Thursday, January 5, 2012

My One

Every class has one.  
My one.  (Sometimes two).

The one that steals my heart.

My girls know exactly what this means.

Each of their classes holds a student that calls out to me from their depths - and into my soul -  and causes me to ache.

It's always been this way for me.  My girlfriends from childhood know it about me.  Knowing I can hardly stand to even look or see sometimes, when the vision in front of me is just too much.   When what stands in front of me tells a silent story of heartbreak, loneliness, or injustice,  it holds me hostage.

Wherever I find myself - there is always one.

I remember the one, back from my second year of teaching.  He was different, awkward, and often alone.  There was trouble at home.  He was isolated and misunderstood.  There were prickles developing where wounds once lay.   I knew from the moment I laid eyes on him he'd be my one.   I remember one day, after dismissal, talking to my principal about my one and saying with tears, "but he just breaks my heart".  We stood there for a moment and shed tears together because it was that kind of school, and sometimes broken hearts are worth it.

Every year of teaching brought one more into my life.

And then my girls started school, and there have been many.

Hannah is with the same students she was with last year.  They have the same teacher and they know each other well.

When Hannah came home last year and told me about "R" in her class, I knew she just might have the same affliction as me.
"He's different", she'd say.
"I think there might be something wrong with him",  came the compassionate observation.

We learned about "R" together.... and soon he was our one.

"R" looked down and often talked to himself in mutters and murmurs under his breath.
He wandered alone at recess, sometimes in circles.
His gait was awkward and deliberate.
He was assigned a full-time educational assistant, but fought the help with nearly all he had.
The games he played inside his head were misunderstood and refuted by his classmates.
His attempts at social interactions were sometimes inappropriate and difficult to accept.
He loved Math and thrived within its logic, order, and predictability.
Just different enough to know he wasn't the same....

Thankfully, "R" had a teacher who wanted to know him.
She fought to keep him in the school when his parents thought a fresh start elsewhere would be better.
She educated her students on who "R" was and who he could be.

Just a few weeks before Christmas break, as the girls and I were walking toward the school, we watched as "R" ran awkwardly on the path though the grass carrying his saxophone.  You couldn't miss him.   It was a misty morning, and the grass was slippery.  Suddenly his foot slipped and his body flew up in the air and he landed hard on his saxophone case.  Despite the hard fall, he was up instantly, head down, saxophone back in hand and continued his shuffle toward the school.  I ran up to him and asked him if he was OK.  "I'm OK", he muttered, without looking up at me.    Hannah came up behind me and said, ""R" always falls, mom.  He's used to it."

I looked at the girls and said, "It breaks my heart, you know."

It was one of those moments when you wish you could look away or turn yourself off or disconnect.... save yourself from the brokenness and the weight that goes with you for the rest of the day and then resurfaces every time you see his face.

He was my one.

On Tuesday, the first day back after the holidays, Hannah came home from school and we started to chat about the day's events.  ""R" is moving", she said with worry.  "He's going to a different school.  I don't know if that's a good idea".

My heart dropped as she said it and I sensed her worry for him.  He was safe where he was.  He had a support system and a teacher who knew him.  And now I felt the weight of wondering how he would cope and who would advocate for him.

Tuesday was his last day.
He was my one, and now he's gone.


  1. Hmmmm. I am supposing autism? And I am hoping his parents are informed.
    Don't you wish life was safe? And don't you wish that all the people having their "formative years" right now wouldn't be forming cuts and scars, even as we sit and read? I love this raw and aching compassion that you are installing in the kids. It is so painful and desperate to CARE. I wish the kid would be ok.... And God bless his teacher.

  2. I hoped for a different ending to this, but I guess R's story isn't over yet. Breaks my heart.

  3. Karla, this post stirred up my own memories from my school days. I can identify with have 'my one'.....I had a few of them at a young age in elementary. In Grade one there was this little boy named David. He was different. He had this hole in his throat (some medical problem that as a kid I didn't understand) and he smelled funny. The other kids didn't want to be his partner or hold his hand on the walk to the gym or library. But my six-year-old heart broke for him as much as a six-year-old's can. I held his hand. And when he died that year I was the only kid in class that went to his funeral. I missed a cool craft that day, but David was more important to me than that. Broken hearts ARE worth it and I'm glad your girls are discovering that too. A compassionate heart is often a broken one. xo

  4. My Joycie... you are right- autism. To add another layer, "R" is of a culture that doesn't too easily acknowledge or embrace differences. From what I understand, his parents desperately pretend there is nothing different about him.

    Lise - funny how those memories come back with such clarity. I'm not surprised you were at the funeral. That's how you were grown. I'm guessing you're growing your boys the same way too.


  5. I was reading your story aloud to Zoe and she knew exactly who you were talking about and so did I. Truly is sad for him leaving a structured school,people who cared and now all we can do is pray for not only him but for all the other "ones". My special one is Adriana at my work, I'd even go as far as adopting her, only if her father knew.