Because I am made extraordinarily anxious by change, the big decisions I make are rarely educated ones. That may not seem to follow, but in my—surely excitable, likely warped—mind, it does. I make decisions based on little information, “woman’s intuition,” and inexplicable sentiment. Instead of scrupulously investigating my options—which, contra logic, only serves to make me more aware of the many subsequent, smaller decisions I will be forced to make following the big decision, and therefore, more anxious—I leap, eyes mostly closed. I practice avoidance. I procrastinate and ignore.
Take the college application process. Throughout high school, my mind was fixed firmly—but abstractly—on college. I believed my self-worth would be largely determined by the caliber of school I chose to attend, that I would be a failure if I did not gain admission to a prestigious institution of higher learning—and this made me absolutely unable to properly research any of the colleges I planned on applying to. My Senior year of high school, I was all but unable to open those ubiquitous college planning guides; just being in the same room as one made me physically ill. So when it came time to fill out the Common Ap, I looked at the list of schools my then-boyfriend was considering, added a few Ivies, and blindly applied. (This had some hilarious side-effects, like my ignorance of the existence of the University of Chicago until about halfway through my Freshman year.) I chose Yale not because I thought it would be the best fit, but because one of my high school teachers recommended it—and when I say “one of my high school teachers,” I mean a recent Yale graduate who taught at my high school for about two years, with whom I never took a class, and upon whom I nursed the largest of adolescent crushes.
Z once told me an anecdote about a friend of hers from high school—who, incidentally, also went to Yale—who once, when confronted with a grungy taco stand menu, found herself absolutely overwhelmed by the four options before her, and burst into tears. My own decision-making abilities are not quite so cripplingly inadequate, but there’s a reason I remember and identify with that girl’s distress.
All of this is a sort of prelude to a prelude, that prelude being: I knew very little about teaching, TFA, or South Texas when I accepted my assignment here. I may have even thought that South Texas was equivalent to Austin (which would explain why it ranked anywhere near the top of my list of preferred regions). I certainly thought that it would be nothing but ranches and cows and open skies and that I would be living alone in a wood frame house, wearing a prairie dress and shielding my eyes from the sun as I hung my clothes out to line-dry. There would be wind and dry grass. It was all very melancholy, and very picturesque.
I wasn’t totally wrong. There are ranches, and cows—Z and I took pictures of both and put them on facebook—in South Texas; just not where I live. And the backyard of my wood frame house is in fact overrun with dead grass. But for the most part, McAllen is not at all like the Terrence Malick film I had been running in my head (“Days of Heaven,” not “Badlands,” in case you were wondering).
And in some cases, that’s a good thing. Way back in June, I told H my plan: to live alone, with a cat. The conversation took place over the phone, but his tone—and, I assume, his face—were appalled: “You’re going to be an English teacher. Who lives alone. With her cat.” He said it incredulously, as if he could not imagine anyone, even me, being so willfully self-destructive. “Yes,” I said calmly. “Yes.” Shortly thereafter we hung up, and a few minutes later I received a text message from him: a picture of a children’s book entitled “Miranda’s Big Mistake.”
Of course, I didn’t end up making what, I now see, would have been a very big mistake indeed. However I did—and here is the actual story I set out to tell, lo these many words ago—teach my ESL students the word “mistake” last week. (I also taught them the word “failure” and “misfortune”—you’d think I was trying to tell them something but no, all those word were grouped together by the authors of the sample ESL textbook I received late last semester and have only just gotten around to using.) My two favorite student example sentences were, hands down: “The chupa cabra is a good mistake,” and “I made a mistake when my girlfriend gets pregnated.” The latter got credit, as it does in fact contain an infinite number of mistakes.