Friday I learned that the father-in-law of a longtime friend died. I wouldn’t usually bring this up on my blog, but his father-in-law also happened to be the band director at my second high school.
When I was transferred to that school my sophomore year–my parents’ choice–I was a vessel of misery and frustration. There’s a psychology that goes along with being an Army brat. You learn to adapt, to adjust. You make friends, but you don’t get too close. You know you’ll be leaving, and you’ll have to do the “figure out which students you can relate to, which teachers you can rely on, and where the lunchroom is” all over again. There are a lot of great things about moving around, but it does limit your chances of sustaining long-term friendships. No matter how close you get, or how you promise to keep in touch, a kid needs a peer group and a feeling of belonging, so you learn to move forward and embrace new friends and experiences.
When I began my seventh grade year, I was promised a new plan. After my father’s next deployment overseas, he would retire from the Army. We weren’t going to move again. So GO FOR IT. Make those friends. Put down roots. Start planning for the long term instead of nine- to twelve-month increments. So I did. The friends I made in sixth grade were still there. And I made new friends in seventh grade and eighth grade and ninth grade who were still my friends in tenth grade. This was AMAZING.
Unfortunately, my parents weren’t all that thrilled about some of those friends. So when my father transitioned from being a teacher to the assistant principal at his high school, my parents decided to buy a house in that area and enroll me there. That was the second six weeks of my sophomore year. I kicked it off with a kidney infection that kept me out of school for a few days, then I endured one miserable week after another, month after month, separated from my REAL friends (and boyfriend), in a place where I so did not fit in. I had some truly dreadful teachers–and some good ones. I loved my algebra class–SO WEIRD OF ME!–and my art class and the history class I took with juniors. I did not enjoy the Mean Girls–New Girls know what I mean–or having to carry and sit on a donut after I cracked my tailbone. I do remember the girls who were kind to me, but mostly I remember how alone and out of step I felt.
I wonder what would have happened to me had the band director not intervened during the summer before my junior year. I don’t know if it was his idea or my father’s, but he carved out a place for me in the Color Guard. I’m not sure what his intentions were, exactly, and I think some of them were derailed by a few of the Mean Girls and my own lack of assertiveness. But one thing is true of band: It’s a melting pot. Girls and boys in every shape and color, of varied interests and talents, both popular and geeky, can thrive in band. For some kids, it’s a lifeline. A place to belong. Because of Bill V and his amazing work with the band, because he gave me a chance and a place to feel safe and comfortable as well as a reason to get involved, because my participation in the band was something that could also involve my mother (she made my uniforms, chaperoned on bus trips, for example), I was able to let go of my anger toward her (for making me transfer), and school became a place where I began to thrive. Being happier opened me up to new friends, to new teachers–some of them not only impacted my life then, but continue to do so decades later. Within Mr V’s band, I learned things about cooperation, leadership, and teamwork that have frequently benefitted me in my professional choices.
Teachers–and I’ve been one–often don’t realize all the ways they positively impact kids. I know there are many former students who remained close to Mr V, and I’m sure they, like me, hope his family knows how many young lives he shaped and made better. He will be missed. Thank you, “Uncle Bill.”
A moment of rest between photos.