The meeting ended. Closing my computer, I said my good-byes to colleagues departing . With the amazing precision that only teachers can demonstrate, everyone had heard the bell ring , gathered their papers, computers, writing implements, and student work and slipped out the door, all within the span of 32 seconds. Almost everyone. I lingered. And next to me sat my colleague, MP.
“It was twenty years ago today,” I mused, staring at her multitude of books on the south wall.
“Twenty years?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s been twenty years since my brother’s accident.” In fact, today did mark twenty years to the day that I lost my brother to a fatal car accident. And twenty years is a long time. Well, it seems like it should feel like a long time. Strangely, though, as I leaned on my elbows, hunched over the table in MP’s seventh grade language arts classroom, it suddenly didn’t feel like a long time.
“I’m so sorry,” MP offered.
I started to explain that, really, I was fine. Forcing a smile to my face, I said, “Time helps. It makes a big difference. Makes it better, easier.”
But then I thought of my own girls at home, my two older ones. And I began to explain that I often speak of my brother and tell them stories of times when he and I were their age (they are two years apart, just as my brother and I were). For instance, there was a time when we put the soap bubbles on our faces to “make beards” and called our mom into the bathroom to “check out our beards!” And there was the time when we played the drums together in my first grade classroom, attempting to cover the music of an obscure German pop group, “Kraftwerk.” And then there was the time we caught my grandfather smoking cigarettes beside the house in California, even though his doctors had forbidden it.
And that’s when I realized I wasn’t feeling fine anymore. I could feel the tears spring to my eyes unexpectedly, right there in this empty classroom. Luckily I happened to be with someone who means a lot to me, someone who I knew would understand. A trusted friend.
“I’ll be thinking of you today,” she said softly.
As I sit to write this small slice of life, I am reminded of the importance of two things: the first is the importance of having a relationship of trust with someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing the most difficult times; and secondly, I’m reminded of how important it is write about these times. One of my great mentors once said, “Writers write to hang onto moments of trouble.” I suppose this gives texture to our writing lives. And I suppose that’s a good thing.
In memory of Sean Kelly Ball, 1970-1997