Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nothing gold can stay

I watched an incredible golden-violet sunrise through my rear view mirror this morning on the way to work. I can't watch a sunrise or a sunset without thinking of Diane, a lady I tutored one semester in statistics.

Diane was a very sheltered, nervous, skittish slip of a woman. She was probably in her early forties when we met and she had just enrolled in a few classes at UBR. (UBR was slang for "University Behind Raley's" which is what we called the community college in Placerville.) She talked quickly and quietly and asked what I thought a lot but never listened to what I had to say. She had a tender heart, especially toward her mother (who she lived with) and cats (she had many).

I don't think she had ever lived anywhere other than Camino and for her, even that small world was fraught with danger. She drove an enormous tank of a car because she thought it would be safer if she was involved in an accident. She wore her keys on a rubber scrunchie around her wrist because if she set them down they would be stolen and the thief would somehow be able to track her keys to her house and break in while she was away. She refused to talk on the phone during a storm because she was afraid of being electrocuted when lightening struck her home.

Her declared major was art but the counselling office had told her she needed to have math credits to graduate. They had offered either trigonometry or statistics as options to fill the requirement. She opted for statistics because it sounded like fun.

As someone who majored in statistical science, I can assure you that statistics is fun. Fun for people who love numbers and data and graphs and charts. But I have met people who, well, how can I put it... HATE STATISTICS WITH THE WHITE-HOT PASSIONS OF A MILLION SUNS. These people usually major is something non-math related, like art.

Diane quickly realized she was in over her head in Stat 101 and needed a tutor. I'm not exactly sure how she got my number but I started tutoring her twice a week. When it wasn't raining, she would come to my house and we would work at the dining room table.

Let me stop for a moment and tell you about my cabin in Camino. It was a whole lot of awesome awesome. It was built on the side of a hill so the living room was on huge piers. Looking east, you felt like you were at eye-level with the snowy mountain peaks surrounding Lake Tahoe. On a clear day, you really could see forever.

Diane commented on the spectacular view one day as we slogged through normal distributions and standard deviations. "I'll bet it's so beautiful when the sun sets over those mountains at night. I like sunsets. That's okay, isn't it? I mean, I like to watch them by myself at home. I think it's okay even if I'm watching it by myself. That's okay, right?"

I explained that it really was very beautiful in the morning when the sun was coming up, but that if she wanted to see the sunset it would be on the other side of the house. She nodded and turned back to her book.

A few minutes later:

Her: Say, what class did you learn that in? Was it astrology? That sounds like fun. Maybe I'd like to take that class next semester. That's okay, isn't it? Was it astrology or something else? Do you think they'd have it at the college? Was it fun when you took it? Was it hard? It sounds hard. Was it really hard? I probably couldn't do it, huh? You're really smart, that's why you took that class. It was probably really hard.

Me: You want to take astrology? Like horoscopes and stuff? I've never taken it, but they probably wouldn't offer it at the college.

Her: Oh. Well, where did you learn it then? I probably need to go to a university to learn it, huh? I'd never be able to do that. You have to be really smart to go to a university. It's okay that I'm just going to the community college, isn't it?

Me: That's perfectly fine. Learn what, exactly?

Her: About the sun and stuff. You said the sun goes down behind the house, not over the mountains. What class did you learn that in?

Me: Well, uhh... I didn't really take a class for that. It's just that when I wake up in the morning, the sun is coming up over the mountains. And when I go out my back door in the evening, I see the sun setting.

Her: Every day?

Me: Yup. Every day. As a matter of fact, if you start watching where the sun sets at your house, I think you'll find it is about the same place every day.

Her: Really? Okay. I'm going to start keeping track tonight. That's okay, isn't it?

Diane and I had a little bit of a falling out toward the end of the semester. She became more and more anxious (which I didn't think was possible) as her final exam approached. She called me constantly at work and wanted me to walk her through complicated problems over the phone. I encouraged her to use the book to find the answers because I felt like even though it was an open-book final, it probably wasn't an open-tutor final. She became more frustrated and anxious and one day ended up screaming at me that it would be my fault when she failed her final. Then she hung up on me and stopped calling back. Even though there was nothing more I could do for her, I felt bad about how it ended.

I saw Diane a couple of years later at a Dairy Queen. We recognized each other and I was worried that she would start railing on me for causing her to fail the class.

She didn't. She was genuinely happy to see me -- thrilled even. She introduced me to her co-workers and then whispered, "So, I did okay in that class. I got a C-. That's okay, isn't it? I mean, I'm not as smart as you. But I didn't fail it. The teacher let me re-take the final because I was so nervous I couldn't finish the first time. That's okay, isn't it? I mean, I still passed the class and everything. I decided not to take any more math classes. I'm taking a painting class now. That's okay, isn't it?"

I assured her that a C- was great and that I was proud of her for sticking it out. And I truly was.


Shauna said...

But HOW do you explain that sometimes the sun sets in your rear view mirror and sometimes it does not????

You should really take some more astrology classes.

Bertie said...

Oh the stories you have!!

ps- why did you ever move from that apartment?? I loved it! Chet took me there once, just to show me how beautiful your view was!