This morning started off the same as any other. Get up, get dressed, head downstairs, start the day. Except this morning, while drinking my coffee and scrolling through Facebook, I learned that one of my former students died of a heroin overdose. It’s not the way anyone expects the day to begin, but it’s how I kicked off Monday.
My heart is so heavy right now.
The students I taught in my six years in the classroom will never stop being my children. They are ALL my children.
When I close my eyes I can see him sitting there in his desk, skinny face, close-cropped hair, manners and polite behavior for days.
I remember his smile.
It’s funny the things we remember about people after they’re gone. I can still see the handwriting of the student I lost in 2010, also in the month of May. It was so small and precise, like all the care he had in the moment went directly into making sure his pencil-to-paper routine was flawless and exacting. Kind of like the ROTC uniform of the student we lost this weekend.
I don’t know if this young man, who was by now into his 20s, was an addict who struggled or only tried heroin once or twice. I don’t know if he had trouble with other drugs or alcohol before now. I hadn’t seen him or thought of him in years prior to this morning, but the news of his death has hit me right in the heart.
He’s not the one I would’ve imagined having his life end this way. But then he probably didn’t imagine his life would end this way either.
Moments like this remind me that I will always be a teacher. I will always have the heart of a teacher. I’m not wearing that hat right now, but it hangs there in the closet waiting to be dusted off and donned once again.
Sometimes, like today, I pick it up and remember all my children, some 400 whose paths intersected with mine over works of literature.
I remember the frustration of standing in front of a room of students who just didn’t seem to grasp what I was giving them, the regrouping and trying again. I remember the moments when it seemed like the bell would never ring. I remember the excitement of a discussion going well, the joy on their faces as they finally got it.
But mostly I remember the promise in the eyes of each student who crossed my door. The hope, however distant, that flickered there. I will never be able to forget that look of life and undiscovered futures waiting just beyond the horizon of high school.
Right now, I’m remembering him. He was one of my children.
May your memory be eternal, RM, and may you find peace.