So, it’s pretty good here. I’m trying not to get attached. Like the yogis say, everything is impermanent.
But at the same time, Deon reminds me that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it while we got it.
At YOTO, they got this idea that all the kids need mentors. Aadhya says that it’s important for young people to have adults in their lives. I guess she’s got a point. We’ve got our teachers, of course, and maybe counselors, if they care and aren’t too busy with all the regular students. But if we were still living with our families, we’d have parents, neighbors, grandparents, aunts, uncles. Except even then, I wouldn’t have my uncle in my life.
I tried to tell Aadhya that I didn’t need another mentor.
“I’ve already got two,” I told her, “Deon and Ted. I don’t need anymore.”
She said that was fine and she was sure they were good mentors for me, but they weren’t part of YOTO.
“You can have lots of mentors,” she said. “Youth should be surrounded by caring adults! But we want you to also have some YOTO mentors. That way, we’ll be sure you’re getting the structured help you need.”
Structured help! That sounds like something I’d want to do without. But it doesn’t really seem like it’s an option.
Aadhya said that they had a volunteer who’d just finished training and was ready to take on his first mentee.
“You’ll like him,” she said. “He’s a gardener.”
Turns out it was Garret, one of the gardeners I knew back in Oasis Springs. He’d been transferred to Magnolia Promenade recently, and Deon was still his supervisor.
We arranged to meet for dinner at the restaurant across from YOTO. The restaurant’s also run by the same ashram, and they serve organic vegan experimental cuisine. “I know you’re only doing this to earn brownie points with Deon,” I told Garret. I remembered how much he didn’t like me back when I was living in Oasis Springs.
While we looked over the menu, he droned on. I tried to focus on ordering so I didn’t have to listen. He was saying stuff about how brave I was. How he admired me for doing well in track and school while having “so many situational challenges.” How he always had it so easy he couldn’t imagine what I must be going through.
I stopped listening altogether.
The food was awesome, though. His meal looked like a Rubik’s cube. I don’t think he liked it. He kept making faces. My meal tasted amazing–sweet and savory and spicy, altogether.
He gave me a lecture about the importance of trying new things, all the while making faces with each bite of his meal.
“What do you think?” He asked me. “Do we make an awesome team, or what?”
I thanked him for the meal, but when I got back, I told Aadhya that I was still available, in case she had any other mentors waiting in line.
We’re allowed to have friends visit, even for sleep-overs, if we want. So I invited Yuki for the weekend.
I told her about dinner with Garret.
“You mean, Garret the gardener?” she asked. “The guy who always shot you dirty looks? The guy who told you that if it weren’t for Deon, he’d call the cops on you?”
“That’s the one,” I said.
“And now he wants to be your mentor?”
“Yup. It’s not happening.”
“I wish I could have a mentor,” said Yuki. “My sister tries her best, but she’s got her hands full with her own life.”
“You could run away,” I said. “Move in here! We’ve got scores of grown-ups lining up to be mentors! I know! Garret could be your mentor! Or better yet, Nancy Landgraab!”
Yuki and I both decided she was better off without structured help.
After a while longer went by, and I still didn’t have an official mentor, Aadhya herself asked me out to dinner.
“We’re meeting Emiliano,” she said. Emiliano’s one of my friends. He’s a cool guy. We met at a used bookstore at San Myshuno, and later, when I found out that he’s part of the ashram that runs YOTO, I thought that was pretty cool. If it weren’t so redundant, I could see him being my mentor. But since he’s sort of a Deon doppelganger with a touch of Ted’s spirituality, it seems pretty pointless.
“You know I’m not shopping for a mentor,” I told Aadhya. She laughed.
“You may not be!” She agreed. “But your mentors are shopping for you!”
I’m not complaining, though. Seriously. The food at the restaurant is so good that I don’t care if a hundred prospective mentors take me out. Long as I get to order something delicious every time!
We started out having a really good time. I told Aadhya about this unit we’d just started in English on epistolary novels. I’m reading The Sorrows of Young Werther, the David Constantine translation.
“That’s really something,” Aadhya said.
“I would read it in German,” I replied, “except I don’t know German. But I’ll have to learn it someday, if only to read this in the original.”
She told me that she read that when she was in college. In English, but still.
“I found such inspiration in the pervading sense of guilt,” she said. “Funny, now that guilt is no longer an active part of my life! But you know, when I was young and in college, I felt responsible for the whole of the world. And poor, suffering, Werther–he felt like a friend of my heart, in those days!”
Emiliano said he didn’t know about guilt or suffering or any of that, but he did know what it was like to find a friend in a book.
“John Muir,” he said. “I read his account of being a shepherd in the Sierra Nevadas. I thought he was writing about my life.”
“I read that book this summer!” I told him. We both shared how amazing it felt to have read a journal by somebody who lived over a hundred years ago, but who had experiences in the wild just like we did.
“Have you thought about majoring in literature when you go to college?” Aadhya asked me.
“I’m not going to college,” I said.
“What do you mean, you’re not going to college?” she said. She got real bossy. “You are going to college. With your mind and your inquisitive nature, it’s a crime against humanity if you don’t get your degree! Why! You’re going to grad school!”
“Uh, no.” I hated to break it to her. “First of all, I can’t afford it. And second of all…”
I didn’t want to tell her second of all. Second of all is that you gotta have an identity to go to college. I mean, you got to have a real name, a social security card, a birth certificate. All that stuff. There’s no McKinney-Vento for college, that I know of.
Nah. That’s not in the books for me.
“You can absolutely afford it!” said Emiliano. “I’ve seen you run! And you’re just a sophomore! By the time you’re a senior, you’ll be super-speedo, chica! You’ll get an athletic scholarship for real!”
“And an academic one,” said Aadhya. “Not to mention, YOTO offers a scholarship or two. And if there are still expenses, you can get a Pell grant. And even a student loan, if you need to, though I recommend saving the loan to help with grad school. Intelligent person like you. You’re going to be in school for a long time!”
It still can’t be. They think I’m Jazz Deon. But when they find out that’s not my real name, all the college dreams will dissipate. I know this now. Still, I didn’t want to ruin their evening. It was so fun to see them getting excited about my academic career. And I sort of got swept up in it, too. I let myself imagine myself there. I let myself dream.