FROM A WRITER’S NOTEBOOK: A thank-you to students from long ago

HARDLY ANYONE WRITES thank-you notes anymore.

But there are two I’ve been meaning to send.

And I’ve learned to identify the feeling inside that knows when it’s not OK to send an email or text.

I know there are people who say it doesn’t matter anymore.

I don’t think that’s true.

What’s true is that it’s easy to stop remembering what matters.

I was 23 when I taught my first beginning adult dance class in a rickety room above Dollar’s Garage on Water Street in Port Townsend.

It was an effort and a half to keep myself from moving too fast, but I always enjoyed the challenge of it.

For recital, I chose music slow enough for students with less experience to gracefully make their way through.

Except, clearly, it was still too fast.

Two of my students, Leslie and Chen, were the best sports and the worst … well, the only good thing you could say about their technique was that they tried.

I choreographed a simple sequence for them, cross walks in a circle, but who was I kidding?

It would be cute for children to do this, but it was 50-50 whether people would love adults for trying or drop their heads in pity.

As recital drew nearer, Leslie and Chen’s smiles tightened to mirror what they were feeling inside.

When I asked if they’d run ticket sales at the door instead of performing, I could tell they were as relieved as I was.

“We’re all best at something,” Leslie said with her arm around Chen’s shoulders.

They’d become friends outside of class, and it was good to feel like the spark for bringing them together.

We all need friends for support.

One evening, I heard Leslie say to Chen (and I’m paraphrasing slightly, for clarity), “You say she’s your friend, but when I hear you talk to her, you don’t even sound like yourself.”

It was such an intimate yet dicey thing to say, I remember turning my back to give them their privacy.

“What do you mean?” Chen said.

“Like when you said you thought Aaron was weird, just because she thinks so, when you don’t even feel that way. You love Aaron.”

Aaron was the only man in our class and clearly proud of being gay.

“I don’t like to make her mad,” Chen said.

“So what if she does get mad, if it’s how you really feel?

“At this age, you decide one of two things: to tell the truth the way you see it or tell hers.”

I didn’t know if Leslie was referring to Chen’s mother, sister, daughter or friend, but I guess I no longer needed to know.

“I’m not like you. I don’t need to be right all the time,” Chen said.

“No, but does that mean you need to be invisible?”

Chen walked away.

A few seconds later, she turned back to say, “You coming?”

But her voice was warm when she said it.

I have a photo of them taken at recital.

Chen’s arms are clasped around Leslie’s back.

She is peeking out from under Leslie’s right shoulder, and they’re both laughing.

The look on their faces told me things about friendship I was just beginning to understand: that there is dependable honesty between friends, if we are lucky.

I suppose there are some conversations you never forget and don’t ever want to.

Leslie and Chen prepared me for a lifetime of risky truth-telling, one of the most difficult demands of all on a friendship.

In that sense, they turned out to be my teachers.

And now what’s lovely is that I get to thank them.

Pen to paper.

Next to nothing on my part, but it matters.

_________

Mary Lou Sanelli, a writer, poet and performer, divides her time between Port Townsend and Seattle.

Her column usually appears in the PDN the first Wednesday of the month.

Email her via www.marylou sanelli.com.

Her next column will be Dec. 7.

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