Friday, November 9, 2012
In Memoriam 4
Fast forward through the busy summer (which I spent in class and at home writing 20 page finals to finish grad school) to the new school year, 2008-2009. I see Paul around the school, but not as much because he has moved on to tenth grade, so I don't have him in class. The year moves along as school years are wont to do.
November 9th, fourth period, I am in the middle of a grammar lesson for my 7th graders. (Strangely enough, those same 7th graders are my 11th graders right now, in 2012.) Another teacher walks in and says he is there to cover the rest of the period for me. I'm confused because I wasn't told I had a meeting of any kind. He's as clueless as I am, but as I sum up the end, assign their homework and pack up my stuff, an administrator comes in and walks me down the hall. "We're just going down the hall here to tell you something...don't worry, it's not your family or anything." What!? I wasn't really thinking of anything specific or bad, let alone a problem with my family! What was this?
We stopped just a few doors down and she let me into a small office, locking the door behind us. Inside there were two teachers seated in chairs to my left and another standing directly in front of me, in the doorway of another little office. I didn't really notice anything because I didn't know what to expect. If I had paid attention upon entering I would've noticed wet cheeks and downcast eyes.
"Paul was found dead this morning. He hung himself," the teacher in the doorway was able to get out in a quick, shallow breath.
I remember a silence so pervasive I could feel it pressing in and counting down through the tick of my watch. I heard, rather than felt, my bag drop from my shoulder, hitting the ground with a solid thump. Hot tears spilled from my eyes, instantly chilling on my cheeks, as I took the two big steps to the teacher in the doorway. Although shorter than me, she leaned into the embrace I offered, the shared sorrow.
After a minute we sat in the little inner office together, in silence. They wanted to tell me and a couple others before they sent a school wide announcement out. And thanks to the technology of texting, word was getting around through the few students who knew. I wondered at first why they chose to tell me separately, not realizing my previous efforts with Paul placed me in close proximity to him. Looking back now I am grateful for their respect of my feelings because I had been more involved than I realized, but they had noticed.
We never heard the exact events...a fight and he ran off is all I was told. But who knows what "fight"consists of, who was involved, what was said, what was done.
I went on to my next period class at the bell, where we happened to be given a handout to announce Paul's passing as gently as possible. Most of my class, only a year behind him in school, said things like, "Who?" "Oh, well I don't know him." And life moved on.
I am not one to struggle over death. My family has always mourned, but we were not raised to commemorate it, to make it a ghost that haunts us. And I never have (although I don't know what I'll do if it's ever my immediate family). But this one has stuck with me. For a long time I could not look at his bus stop, which was the end of the road he lived on, and beyond the dead end of that short road, the woods in which they found him.
My husband and niece (who attends my school) attended the calling hours with me. I didn't know if I wanted to go, but students who knew Paul kept asking if I was going, so I went as much for them as myself and Paul. The school very kindly volunteered a substitute so a few of us teachers could attend the funeral. To this day I have not listened to the song they played at his funeral, even though it had been on my iPod before. My husband and I bought a copy of Chris Crutcher's Ironman, labeled with a dedication in memory of Paul inside the front cover, for the school library. His obit from the newspaper is clipped and tucked away in my fire proof box with my car title, marriage license, birth certificates, and teaching certificates. And every year since, on November 9th, I have commemorated him on my Facebook page and classroom whiteboard quietly, without fanfare, but always remembering.
Always remembering because Paul is my reminder that there is more to people than what we see and even what they will show us. Of how our lives have the ability to touch others, but we have to be intentional about it. We cannot be afraid of messing up because we will. We cannot allow ourselves to be too afraid of the messiness of life - it is reaching into that messiness and meeting people where they are that shows them you care most. It's where we make the biggest difference. Paul is my reminder to reach out and love the people around me.