Please give me the opportunity to talk to you about one of the biggest influences in my life. This was before comedy, college or any concrete dreams. I often talk about her, but haven’t told her story. So please, if you’re any type of fan or enjoy my writing at all, indulge me in the guilty pleasure of reading about one of my favorite people in the universe.
Recently, I came across this article and it made me think of my 8th grade teacher. When I was 12, my world changed. My family moved to a new part of town, which meant that I would have to start a brand new school in 8th grade. While some people may think nothing of this, my world was falling apart. Not only did I have to start a new school, but my cheerleading squad was dissolving and we had to start from the beginning. To an 8th grader, nothing in the world could be worse. That is, until my dad died. To understand what my teacher meant to me, you have to understand where I came from.
On my 13th birthday, my dad decided to throw me a surprise party. He brought my two worlds together (my old friends from my previous school and new friends) and we had a blast. I was incredibly happy. After the party, my mom wanted me to write a thank you note to him. Since I was a 13 year old, I cried and refused for hours until I finally wrote it down. A few weeks later, my dad picked me up from school and took me to get ice cream. After the trip, he told me that sometimes he felt like I didn’t love him. Two days later, I got a phone call at my best friend’s house saying that he was in a car accident.
His injuries weren’t life threatening. He was supposed to be released. On November 10, 2003, my mom and brother went to the hospital vending machines to get my dad a soda. I was left alone with him. His dinner was delivered and since he had bad whiplash, he needed me to feed him. Newly thirteen, and I had to feed my own dad. I remember pleading with God… telling him that if my dad made it out ok, I would be the best daughter in the world. I wouldn’t let him doubt whether or not I loved him for one second. That night, we were told that he was cleared for release the next day. I planned on taking off school to help my mom bring him home. His doctor stopped by on his way out and literally said, “Welp, I hope I never see you again!” We said goodnight and left the room, knowing he would come home tomorrow. After we left, he called me back for a second. He said, “Hey, Bird!” (my nickname). I leaned back to see his face. “I love you,” he said. “I love you too,” I replied. That’s the last time I ever saw him. About six hours later my mom woke me up telling me that he died overnight. To this day, I don’t know why.
Only hours after the news, I was begging to go back to cheerleading practice. I couldn’t wait to leave my house. When someone close to you dies, your entire life becomes mourning. I didn’t like that. I wanted to leave. Finally, a week later, I was allowed to go back to school.
I remember the day I went back. I was standing at my locker in the morning and thought, “Well Annie… you can either be funny or be pitied.” The second someone came by me, I cracked a joke. I wanted to let people know that I was still Annie. I wasn’t about to let that identity go, especially in a new school. My school set up a meeting with our child psychologist. To please my family, I went to the first meeting. After that, I ditched. Every. Single. Time. I didn’t want to be different. In a world that was crashing down, I still wanted to be known as Annie.
I kept up this facade for about a month, until my friend Cristin realized that it was all just a facade. She told my 8th grade teacher, Bevin, that I was struggling. She arranged for me to meet her during lunch because apparently she was “easy to talk to” however, Cristin didn’t know that I wasn’t easy to move. I remember being in line for lunch when Cristin told me Bevin wanted to chat with me. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Cristin had to drag me there.
The first thing Bevin asked me was whether or not I wanted some of her soup. After that, there were no more questions. I was allowed to just speak. I spent two whole periods in that room, and for the first time, I opened up about how much this killed me. About all the impossible guilt I held. About how awful I was to my dad. About how unfair I was. I cried. She cried too… because it was sad. She admitted that she didn’t know much about the subject because she never lost a parent. I told her I didn’t care. For once, I had someone just sitting there ready to listen. She didn’t evaluate me, she didn’t try to diagnose me, she didn’t even try to make me feel better. She just listened.
Do you know how important that is? To just listen and respond as a human? In a world where everyone was trying to relate to me, to understand me, to study me… she just listened. She didn’t have a predetermined script to read from. We had human conversations. My entire life had become professionals trying to read me like a textbook and Bevin was just.. well, there for me.
I went to her at least once a week during lunch, if not more. And it wasn’t until I had a 9-5 job where I realized how big that is. During her “break”, she helped students. Do you know how many times someone has come up to me during lunch wanting me to do my job? I always respond with, “oh.. I’m on lunch. Do you mind coming back?” She never ONCE did that. Her room became the only safe place in my entire life.
When I graduated middle school, our relationship didn’t stop. Instead of lunch breaks, she spent hours after school with me. Why? I wasn’t even her student anymore. She could easily ignore me and go home. But she never did. She was ALWAYS there.
I love her with my entire heart. In a world where I would talk to no one, she was my person. She single handily kept me alive. While everyone commended me on my strength, she looked past it and saw that I was breaking down. She was my rock… the only thing that kept me going until I graduated high school. She never said no to extra hours put in, she never made me feel like I was wasting my time, and she always went above and beyond to make sure I was okay. I feel like there is nothing in this world that I could possibly do to make her understand how incredibly appreciative I am of her love. She’s who kept me going.
But what makes me mad is that the school board doesn’t know this. The administration doesn’t understand. The parents of children who are failing won’t stop complaining. Tests will never reflect the depth of her love and character. She will never be evaluated on saving someone’s life.
I don’t understand it. When I look at how successful I am today, it’s not because I was a decent student. To be honest, I wasn’t a great student at all. Because when you’re a part of a single family home, you are just trying to keep your head above water. You spend so many sleepless nights worried about how much your mom has to work… or heartbroken over how the love of her life was taken from her without any justice. You lay awake paranoid that someone else will die… or that someone will break into your apartment and take your family. The worst thing in the world already happened, so what’s keeping anything bad out? You feel extreme guilt over the death… wondering how things would be different if you were a little nicer. So it reflects in your schoolwork. Deadlines pass without you realizing it, tests come without having time to study and endless lectures are spent with your head a million miles away. So to be honest, I don’t remember the lessons.
I remember the open door. I remember her offering me soup. I remember her crying, saying that she’s so sorry she can’t relate… only to be relived that someone is finally being honest with you. I remember her teaching me to feel through books and express myself through poetry. I remember year long conversations of her telling me it wasn’t my fault until I was finally mature enough to believe it myself. I remember her trying to teach me how to drive when I was terrified to do it myself. I remember her staying hours after school let out to talk to me.. only to drive me home and stall dropping me off because we still weren’t ready to say goodbye. I remember a moment during my 8th grade trip to DC where I was homesick, only to have her turn to me on the bus and ask me if I was ok. I remember going away to college and getting a phone call from her saying she was finally engaged… then married… then eventually pregnant twice… and not being able to convey my feelings of joy over her own dreams coming true. To this day, no matter where this crazy life has led me, I still feel like I’m at home with her.
And when I see that she’s frustrated with the school system these days, I get upset. Because I never want her to compare her success as an educator with a standardized test. I never want her to second guess whether or not she’s meant to be a teacher because of an administration. I never, for a second, want her to feel inferior or doubt her profession. Because if she never found this job, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I owe so much of who I am, and who I will be, to the endless hours in her classroom… well after the automatic lights turned off and we waved our hands to turn them back on.
This is what I want the school system to see.
I’m so incredibly happy in life these days… that wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t my teacher. I love you so much… and thank you from the bottom of my heart.