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Friday, April 1

Student’s Stand: The Lost Smile

Raul Rodriguez, MSW student, University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration

I could not see anything. Everything was blurry, and out of order, and my neck was sore. I was squinting and I still could not see anything even with my glasses on. I could only see white light but I was not dead yet. At least, I didn’t think so. I took my glasses off and my eyes were on fire. The light that got to them was intensified a hundred times. I could not keep them open. I rushed to the bathroom searching for the white plastic case where I could deposit the white cataracts on my eyes. It was not the first time it had happened. It would not be the last if I continued wearing my contacts while trying to read on my bed after coming back from work. I did not get my work done or get a good night’s rest because my clothes were still on. The marks of shirt buttons were tattooed on my skin and my conscience was reminding me how useless I had become.

 I dragged my self out of bed as early as I could but I still arrived late to every class and by the third time I was already over the embarrassment of getting there last. The best part of class was the end, and the worst part the work. And it was not even overwhelming. I had had more work in college, and had managed to do well but now it was different. I was no longer interested in school. I was burnt out. I forced myself to stay awake in classes and also into thinking that I was probably never going to need whatever the Professor was talking about.

I lost my discipline and I was trying to get back on my feet but it was more difficult to do than I thought it would be. I was dead. I was out of it. All I wanted to do was sleep and read things that had nothing to do with my career. I did not know why I was studying social work if all I wanted to do was write, and someday publish and be bigger than Borges. And in my placement all I did was sit in private sessions with clients watching how others did assessments and held regular sessions. I was tired of it, tired of everything and I did not know how much more I could take.

 I stayed in my supervisor’s office as much as I could. I knew I had to go out and talk to the residents to get used to them but I did not know what to tell them, or what not to tell them. I was afraid and nervous. I felt this way for a long time. A little later, I got my own clients. I saw them on a weekly basis but I was still anxious and unhappy. I did not feel like I belonged in social work. I was more discouraged than ever before. I was ready to give up and stop trying. I could only see this assignment as just one more task I needed to complete to get my degree.

 One week later I was assigned a new client. He had been at Interfaith House for a very long time and had not talked to anyone for months. Everyone thought he was rude and aggressive. I was warned about him. I was very anxious at the thought of talking to him but I had to do it. I called his name in the waiting room and he followed me immediately. I had imagined we would talk for no longer than ten minutes but I was wrong. The first ten minutes were all about protocol and paper work. We put that aside and began talking like any other two people would outside of an institution. He told me his story. I listened very attentive. He told me all about Interfaith, how he experienced it as a resident. Then he lowered his voice to indicate to me this was confidential. I felt fortunate. I didn’t know if I deserved his confidence, but I was thankful for it.

 When he walked out, I looked at my watch. We had spoken for over two hours. I felt happy. We shook hand. He left. As I walked out of the building at five o’clock, I saw him in the distance. He waved at me and smiled. I had not seen him smile before. I was very happy to see him smiling now. At that moment I felt a satisfaction I had not experienced before. I waved back and then I kept going. On the way to my car, I kept thinking about him. I felt as if many things had changed for me during that session. I felt free, more confident than I had felt all year I opened the car door and saw my reflection on the window. I was smiling. I turned the key to start the car and put some music on. As pulled out of the parking lot, I could not stop myself from singing and smiling. I had not done either in a long time.

Posted on 04/01/05 at 01:45 PM


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