When You're Sad, When You're Feeling Low, When You're Hurt And Don't Know Where To Go, Think Of Me--There I'll Be, Anytime You Need A Friend
It was a Wednesday on what absolutely had to be the longest week in my teaching career. Everywhere in my body were small bolts of pain that I had to tune out or turn off as best as I could so that the children I taught wouldn't see how much my life was out of whack. I didn't even want to be in class. I just wanted to be recuperating back at home and in bed, not even thinking about trying to work in my condition.
But like every morning for the last eight years I dragged myself to that classroom in the South Side of Chicago because quitting on my kids wasn't even an option.
I saw the note in the cubbyhole that passed my mailbox as I made my morning walk from the office to the classroom. It said plainly that I would be getting a new student that day. Her name was Rosa Minor and her family had moved into the neighborhood the week before. I played with the sound of her name in my head as I continued walking to class. Rosa the Minor. Rosa the Little. I too had been relocated in the middle of the school year so I knew how important it would be to make her feel welcomed. Car accident or not, I needed to be the picture of sunshine if I didn't want her first day to leave a bad impression with her. She needed to know right away she could trust me.
When I arrived in the classroom I saw that my Third Grade class had left me yet another get well card on my desk. Today's made the fourth one to mysteriously show up before anyone had been let into the room. I suspected that one of the other teachers had been secretly letting one of my more precocious students in before the bell rang, but I hadn't quite figured out which one. I picked up the card.
It had a picture of a duck on it and the front of it read "Feeling Out of Quack?". But before I could open it up, I was surprised by a small spectator who had walked in through the door behind me.
"What'cha reading?" this curly brown hair moppet asked me.
"A get well card."
"Okay," she responded and proceeded to take a seat in one of the front desks.
I didn't recognize her as belonging to one of the other classes so I assumed this was my transfer student. This was little Rosa.
I walked my still aching body to the aisle next to her, her eyes watching me with every step. I squatted down so I could gain eye contact with her. The first thing that struck me was she didn't seem nervous at all like most kids would be in her situation. She seemed to know that she belonged her, even if she was in the wrong seat.
"I'm Miss Caitlin. What's your name?"
"Well, I'm glad to meet you, Rosa--Rosa Minor. I hope you have a happy first day here."
By then the other students began to trickle in. With a huge smile on my face I introduced Rosa to the everyone and everyone to Rosa. Then I showed her where she would be sitting for the rest of the year. I expected her to handle all the fuss, all the excitement, with a small amount of terror or joy, but she seemed to manage it all with a certain stride. She was entirely calm and considerate throughout the whole affair. Wherever she came from or whomever her parents were, she had obviously been taught to be well-mannered. Just before the bell signifying the beginning of class rang I smiled at the prospect of her behavior rubbing off on some of my other more unruly students.
By the recess bell, I had lost my smile completely. Not only was my back killing me, but a few of the troublemakers in the back had decided that today of all days would be a good day to start wrestling in the middle of my lessons. The effort alone to get from the front of the class to the back of the class had made a small discomfort into a giant mass of pain. That's when I had to physically seperate the two of them and charge them off to the Principal's office. I got back to the front of the class wishing I could yell out for my mommy.
The whole time I could feel Rosa's eyes grow with concern for me.
When the other kids left for recess, she stayed behind to talk with me. I told her that she was free to play, but she wouldn't leave.
"Does it hurt?" she asked me.
"A little," I lied to her.
"It'll get better. That's what my mommy says when I hurt," she confided in me.
"She's absolutely right, Rosa. I'm feeling a little better already."
For the next ten minutes I got to know my new student. More than that, she got to know me. I tried to show her that just because I was her teacher, it didn't mean that she had to be afraid of me. I always thought that was important to establish early on with a child, that I wasn't some big, bad wolf ready to gobble them up should they ever misbehave.
By the end of the recess, I had regained a bit of my good spirits.
I got through to lunch relatively fine. The class, for the most part, behaved admirably. I thought I'd be able to get through the rest of the day relatively unscathed when my back started cramping up on me. It hurt so bad I was forced to teach the remaining ten minutes from my chair instead of at the blackboard. I tried to hide my wincing, but the students in front knew there was something wrong. Their faces told the story of how concerned they were for me. I thought to myself that I shouldn't have come in at all today. I was beginning to scare the kids and that wasn't worth trying to do my job. On the outside, I maintained I was fine, but inside my whole body was crying.
It wasn't until I felt Rosa tiny fingers on my cheek that I realized that the pain had begun to show on my face. As she wiped the smallest of tears from my face, she gave me a hug. My instincts were dead-on right about her. She was impossibly good-natured. I thanked her, but she wouldn't let go. Her arms barely fit around my neck, but I would be lying if I said it didn't feel good. Soon, she had another four or five students joining her until finally the whole class proceeded to take turns giving me hugs.
Eventually, I told them all to sit down and wait for lunch. I thanked them all and told them they were all sweethearts, but it was to Rosa I gave a special wink. She was turning out to be the bright spot in an otherwise horrible day. I made a mental note to myself to call her parents and let them know what a special child they had.
When the day ended I found myself walking with her out the door. Usually I stayed behind to clean up, grade papers, or generally finish whatever hadn't gotten finished that day. Today, though, I knew the best thing for me was to get home and recuperate.
"How was your first day, Rosa?"
"Well, I'll see you in class tomorrow."
"Thank you for being so nice to me. Your mother would be proud."
"Okay. Hope your hurt gets better, Miss Caitlin."
"Oh, thanks. I'm sure it'll be better tomorrow. But, if it isn't, can I count on you for another hug?"
And she gave me one last hug before I headed to my car and she headed to where the rest of her parents were picking up their kids. I hurried home not even realizing that would be the last time I'd see little Rosa.
The next day when I walked into the office, Kay, our office assistant, came rushing up to me with the most shocking news I'd ever heard.
"Did you hear about the student you were supposed to get yesterday?" she asked me frantically.
"What do you mean supposed to get?" I tried to ask me, but she was already cutting me off.
"Yeah, it turns out her and her parents were in a car accident on the way to dropping her off here. That's why she wasn't in class yesterday. I'm surprised you didn't call down here asking what happened to her."
The news absolutely floored me. Still trying to process the information she was telling me, I sat down on the nearby waiting area couch.
"Are they alright?" was all I could ask. I didn't dare explain why I was so befuddled. I hoped she would merely think I was struck with grief to be coherent.
"All died on the scene. The news just came down from the mother's sister who came to their house right away. It was horrible. I mean--I feel bad for the parents, but the girl was only eight. They said she was trapped in the car for a couple of hours before she died. Can you imagine what kind of pain she was in?"
I could only nod my head.
I never told Kay about what had happened the day before. I didn't tell anyone. I'm not sure if any of the kids understood what they had witnessed. They probably thought that Rosa had decided to go to another school. I'm confident that I was the only witness to the mystery.
I don't claim to understand any of it. I don't even claim to still fully believe it. The only thing I can surmise is that this girl, this Rosa, somehow reached out to me. She knew I had been suffering through a particularly violent car crash as well, because of which my younger brother was still in the hospital. She knew it had taken me over two weeks to even start feeling partly healed enough to come back to school. She had been in pain and maybe, through some act of God or something, she had been spared a bit of that to help comfort me. How she came to be here and why she chose to help ease my pain I still don't know about. Was it all because this was where she was scheduled to be? And was this the only reason she chose me was because I was going to be her teacher? Maybe this is where her mind went while her body was still trapped in that car.
The hug still baffles me, though...