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FIC: From You Have I Been Absent (Returning Spring 1/10)

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  • Mo
    From You Have I Been Absent (Returning Spring 1/10) She wasn’t Jean. I was sure of that. Well, most of the time I felt sure. Sometimes I wondered a bit, I
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2005
      From You Have I Been Absent (Returning Spring 1/10)

      She wasn�t Jean. I was sure of that. Well, most of
      the time I felt sure. Sometimes I wondered a bit, I
      have to admit. There were moments when I doubted my
      own perceptions, and there were more of them as time
      went on. Everyone but Charles seemed perfectly
      willing to believe she was who she seemed to be.
      Still, nobody knew Jean as well as Charles and I did,
      and we both felt sure this wasn�t her. That had to
      mean something. Most of the time I thought it meant a

      Other times I�d worry about that. I�d wonder what it
      meant that it was just Charles and me. The whole
      school believed her story. They were all thrilled
      that she hadn�t died after all. Even �Ro believed
      what Not Jean said, and I wouldn�t have thought anyone
      could fool her.

      Ororo had been Jean�s best friend, aside from me. The
      first two women in the X-Men, they�d been close since
      their teen years. Jean and �Ro had drifted apart a
      bit during college, but pretty much picked up where
      they left off when Jean and I returned to Westchester.
      As Storm, �Ro was a key member of the team, as our
      history teacher a valued colleague in the school. I
      relied on her as my second-in-command on missions.
      She has saved my life more times than I can count.
      I�m full of admiration for her and consider her a
      close friend. But what she�d had with Jean had been
      much more � a kind of intimacy and closeness that I�ve
      never achieved with �Ro and a mutual understanding
      that rivaled what I had with Jean. And �Ro had no
      doubt � from that first day she walked in � that Jean
      had come back to us.

      �Ro wasn�t angry with me for denying Jean. She said
      she understood my doubts, that she thought my judgment
      was impaired by the shock. She told me that she
      thought I was just now managing to envision a life
      without Jean, after over a year of working to accept
      her death. Storm said, in that calm, reasonable way
      she has, that she thought it shook my world up too
      much to have all that change. �Ro said she thought I
      was too scared to believe in Jean, too frightened to
      trust in her and then maybe find out I was wrong. If
      that happened I�d be back where I started, trying to
      begin my grief work all over again.

      Storm told me she believed with time I�d get over my
      fear and resistance and come to accept Jean for who
      she is. She told Jean � no, the woman who said she
      was Jean - that, too, and asked her to be patient with
      me. �Ro was wrong - I�m sure of it - but I was
      thankful for the approach she took. It made a
      volatile situation a little calmer, and it bought me
      time. The intruder being willing to wait a while for
      me to come around gave Charles and me breathing room.
      We had time to figure out what to do about this
      interloper who looked like Jean, sounded like Jean,
      and somehow had managed to learn so much of what Jean
      had known.

      I thought a lot about what �Ro had said. Was I scared
      to believe in her? Scared that I would be in for a
      disappointment if she turned out to be an imposter? I
      guess that�s possible. More troublesome to me was the
      nagging feeling that I didn�t want this woman to be
      Jean, that I didn�t want Jean back. If Jean were
      really to come back, how would that affect Logan? How
      would that affect Logan and me?

      What were we anyway? Friends? Fuck buddies? Or
      something more? Logan was pretty clear that he was
      never going to be interested in anything more and that
      kept me from thinking about him as more than a friend.
      Most of the time, anyway.

      We had sex frequently; we spent a lot of time
      together. It was easy being with him, companionable.
      But not love. He wasn�t the type to fall in love.

      Well, with me. Maybe with any man. For all he�d
      denied it, I felt pretty sure he�d been in love with
      Jean. I�d seen how he looked at her when he first
      came here, and how he�d looked at me when he realized
      she was mine. And I�d seen how shattered he was when
      she died. For a man who claimed never to have been in
      love, he�d done an awfully good imitation of
      heartbreak. Good enough that I�d seen it through the
      fog of my own grief and despair.

      If this woman who came back were truly Jean, where
      would that leave me? Would that be the end of his
      interest in me, such as it was? Well, where did it
      leave me even if she weren�t Jean? If Logan believed
      she was Jean, did the truth matter?

      I�d seen them together a few times, speaking earnestly
      in the teacher�s lounge or walking together on the
      grounds. Once I�d gone to Logan�s room at night and
      heard her voice as I was about to knock. It reminded
      me of the time I had walked in on them together when
      he�d first come here, when Jean was showing Logan
      where he�d be staying. That time I�d gone in and
      confronted him. This time I walked away.

      Still, she wasn�t Jean and I at least knew it, even if
      she could fool him. I�d had an ongoing telepathic
      link with Jean for years. I felt the moment she died
      in a profound and intense way, felt suddenly alone in
      my brain. It was a loneliness so sudden, so
      compelling, so all-consuming that I can�t even begin
      to describe it.

      The imposter wanted to establish the link I�d had with
      Jean. Reestablish, she said, but I knew better. I
      told her no, but she kept trying. Mostly I kept my
      mental shields up. Sometimes I let her in my brain
      briefly, just to verify again that she looked and
      sounded like Jean, but her telepathic presence was

      It had been a shock when she walked into my Nineteenth
      Century American Literature class unannounced. A
      shock for me and the kids. And truly, that just goes
      to show she couldn�t really be Jean. Jean would have
      waited until I was alone to see me, not just barged in
      like that. She�d know that appearing without warning
      in front of a bunch of kids who thought she was dead
      would scare them half to death themselves. The Jean
      Grey I knew always put the students� welfare first.

      I didn�t even know she was there. As it happened, my
      back was turned when she walked in. We were doing
      Huck Finn, and the kids and I were all pretty absorbed
      in the discussion. I�d turned to write something on
      the board to illustrate my point, and missed her

      It�s a tricky book to teach. Worth it, but
      problematic in some ways. I don�t believe in
      censorship, and I think it�s an important text for all
      sorts of reasons. Still, there�s no doubt it�s hard
      for all the kids, and especially the African American
      ones, to read a book that has the single most
      offensive name for black people in our language on
      what feels like half the pages. It�s not easy to read
      that, and it affects all of us in many ways. In some
      ways, it constrains how we talk in class, what
      excerpts we read. Every teacher has to grapple with
      the whole question of just how to handle the language
      and many do opt out. Many schools have chosen to drop
      Huck Finn from their required reading lists, feeling
      that the kids can read it on their own, or in college.

      I see that point of view but I can�t agree with it.
      It�s something we�ve discussed at length in our
      curriculum planning meetings. We all agree our kids
      would miss so much if they didn�t read Huck Finn as a
      class, and read it at this point in their lives.

      It�s an amazing novel. I read it yearly for class,
      but I think I�d read it often even if I weren�t
      teaching it. I get something new out of it every
      time. Over the years, I�ve gained a deeper
      understanding of the human capacity for love from
      Huck�s relationship with Jim. I�ve learned something
      about natural nobility and dignity from Jim�s
      character and something about how a truly good person
      is affected by an evil society from Huck�s. I�ve honed
      my sense of justice and fairness and even simple
      kindness by learning from them both.

      I want the kids to get all that, and more, for it to
      be a book that they read again and again and gain
      deeper understandings each time, too. I want them to
      understand the society Twain wrote in. I want their
      history lessons to come alive because of what they
      learn from reading this book. My literature class and
      �Ro�s Nineteenth Century American History course are
      taught back to back, with the same students in both.
      �Ro and I always coordinate our assignments. Reading
      Huck Finn enhances and consolidates what she�s
      teaching them while her history lessons help give them
      a better understanding of the book.

      It�s worthwhile for the history, for its importance in
      American literary history. I want the kids to
      understand its place in American literature and how
      influential Twain was on authors who are writing to
      this day. But first and foremost, I want them to read
      this book and read it right now because it�s a coming
      of age story. It�s a tale of what it means to be on
      the cusp of adulthood but not yet an adult. It�s the
      story of what happens when circumstances lead you to
      make big decisions for yourself while you�re still in
      large part a child. They need that now. No matter
      how many times they read it, there�s no substitute for
      reading Huck Finn at fourteen.

      So, we read it, but we don�t gloss over what makes it
      hard to read. We handle the race issue right at the
      outset. I talk about the language and the milieu that
      Twain was writing in. I talk about the distinction
      between what the characters say and do and what the
      author believes. I talk about how a word that is
      shocking now was commonplace in Twain�s time.

      I don�t downplay the impact. I tell the kids,
      truthfully, that I find it jarring every time I come
      across that word. I take a passage that uses it a few
      times and read it aloud to them, substituting �mutie.�
      The kids all flinch, and we talk about what that
      feels like. And we read essays for and against using
      Huck Finn in high school classes and talk at length
      about why we choose to read it here at Xavier�s. By
      covering all that at the beginning, I find that it�s
      not a nagging question throughout the unit, and we can
      talk about the book itself and the author�s intent
      without any lingering feeling that something important
      is being ignored.

      On this particular day, we were talking about the
      scene where Huck decides not to turn Jim in, even
      though he believes saving him is evil. We reread the
      scene where he writes the note revealing Jim�s
      whereabouts and then tears it up, and talked about the
      feelings he experiences doing that. The kids were
      grappling with that ambiguity, as kids - and adults -
      have for well over a hundred years. Jubilee was
      disturbed by how at peace Huck is when he writes the
      note dooming Jim, how sure he is that he�s doing the
      right thing. �I mean, I know he doesn�t realize
      slavery is wrong,� she said. �He�s been taught that
      slaves are property.�

      �And he�s been taught that property rights are of
      paramount importance. That�s how things are in his
      world,� I added, agreeing. �Remember, his father �
      the symbol of all that is wrong � steals things and
      tells Huck that�s okay, but Huck knows otherwise.�

      �But Mr. Summers! Jim�s not a thing,� she countered.
      �He�s a person. Huck knows that. He truly does care
      about him, doesn�t he? So why does he feel good and
      think he�s doing the right thing when he�s going to
      turn him in? I mean, I know he�s conflicted, but he
      does say something about feeling good.� She found the
      passage in her book, saying, �Here it is: �I felt good
      and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had
      ever felt so in my life.� How can he feel like that
      knowing what he�s doing?�

      A couple of other students jumped in. Jamie pointed
      out that even though Huck feels good for a minute
      thinking he�s doing the right thing, he tears up the
      note. �So it�s not like he�s sure of it. It�s not
      like the good feeling lasts.�

      �Well, there�s certainly internal conflict there,� I

      �Do you mean he�s not sure he knows what�s right?�
      Jubilee asked.

      �Could be. Or maybe he is sure, but he�s sure of two
      things at once, two contradictory things. His
      knowledge of right and wrong comes from what he�s been
      told and he believes it�s wrong to assist a runaway
      slave, that it�s stealing property. On the other
      hand, his inner sense of what�s right and wrong is
      different. Huck and Jim have a true bond that tells
      him that Jim isn�t property but a human being like

      �So, there�s a conflict between what he believes and
      what he feels, between what society wants him to do
      and what he wants to do as an individual. Twain said
      later that Huck was struggling with the conflict
      between a �sound heart� and a �deformed conscience.�
      Freud would have called it a conflict between the ego
      and the superego. The only way Huck can live with
      himself is to help Jim, but the only way he can
      understand what he�s doing is to see himself as doing
      something wrong.�

      I turned to the board to write what Huck says next,
      when he tears up the note. I heard the classroom door
      open and close as I was writing �All right, then, I�ll
      go to hell,� but I thought one of the kids had just
      gone to the bathroom. So, I was perplexed to hear
      gasps. When I turned around they were all looking at
      me with expressions of shock and fear.

      No one was missing from the class, but there was one
      more person there, sitting in back. �Hi, Scott,� she
      said. �Did you miss me?�

      She wasn�t Jean. I don�t care what anybody says, not
      even �Ro. If Jean came back, she�d never have done it
      like that.

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