Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Memoriam

I was 6 months into my new, shiny career as a high school teacher. The confusing world of policies and protocols, class rolls and room changes were still unfamiliar to me, and the tiniest change in routine threw me off, in those first 6 months. (Well, sometimes it still does, to be honest!)
Everyday, there were new faces to remember, new phrases to practice, phrases like "That behaviour was inappropriate, don't you think so?". Phrases that served to demarcate the line between teacher and students, the line between a 16 year old and a 22 year old and demonstrate the power balance. Me-teacher, you-student. You cannot treat me like a familiar acquiantance, don't blur the lines child, swearing at me and manipulating me with guilt like you would a disgruntled girlfriend. It does not work. Not on me. I think. Sometimes.

I remember being called a bitch! in class, the emphatic 'itch' end of the word ringing out across the shocked faces of the rest. I remember another girl, her face distorting and folding in on itself with the admission that yes, she was cutting with the lunchtime bell almost drowning our her words that yes, she wanted to die. That night.

Of course those moments are bookended and punctuated and blurred over by the rush of teaching, the momentary joy, the long-winded meetings, the hopeful lesson plans, the mundane and the monotonous paperwork. Yet no moment is as staccato loud as the afternoon on the couch when an email came through, an email with names and the mention of a crash.
What was I doing, emailing and working on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Ah, yes. I was only 6 months in.

The email, detailing only the bare minimum of 'students who had been involved in a tragic car crash', was ominously short and formal and sent to the school at large. Names were then sent out, a few hours later, notfiying and informing. Names that rang a hollow bell, for, hadn't my colleague just been talking about those very girls, and how they would make excellent candidates for a class play we were planning?
Oh, God. It must be them. Is it them? What class? Which homegroup? It must her kids involved, I remember hearing one of their names and wondering "How did she end up with such an exotic name?". For then, as now, the 'students' become our 'kids', we refer to them as 'ours' and we, at least I do, become truly invested and involved and IN our students lives, for better or worse.

I dialled my colleagues number, I needed to know if she knew. Her voice calm and sunny, the words lost now, but no doubt bright and welcoming. I didn't know if she knew, I didn't know if she had read the email, hoping that perhaps, yes, she knew, and yes, she was ok.

But I was to be the dreaded messenger, the cloaked and hooded harbinger of ill report. I was to be the hoarse raven, the black crow.

She didn't know, hadn't read the email and wasn't going to be ok. Not for a while at least.

I must've mumbled something about a crash, two dying, and then their names.....I remember my own face crumpling and bottom lip shaking as I spoke theithe syllables making out their names.

I'll never forget the un-self conscious, naked, raw, trembling cries of "F**k, f**k, no, God, no, f**k!" when the realisation darkened and we both understood that two of her kids, her students, two of them, in one fell swoop, were gone. The sharp edge of the knife had not yet slid in deep enough, as I remembered he saying that they were her two brightest stars.

There are always some students who shine out, who call out answers, who laugh at jokes, who find you at lunch just to say hi, who smile with genuine pleasure, that become etched in our memories. And such were these. Cliches wouldn't do them justice.

I didn't even teach them! But still. I remember them.



  1. I remember them too, and the boy, so cheeky and full of life in year ten, who years later was the driver.

    I thought of them all yesterday.

    RIP Joel, Riyani and Anja.

    PS - checking emails on a Sunday never stops ...

    Misinterpreted wave

  2. Beautiful piece of writing.

    RIP Riyani, Anja and Joel

    This day will be etched in so many peoples memories. Heartbreaking day.


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