Friday, April 26, 2013

Like a Handprint On My Heart

Some of you recall a post I made about "Sebastian" almost two years ago. This post is about him and not skating. So, if you just wanted to read about skating, you may want to skip this one. Every week, I anxiously awaited my Saturday afternoon class because I knew I would see Sebastian and learn so much in those 2 1/2 hours. Not only would I learn new signs, classifiers or idioms, but about life and experiences and culture. Heck, I would learn about everything. I would leave class, reluctantly, wanting to still drink from the endless fountain of his knowledge, allowing the experiences to wash over me like the water from a lake on a warm summer's day. I loved going to his class because Sebastian is such a wonderful man. So, you can imagine my shock and sadness when I learned, via Youtube, that Sebastian was moving away. He wasn't just leaving the school, or New York; he was leaving me. I cried uncontrollably for several days. I wasn't losing a teacher; there are plenty of great teachers out there, Sebastian being one of the best. No, I was losing a friend. When I first met Sebastian, he was my ASL Level 5 instructor and I didn't like him one bit. He made me... no, he demanded that I work harder. He expected the students in the class to be at a certain level and I'm ashamed to say, we weren't. No one in my class ever practiced. I think I came the closest, only because I was also taking classes at another school. Still, it wasn't good enough. I could see the frustration in his eyes when a woman in my class didn't remember the sign for "family" (FYI, you learn that sign in Level 1). He signed faster than anyone could understand, his fingerspelling was like sonic jet taking off and he's left handed. So I went home and studied. I watched Youtube videos of native signers. I watched his Youtube videos and read his blog so I might understand him a bit more. I practiced while driving to work and at work, talking to myself and making a list of vocabulary words. Every free minute not spent driving, working or skating was spent studying and practicing. The second week, he made me laugh and I was hooked. Sebastian would take the summer off to backpack, explore and do all the things this city girl couldn't understand doing. I would read his blog about his adventures and be magically transported to wherever he was, sitting next to him, experiencing the same things. I waited in anticipation the next entry and vowed to read only one per day to allow the experience to last. When the last entry was written, I started all over again to re-live the adventure. An adventure that sounded almost foreign to this native New Yorker. Sleep outside? In a sleeping bag? In a tent? Without indoor plumbing? I couldn't do it; I went camping twice and the campsite was over-run by caterpillars. I was 15; I never went camping again. But to Sebastian, it was second nature. Upon his return, he remembered me (I like to say that I am hard to forget, but that isn't true). Again he was my instructor and again I anticipated our weekly chats. I didn't care that there were others in the class whose signing I didn't understand at all, or who seemed to be totally lost in the class. As far as I was concerned, the only important person in class was Sebastian. And me. We would sometimes hang out after class. I don't know if it was because I was so serious about ASL, or because I was sort-of interesting, but I like to think it was around that time that we became friends. I invited him for Thanksgiving, if his original plans fell though. I must mention I never invite anyone over to my house. I have friends whom I've known for ten years who have never been invited over. Sebastian was and is always invited to come over to my home. At any time, day or night. We would talk about so many things; things I didn't mention to most people because I didn't think they would be interested. But mostly, I wanted Sebastian to take lead of the conversation. He could read the dictionary to me and I would be captivated. He is such a wonderfully fascinating man, and not bad on the eyes either. The Youtube video took me by surprise. I was still sick with the tail end of the flu when I couldn't sleep and watched the video. I felt like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I knew I had a heart, because it was breaking. I was being set adrift without a paddle to return me to shore. Was he ill? Was his family all right? Why would anyone move out of New York? Only a New Yorker would ask that question. 49 other states and a New Yorker believes New York is the center of everything. As Rose Hovick says in Gypsy, "New York is the center of New York." I can almost understand moving out of my hometown, but Sebastian was moving all the way to the west coast. If you know any native New Yorkers, the west coast is another country to us. And he was leaving soon. The rug was pulled from under me. The sweet nectar of friendship and knowledge snatched from my lips before I had the opportunity to enjoy the taste. I couldn't think or even breathe. All I did was mourn the loss of a friend. No, Sebastian isn't dying; thank God. He's just moving on with his life in another state. A state so far away that there's a different time zone. A state so far that returning to New York is a major event. By leaving New York behind, he was leaving me behind too. There have been parties celebrating the man who brought so much to so many, both in the Deaf community and the hearing community. I attended these parties and tried so desperately not to cry. I did not succeed. My days with my favorite teacher and friend have come to a close. "I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend." And while I am not Red and Sebastian is not Andy from The Shawshank Redemption, the sentiment remains the same. I guess I just miss my friend. Knowing Sebastian has made me want more. I want to try more, be a better signer, a better skater, a healthier person, a better person. I want to just be better. All of that comes from knowing one man who touched my heart. He will always be with me "like a handprint on my heart". I will leave you with these words from the song "For Good" from the musical Wicked, written by Stephen Schwartz: I've heard it said That people come into our lives for a reason Bringing something we must learn And we are led To those who help us most to grow If we let them And we help them in return Well, I don't know if I believe that's true But I know I'm who I am today Because I knew you... Like a comet pulled from orbit As it passes a sun Like a stream that meets a boulder Halfway through the wood Who can say if I've been changed for the better? I do believe I have been Changed for the better Because I knew you... I have been changed for good... Thank you, my friend.