollection in Solitude

“David…” he said, and put his hand on my shoulder. Quickly, that spot became a puddle of heat, the sun of my self-consciousness. I wanted the hand off.

“You have to understand…”

Something in me resists kindness. I recognize its intent and take it seriously. And I appreciate the people who extend kindness to me. But I don’t feel it right away—few acts of kindness penetrate.

Mr. Ashby was retrieving me after I’d exited rehearsal in a huff. Two eighth grade classmates off-stage laughed at me and I didn’t know why. I lost the little calm I’d fought for through weeks of practice. Between lines and falling, no net beneath, no knowledge of what I’d said or should say next, I walked off, leaving three actors behind to sow the shredded moment to the rest of the play. I passed my laughing classmates as I walked out a side door that slammed behind me.

“David, you have to understand…” It’s hard to listen beyond those words. When you don’t understand—or, more accurately, won’t believe—consolation never reaches you. I feel sweet warmth remembering the Mr. Ashbys in my life and mean to do better. Still, I go deaf during moments I should hear everything.

Mr. Ashby was an immense man, impossibly round in the middle and pointed head and foot—a walking, unspinning top. We laughed at his girth. We imitated his overenthusiastic direction and turned away too many of his invitations to conversation and friendship. He must have known more about secret laughter than I’ll ever know. My sensitivity to classmates’ laughter must have seemed absurd to him. He should have been angry instead of solicitous, dismissive instead of caring.

“David, you have to understand they could’ve been laughing at anything. You can’t take everything as if it’s directed at you. And even if they were making fun of you, that’s their problem, not yours.”

I wish I could so simply heal imagined wounds. I’m sure I’m better at it now, yet perceived slights sometimes seem more real than any correction. The hurt can’t be knit up instantly or entirely, and I can’t think straight. I revisit the big questions from other angles—”What’s wrong with me that I’m so easily bothered?” or “How can I misunderstand so painfully?”

If I could transport my mind to that fifteen year-old in a Hollywood movie, I’d ask Mr. Ashby how he did it, how—in response to heartlessness—he’d found enough kindness to extend to me.

In the actual situation, I fussed and fumed. More wasted time and a forced, smirking apology finally brought me back. But I can’t repeat what I said to Mr. Ashby when he came out to retrieve me, before he’d brought me back. I don’t want to think about it. Fifteen year-olds don’t have the resources to say what they really feel and should say.

And now I have to content myself with hoping Mr. Ashby understood that too.

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1 Comment

Filed under Essays, Memory, Teaching, Writing

One response to “A Recollection in Solitude

  1. Poignant and beautifully done.

    Thank you. I reread Lopate’s introduction to
    The Art of the Personal Essay and wanted to do something to violate his edicts. I’d like to think the personal essay is finally indefinable and that you could create a vehicle, rather than having the vehicle create you. Thanks for visiting.

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