I worked in five different schools over twenty years and so acquired a lot of work only friends. Though a handful of these people have stuck with me in various mediums, most of them have faded to “people I used to know” status, and I use the “know” in only the vaguest of ways. I wouldn’t claim to have really known any of them past their working face and am certain that street is a two-way.
Sis left a message on my FB page last night mentioning that a mutual work friend of the way back days of middle school yore was looking for me. The three of us taught together back in the late 80’s and early 90’s at one of the rough-and-tumbliest junior highs on Des Moines’ eastside. The poorest of the poor white trash attended this school. Kids who lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the State Fairgrounds and running along the banks of the river. Neighborhoods where the boarded up houses were inhabited by families who couldn’t afford to replace the windows when they were broken out by gunshots and where the city didn’t bother to pave the streets or install sidewalks.
I once drove a student to his home in one of these postapocalyptic looking neighborhoods and was sharply admonished by an older co-worker who told me in no uncertain terms that I was “never to drive down there alone again.”
I didn’t get warnings that stern when I drove through the “hood” on the North side and that was during the height of the gang wars*.
The friend in question eventually moved up the chain of command, I transferred away and so did she. I saw her occasionally at the yearly convention our district used to hold in the spring, but she became someone from my past. I invited her to the wedding when Will and I married, but she sent her regrets. I think she sent a gift to the baby shower for Dee, but she’s never seen even a picture of Dee, let alone Dee herself.
The last time I ran into her was four years ago at the last high school where I taught. It was days until the end of school and I had resigned, getting ready to sell my house and move up to Canada.
She asked how I was.
Everyone asked, but those who hadn’t stayed in touch or contacted me in the aftermath of Will’s death always had this guilty air about them that I found exasperating. It’s not as if I thought the world revolved around me and was overly hurt about the lack of cards or emails when he died. I was more annoyed by the way they seemed to think they had some input into my life or pertinent advice to give me – because many of them did – and I wanted to remind them that they’d been absent too long for this to be the case. But I didn’t. In this instance though, she didn’t know Will had died, and that was always a treat – breaking the news to people who’d dropped off the radar after he got sick. Better was the twofer – Will died and oh, I’m getting remarried – she had quite the non-reaction to the first and a small stroke over the second.
Actually, a horror induced stroke because I was quitting my job, selling my house and moving to Canada to marry a guy I met on the Internet. To be precise about it.
She was not the first to question my judgment but was one of the few that didn’t get an earful of scorn and mind your own life while I – an adult with more than half a brain – mind my own, thank you.
In retrospect, I suppose my news sounded a bit extreme and possibly hasty.
But she was over a decade absent from my life at this point and had no idea of who I was at that moment or what had led me to the place where I was. We were strangers again in all the ways that matter. Sharing a past experience counts for exactly nothing though it can make for a pleasant coffee date.
Her husband died not long ago. I saw his obit on the city’s newspaper site.**
I followed the link to the mortuary website and left a note. Such a wonderful way to bridge the time and space that separates sometimes.
So when Sis told me that this friend was looking for a way to contact to me – I knew why.
We have something in common again.
Except we don’t.
All I can do is the same thing anyone else can, impart a few sympathetic words and remind her that time is really going to make a difference at some point down the road.
Maybe that is a lot more than it feels like. But it’s all that I have to offer.
*It surprises people but in the early to mid 90’s, Des Moines was an important bit of turf in a territory war between the Bloods and the Crips. Both would eventually lose out to Hispanic and Asian gangs, but for a while, tales from students about nightly shootings and keeping an eye out for rolled up pants legs and “colors” was part of my job description. And people said I was overpaid.
**I check the obits in hopes of one day seeing Will’s mother there. Yeah, I know what a cunt that makes me. And I don’t care.