The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
Link up your slice on Tuesdays all year. Thanks, Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna and Beth.
It was late at night the phone rang. Maybe it was four-thirty in the morning. I don't remember which of the mavens called me. It could have been Rosalie or Zirot or Cathy, even Mary though she taught French and not English. We sometimes shared a cup of black coffee and a cigarette back when we all smoked. It could have been any of the smokers who called even the Russian teacher could have, would have. It doesn't matter now who, but that the caller was kind, gentle.
"We lost Joan last night, Lee Ann."
Lost her? My first thought a literal sucker punch. How do you lose a person? She might be a veteran teacher, but she's old enough to just wander off.
Turns out the caller knew right where Joan was. Her husband had found her late that evening at the bottom of their pool felled by a heart attack while no one was home. Joan was my first mentor, my supervising teacher during my senior internship.
The students I taught during my internship while under Joan's supervision were so smart I felt I needed to go back to school to be able to keep up with them (and her) --so I did. I didn't start teaching until I finished my master's degree in literature and had started on a doctorate. When Joan died, I was a third-year teacher.
I can still remember the grim catalog I made of the contents of her desk drawers: pens, pencils, post-its, wrinkled gum wrappers, an abandoned prescription, pages ripped from magazines, underthings. I remember boxing her books--tucking a few aside to keep. I still catch glimpses of her, sharp in the margins of Hamlet or Tess. I remember cleaning out her classroom's cabinets--counting out boxes of chalk and packages of pencils, pens, paper, glue--academic ephemera.
I don't know where we sent her students after she died. I don't remember. I remember the packing and the gathering at her home and our friends and the Tiramisu, her favorite dessert.
Recently a teacher new to our school passed away unexpectedly. We learned of his passing one Monday morning. How difficult. How terrible and wonderful this short life we live. I did not know him. Our faculty numbers above 150 teachers, our campus more than 95 acres--those sound like excuses to me now. Our collegial circles have grown smaller as departments are divided into PLCS. Teachers seem to have less contact across content areas and grade levels. I didn't know him thoughI feel for his family, his friends, his students. I didn't know him, but his passing brought me right back to Joan.