Lost but not forgotten

Big thanks to one of my students, who is a vivacious and wonderful person, Jessica Nicol, for sharing her story in today’s post.

You know the point in your life where you just don’t feel like being angry anymore? I’m there.
I’ve found that in life there is always that one person who you never forget or stop loving… that is your first love. Don’t tell me you don’t remember. It’s the best and the worst love you will ever have in your lifetime. So, with that being said, here’s my story about my first love.
Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

It all started in second grade. I was 7 years old and had just moved to Arkansas, so I didn’t know anyone at school. Halfway through my first week at Southside, I saw him. I was going to the only available swing left on the whole playground, and he was in the swing next to it. I had never felt the way I felt at that moment. My heart kind of… sped up. He was short with blonde hair and blue-green eyes. I wasn’t as shy as I am now, so when he got off the swing I went up to him and asked if I could play with him and his friend. He said yes, and so it began. Weeks after, we continued to play together, and the feelings grew. It was such an amazing feeling to care about someone so much. Of course, at the age of 7, I didn’t understand what I was feeling. Later in life, though, I realized I loved him.

The next year, in third grade, I finally found out his last name because his class, which was across the hall from mine, posted the students’ names outside the door, and I already knew his first name. When I found out, I made a note asking him if he would be my boyfriend with a check box saying yes or no. I gave it to him after school let out, and we went home on our buses. The next day after school we met outside of the building, and he gave my note back. It said yes! I was so happy. Did I mention he had a very thick southern accent? That was a lot of the attraction, right there. I’m so attracted to accents.
Once we moved into higher grades, such as middle school, it was all up and down. We were starting to become teenagers, and we didn’t have much of a serious relationship in elementary school. After all, how serious could a third grade relationship be? We were best friends and inseparable, despite my constant love for him. We ended up back together in eighth grade, and that was the year I realized I had been so in love with him for all of this time. I decided I wanted to marry him and that we’d be together forever… ha! Moving into ninth grade we broke up again. So devastating. I simply wanted to be with him, but he wanted someone else. We remained best friends because, again, our relationships hadn’t been super serious.
At the end of freshman year we got back together. It was a joyous moment for both of us. We  felt the same way about each other, and we both agreed we were going to get married and have kids and be happy. Well, that summer his father had a terrible accident. He fell off his truck–he was a truck driver–and hit his head. He lived for two days in a coma, and then he died. I felt so guilty because I was on vacation in Branson and couldn’t be there to love my boyfriend and comfort him. I cried so much and enjoyed nothing. All I wanted to do was go home and be with him. Finally my vacation was over, and I rushed to his house. He was so happy to see me. I stayed strong and tried not to cry when I saw him and his mother. I loved his mother, too, by the way. She was like a second mom.
During the visitation, I could not contain myself. I cried to the point that people thought I was related. I felt my boyfriend slipping away from me, and I just wasn’t ready to give him up. At the funeral, I kept composed. I hugged him and his mother afterward, reassuring them that I was there for them always. Days passed, and our relationship was in turmoil. He closed off and started rethinking everything. I fell into a depression and stopped eating because I was losing him. I had to get a therapist to help me because I ended up with an eating disorder, and I was majorly depressed.
We ended up breaking up. That was a devastation I cannot fully describe. If I could have died, I would have. I went through my therapy, and about halfway through it, we got back together. At the time, I had no idea how bad that was going to be. It was verbally abusive and painful to stay in, but I wouldn’t leave him because I was dead set on marrying him. My therapist said that it was an abusive relationship and wasn’t built on anything, but being a teenage girl, I didn’t listen. I closed off from the world because all I had in my life, I thought, was him. We spent another year together and then we broke up. It was a bad break up, but I continued therapy, and I just finished this past December.
Though it sounds like it was a horrible tragedy, I took away from it a knowledge I could never have gained without it. I learned the essentials of a relationship and the kind of strength within myself that I never thought I had. I rose up from it and am now very happy with my life. I plan to become a therapist for teenagers who are in the same position I was in. I also have a very amazing boyfriend who treats me like I deserve to be treated. I am no longer bitter and sad about this. I take it as an experience. I loved, I lost, I lived.

Day 15: Dear Serena

*Thanks to my friend Samantha Hogan for sharing her letter to her sister, Serena, on Day 15 of the Dear Gratitude project. Her letter reminds me to share my gratitude with the people I love TODAY.*

To my sister Serena:

Sam Hogan familyI know I should have written you this letter long before you went to be with Jesus, but sometimes, a person doesn’t realize how thankful they are until it is too late to say so.  So, today, I am writing this letter to tell you all of the things I should have told you before now.

First of all, not a day goes by that I don’t think about you.  We definitely had our ups and downs in our relationship, but you taught me so much as my older sister.  Growing up, I can remember you doing some of my chores because I just wouldn’t do them.  You’d swear to me that you were going to tell mom on me when she got home, but I’m pretty sure you never did.  I specifically remember sitting down in the hallway one time and refusing to empty the bathroom trash.  You told me you’d had it and were telling on me, all the while, emptying the trash that I was in charge of doing.  Never once did I get into trouble for that.  Thank you, for saving my rear.

So many basketball games I had to cheer at from fifth grade to senior year.  You weren’t always at mom and dads, but when you were, and it was ‘french braid’ day on the squad, you never complained to get up at 6:30 in the morning to braid my hair.  I wonder now how I’d have ever gotten my hair done had you not been there. I’m sure I’d have gotten a demerit for sure!  You even tried to teach me to do it myself.  To this day, I still practice some, but can’t quite get it.  Thank you for being patient enough to try and teach me.

On my wedding day, you were there. Sitting quietly and out of the way.  I remember you were so excited to get to be there, and offered so many times to help.  Thank you for showing up for me. I know I didn’t say it that day. I have a picture of us from that day that I will forever cherish.

Sam HOgan Christmas 2011Thank you for all the Christmas presents you worked feverishly to find for me. To make sure that even if it wasn’t much, it was just the perfect thing for us.  I see now just how much love and heart went into the things you did for me.  And I am so thankful for them.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you for the dozens of telephone calls you would make to me on my birthdays.  So many times I would pick up the phone, thank you for the birthday wishes, and so many times I would ignore the calls, because I’d just talked to you an hour before.  Oh I wish I could ‘ignore’ your calls now on my birthdays! But, time passes and God had other plans for you.

So, on this day, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all those times you covered for me, for all the times you helped me out, for loving me when I probably didn’t deserve it, and for being my sister.  You truly made my world a better place to live in.

I love you,

Samantha

Day 14: Dear students

*It’s Day 14 of the Dear Gratitude project. Today, I’m sharing a letter to my students. There is no way I could ever thank each of them individually for all they’ve added to my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach today, and I look forward to teaching for years to come, hopefully!*

Dear students,

Humoring my students, Halloween 2013

Humoring my students, Halloween 2013

Thank you for teaching me. At Youth Home, you taught me that playing softball and Skip Bo is more therapeutic than sitting around in a circle and rehashing your childhood trauma. At Arkansas Baptist High School, you taught me that sometimes, my initial judgments are dead wrong. I remember thinking that you, the girl in my English class with long, dark hair and glasses who sat quietly in the back of the room, were surely naïve. I later learned that you were struggling with trying to end an illicit relationship. And the boy with red hair and sullen attitude who drew pictures of poop for me—you taught me that bad kids might require more work, but they’re often more fun to teach.

Thank you for making me laugh and helping me relax. When I walked into my classroom and saw one of you hanging out the window chasing after sneakers tossed outside by another boy, I threw my hands up and laughed (before meting out necessary detention duty). When I tried to punish one of you, a troublemaker and rebel with absolutely no cause, by commanding you to pull your desk to the front of the classroom next to mine, you smiled and were genuinely excited about the opportunity to sit next to me and tell me stories. I had to smile back. When I showed up to class the first day this semester, one of you mentioned that I bore a scary resemblance to Velma from Scooby Doo. You proceeded to ask me to incorporate the phrase “Jenkies!” into my lectures. I had much more fun lecturing that day than I would have otherwise.

Thank you for reminding me that I’m not perfect. When I gave you a handout with a typo on it, and then counted off for the same errors in your essays, you called me on it and accepted my apology (along with corrected scores, of course). Thank you for asking me really difficult questions that I could never anticipate. You force me to go home and reread the textbook and to dig through every nook and cranny of every piece of literature before presenting it in the classroom. You keep me humble and remind me that six years of studying English doesn’t give me all the answers.

Thank you for owning up to your mistakes. When you, the vivacious and tender-hearted 16 year-old girl who’d plagiarized her entire paper, admitted to plagiarizing and begged for a second chance, I believed that your generation might not be so misguided after all. When you begin whining about how difficult it’s been to prepare your speech, and then admit that you stayed up all night playing video games, I’m relieved by your honesty.

Thank you for refusing to own up to your mistakes. When you, the boy with the big blue eyes who seemed to be on a mission to make my life miserable that year, stood in front of me and denied using SparkNotes, even though I held an identical copy of your paper (printed out from SparkNotes) in my hands, I felt incredibly disappointed and angered. But I learned, from you and others who made similar choices, that I couldn’t control you, and that was okay. I had to let you learn from your mistakes, whether you admitted them or not. And when I saw you 10 years later, same blue eyes minus the negative attitude, you told me you were sorry for being such a turd. That apology meant more to me than if you’d admitted to cheating way back when.

Thank you for persevering. I have watched you, my sole student from Central America, go to the writing lab over and over and over again to earn points missed due to grammatical errors. This boosts my spirit. You embody the American dream. You remind me that no matter where my students start, they can improve and become better writers than native English speakers who don’t put forth the same effort. Thank you, single moms in my English Composition class, for staying up late to write your essays and for showing up to class even though you have difficulty juggling class with bottles and sniffles. You remind me of my mom and her amazing journey through college as a single mom of four young daughters.

Thank you for hating English. Thank you, boy who never makes eye contact with me and who dons a baseball cap to class every single day, for sighing in disgust when asked if you enjoyed reading the poem “Thanks” by Yusef Komunyakaa. Thank you, boy with curly blonde hair who complains that reading interferes with your fishing time, for reminding me that not everyone in the world enjoys the arts and humanities as much as I do. All of you who hate to read and write push me to find ways to make learning more interesting and engaging.

Thank you for loving to write. When you, the quietest student in class, submitted a personal narrative essay about owning your first car, I was blown away by your innate ability to write well. You incorporated allusions I’d never fathomed. I am grateful for my own professors who saw raw talent in me and encouraged me to keep writing. I am motivated to do the same for you.

Thank you for making me feel younger and for simultaneously reminding me how old I really am. Thanks, APPLE students, for laughing at my dance moves in the van on field trips. Thanks, college students, for complimenting me on my hipster dress and boots combo and, on the same day, for staring at me blankly when I asked all of you if you remember Milli Vanilli or not. Thank you for assuming that I use Snapchat. I’d never heard of it. Thanks for being surprised that I do not own a smart phone. Thank you for referring to me as “an old English teacher.” I view all of you the same way I view my former stepdaughter, Liz. Seeing the gigantic oyster of a world splayed in front of you reminds me that, though I may be 15 years older than you, I’m not too old to have more adventures, to travel the world again, or to try something new.

Thank you for showing me who you are. Thank you, Jewish student whom I have not heard from in over a decade, for explaining your beliefs to me and accepting our differences of opinion so deftly. Thank you, sweet student with bipolar disorder, for opening up to me and letting me be part of the path that healed you. Thank you, gay student who needed guidance, for allowing me to listen to you. You had no idea that you were allowing me to make a living amends to my friend who I’d responded to so horribly years before in a similar situation. Thank you, turtle-loving girl, for visiting me repeatedly and serving as a ray of sunshine during a truly dark time in my life. Thank you, my Andrew who was taken from this world much too soon, for explaining to me why dead white men were your heroes. As a young, troubled black man, I’m still astonished at your ability to put your own pain aside long enough to care for others and to lead your peers. Thank you, nerdy gamer boy, for confiding in me last week about trying to kill yourself in high school. You broke my heart. But when I listened to you explain the importance of communication, and the reasons you now refuse to sit around texting, I felt surprised and proud of you. When you talked about how much joy you feel when you volunteer at church, I understood that you are no longer an empty shell of a person. And please don’t worry about only having two dates thus far—someday, women will appreciate your interest in having real conversations, and your luck will turn around.

Thank you for proving to me that there’s still some good in the world.

Thank you for giving me hope.

Thank you for teaching me more than I could ever teach you.

 

 

 

Learning to teach

A wise woman named Mauzelle who managed the Arkansas Methodist Church archives at Hendrix University once told me, as she tried to share her lunch with me while I researched Methodist women in the Ozarks, that she loves history and wants to do everything she can to preserve it.

“It’s so important, you see, because we are who they were.”

Bethany the professor!

Bethany the professor!

That rings true in my life in many ways. Lately, as I prepare to teach two courses on the college level for the first time, I have caught myself reminiscing about the teachers I remember most, teachers who made a difference in my life, either because of their great teaching abilities or because of their huge capacity to serve and care for students.

I’m thankful for Ms. Prim. In kindergarten she spent what seemed like forever unbraiding my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably one morning after begging my mom to fix my hair like Princess Leia. When I got to school and realized that none of the other girls looked like Princess Leia, I was mortified. Ms. Prim didn’t ask any questions. She just soothed my insecurities and gave me chocolate milk in a carton and graham crackers.

I’m thankful for Mr. Ward who took the time and effort to gather worms and crickets so that in fifth grade, when all things gross are very cool, we had the chance to eat cricket pizza and worm cookies. He made science more fascinating, fun, and whimsical. And I’m thankful for Mr. Smith, one of my high school science teachers, who had a true gift for explaining the most intricate theories in dummy terms. From him, I learned that I will earn my students’ respect not by being their buddy but by being a good teacher.

I’m thankful for Ms. Walters who had an infinite amount of patience with me as I struggled to make an “A” in algebra in eighth grade. I still don’t love math, but I remember that in her class, it wasn’t so bad. She helped me to understand that I can’t infuse my passion for my field into the heart of every single student, but I can certainly equip them to be better writers.

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

I’m thankful for Mr. Tilley who tolerated my huge crush on him. He was nearing retirement when I had him in class in 7th grade, but I just loved that man. He was dignified, smart, had a Grizzly Adams beard, and collected antiques. What could be cooler than that? When I realized that the antique children’s book I’d chosen to use as a prop in Maggie’s newborn photos was the book he’d given me when I visited him several years after graduating from high school, I cried. Mr. Tilley helped me to understand that being a good person is even more important than being a good teacher. He’s the kind of person I’ll never forget.

And that’s not even half of them.

I could spend hours writing a gratitude list solely pertaining to the educators in my life.

Instead, I think I’ll go work on my own courses. I have some teaching to do.