Friday, May 31, 2013

my students

Here are Sabrine (left) and Christine (right), my two Science Chicks, sitting on a bench outside of Bonefish Grill in Centreville, Virginia, while we waited for Christine's mother to come pick her daughter up:

Sabrine's off to MIT, and Christine, if she tries very, very hard, might be off to TJHSST, our local "magnet" school, and one of the top science/tech high schools in the country.

Dinner at Bonefish Grill was quite good, despite the lack of decent air conditioning. All three of us ate fish: baked salmon for me, grilled trout for Sabrine, and grilled tilapia for Christine. We talked a bit about what sort of interaction there had been between Christine and Sabrine in my absence; I was surprised to find out that tonight was the first night that Christine and Sabrine had met face-to-face. I had originally paired these two young ladies together in the hopes of kick-starting Christine's drive to study science—a requisite for studying at TJ.

During dinner, Sabrine played the Big Sis and peppered Christine with some science-related questions, asking about Christine's areas of interest (genetics and computer programming) and talking about her own areas of interest (biology, prosthetics, etc.). We also talked about what lay ahead for Sabrine as she contemplated MIT. Sabrine told me about MIT's Byzantine dorm-assignment system, which involves a series of lotteries. She also had more immediate concerns: her opera recital on Saturday, and her upcoming speech to her graduating class as its valedictorian (literally "goodbye-sayer" in Latin; vale = goodbye, and dicere = to say/tell). I have no worries for Sabrine's future; she's got a strong personality and is blessed with drive and direction. Good for her. I joked that I expected to be reading some of her published work in the years ahead.

Dessert was a massive brownie shared by the girls, while I went for my usual crème brûlée. Sabrine couldn't understand how anyone could possibly like crème brûlée; I explained my love of the textural contrast. We talked a bit about French food; Sabrine, who had been to France, wasn't all that impressed with French haute cuisine; a lot of it came off as flavorless and pretentious to her, although she enjoyed French onion soup. I'm not a fan of French onion soup, but I agreed with Sabrine in principle; my own experience with good, rib-sticking French cooking had come courtesy of my time with my buddy Dominique's family in Carquefou. Maman and Papa were proud of their jardin potager, from which came most, or all, of the vegetables that ended up on our dinner table. Their cuisine wasn't anything like hoity-toity haute cuisine; it was simple, unadorned, unpretentious, and delicious.

Eventually, conversation slowed to a halt, at which point the girls whipped out their cell phones. We adjourned to wait outside for Christine's mom; while we waited, I took the above picture, which was a second attempt: the first pic mortified Sabrine, who complained that her bangs were all over the place, thus necessitating a re-take. Christine's mom showed up; Christine's little sister hid in the back of Mom's car; I waved at her and she waved back, an amiable shadow. Christine gave me a $15 Starbucks gift card; she and I had actually met earlier at the Starbucks about an hour before our appointed 6:30PM rendezvous: Christine's sister had been engaged in a piano lesson, so Christine and her mom had nothing to do but retreat to Starbucks to get out of the 90-plus-degree heat.

Parting was sweet sorrow: I knew that the three of us would never have the opportunity to meet like this again. Sabrine will be off to MIT before we know it; Christine will spend her summer doing whatever it is that little Christines do; and if I get my dream job at a Korean university, I'll be gone from my current job by the end of the summer.

But that's life, right? Every present moment is a window into the future, a future with many branching possibilities. It felt good to see both Sabrine and Christine today—Sabrine on the cusp of moving to the much larger world of MIT and a Bostonian life, Christine perhaps on the verge of entering a prestigious magnet school. I'm older, forty-three years old, so my own horizon has narrowed and my own set of possibilities is no longer quite so limitless, but even I stare hopefully into my own future.