Have you ever met someone who seemed to be in your life for a reason? Perhaps to show you something, or teach you? And there came a moment where you realised that your life, or beliefs, or thoughts, were altered or improved because of their influence? I’ve come across a couple of these people, and I’ve dubbed them ‘angels’. Not because of any religious belief, and not because they seemed perfect (because they didn’t). Just because it somehow seemed that I met them for a reason.
Last spring, I was desperately looking for a summer job. My work as a supply teacher was soon to end for the school holidays, and I didn’t have enough savings to pay my rent and expenses during that time.
I despaired. I searched and searched, and wondered a) what I could bear to do, and b) what jobs my teaching qualification, yet lack of other experience, might actually be suited to…apart from teaching. I even signed up for survey sites! (I created a new email address for the purpose. No doubt it’s imploded by now…)
Just before the one-week school break in May I’d seen an ad for staff recruitment at a museum. Just general visitor guides, it seemed. Great! I could do that.
I applied. Heard nothing.
Until June, when I received a phone call inviting me to a group interview day. I’d completely forgotten about my application, and assumed it was for another position I’d recently applied for. So I was confused, at first, to see the email containing all the details for the interview, including the museum’s address!
It went well, and I became a member of the museum’s new summer team, hired to increase staff numbers during a very busy time of year. Our original contract was six weeks, but most of us were offered the chance to stay on as casuals, which I chose to do.
Here are some important details about my state of mind, and character, at that point. Firstly, I was feeling pretty depressed by my lack of money, but relieved to have found a job I thought I could survive turning up at for six weeks. But I was also in a fairly low place emotionally, because of the stressful and often unpleasant nature of supply teaching. Too many angry teenagers who clearly had a host of problems that schooling could not fix, and too many schools not addressing the culture of disrespecting supply teachers. And I was gradually coming to the conscious realisation that the classroom really was not the place for me. My life felt aimless and somewhat hopeless.
I’m also not a very sociable person. ‘I hate people’ is a phrase I often say, because people tend to bother me. (‘And you took a job where you’d come into contact with the public?’, I hear you say. Yeah, well…) I have a tiny number of real friends. Unfortunately, there aren’t a great number of people I really, truly care about – and not too many who really, truly care about me in return. I’m not good at small-talk, and I’m not good at making new friends. It was about six months after I moved here that I met someone who became a friend rather than stayed an acquaintance.
I’m okay with all of that, for the most part. And so when I looked ahead to my summer, I just hoped to get along with my colleagues well enough, and that it would be a pleasant working environment. I had no real hopes of making friends (especially since I originally thought I’d be leaving in six weeks).
I wasn’t prepared for the shock the place would give me.
Over time, I found myself really growing to like my fellow newbies. Despite our different circumstances and ages, we got on well and I generally enjoyed chatting with them. I felt an air of mutual respect and acceptance, but most of all, niceness. How rare a quality that seems to be. How many people do you know, dear reader, who could truly be described as nice?
And my discoveries continued. After the calibre of men I found in every secondary school – authoritarian and often appearing quite unsympathetic – I was floored to discover the gentle friendliness of the men at the museum. Most of the men in my team were in their 20s, but all were nice. The men in the security team, too. Always ready for a friendly chat or word of advice (free of bursts of misogyny or innuendo, I might add), and always prepared to hold open one of the many doors in the staff hallways. I actually discussed this with an older woman on my team, who had worked there for some time. Her theory was that it’s the sort of place that attracts – and keeps – ‘nice boys’, and that those with a different temperament just wouldn’t last. (I’m choosing to leave out the fact that there is one man I actively try to avoid because he’s a smooth-talking flirt who makes me feel awkward, but he’s the only one, and further mention of him will grossly sully otherwise lovely thoughts.)
Not to say that the women weren’t friendly too. It just happened that working in secondary schools was apparently not the place to find many lovely, gentle, men (at least not their at-school personas), and so I noticed the difference.
And in particular, James.
We had three days of training with our managers, then a day partnered with an experienced member of our team. On the fifth day, we were on our own. I can’t remember when exactly was the first time I met him (so many new faces and names to struggle to remember!), but I know I thought he had a friendly face right from the beginning. Moderately attractive in that general well-put-together sort of way, but I remember mostly thinking that he seemed nice.
He was one of the first people to remember my name. I think he probably learnt all the newbies’ names quickly. He has a quiet and gentle manner, mostly, and although young, he looks trustworthy and experienced. He can be playful, and at times gently teasing, but would answer any of my inexperienced questions with patience and understanding.
I don’t know if it’s just coincidence, or if any of my colleagues find the same, but I tend to see a lot of the same staff regularly, and some only rarely. And unfortunately, James is one of the lovely people in the latter category.
So I began to arrive at work hopeful of seeing him each day, wondering if I’d be lucky enough to cross paths with him. And in my bland and emotionally empty state of melancholia, James became a beam of sunlight in my days. I know that’s a terrible cliché, but even months later, I still can’t think of a better metaphor. He’s nice. It’s easy to think the word implies someone simple and boring, but in its truest definition, it’s a great compliment. He is nice. He’s good. He’s a gentleman. He displays no arrogance or entitlement, nor any domineering behaviours. Yet he is by no means weak. He has firm ideas and is well-read – actually, he’s one of those people you can debate with quite enjoyably. I wish I could show him off to some of the teenage boys I’ve taught as a top-notch example of adult masculinity.
It’s the gentle warmth that emanates from his face when he smiles and says hello. The effortlessly helpful way he offers to help parents lift their baby push-chairs up the stairs at the main entrance. The manner in which he blends professionalism with good humour. It’s his slightly uneven loping gait, in trousers a bit too short for his long and slender frame, that looks both purposeful and unhurried. His easy-going nature and affability, but with a certain something in his countenance that suggests he knows what sadness, and perhaps pain, feels like.
And the way he’s looked at me during our few proper conversations – as a friend, as someone he’s choosing to talk to rather than because we happen to be in the same spot. The way he’s made me laugh by telling anecdotes about the public and other staff, and the odd things he’s said that have amused me but that other staff have apparently thought peculiar. And the conversation we had right before I went on holiday for three weeks, where he answered my innocent inquiry into his Christmas with a less-than-happy tale about his family, and then allowed a couple of further gentle questions, before the conversation turned to his favourite band, which he thought I might like, and blushed a little while saying so.
It wasn’t long before I began to think that James had entered my life to remind me that there are still lovely people – lovely men – left to find in the world. That there are still people who can actually leave their surroundings brighter, and bring out the happiness in those around them. Because he brightened my days so much, and managed to revive the parts of me that still wanted to smile contentedly, and laugh easily.
And so, many days have made me think I was falling for him.
I have a long history of bad luck with men, and so the thought that I might be attracted to someone isn’t exactly an exciting one. And although he has always been friendly, I’ve rarely thought he displayed any particular preference for my company over anyone else’s. I do get the sense that he can be a little shy, as some of our conversations have begun in rather a stilted way before something happens to magically kick them into gear. I can be shy as well, and am so used to rejection that I can never assume a man I’m attracted to might feel the same. Because of this uncertainty and awkwardness I sometimes deliberately avoid seeking their company because it’s just easier – I know, that’s a bit messed up – which leads me to ponder if another possibly-shy person might do the same. But he’s also about nine years my junior…which has caused me alternating bouts of concerned discomfort, and preferring to throw caution to the wind…
I don’t know where this will go. I don’t know how long either of us will work there. Thus far, we haven’t socialised outside of work. He hasn’t asked me, and the time I asked him, he was unavailable.
But maybe we’re not supposed to fall for the angels in our lives. Maybe they arrive with the purpose of teaching us something. Or in my case, reminding me of something that my circumstances made me think was lost.
Perhaps we’re just supposed to glory in their presence, and bask in the glow of whatever they are giving us. And then, when the time is right, they will leave, and send us onward: smarter, happier, or healthier that we were before.
~ L.Q. ~
NB: ‘James’ is not his real name. Because if I’m going to gush about someone in an anonyblog, then I’m going to hide their name!