Saturday, November 27, 2010

Have you ever...

...known someone, and valued that person, for many years, and just lost touch? And all of a sudden, after not thinking about them for just as many years, they just pop up, randomly, into your brain?

That's happened to me recently.

Lately I've been thinking about my 8th grade history teacher. Yes, kittens, I know that sounds random, but this woman really did a lot for me.

I was coming off a really bad 7th grade year. Really bad 7th grade year. Remember that this all takes place well before Facebook, Twitter, texting, and any form of instant communication that preceded the prank phone call.

I was an awkward child known for being a bookworm, for out of control hair, for ridiculous fashion sense, and for being an open target. I was bullied, mostly by my ex-best friend and her newfound cronies. I wasn't bullied so much that I had prank phone calls or eggs thrown at me, or toilet paper around my house, but I was insulted verbally. A lot.

So I built a wall around myself. And didn't let anyone in by the time that year came to a close.

Then came 8th grade. I faced a quandary by the time September rolled around: You see, kittens, I really liked school. I liked to learn. Hell, loved to learn. I would read ahead in textbooks and work on extra math problems for fun.

However, I hated the social part of it. Everyone had to dress the same, be the same, have the same hairstyle, talk about boys...

...I wanted no part of it.

I entered my 8th grade year determined to make it through socially, get straight As, and then go to private school, away from my peers, the following year.

That's when I met Mrs. P. In addition to being my history teacher, she was my homeroom teacher.

She knew who I was when I walked into her classroom on the first day of school.

And that scared the crap out of me.

She was a dynamic woman who was extremely well put-together. Not a hair was out of place. Fingernails, perfectly manicured. Her clothes were incredibly stylish. They may not have been all of the latest trends, but Mrs. P. had a way of carrying herself so elegantly. She had an incredible presence.

And she loved her students. Her enthusiasm for teaching was evident. Her passion for history could be seen on her bulletin boards, in her bookshelf, in the photos she had of students who participated in statewide competitions...

Wait a sec... we all have to participate in this competition?

More on that later. But first, let's start with the second week of school, when Mrs. P. announced that she was casting for her annual play. That year, the play was about Black History Month. All of her students were required to have some part in the play, whether it was the chorus or behind the scenes.

I volunteered to be in the chorus.

But Mrs. P. had something else in mind.

She cast me in the lead.

Up to that point, I had zero acting experience. I only had, as most teenage girls do, a well-developed flair for the dramatic. I still don't know, to this day, why she had cast me in such a big role. Did she want to capitalize on my flair for the dramatic? Did she think I had a good speaking voice? Did she think I had stage presence?

Or did she want to instill a sense of confidence in an otherwise insecure girl? Did she see potential in me that I didn't?

I read the script and had it memorized by the next rehearsal. I really wanted to make a good impression.

By the night of the play, I had received compliments from classmates I otherwise would not have spoken to. They really loved my acting, and often told me, "I didn't know you could do that!"

Boy, was that an ego boost!

About a month later, Mrs. P. announced that everyone was required to complete a research project on a historical figure. There was a statewide history competition that year, and the theme was "Science and Technology in History." I decided to research Madame Curie, complete the three-paneled cardboard display, and turn in the project.

But Mrs. P. had other suggestions for me.

I ended up entering the competition--and presented my research through a dramatic monologue as Madame Curie, Polish accent and all.

I came in third in the regional competition, and felt confident enough I could win at the state level.

And I did--I came in third place in my category.

But only first and second place could go to nationals.

Needless to say, I was crushed.

The following morning, a Sunday, I got a phone call, at home, from Mrs. P. She asked how I was feeling, and I told her I still was pretty upset. But she told me that things would get better, and soon.

They did get better, indeed. Two days later our class left for our annual trip to Washington, DC--and the teachers chose me and another student to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I never, ever thought I'd do something of that magnitude when I was in 7th grade.

Mrs. P. really helped me come out of my shell. She helped instill a sense of confidence and determination in me that I didn't know I had. She gave me the tools to do better in school and develop my potential.

Her classroom became a sanctuary for me. I'd hang out there a couple of times a week after school, and we'd chat while I did my homework and she corrected papers.

I ended up going to another high school the following year, and we eventually lost touch. Occasionally, throughout the years, I'd think about Mrs. P. and wondered what she was up to.

But this week, I've thought about her. A lot.

A friend of mine says that this happens to her quite a bit. She regards this as a sign that such a person needs to have a prayer said for them. And nine times out of ten, something happens to that person. Something significant, either good or bad.

So tonight, I said a prayer. I am really, really contemplating getting back in touch. Just sending a letter, or a Christmas card, saying how I am and what I've been up to since my 8th grade year. Just a thank you note would do.

But a part of me is very nervous about this. Is this the right thing to do? I found my second grade teacher a couple of years ago, another woman who had a significant impact on me, and wrote to her, but she never wrote back.

And then another part of me worries that she's ill and doesn't have the physical capacity to write back.

I'd better stop this, because I'm going around in circles, and it's very late. So let me conclude by asking you this, kittens: Have you ever told someone from your past how much they really meant to you? And when you did, were you able to do so before it was too late?