“Question number ten. Of the 250 sheep in a flock, 34% are white. What is the total number of white sheep in the flock?
- Not here.”
I read the last test question aloud to my small group of testing students and waited for them to work out their answers.
“Miss, where the times sign on the calculator again?” one of my students blurted out, loudly.
A grin crept across my face as I walked beside my student’s desk. “Remember if we have a question, especially during a test, we raise our hand,” I reinforced as I raised my hand in the air.
“Yes ma’am. Now, where’s the times sign?” J questioned again.
My black painted index finger nail pointed down to the multiplication symbol on J’s calculator.
“I knew it was that one!” he exclaimed. Then a moment later, his hands flew over his mouth as his eyes darted up to meet my gaze.
I pursed my lips together, attempting to restrain a smile, unsuccessfully. I shook my head gently at J as I began to weave my way between the students’ desks. Checking to see that they were working and keeping their eyes glued on their own tests. Zig-zagging my way through the desks I found myself standing at the front of the room again.
“Raise your hand,” I had to preface, “if you would like any of the test questions read again.”
“I need number fo” K shouted across the room, forcing the other students to look up from their papers.
I looked at K and waited for her to self-correct.
With an eye roll, lip pop and a lot of sass, K dramatically raised her hand with a wrist flip at the end. Just in case I hadn’t noticed.
I walked quietly and stood in front of K’s desk and responded to her gesture. “K, which question would you like me to read for you?”
I waited again. Giving her another opportunity to respond.
“Okay Miss………..question four” she over-emphasized, “……….please.”
I smiled, and nodded my head as I flipped to question four. I quietly read the question and returned to the front of the room again.
Five more minutes passed by and all my students had completed their tests. I dismissed them back to Math and I collected the three calculators that were left behind. Flipping off the light switch, I walked down the hall following my trail of students back to class.
Mrs. Math had quickly graded the tests within a few minutes of our return to class. She motioned for me to join her up at her podium where she had been grading. J’s test was at the top of the stack. She circled the 60 on top of his paper and smiled at me.
My eyes lit up as a full faced smile spread across my face. Now normally, a teacher wouldn’t typically be excited about their student making a 60 on a test. But this student, J, had been making 20’s all year. The same student who asked me to show him where the “times” button was on his calculator. He was incredibly intelligent, but had such difficulty showing it on paper. Mrs. Math and I had both been wracking our brains and resources to find ways to help him learn to better translate his knowledge to paper. So his 60 felt like 110.
I wasn’t sure if J would quite grasp the growth he was making, but I would do my best to convey it to him. Mrs. Math called up the students one by one so that they could see their test score. If they needed to make corrections, they could do that tomorrow during class.
I waited impatiently, just like the students for J’s name to be called. He sauntered up to the podium, taking his sweet time, then finally lowered his gaze on his test score. Mrs. Math whispered something to him, and I watched in awe as a smile crept across his face. Realizing he may have shown too much, J masked his smile quickly transforming his expression.
I was unable to mask my smile. I felt my grin consume my face. Right as it reached maximum capacity, J’s glance met mine. I couldn’t help but smile at him and nod in my head. Nothing too overt, or I might blow his cover of not caring about doing well. But a smile like the one I was radiating is contagious. Because as J swaggered back to his desk, I caught a glimpse of a suppressed tight-lipped smile.
My heart back flipped.
The bell rang soon after and all the students filed out. Mrs. Math and I exchanged hopeful yet tired glances and made my way to the next class.
Nothing could top the high I was riding the rest of the day. As the school bell rang indicating the day was over, I found myself still smirking. These kids were nothing like I could’ve imagined or prepared for. Perpetually exhausting, sarcastic, way too cool and eager to learn, but afraid to show it. My mind had never been so challenged before, yet so invigorated. Facilitating this type of authentic learning was the stuff movies were made of. My first taste of student success.
I unrattled my brain and called it a day. I was going to end on a high note. I deserved it. Most days ended with more work to do when I left than when I arrived in the morning. It regenerated and multiplied daily. Always more to do. But not today. I was going to bask in this victory. Revel in the moment in hopes of willing another like it into existence. I locked up my room and headed out to my car.
Strutting from my classroom at the end of the hallway, the furthest room away from the parking lot, I held my head high. Unlike most days where my eyes were buried into my phone screen as I responded to emails, typed out a to-do list for the next day or hung my head in utter exhaustion.
I exhaled deeply as I sat down in my car. This moment was too good to pass up; I wanted to share my victory. Pure joy is meant to be shared with others, not internalized. I dug out my cell phone to call my mom. Only to be sent into a screeching halt when my thoughts caught up to me. I gulped down a knot in my throat as the realization crashed over me. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in a month. Not since her unfriendly text message ordering me to disconnect from the family.
My mother and I certainly had no perfect relationship. We were not the pair that talked every day, or got mani/pedis together, and we often had differing opinions. But one role my mother had played in my life was my cheerleader. When I was down and frustrated, I could call her and be assured of myself. She would celebrate my victories, dust me off when I’d fallen and encourage me along the way. Oftentimes she felt like the only person I was able to truly talk to in my darkest moments.
However, this dynamic had feathered out over the past year or so. My senior year of college was a holistic growth spurt for me. Emotionally, mentally and spiritually I learned so much about who I was and what I believed. And through this growth, maybe I distanced myself a little. Or maybe, my mother anticipated my growing up and distanced herself. Maybe we both drew back simultaneously. But whatever the reason, the past year consisted of a rocky relationship, more disagreements, less heart-to-hearts and less communication in general.
Add the family explosion and my relationship with my mother seemed non-existent. I wanted to call her. In that moment, I longed to call her.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t call my mother. Too much time had passed in silence. Our lack of words, said more than any conversation could have. And just like that my moment of triumph on the hilltop crumbled into a puddle in the valley. Like a deflating balloon, I lost my air rapidly. Sinking further and further into my driver’s side seat. Call someone elseI urged myself. But it was no good. The moment had soured quickly and reminded me of the reality I had been unintentionally avoiding.
My life had changed drastically in a matter of months, and the dust had yet to settle. Today was simply the first day I had paused long enough to look up at my surroundings, only to be painfully greeted by chaos. The familiarity I had once possessed of my life was completely foreign to me now.
The ache in my heart was met with shame. Shame that it was my responsibility for the ever-growing fault in our relationship. Shame that I had a mother that I wasn’t communicating with when I had the capability to, while others didn’t have that option. Shame that I had let my guard down and self-inflicted this wound. Shame that I still cared, deeply.
So I sat in an empty parking lot while the my tear greeted the crease in my mouth that once housed a smile.
Author’s Note: I’m back! Did you miss me? I know I sure missed all of you. I would like to acknowledge that my sabbatical was unavoidable and imminent. To begin, I am fresh off one of the worst bouts of sickness I can recall experiencing. Three weeks it has taken me to feel completely well again. Five missed days of work, two doctor’s visits, two shots, one prescription and a lot of rest later and I am finally back to Sarah again. That was the unavoidable part.
Which brings us to the imminence of my silence. Yes, I was very sick. However, once my mind began to feel well, I had ample time to sit and write. In fact, it would have greatly behooved me to write. And yet, for the first time, I didn’t want to. Not because I was tired or busy or unable to. I truly did not want to write.
When sailing at sea and met with a vicious storm, you don’t think, you react. Everything happens to and around you, while you remain helpless to stop it. All you can do is respond to your environment. And the ocean can be a cruel creature. In my case, the waves obliterated everything in my life. My ship, my life preservers, my navigation and sense of direction. I was pummeled under the waves for so long that I couldn’t even swim. I was pushed, pulled, dunked, and overwhelmed so that my body stopped resisting. Because fighting the current was actually worse than succumbing to it.
I was on auto-pilot, survival mode. And that’s all I did-survive. So that when I resurfaced and was met with stillness and quiet, it sounded louder than the storm. I looked around me to find that I was isolated in the middle of the ocean, with nothing in sight. As my body descended out of survival mode, I was unsure what would happen next.
When chaos becomes your normal, peace and tranquility are petrifying. I spent so much time and energy fighting to survive, to just merely not drown that by the time the storm had calmed, I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Because now, I would have to make a decision. Which direction would I go? Was I able to swim? Did I have the strength to rebuild my life? The daunting dynamic shift left me feeling paralyzed. Because while surviving the storm was the most difficult thing I had ever done. What would come next would be grueling and tiresome and painful and difficult – I would have to swim. All that lay ahead of me was hard work.
To be frank, while writing about the big events in my past was hard, incredibly hard, I was able to somewhat disconnect and record the facts. What happened is what happened, I just had to put it down. But the part of the story that comes next is the calm waters. No major events, just minutia. My deep thoughts and feelings. My experiences with a gaping wound in my heart that I tried to repair as I had to keep moving.
And as I write about these next months in my story, I know that greater healing will follow. But not without pain. Because now I will reconnect with my story in a deeper way than I’ve previously had to.
Rather than be discouraged that you haven’t made it and you still have pain from your past, I want to encourage you that healing is not a destination. Healing and rebuilding is a process and one that is fluid and ambiguous. Do the hard work and self-reflect. Show yourself unending love, grace and forgiveness. And then give yourself even more.
With much, much love,