“What is that?” Her voice raised to a pitch of surprise and confusion. I looked down at my desk and saw the obvious culprit. A piece of paper with large hiragana symbols. I couldn’t find my pen and had to use my daughter’s fat crayola marker. It was supposed to be black but it was running out of ink so it looked like a child's scribbles. I looked down at the faded attempt to not fail my upcoming Japanese quiz. I pushed it towards her, dropping my head on the drafting table in quick defeat and grumbled.
We both started giggling at the same time.
She was the only one in my class older than me.
I met her the day of orientation. I had been dreading the day and was also overwhelmingly excited. I didn’t think that I would be “going back to school.” I knew I wanted to, but never accepted that it could be possible. One of my best friend’s described it best on the phone. “What the heck do I look like sitting next to kids fresh out of high school….I probably wouldn’t be able to handle it!” She proceeded with the theory that even though she was alive and well, her brain had died long ago and was no longer functional.
I feared the same. Had my brain turned to mush? Was I going to stand out? Would they smell “the old” on me. How can I make friends with classmates the same age as my own students? When I walked into orientation I had a quicker step, imagining that everyone would stop speaking and sense the intrusion before pointing at the hag who didn’t belong. There is something about becoming an adult and fearing not being good enough to start all over again.
I sat next to her and mustered a fake smile. She began opening up and we were close ever since.
A week later in our ideations class I couldn’t help the giddiness I felt. “Look at my daughter in this video!” I leaned my phone over to her. She and several other girls turned around. Wide-eyed they laughed and complimented my child’s dance in the grocery store.
“YOU have a daughter?” One of them shouted. “How old ARE you?” another asked in surprise.
I snickered slyly. I exposed myself and felt ready to tell my secret. They were all shocked. The teacher started speaking and break was over.
After school, she came to me. I told her I always found it refreshing being around her.
“Yeah, because our perspective is different and we don’t have anymore time to waste.. I’ll turn 40 in 4 years, girl!”
My mouth dropped. She was older than me?! I felt my whole body relax. Within a few minutes we poured out our life stories leading us up to this point of starting over. We both had the burning desire to bet on ourselves despite the pricking self doubt that comes with age. We had to make this work.
It was pivotal realising how I needed to erase the doubt of not being good enough I finally accepted that I belonged as much as anyone else.
Back in class after I pushed the Hiragana paper towards her. She chuckled. “Why are you learning this?”
“I don’t know! I just want to.”
“Girl this is hard. I couldn’t do this.”
I raised my head looking at her directly. “Yes you could.”