April 17, 2013
Have you ever felt hysterical in front of a room of teenagers while discussing the symbiotic relationship of the clownfish and the sea anemone?
Back to work. I gave myself a pep talk on the drive that morning. Strange how just a week before, I had made this drive with all of the usual thoughts that accompany my morning rush…would I have time to run by my mailbox to pick up copies before second hour? Had I remembered my lunch? Was Frankie’s favorite sweatshirt clean in case my mother took him to the park?
Today was different. This drive felt foreign to me now. It’s amazing, the tricks your mind can play on you when you are most vulnerable. It was like I was driving to work for the first time. I was nervous, scared…what would my kids say? Had anyone told them? What would I say to them? And these new thoughts, these questions that no one seemed to have the answers to…How was your oxygen saturation at this moment? Were you still running a fever since I left you last night? Had they figured out a way to rotate you that would not potentially kill you? I found myself counting each overpass on my route to school. Nineteen.
Walking through the halls was something of a nightmare. I wanted to be in my room, in hiding. I could tell that people weren’t sure what to say to me…and I didn’t blame them. After all, I didn’t even know what to say to myself. I could barely stand to be conscious because of all of the thoughts that were entering my realm at that time. My laptop bag had been partially unzipped. It fell open halfway to my classroom in the middle of the hallway, papers spilling everywhere. I didn’t lose it then.
My first class went okay. We were prepping for the EOC. This would happen to you a week before my kids took their most significant assessment of the year. It all seemed so irrelevant now. I heard someone ask how my brother was doing mid-lecture. “He’s okay,” I lied. I found myself staring at the doorway. I could see you walking through over a year ago, carrying the Teddy Grahams I had forgotten to grab that morning for our activity about natural selection. I recalled my students’ reactions after you had left. They said you looked just like me. They could tell you were my brother before I told them. I thought of that day…the text I sent you in thanks. Would you remember that? Would you wake up? Would you be able to make those awful jokes with me again? I wished I could travel back to that moment…follow you out the door and hug you. I would forget whatever important function I had after work. I would stop by Taco Bell and we would watch cheesy movies together. I thought of all the times you had been just a few blocks away, perfectly healthy.
The bell rings and a new class enters. Different questions now. Some of the students are more tactful than others. “Is your brother the one that jumped off that bridge?” Like a dagger. Is that what people think about you? I didn’t lose it then.
My sixth hour. My rambunctious, inquisitive, blood pressure- elevating sixth hour. I had been dreading them all day. As they pass me in the hall to enter class, I feel a sudden urge to run far away. They could find a sub, right? I can’t bear to answer any more questions about you.
I walk in and they are all seated. Mentally I congratulate myself as this has never happened before. Their eyes follow me as I take attendance, collect the homework. I’m at the projector now, going over symbiosis. A hand is raised. “Mrs. LaFata, are you okay?” I can feel it in my throat. I fight it again…for the millionth time today. “Yes, thank you. So the clownfish…you guys have seen Nemo, right?” Their gazes are unaltered. Their focus heightened. Another question. “Mrs. LaFata, can I give you a hug?”
I stop. Everything stops for a moment. Here he comes. Last week he blamed me for being grounded, and now he is hugging me in front of the entire class.
And they all follow. Single file. One by one, until I am surrounded by a herd of them. Thirteen juniors who have shared their struggles with me for two semesters. Thirteen adolescents with their own problems, their own apprehensions. In that moment I am no longer separate from them. We are fourteen human beings, frightened of all things beyond our control.
I lose it then. And I will always love them for it.