Monday, May 17, 2010

A Moth: Darby, Part I



April, 2010

"Darby, I have something I'd like to read to you."

"Okay, Ms. Ryane."

We're sitting outside her classroom at a picnic table. I've taken Darby out of class for this time together. I open up a sheet of paper and read aloud.

"I want to be in Shakespeare Club because I love acting. Since it's my last year and my third and last in the Shakespeare Club, I want to finish this year with an awesome show."

I hold out the typed copy of Darby's journal writing. She studies it and hands it back to me. I refold the paper and try to meet her eyes as we sit across from each other at the blue metal table. Darby's face is half covered in long locks of her brown hair. She's grown her bangs into a curtain.

"I believe you meant that when you wrote it and I still believe you mean it, but I'm having trouble seeing it. It's like you've stopped caring. Like you're bored or I don’t know what."

"I was just having a bad day, Ms. Ryane. I'll try, I'll do better," she whispers.

When Darby was eight years old and in her first year of the club, I was told by her teacher that she rarely spoke in class. This was not my experience with her. She played Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" that year and each week gained traction, voice-wise. By the performance date, Darby was enthusiastically playing her role. In one performance, after she was killed, she rolled sideways across the stage back to her seat. An efficient and creative choice, I thought.

Last year Darby was a musician in "Twelfth Night." She helped write her own composition, practiced and made all of her cues.

This year she has a prominent but easy role as Narrator Two, with a side chore of cueing the actors when they call "Line!" She has nothing to memorize because she's only required to read aloud from a script. And she's failing. Crashing. Falling apart, failing.

"Darby, you're late."

"Darby, the cue."

"Darby, stand up."

My endless nagging has not helped. Nagging rarely does. But I'm at a loss and this isn't our first conversation about the problem. I've asked, "How can I help you? Tell me how and I'll do it."

"I'll try harder," she answers every time I bring it up.

"Darby, this isn't about one bad day, this is every day." I brush my fingers across her forehead, looking for her eyes. Her face is as pale as moonlight, her eyes large and dark and her body thin as a needle. "Sometimes I look across the room at you and it's as if you've floated like a moth up to the ceiling...far away. Where are you, Darby? What's happening? Are you nervous about moving on to middle school?"

"A little."

"What else?"

"It's home."

"Okay."

"It's my parents and...."

"What? They don't understand you? They think something's wrong with you?"

"Yeah...yeah...and I don't know...it's just bad and I can't...they tell me not to say...because...."

"Because it's private."

She nods and looks at her hands.

"Okay, you don't have to say anything to me about this. I can see you're having a rough time but I will tell you this: When I was your age I had a tough time at home and the one thing I knew was that onstage I had all the power. So do you."

"Yeah." This comes out in a sigh.


"Okay, here's the deal, I'm going to take away your job as prompter. Faith will do that because the other actors need those cues. You already have two x's and I'm giving you one more chance on Wednesday to do your part. If you really can't, I will have to replace you. I don't want to do that, Darby, because I can't think of anything more painful than if you had to come into the auditorium with your class and watch 'Macbeth' instead of being up there in it. I still believe what you wrote, that you want this to be an awesome show. Okay?"

I knew the minute this little speech was out of my mouth that threatening her was the worst possible route. I watched Darby lope back to her classroom with her limp hair, her head lolling and her shoulders drooping. I had one of those awful moments of knowing I blew it and was not clear on how to help or repair it.

The one clear piece of knowledge I had was I wouldn't be sleeping well that night.

A Moth: Darby, Part II
She Flutters: Darby, Part III

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
If I was a girl in the Elizabethan Period, I would try hard to earn my education and become a famous book writer. I would not like to have layers of clothing on top of me, when at home I would cook delicous meals, (including warm dinner rolls with melted butter inside. And do my very best to keep my family happy.
—Darby, 5th grade

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