A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to meet my Mentee, T~, for our first date-night. I never came back and wrote about the amazing evening I had with her. She is smart, sassy, funny, insightful, thoughtful, candid, honest about her emotions, a breath of fresh air, and just ~ well, inspiring. She is 17.
A week or so later, I spent the day with my friend, B~, who is also 17. She probably had no idea how she affected me that day and so, as she sat on the balcony after dinner, I wrote a quick post about her ~ and what a shot in the arm she had been for me that day. It was late and I thought about all of the mini-conversations we had had that day, all adding up to one amazing, beautiful long....talk. I typed quickly, hoping she didn't catch me writing about her ~ she smoked out on the balcony, under the stars, in her own orbit but within eyesight ~ which is a nice connection to have with someone you admire so much. She made me think about two of my favorite songs, one of which I've already mentioned ~ but the stories we had shared, and the night closing in on us, and the thoughts swirling around the smoke wafting from her cigarette made me miss Wilco's very extraordinary Jesus, etc. ~
They are pretty radically different, this B~ and T~. Well, their lives are like night and day ~ but you know, the things I discussed with both of them are exactly the same; and in fact, are much like the issues or things I think about every day. And so it made me wonder whether we ever grow up at all ~ and what that means. Tonight, seeing T~ for the second time, she was quicker to relax and get really honest with me, even just in her storytelling ~ she told me about some things she hadn't even told her mother; she told me about the college she recently visited and what it felt like to be in a huge group where only the student tour guide and her step-father were Black; she told me she likes my work clothes; and she talked my ear off about boys. She told me about D, whom she can't see often but she said that all she needs is one word from him, one honest declaration, to let her know he cares about her ~ and then she realizes the rest will work itself out. She stated, with complete confidence apparently built upon years of experience: relationships are work ~ it can be fun work, but it's work nonetheless, and you just can't be lazy about it.
She is 17. My role is to be her friend and confidante and mentor ~ so I can't really lecture her about the perils of dating and "only being 17". She did that on her own ~ I just asked questions, and listened, and watched her brown eyes light up a when she talked about sports, or school, or volunteer work, or, simply, clothes. She treated me like any one of her girl friends, which felt like the utmost respect to me.
So we walked around Rockridge, ate dinner and shared cake, and I bought her a book, because she lost her copy of Heart of Darkness. We laughed and shrieked, "GET OUT," throughout our stories, and agreed on the people that need to be "chin checked" ~ the brightness of her laughter, of her passion for life, lifted a little of the weight from my shoulders. ~ We talked about books and stories and life ~ she told me I should write a book; she admitted she hasn't worked on hers (a novel) in a while. Being with her reminded me of a paragraph I just read last night:
All stories have, explicitly or implicitly, a fantastic dimension. They try to recapture, or reveal, or anticipate, time. They finally borrow, as Walter Benjamin said, their authority from death. They broaden the field of social behaviour to admit new desires, new demands of both the individual and the collective being. They see human beings as both transparent and enigmatic. They make each one of us -- because of our fears, because of our violence, because of our love, because of our death -- indispensable, unique beings. That is also why so much of our literature is angry. Also, why it is tender and merciful. ~ Yet, tender, angry or merciful, "realistic" or "fantastic", at the end of each story a question must hang over it, a perfume must linger, permitting the story to be complete, but to remain open.
But I didn't tell her about that ~ yet. Instead, she asked if we could stop at Fashion Way in the Fruitvale, so she could put a jacket (well, two) on hold ~ and to help me pick out something for me, because she said I deserve it. Can you believe that? The store was stocked to the ceiling with tiny tops and skinny jeans meant for teens ~ so I almost kissed the store owner when he said the latest pair of tight jeans would look great on me ~ ;-). I picked out only a chunky necklace and when I tried to pay, the store owner said it was a gift. So, I told him I'd be back for the skinny jeans.....He's a local business owner, and his store just expanded, so if you live in Oakland and like tight, sparkly tops or the latest hip style in purses and jeans, please go see him!
This is all to say that I had another fantastic, profound evening with a 17-year old. What is it about that age that makes us so wise in our youthful exuberance? The honesty with which T~ and B~ both communicate with people is inspiring. Just like with B~ a few weeks ago, right after T~ finished telling me about the boy she likes, her phone rang. He called just to say HI ~ which is the sweetest kind of phone call to get ~ remember when you did that? When something made you think of someone, and you actually picked up the phone to call that person ~ just to say HI? Where does that feeling go? ~ Without hesitation she admitted to him, "I was just talking about you. I miss you. I want to see you." ~ She is 17 ~ and honest ~ and caring ~ and fearless in her love.
Remember when you used to be like that?