A long goodbye

 

One day in the final week before my retirement from my position at the University I took a stroll over to the Fine Arts building on the campus.

It’s been a long time since I visited this department even though it’s a short jaunt up the hill from the culinary department where I work. And it was a bit sentimental because I and this institution have a deeply personal history and I felt like I needed to revisit my “roots” and say goodbye.

My relationship to this campus isn’t only for the duration of my employment here of the last 7 years, but all the way back to 1976 when it was a college. This is where at 18 I began my Fine Arts degree, right here.

I opened the big glass door and stood in the foyer and memories came flooding back. The couch over there against the wall where we took breaks from our painting to have a smoke and talk with the instructor. The studios forested with easels, the smell of acrylics and oils, graphite and charcoal. My fingers stained with whatever medium I had been working with. I walked over to where the printing studio was but it no longer held the big press I had used for Lithographs and the silk screen frames were no longer there, it was now full of what looked like set design maquettes. I entered the vacant sculpture studio and saw that it hasn’t changed at all, the pleasant memory of working with the Lost Wax Method where I made a bronze cast of a bear in a cave, that I still have, and the unpleasant memory of working with resins. Nothing good came from that. I walked across the hall and peered in through the glass window in the door at the ceramics studio full of engaged students talking, laughing or quietly focused on the wheel. It looked just as I had left it. To add, this is where my mom when in her 50’s taught pottery in the evenings to Community Ed students.

It’s a heady place this campus. It witnessed many of my life changes and growth; a pivotal place. Every decade of my adult life is attached to this place. 

This is where in my first year I moved out of my parents home and together with my boyfriend of 3 years also a fellow art student, and another art student got our first apartment. The second year my boyfriend went on a student exchange to Florida and left me on my own. His sister and a two of our friends, also students, shared a large house to finish out the second year. When my boyfriend came back for a visit we agreed to marry the following year. My mom and I window shopped for wedding dresses, but it had been a long year apart, and consequently I branched out socially; when he returned my feelings had changed and I broke up with him.

I had during that second year become involved in a small theatre group during my second year headed by an English Professor who wrote satirical musicals and this campus theatre is where I performed and sang in those plays publicly in my first ever stage appearance. I also fell in love with the piano player. Our little theatre group segued into a working band of 10 musicians and we played gigs that consisted of all original songs all over town developing a sizable following. Both the piano player, our lead singer, as well as our slide guitarist have continued on in very successful musical careers.

This campus is where we held our practice sessions, and when our drummer left for the Caribbean to work for Club Med another drummer came to try out and stayed. Turned out I would spend 5 years with this man and have a daughter. To add, a colleague I recently shared my office space with for the last seven years had years ago bought the house he had built in 1975, before he  joined our band and when he was married. She bought it from his ex-wife. She and I discovered this when conversing over coffee break one day.

Of course woven through those happy events are some bitter lessons, some bad decisions, and maybe even a regret or two, but the truth of the matter is they were deep and in many ways profoundly enriching. So were the good times. Very much so.

This campus saw me return again in my 30’s to enroll to become a Baker, during which time my brother was dying from bowel cancer, and I returned again in my 40’s to become a chef. Then to return again in my 50’s as an employee working as a chef assistant.

Every decade of my adult life is attached to this place.

And now here I am. Was and was.

So now it must certainly be adieu mustn’t it? I really hesitate to be steadfast in anything final. Lets just say I will not be surprised if for some reason I find my footsteps once again carrying me back to embark on yet another enterprise in my 60th decade. But for now I give thanks and honor the memories, and for many ways in being a place of life experience and learning for me.

Teacher

He stood before me a thin,towering be-speckled man in a tweed jacket. A little wisp of reddish blond facial hair under his nose. I sat at my desk just to the right of him in the front row, paying attention. He was making an announcement to my grade 4 1962 class about our new playground’s obstacle course apparatus, and was suggesting that the girls wear shorts under their dresses if they want to play on it.

When he said that, I thought that I should show him I was already ahead of him concerning this; his practical suggestion, something I and my girlfriends already figured out having played on it all week.

I gently tugged at the hem of his jacket and he looked down at me, then noticed that I had turned a tiny bit of the hem of my skirt up to show I had shorts on in preparation of the obstacle course. Shorts that came down to my mid thigh.

He quickly turned his attention back to the class and resumed talking.
The next thing I knew I was sent to the Office where Vera the principal questioned me on why I lifted my skirt to the teacher. I didn’t speak- I was speechless with embarrassment, I felt sick.

The principal was very kind I must admit. She talked gently to me and let me rest in the nurses room on the cot (all schools had them back then). She eventually called my mom when I wouldn’t respond with anything other than I didn’t feel well and want to go home.

Susan McGinn

It was grade 5 and the day to elect students to do class tasks. Tasks like wiping down the chalk board at the end of the day, making sure things were back in place, those kinds of things. Susan McGinns’ hand went up like a piston when the teacher asked the class for nominations. Yes Susan? Teacher said. I elect Debbie to clean the toilets, Susan said turning to me with a big smile, and the class of course laughed along with her. I think I dissolved into my desk, I can’t recall exactly. I blanked out. I think I was partly in shock that she could humiliate me and look right at me. Gutsy.

Susan McGinn started out as my friend who lived across the street. After school I’d go to her house and we’d watch National Velvet and eat cereal, other times I would help her dry the dishes that were left from breakfast and we would play “if I were a millionaire.”

She lived with her dad and they had a pool table where the dining room table should be. Their dog would sometimes shit under it, Susan would come home from school and find it there and clean it up. Her dad would be at work so she was by herself for a bit after school. He liked country western music and drank beer, but I remember he was quiet, kind and gentle.

I spent the night at her house many times and we’d put on “Sugar Shack” and sing ad nauseam in her bedroom and make up dance routines.

I can’t recall what it was that suddenly made her hate me so much. It was like a tap. Next thing I knew she had a vendetta on me. I don’t know what set her off, but my  school life became nearly unbearable because of it. Her confidence, as she rained down condescending remarks on me, was solid.

She could rally the class behind her and hold their attention as she picked apart my choice of clothing I wore that day. Man, I wish I had that kind of confidence. But I wouldn’t use my confidence for evil purposes. I think back to all of the great things I might have accomplished if I had had good Sue McGinn confidence. But my deficit in that attribute was deep and crippling. I was the quintessential Shrinking Violet. If you looked up Wall Flower, I’d be there.

Then one day a miracle. Sitting at my desk I feel a nudge from a classmate from my right, I turn to find an envelope being held out to me and I look past it to see Sue McGinn smiling the drippiest, diabetic, sugar drenched smile at me. It was from her. I took the envelope and inside was a card with a beautiful drawing of flowers on the front, drawn by her. She was making up! Finally my torment was coming to an end. I smiled back, then I opened the card.

I should’ve opened the card first so I wouldn’t have smiled first. I should’ve played it cool and taken the card with maybe a furrow in my brow that implied what the hell is this now? To show her I wasn’t falling prey to her wicked ways. I should’ve then opened the card like I could care less, then look right at her (the way she boldly does at me)  roll my eyes and toss the card back at her.

She got me. I smiled back before opening the card. She got me perfectly. Hook, Line and Sucker. I can’t recall what heinous hallmark curse was inside, I blanked out again from sheer embarrassed humiliation. My gullibility was chronic. She was goood.

She moved away not long after never to be heard of again. We moved too, out of Garden Grove to Huntington Beach and to a new school and though I never encountered the likes of Sue McGinn again in other classmates since, she did a stellar job of embedding a fear of criticism and being singled out in a group, even if for good things like a job well done or a talent or a job interview. Still very uncomfortable with any attention turned on me. But I’ve worked to overcome as we must as we mature, but she gave me some darn good stuff to work with. So, uh thanks I guess.