*names are redacted as I doubt this will go anywhere beyond my friend group but it has the ability to do so.*
The day I started teaching I was bright eyed. Tonight I sit here blurry eyed with tears.
It’s officially past midnight making it the 20th. It’s officially been a month.
A month ago, at 7:11 pm, I read a message that made me sick to my stomach. Even right now it makes my breath stop in my chest.
Less than 12 hours ago, coming home from errands today, I was driving home and was stopped there. And I paused my audiobook and just sat there and wondered why.
It was on my mind a lot in the last 24 hours. I saw a boy (I’m sorry I say boy I know you were technically a young man, but you were one of my babies) that reminded me of you. His body language reminded me of the way you held yourself in my classroom and the countless times I passed you in the hallway.
I walked into a shoe store and pretended to look. One of the clerks tried to make eye contact and I watched them read the look on my face then walk away.
I kicked myself for the fact that a little over 3 weeks ago, I stood next to your casket and choked through half of the words I wrote about you. I didn’t make it through before I sat down. And I still feel like I owe you more than that.
These are the words I had written down, if it’s okay for me to tell you now:
“From the first day that students enter my classroom, I welcome them with the fact that they are now my “kids.” I taught J* his junior year. His class was something special They were the first time I watched my students truly embrace the concept of family in the classroom. It was a privilege to watch J grow as a student and young man in the time I had him. [I added somewhere in here, something along the lines of that the day of that so many of your classmates were there and that showed me that class’ community]
I’ve reflected over the last week on memories of that semester, particularly those of J. And I have three things that come to my mind and stick with me. The first are his headphones. Every day he bopped to whatever song was playing while he took his notes. But ever so respectfully, he would move one side away from his ear to listen when I was speaking, I took this as his desire to learn.
The second thing that sticks in my mind is his smile and laugh. There was a lot of laughter in his class. They had fun while they learned and J was always friendly with his classmates. I did not know him to have conflict with any of them. He had a life skill that many of us could use to just be friendly and relaxed. He loved well and I think that has really been shown over the last week.
Lastly his determination. I saw this in a few aspects of his life, through the bonds he formed and fought for, through his work in my classroom, but also one of my favorite memories, of his unique ability to sleep through a noisy classroom watching a movie after an exam, and he had three desks pushed together because he was determined he was taking a nap.
The last week has been hard. I see it on your faces today. I see it in the posts online where I’ve read countless memories and the love you had for this sweet boy. I feel it myself.
As we collectively struggle to find peace in these moments of grief- I truly believe that you should rest in the idea that while he is not physically here, he is looking down on you, bopping along to the song playing through his beats, and smiling. And when we see him in the after life, he’ll pull his headphones to the side and greet us with that warm friendship we will all remember him for. Until that day, I think we’re called to live the friendship he showed so many of you, because I think that’s what he would want. It was and is an honor to have had him as one of mine, thank you, Miss R, for letting me love yours like one of my own for the brief time I had him, that will never leave me.”
If I were to be honest, today the thought crossed my mind that as a teacher I’ve failed my kids. I’ve lost two of them. Each time someone my age has passed since I graduated high school 8 years ago, I haven’t understood, and I’ve always felt like it happens too frequently, because we’ve lost too many people that walked my high school halls with me. I’ve never wanted that to be the feeling that my “kids” experienced. The fact that two of “mine” have been lost makes me feel like somehow I didn’t protect them enough.
It makes me feel like I didn’t give enough Friday lectures.
It makes me feel like I didn’t hug them enough.
It makes me feel like I didn’t remind them enough to be safe because they were so valued and they mean(t) so much to their classmates, their families, me.
It makes me feel like I didn’t literally say the words “you are valued. You are loved. You are so important. You are enough,” to them enough.
If you’re one of mine, and I didn’t say it enough, I’m so sorry. Please accept this as my way of telling you now and I hope you’ll hear it in your heart and mind every day.
I never imagined losing one of you. I never wanted to. I’m sorry I did. Im sorry I was afraid to go to the first funeral. I’m sorry my words standing at the second fell so short.
I hope each of the rest of the 600+ of you outlives me by so many years and makes the most of the days you have ahead. I hope you make everyone around you proud. I hope you remember that life is short and use that as a lesson to remain safe and to also honor those that you’ve lost along the way, because it will and should shape you. I hope that even on the hard days that you realize how absolutely loved and needed you are…and if you ever need to be reminded and don’t feel like you have somewhere else to go, please come to me because I’ll remind you, and be longwinded, emotional, well-meaning, and most likely cliched about it.