This afternoon, as I cleaned up the carnage of my back table, the office called my room through the intercom. Two boys were there to see me. My brain stalled for a minute. I asked for their names to be repeated through the crackly speaker. The second time I heard loud and clear. One of my students from last year was back to say hello.
My heart skipped a beat.
I keep my kids for two years and he disappeared over summer, rumored to have moved to the South, Alabama, or Georgia, or somewhere. In a room full of rowdy boys, he was a leader, calm, well-spoken, polite. Whenever he was in trouble, he would apologize kindly, usually ending his statement by calling me ma’am. His test scores were among the highest in the school.
Today he showed up in my room, a shy smile, a sideways hug. His eyes traced the walls of our classroom, the desks new, everything else so very much the same. I told him we missed him. I told him we would bring in a 31st desk just for him. And, I meant it. I don’t want 31 students, but I would if the 31st was this kid. His eyes filled up with tears as we talked. Not a single one spilled down his cheek, but they were there, ready to pour out.
When he left, I cried. Another teacher was in my room. She teared up with me. He never moved to Georgia, or Alabama, or the like. He still lives in Sacramento, just too far to make it to our school. A lot of students travel a distance to reach our doors. For some families, it ends up being too much. I understand, but my heart still breaks. His eyes told me his did too.
About twenty minutes after he left, I wandered back into the hallways to see if I could catch him again. With many brothers, I thought maybe they’d still be in someone else’s classroom. I found them in the hallway, his mom and siblings headed my direction. I asked him if he wanted us to write him. He smiled wide. I wrote down his address. His mom promised he’d write back.
I know I will say good-bye to every kid I teach, but some disappear without a word. I’ve had students return to Mexico overnight, or so the stories go. At the beginning of the school year, I was certain this student would be back. I told the other teachers not to worry, that I had talked to their mom, that she had said they’d be there. Eventually I gave up. Another student took his spot, the year went on.
His reappearance today was an unexpected gift, so bittersweet. It was nice to say good-bye this time. I wished I could pick up his house and put it across the street from our school. But then I let him go. I reminded myself that I love all my kids, that he opened up a space for someone new, someone that maybe needed it more than he did. That’s the good part. I know deep down that he’ll be fine, whether he misses us or not.