After I really started getting into subbing, a lot of the huge initial discomfort of being in my old community slooowwly began to shed. A primary discomfort contributor was that I felt like such an outsider in a super close-knit group: they worked together, lived together, some went to school with each other and were married to each other, churched together, exercised together, volunteered together, coached together; their kids went to school together, played together — when I tried to apply for a fixed position at the school, the HR director (who is the mom of a classmate of mine from that school) told me my chances of being hired were really low because the job I wanted would most likely go to a spouse of someone already hired at the school.
While I was feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t quite feel included, there was someone else who was also feeling a bit like she didn’t fully belong. Staff turnover at the school is really low, so when Stephanie joined the faculty, she felt rather isolated and constantly playing catch-up. Part of it was that she was in her first year ever of teaching, and working really hard not to let it show. Also, she was really young (ten years younger than me), probably the youngest faculty member and just overall really feeling like a newbie.
I subbed for Stephanie a few times before we had an actual in-person voice conversation. Our communications were via emailed lesson plans and handwritten notes describing unfortunate incidents. After a few short greetings, she said, “We should hang out sometime” — and while it was a bit difficult during the school year, summer vacation rolled around and we started to spend more time together.
We decided to watch a movie and Stephanie suggested Queen, which I mistook for either the biopic of British Queen Victoria or maybe The Crown. In any case, I thought it was about the British monarchy and it turned out to be a coming-of-age story about a Punjabi girl. Twenty minutes into the movie, I was sneakily looking up the plot summary on Wikipedia and trivia on IMDB. As a mutual friend later said to me, when Stephanie and I were telling her this story: “Just… let it happen!”
I should’ve warned Stephanie I’m the worst person with whom to watch a movie. Pretty sure I did. I basically don’t watch movies anymore unless I’m on a 12-hour flight, in which I binge-watch the popular movies released over the past year.
Stephanie was a really good sport. I found out that the movie was loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, so I told her. So much for sneakily looking up the movie. Then the following conversation, not even halfway through the movie:
Me: “Did you know that Lewis Carroll was a pedophile?”
Stephanie: “What?! NO!!! whuuuut????”
Me: “Oh. Sorry… [pause]… But now that you know, can I tell you the rest?”
Stephanie: “[chuckle] YES. hehehe”
It’s so appropriate that we were watching a film based on Alice in Wonderland because of the parallels. My friendship with Stephanie largely consists of me ruining perfectly good things for her and my responses alternating between apology and “Oh Stephanie, you’re so innocent.”
We didn’t finish the movie. I think we ended up talking about honey, and how Taiwanese honey often has added sugar because the farmers think they’re pleasing the consumers who expect honey to be really sweet. “Noooooo!!!!”, she wailed.
Some days later, we were in 7-11 eating lunch, and she grimaced as she bit into a piece of guava from the healthful fruit cup that came from the healthy section. I noticed but didn’t say anything. Stephanie eventually said, “I suddenly remembered what you said about the preservative spray that’s on these things.” And she stared wistfully at the still-full fruit cup for a few seconds before closing the lid, intending to throw the whole thing away.
“Sorry,” I said.