When I walk into the classroom I sit in the third desk back on the right hand side of the room. There is a heat register right next to me, though it blows outwards and upwards, so it almost always seems to miss me. I’m always early. I never remember the people that get to class a couple minutes early but I always remember those who come a couple minutes late. Being early to something is the easiest way to show someone that you care. I often treat it as an act of disrespect when someone is late because it shows that they either don’t respect the time of others or they think that they are more important than everyone else. My grandparents used to insist that I take off my coat when I entered their house.
“Take off your coat and stay awhile,” my grandparents used to say to me. When I was younger I always tried to listen to them. I always tried to make them happy because it seemed like they built the world exclusively for my enjoyment. That is what life is like for almost any grandson. You’re special because you’re a boy and you’re special because you listen. Later on in his life, as his Dementia worsened I realized that people stopped listening to my grandpa because it was oftentimes difficult to understand what he was saying. I paid closer attention because of the Dementia, I felt like if I listened a little closer I might just be able to make some sense out of it. I feel like Alzheimer’s, Dementia and other mental illnesses are the worst killers of men because they sap our ability to think and express ourselves in a meaningful way. Looking back on the many years that Grandpa lived with Dementia it felt like he had died many times over before his actual death ever took place. Pieces of him were dieing all the time and when I’d come to see him I always did so with ounces of dread in my heart because I didn’t want him to lose anymore. He had lost so much in life, it just seemed cruel to continue to sap his resources through mental amputation.
After I sit down in my seat, the third desk from the front in the row furthest to the right up against the wall, I watch my teacher as he prepares for class. The man teaches the same basic course in mathematics over and over again for a full eight hours nearly every day of the week. He doesn’t stare at the clock like you might think someone in his position would do, rather he looks at his students and asks them about their day. On our first day of class I could feel his gentle demeanor as he went through the roster. He muttered things to himself and seemed to be having his own side conversation in his head that only he was privy to. I thought it odd the first time I saw it, but then I realized that I do the exact same thing only I don’t actually say the words out loud I almost lip sync what I’m thinking to myself so that I can operate effectively. I think everyone does this in one way or another. You need to have a way of making sense of all the things that are happening in your life, so you think through things in a logical way in your head and then because it’s what you’ve been doing your whole life, your mouth wants to put what you’ve been thinking about into words. Few people do mutter to themselves however, so it was strange to see him do it and he did it after every name he called.
When he was done with the roster he dove right into the material and casually explained in very simple terms the rules that applied to various mathematical issues. It felt like I had experienced this before when he did this. He explained the material in detail again before complimenting us on how well we understood it. Then after completing one of the problems that he was using as an example he made a joke. It was an odd joke, not the type you’d hear normally, but it wasn’t until he repeated this a few times that I began to catch on to why this was striking a nerve with me. He was telling Grandpa jokes. He was using Grandpa language, in fact his entire vernacular seemed virtually identical to that of my grandfather. The other odd component of all this is that his name is Richard. My grandpa’s name was Richard, only his friends called him: Dick.
After a couple of classes I had an idea. Grandpa had been one of the great teachers in my life, the fact that this guy is like my grandpa can work to my advantage. The way I began making it through class was by creating an imaginative environment for myself. I look at my teacher. Now, my teacher can walk, while Grandpa couldn’t walk as he had suffered from Polio since the age of 21. But my teacher did move around slowly, almost as if he was afraid of falling, so I decided to imagine him with grandpa’s cane. His cane was one of the most distinctive things about him, in a way it came to define Grandpa himself. I began thinking of my math teacher as Grandpa. I call him Dick II, as if he were a direct descendant. I imagine my math teacher hobbling around the room with a cane in hand and it all kind of comes together. Throw in the jokes and some stories about the war and life in the service and it’s exactly the same as how Grandpa would teach class. It would be naïve to believe that Grandpa was actually in the room with me, teaching me the math skills I’ll need to go on in life, but as my imagination unwinds and class goes on I can feel myself learning the material not for my sake, but because of Grandpa.