... I was just a child at play...
An old family friend recently moved up the street from me. This guy has fixed my computer several times over the years, and my money is no good to him. If you've ever had a virus you know what a sweet deal that is. So finally I can pay him back for his kindness, and I was over there last night putting a coat of paint on his kitchen walls. His apartment is above the garage, attached to the house where his landlords live with their three kids. The whole family was out on their back deck last night, playing cards. The woman introduced herself to me when I was lugging my stuff up, and invited me to come hang out with them. Well I was motivated to get something done last night, and as that rarely happens I need to jump on it when the mood strikes me. So my friend and his buddy played cards and drank daiquiris with them while I slaved away with the paintbrush.
I was glad to see they were still out there when I finished for the night, and had lost only the 9 year-old to bed. I joined them for some cards. The game we played initially was bizarre. There are a lot of rules to it, many made up by whoever is in charge, and that person only shares some of the basics... The rest you have to figure out as you play, and you get penalized with extra cards every time you make a mistake. The basic structure was like Uno, but with things you have to do or say with specific cards. I managed to do pretty well simply by keeping my mouth shut most of the time, while my buddies were almost making a mockery of the game. They were getting handed so many penalty cards that periodically the master (which in this case is the 16 year-old son) kept having to take some from them so he would actually have cards to penalize them with.
Then we switched to Asshole. I had to object and turn the rules up in disarray when I discovered that in this misguided 16 year-old's world (who yes, seemed to still be in charge of the game) twos and aces are LOW. There I was stuck with three cards in my hand that I had been saving because I thought they were GOOD, and they turn out to be the worst there are. So I made a big fuss and to my surprise our hosts graciously changed the rules for me - perhaps in relief that someone was standing up to their children, 'cause PARENTS certainly can't make the card rules when kids get to be that age.
Well the son didn't last too long at that game, as he soon became "asshole" and not too long after retired to his computer screen. At this point his mother informed me that the boy has a callous on his wrist from typing and using the mouse, which is sure to be a regular feature on the next generation. The 14 year-old daughter was still with us, however, and stuck around past midnight, assuring her parents that she "would be up this late anyway". She was the only one not drinking, and managed to maintain her presidency nearly the whole time.
Eventually the young one retired, and so did the cards, but the five of us sat and talked long into the AM. I'm not sure how it came up, but my new friend started listing off all the art teachers the middle school has gone through in the time the shop teacher has been there. I didn't recognize any of the names. When I told her who I had for art at Chalk Hill Middle School, it was almost as if she didn't know who I was talking about - at first - by the blank stare she gave me.
And here we come to the real subject of this post. I was somewhat of a pet student of this art teacher, whom I had a class with in all three years I attended there. And while I was a bit of a nerd with the studies, art was still my favorite subject and he was my favorite teacher. His wife was the chorus teacher, and although back then I didn't think they were all that young, I'm pretty sure they were in their early thirties which I now turn around to declare quite young. They were both kindof the mousy, bookish types, but always nice and quite popular with the students.
He was so easy-going, in fact, that sometimes the boys in class would get a touch rowdy. It was at such a moment in my eighth grade year when my dear favorite teacher got frustrated and raised his voice at them, which was quite unusual. He was leaning against his desk and pointing his finger at them in rebuke when he started to shake and turn red. I was three or four feet away from him at the time. At first we thought he was just mad, but as he started shaking harder and harder and sinking to the floor it became obvious something was VERY WRONG. He didn't even have the breath to call for help, and for a moment the entire classroom was frozen in shock. Finally someone (and it could have been me, for all I can remember - the vision of the seizure overrides all other memories from that day) pushed the office intercom while someone else ran across the hall to the gymn to get help.
The ambulance came and wheeled him away on a stretcher, and by that time our class had been re-located to a science classroom down the hall, where another laid-back favorite of a teacher had a free period and spent it with us. Suffice to say we were all frantically worried and in somewhat of a haze. They kept our teacher overnight for tests, but he came back two days later, and as far as we were told the hospital could not find cause.
February break came not too long after that, and our arts-teacher couple went on a tropical cruise. He was back at school the first day after vacation, but he looked terrible. He had caught some kind of exotic flu or parasite was all that was ever explained to us kids. Honestly I never even thought to question what the real story was until now; if they knew more I can certainly understand why they wouldn't have told us. Anyway, he couldn't keep any food down.
He died a week later.
I don't know how she did it, but his wife was back teaching within a couple weeks. It soon came out that she was expecting, and I think all of our hearts wept for her both in sorrow and in joy. She stayed and taught at Chalk Hill for years - could still be there, for all I know - and her daughter has grown up here, in this community to which she means so much. I have never met her, and haven't thought of her in years.
She's the best friend of the young man who was dictating our card game last night.
I can't believe it's been over seventeen years since all this has happened. I cry over it as if not a day has passed.
Life is brief, but when it's gone,
Love goes on and on...