10 June 2011

Meeting The Past, Again

This summer, I'm teaching a class on the campus where I worked my primary job this year. Something odd is happening:  Even though I have only taught that class for a week (It runs for seven and a half weeks.), I feel closer to those students than I have to any I have taught at that college in some time.  Yesterday, I--and they--realized that I knew all of their names!

What makes it so odd is that the school already feels like it's in the past for me.  That's how I feel when I'm anywhere on the campus besides my class.  I noticed that when I bumped into two women I hadn't seen, probably, in about two years.  Back when I was an academic advisor and, later, director of the tutoring center, I used to see them all of the time: One is a supervisor in the financial aid office, and the other directs the office of student services.  Both seemed happy, and surprised, to see me and gave me longer and more emphatic hugs than I could have anticipated.

They have never been anything but kind to me.  But, in some strange way, they felt like memories at the very moment I was talking with them.  Perhaps they were:  Perhaps I was talking to a memory I had of them, and they were talking to the way they remembered me.  Not that I disliked any of it.  However, I did have the sense that I might not see them again.  

The director of student said, "It has to be about two years since I've seen you.  Something about you has changed."  I mentioned that it's been almost two years--already!--since I've had my surgery. "Yes!  The last time I saw you, you were about to have it," exclaimed the woman from Financial Aid.

Now I am recalling the other times I felt as I did upon seeing those women:  the months, the weeks, the days before my graduations--from high school, from college, from graduate school.  In each of those situations, I had the feeling, as I did yesterday, that those situations were already in the past, that I had in a sense, already graduated--or left, at any rate.  

In high school and college, I knew I was just biding time:  In other words, I was warehoused.  In high school, I had to stay because the law said I had to in order to graduate; in college, I was merely getting enough credits to graduate, having already completed my major and distribution requirements.

On the other hand, as I neared the end of graduate school, I had the sense that I was beginning something that I couldn't have continued, much less completed, there.   Turned out, there were a whole bunch of things.  True, I was finishing some course work and my thesis.  But I didn't feel that those were, or had anything to do with, the tasks I could see before me.  

If anything, what I felt yesterday was more like what I felt toward the end of graduate school.  In other words, I feel more of a sense of moving on--and, hopefully, ahead--rather than leaving.  I have been at that college for six years --which, even at this point in my life, seems like a geological age.  When I entered, I had been living as a woman, as Justine, for not much more than a year.  I was grateful that I had a job and could work in relative peace, under a department head--I'll call her Claire--who was friendly and supportive.   Now it has been nearly two years since my operation.  Claire has retired and much in the college--and the department in which I've worked--has changed.  The charming, quirky dysfunction one finds in so many departments and colleges has turned into something that is more disorienting, and even vicious.  I've never been in any other place where people get as defensive when you ask a question, and I'm not used to people filing charges against people over a simple disagreement. 

I simply can't see how I can develop, personally or professionally, in such an environment.  At least, I can't see how that place can help me to become anything I'd want to become, as a woman or a professional.  

I feel more like a stranger in that place than I did on the first day I spent there.  The women I saw yesterday are not among the reasons why.  They are simply two more people there, and they are--from what I can tell--working for a pension.  The one from Financial Aid will probably get hers fairly soon; the woman from Student Services has at least a few more years.  They know what their futures will be; I am just starting to understand what mine could be.