Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beth: Looking What?

I was at the school the other day to pick up a new schedule and settle where The Shakespeare Club would meet for Year Five. In the schoolyard, after leaving the office, I heard, "Hey, Ms. Ryane."

It was 4:30 p.m., after-school hours, a time when many children stay to participate in enrichment classes or complete homework in supervised settings. These are usually kids who can't go home to empty houses because of working parents or guardians.

When I heard my name, I looked around and found Beth.

Beth, now a fifth-grader, had been a musician in "Twelfth Night."

"I wanna be in Shakespeare Club again," she said.

"Well, you'll have to audition, Beth, like everyone else," I replied and then noticed that on this October afternoon, as an autumn chill started to gather, Beth was soaking wet.

"What happened? Why are you so wet, Beth?"

"Oh, fooling around."

She carried two full bottles of water so I imagined she was in a water war.

"When are you going home?" I asked.

"Around five, I guess."

"Who picks you up, Beth? How do you get home?"

"Well, usually my mom but I think she broke her leg. I guess I'll walk home. I don't think anyone's coming."

"What do you mean broke her just today? And where do you live, by the way?"

"Over by know...over there."

"Over there" was a long way. Almost a mile and I was on my bicycle and couldn't take her.

"Did you call home to see who's coming to get you?"

"I don't know when she broke it but she has a cast on and my dad's phone broke and we don't have a phone in the house and I don't know where my mom's phone is and my grandma doesn't have a phone and she doesn't speak English anyway and I don't speak, you know."

She rattled off this confused information and all I could think of was Beth walking home in sunset, her skinny legs trapped inside tight, sopping-wet black jeans, her hair hanging in drenched tendrils down to her shoulders and...well, forget swine flu...she was on her way to pneumonia.

Beth missed many meetings last year and her teacher consistently warned me not to count on Beth even making it to performances.

I sat next to Beth in the lunch area one day and asked, "Where were you for yesterday's Shakespeare Club?"


"What do you mean?"

"Home problems."

Beth never smiles. She shrugs a lot. Her family landed in court many times last year and maybe taking a nine-year-old along looks good.

Beth is the most cynical human being I have ever met. She beats any cynical adult, and I've known a few of those.

As I studied her dripping wet composure, I had the thought that she might be perfect for Lady Macbeth, coming up in Year Five, but I don't know if I could count on her making rehearsals.

And if I don't know what I can count on, how the heck is Beth supposed to count on anything or anyone? Thus the cynicism. She's learned way too much. She's far too right for a play like "Macbeth."

The meaning of lonely is being somewere without people talking to you, not being with you, and most of the time when you are lonely you are sad.!
—Emilia, 4th grade (Year Two)

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