They didn't know I could hear them.
I had slipped into the store room to grab my lunch and I heard them through the walls.
"Is she back?!"
"The door was propped open.."
"There's a Starbucks cup on her desk."
"She has to be here."
I hadn't seen them for nearly seven weeks. I had left them on a Friday afternoon after an uneventful lecture on DNA structure. I had left them with the basics on base pairing rules and hydrogen bonding. I had left them with the knowledge that life, for the most part, was fair.
I had last seen them the day before you died.
I could hear them now, dropping off their things before lunch.
"It just feels like sunshine in here."
"Damn. I forgot the roses."
I remember the moment the doctor confirmed you had gone. Looking back, there was most likely an element of shock involved but I was immediately terrified to face them, to face anyone. I was a disappointment, a failure. I was no longer the cheery optimist who stood before them for ninety minutes every other day. I was scary now. I was dark. How could anyone look up to me? I couldn't possibly go back.
"I'll just get another job, " I thought to myself as they started the IV.
I can't place the moment when I realized that I would eventually return, the minute I saw that life could somehow resume without you. I guess that's because it is something I still struggle with. It remains a mystery to me.
Each day I walk this fine line between wanting to talk about you every second to anyone who will listen, and needing my life to resemble what it used to be as much as possible. There is no way to deduce which side of the line I am teetering on at any given moment. Sometimes I don't even know until it's too late.
In my dreams lately I'm always being chased. By gunmen, robbers. Once, a giant seal.
After a while I started to grow concerned. But then I realized that I had been robbed. Hadn't I?
Something had been stolen from me. Mid day, as birds sang outside.
How could it ever be possible for them to understand, for anyone to? How is it possible that I could ever relate to anyone again?
During a visit from colleagues a few weeks after your death I unwrapped several beautiful gifts. Engraved mementos to you, angelic plaques, figurines and flowers. The last box was rectangular, encased in sparkling blue ribbon. Inside, hand-made cards from all of my students.
I read no disappointment in their words. Instead I saw empathy, understanding. They were honest. Some offered their favorite scripture writings, song lyrics. There were illustrations, poetry. Love in colored construction paper and college rule.
And I realized that they were grieving too. Every single one.
I read them repeatedly. Turning the pages until the paper softened and the ink bled into my hands. I read them until I could picture myself standing in front of them, until I could smell my classroom. And then I read some more.
All this time I had feared some great divide. That I had strayed too far from who they thought I was, from the safety of our prepared curriculum. Surely they couldn't welcome this flawed person, understand her pain. Surely this was beyond their grasp.
But I was wrong. My kids had grown with me. I hadn't left them behind. And now here they were, consoling me from the depths of their adolescent hearts.
If you were to ask me how, I couldn't say. As I write this I'm confused as to how my fingers continue moving in your absence. I don't know how I can stand in front of rooms of people and discuss cell transport and photosynthesis, the gravity of losing you pulling at every bone.
But if you were to ask me why, as many have-
Why not take the rest of the year?
Why get up every morning?
Why leave the couch?
Why make the drive? The lesson? The pancakes?
Why do you come back?
Most days I have the answer, and I would tell you.
It's because they think I can.