I can only speculate what my life would have been like without my sister. Although I was lonely and felt decidedly unloved, I doted on my sister. I didn’t feel I could trust my parents, so I wanted to be the kind of person that Louise could rely on. I grew interested in child development. Since Frank didn’t live with us, I was involved in every aspect of Louise’s life. Diapers. Walks. Babysitting. Santa Clause. Trick or Treating. Science project for her school. I would look after her while Mom would go clothes shopping and then we would trade off. I would entertain Louise while Mom cooked and cleaned. I taught Louise how to dance. In some ways I was another mother to Louise because of the age difference of 12 years.
My last semester of high school I lived with my dad in Mahomet. I was a member of The Executive Internship Programme where I received high school credit towards my diploma by volunteering in a local school. Each morning, I would drive to Urbana High School (no point in telling them I had moved since the year was almost over) where I would sit my English and French class. Then I drove across town to Martin Luther King Elementary School. Because I lived in a university town, a number of visiting foreign students and professors would send their children to King School. I got the opportunity to sit in a general classroom of 7-8 year olds, assist teaching French to English-speakers, teach my students about the planets (which included a trip to the local planetarium) and helped a girl from Zaire maintain her French language. Her first language was a tribal language, then she learned French and then she learned English – she was only 7! At the end of the school year she was expecting to travel back to Africa where she would go back into an all-French-speaking school. By the time I finished with her, I was thinking in French myself – no point in translating back and forth! It seemed a waste of time…
At first, inspired by my sister, I had planned to be an elementary school teacher or a child psychologist. Although I loved the classes at the U of I, I changed halfway through my course to study history. I tell friends that it had more to do with the math class (where I was told that 2 times 2 was not 4 but actually 2 groups of 2. Seriously?? I’m paying thousands for a professor to tell me that 2×2 is not 4?) but, as I’m looking back and being brutally honest with myself, it probably had as much to do with all my volunteer work, and time spent with my sister, that I found some of the practical classes rather dull.
I changed my focus, started a major in European History and a minor in French and began volunteering at my old high school where I assisted a US and World Cultures teacher. I wrote tests, copied, collated, cajoled and prodded. At one point I gave a lecture about the Ottoman Empire! I loved the energy of working in a high school! I was teaching intellectual constructs – concepts. I brought my University coursework into my classroom. I told them all about the Tuskegee Institute Study, The White Rose, The Long Walk Home and The Night and the Fog. I felt involved and useful and every moment I was there was worthwhile. I stuck around after classes to answer questions if anyone had questions and I attended school plays.
Even now – all these years later – I miss not being in a classroom. I miss the energy, the constant noise, the endless activity… I felt useful there. I was strong. I had purpose. I still had potential when I was there. Now… by a change of circumstance, I was unable to get into teaching and, because of gynaecological problems, I didn’t have children. I feel that, in the most important ways, my life has been a sham and, thanks to my circumstances and health, I have had to find other ways to give my life meaning – not always with success.