As someone who considers myself shy and timid, I feel like a celebrity at my school. I teach about 200 different students, I teach for 16 class hours, seeing each class of mine only once a week. They seem to like the handball I bring to class every day and throw to each student when I want him or her to answer to a question. Walking in the school, every 100 yards or so, I hear a “HELLO PEATAR!” and ensuing laughter from boys or giggles from girls. It both appeals to my need for attention and makes me uncomfortable. I can feel their eyes on me throughout the day like hot fluorescent lights. I feel ostracized because of the language barrier, although I can understand 80% of what they say in Spanish, my speaking lags behind. I was initially inclined to think of this excitement towards me as sarcasm, but I am learning that Spanish people are good-natured and expect the best from people, not nearly as cynical as New Yorkers.
I am one of two “auxiliars de conversacion” (language and culture assistants) in the school, the other is Christina, a fair-skinned redhead, a cheerful girl from Indiana with a boyfriend who came to Spain with her. She let me know that she doesn’t approve of me not casting my ballot from Spain before the election and that it is our civic duty. She is fiercely optimistic and always grinning: an old fashioned breed, good manners too.
I work four or five hours per day. I feel more exhausted leaving this job than I did leaving my 9 to 5 jobs in New York. Constantly getting kids to quiet down, raising my voice over them, being the figure of authority and projecting the image of a person who is supposed to be the expert on a subject is an odd thing to think of myself as, even if it is my native language. Similar to the findings in the Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970’s, in relationships, people rise to the challenge of molding into the identity that people expect of them, but that’s a whole other discussion. The kids look at me as an upstanding authority and therefore I have become that. Even if I don’t really believe it, I just pretend. I don’t know what the present participle is but I know what words fit and what grammar sounds correct. The long, wide open afternoons have been both relaxing and challenge to the slothier traits of my nature.
The social dynamics of high school have been replicated for decades. They tend to follow predictable patterns. I try to engage the more introverted students and coax them out of their shells. I remember what it was like to be in high school. The school and the kids there can seem like your entire world, which for some people is a joy, being the most popular and pinning their worth to being master of their domains in sports, academics, theatre, singing. For others it can serve as a sort of torture wherein you are forced to confront that which you are presently part of by physical proximity but in spirit it can be oppressive. When one does not fit in to the various cliques or has not yet developed adequately to excel in the various social spheres of petulant and insular adolescents, it can be severely detrimental to the child’s identity.
When I think back to my high school experience, I deeply regret taking myself so seriously and being hyper-sensitive to every last jab, which led me to withdraw socially and quit sports towards the end of my high school career. This is something that bothers me to this day because I know it shaped the person I am today. I cowered and let opportunities pass me by for the entirety of high school. I was overly paranoid, thinking people were out to get me. Upon reflection, with the clarity provided by a span of many years and my growth since then, I see these antagonistic characters were just speaking the language of relation and bonding for males.
I tell myself I have had, and currently have, a problem with depression, but more aptly it’s a lack of purpose and meaning. Being apathetic and sitting around ordering pizza and watching Netflix all day is not good for anyone’s mind state, even if I find time to workout. I maintain loneliness is still the most threatening thing to a person’s health, as someone with a penchant for isolation. The alternative for me is being hyper social and filling up my day for every single hour, leaving me feeling high, navel gazing and feeling invincible, trying to simulate some type of high, like ego mania: staring at attractive faces, ambient noise, moving my mouth, loud demonstrative Spanish women, interesting people, validation, boring people.
Sometimes I think my life is just a series of endless distractions meant to temporarily divert me from the persistent, lifelong malaise that was engineered in my bone marrow and DNA at birth, weighing me down like metal chains wrapped around a car tire. There are days when I can outrun and outwork the malaise, and maybe I can even keep it away for a week, but it always catches me eventually, as if I am running on a treadmill suspended over a large body of water, eventually I will tire and fall into the water, however herculean my effort. Certain days, I feel like a game show contestant sitting in a chair, at the mercy of the fickle host, wondering when he will pull the lever next and drop my body into the water. I sustain these mini-wounds, or micro-tears to my ego throughout the day when interacting with others based on my usually biased and paranoid reactions to small gestures or subtle cues in speech and eye movement. Sometimes these perceived wounds penetrate deeper, and at those points I have the urge to withdraw and hide out silently for the rest of the day. Everyday I get up and try again to climb the mountain of finding a deep connection with a person that has eluded me my entire life. I momentarily ignore the voice in my head that tells me I have nothing to offer, that I don’t make enough money, my sense of humor sucks, I’m not a complete person, I’m a man-boy.