Tonight my heart is in pieces, my eyes are bloodshot, and my fabulous mascara is definitely not waterproof. This may ramble, so tl:dr Just make the damn phone call.
When I began teaching, still in teacher school and working full time, my first “field experience” placement was in a second grade classroom. I could only come in the afternoon, but that was fine with the teacher. We met to chat before my time with her began and she was amazing. It was so clear that she adored her job…loved her work with kids. And then I met her kids.
They were sweet and kind. They were curious and asked a ton of questions. Her routines and procedures had been well-practiced and kids knew where the boundaries were. Their classroom ran beautifully, with everything kids needed to be successful where they could get at it.
One afternoon when the kids were studying weather, we went outside and talked about the different kinds of clouds and then created them with cotton balls and glue on pieces of sky blue construction paper. The kids labeled each type, and wondered which they hadn’t gotten to see, so we talked about that too.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect introduction to teaching. She was encouraging as I gradually got comfortable working with the kids. She gave pointers, ideas, and feedback with kindness and understanding that this was all new to me… She expected only growth, not perfection…because teachers are never perfect and always growing.
She and I remained good friends after my placement in her classroom, sharing our day to day stuff when we met on Sundays for lunch. We talked like we’d known each other our whole lives.
When I was up for my actual student teaching placement, she was my advisor and placed me with a friend of hers in a first grade classroom. Again, another fabulous experience, and while that teacher and I didn’t grow as close as we had, I loved every second of my time with her and her kids. I have a picture in my office of Field Day with her kids and running, holding hands with a sweet little dude who over that summer had his brother look me up on the internet and called me… “You are never gonna guess who this is!!” from a little voice was the sweetest thing I had ever heard and I will never forget that little guy… She loved that he called me and we talked about kids from her time teaching who she was able to keep in touch with…
As my time student teaching turned into “Oh crap I need to get a real job!” she was there to offer advice, interviewing tips, debriefs after the interviews, and she gave the best advice when I was offered a position: Take the job. You need to begin this work. Take the job.
So I took the job. And it was hard. I cried a lot. And I called her in tears often when I just didn’t know what to do anymore and was out of ideas. When we met for lunch on Sundays, she encouraged me to keep at it–I was a good teacher and still learning because there’s a ton you don’t learn in teacher school that the kids have to teach you. And when I was exhausted, we went to lunch anyway because a life outside of school was important to have. She shared stories of her nephews’ time with her to visit and how they were growing up so well…she adored those boys. Her brother was getting married and she got to help his bride choose her dress…it was such a sweet experience. She loved her family and friends, and her eyes sparkled when she talked about her husband…that’s how love and marriage should be.
And when my world imploded, she was the first person I called. Again, in tears and heartbroken while I drove home. She said, “Well, there’s this charter school that’s starting up–I work with someone who is part of it…it sounds like it’d be perfect for you!”
So I looked into it. And stalked because she was right. And 12 years later, I get to go there every day. I get to be with my people. Because of her.
There have been so many times where I thought, hey I wonder what she’s doing–we should go to lunch or chat… We talked a few times over the next few years, and she endured not only the diabetes she’d had since childhood, but also gastroparesis and eventually MS. Soon, she couldn’t drive and our lunches together became phone calls, like that scene in When Harry Met Sally and they’re watching the same movie while on the phone. And those faded away too as I got busier and she got involved in other things.
And still I thought, I should call her. And something else would come up and I’d push the phone call back to make room for the something else. That was stupid. Something else is never more important.
The last time we talked was probably three years ago. She called out of the blue and we picked up where we’d left off and swore we wouldn’t let time pass like that again.
She died in February. I found out today because one of my memories on social media from 11 years ago mentioned her and the “Friday Night Blues” that happen when the week has taken everything out of you and sleep and mindless television is the only thing that can cure what the week brought. When I saw the post, I went to her profile and I knew she hadn’t been on social media for a while, but there were birthday wishes for her a few weeks ago in August… And as I scrolled down, her sister had posted about their father passing away. She said that she hoped her dad and sister were together in heaven.
Her sister? But she only has one sister…my friend. And so I looked more. Google found a gofundme that her sister had set up for her husband to help him with all of the medical bills and such that had piled up while she was so sick.
She died on February 4. And I just found out today.
Fitting that I found out on a Friday, I guess. Friday Night Blues will mean something a bit different now.
Make the damn phone call. Send the text. Send the email. Make the damn phone call.
Don’t lose track of the people you love who helped you become who you are.
My heart is broken and I am gutted. I am sad that she was so sick and her body gave up. I’m sad that our friendship fell by the wayside for a really stupid reason–“busy” is an incredibly stupid reason. I’m sad for her husband who absolutely adored her, and her nephews and family who surely miss her every single day. And I’m sad I didn’t just make the damn phone call…and never got to say goodbye.
She was such a beautiful person. She was kind and funny and loved life, despite the illnesses and the difficulty they caused. She was the BEST teacher on earth. I can’t imagine that any child from her 13 years in the classroom left in the summer feeling anything but love from her.
I can’t imagine that anyone she ever met left her feeling anything but love, honestly.
I have missed you, Shan…and wanted to call you so often. I’m sorry I didn’t just make the damn phone call. I love you with all my heart, dear friend, and I will miss you forever.