Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Class I Failed

How many minutes in my life have I spent staring through golden mist on a morning highway? I remember it being the most romantic, intoxicating feeling. At six years old, chocolate milk in one hand and crayon in the other. At ten, Coca Cola and a pencil. Sixteen, coffee and a Bic. Scratching out the story with every mile: where I was going. Or where I wished I was.

When I was a kid, I thought every highway would go exactly where I wanted it to. I thought the mist would always be golden.

This time last year I had a foot on each end of the highway. Sold the house, moved three hours away, two weeks before school let out, and commuted to finish out my contract. Every morning I was in the car by four, driving down and down on roads that crumbled and steepened the further south I went.

This morning, children woke up there, in houses next to the crumbling highway, where the mountains are so tall the sun doesn't rise till eight. The highways run in circles. The mist is gray. I spent a year trying to get those kids to tell me their stories, to dream big, to tell me where they wanted their highway to lead.

They didn't understand the question.

Ten months I taught them and they never understood the question.

It has taken me a year to even be able to look back on those months in the coalfields. My anxiety level ratchets up several notches and my mind tries to change the subject, tries to find something else to dwell on before I have to remember each specific face, so adult, so tired and old, so tragic on a seven-year-old. How I hated that look in their eyes. How I hated that year, trying to teach my kids something that can't be taught. Hope and dreaming and a little bit of peace. How to be a damn kid for a minute.

Some days – every day – I wish I could have another shot. Do better by those children. But this time last year, I couldn't force myself to stay. I put in my resignation and the nightmares stopped. I put a For Sale sign in the swampy yard of the house with messed-up plumbing and locked windows. I jumped on the highway at the first opportunity, drove up and up until the mist turned gold.

Left those kids behind.



This is among the most beautiful essay I've ever read.
I was so happy to see your name/face on my blog. I cannot wait to read your next book. I haven't been keeping up. Do you know when???
Blessings. B

for a date!!!

MG Higgins said...

This is beautifully written and so tragic. As a school counselor there were kids I was unable to reach, but I always had at least one child who understood the question. Without that one child, I would have done the same as you.

Granny Kate said...

Some of what you said will remain with them until they are ready to hear it. I know this is true.

H. Dooley said...

I'm leaving my kids, and they don't understand that question, either. Mom's right, you did leave them with SOMETHING. You don't know what, and it will probably be a difficult thing to accept that you will probably never find out. Other things will come to them too. Life is really long. Things will happen for some of them. It depends on what is in them, and you were part of creating that. If you plant a seed and then leave, you're not going to see any results, but that doesn't mean there won't be results. There is no reason to presume the seeds won't grow.