Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Our kids' first  day back after vacation.
Eighth grade lunch duty.
I make my rounds between the tables,
making my presence known enough to avoid potential disasters.
An ordinary day until she throws up on my feet.

No, not literally.

I am walking by her table.
Often she sits with three or four girls, but today there are just two of them.
Her friend gets something in her eye and leaves for the bathroom.
J asks if I will stand there with her until she comes back, so she won't be alone.
I oblige.
I have known her for a long time,  almost three years,
since I loaned her lunch money the first day of sixth grade.
That day, she was wearing a black t-shirt with a picture of a woman,
and a date, only a few months past.
I asked who the woman was, and she told me that it was her mother,
who died from a brain tumor.

We have been friends since that day,
in a kind of love/hate relationship.
I've cheered for her at sporting events,
sat with her in suspension hearings,
and helped with science fair projects.
Some days she likes me, and we are best friends.
Other days she can't stand me,
makes fun of my shoes,
badmouths me to her friends.

Today I ask, just kind of conversationally,
 if she had a good vacation.
And she throws up on my feet.

She tells me that it was her birthday.
That her dad was supposed to pick her up
(she lives with a family member),
but that he has a new girl friend
and the girl friend is pregnant,
and doesn't want J around.
The story comes out in a rush
and sits on the table between us.
Hurt, raw and deep, flashes across her face.

I am surprised.
I have never heard anything about a dad
or met him at parent teacher conferences,
or sporting events.
I did not know there was a dad in the picture.
She tells me that he used to pick her up every weekend
and call all the time
but now he doesn't.

in some situations,
I have the words.
I can comfort girls who have fought with their best friends
or broken up with their boyfriends.
I know what to say about dead pets.
I'm pretty good at helping kids regroup
after they have made a stupid mistake.
But today I don't know what to say.

I tell her I am so sorry.
Offer a story about one of my sons.
And the father that isn't there.
And how badly it hurts my son
to know that father has
a whole other family
a whole other life
about 15 minutes away from ours.

It isn't enough.
But it's the best I can do.
Teaching is hard
on the days when the kids
throw up on your feet.

6 comments: said...

So hard. I'm glad she has you to talk to.

And I hope you get new shoes! :-)

elsie said...

Heartbreak for the student and you. Life just doesn't seem fair for so many kids. Love that you are a constant in this girl's life.

Ramona said...

Such a sad story. Glad you are there to listen and support. Even when she doesn't like you, she knows you're there for her.

Linda B said...

Oh Carol, it is hard. My most positive thought is that she wanted you there, somehow, no matter the contention at other times. You must mean something good to her. Some kids have it so tough.

Mary Lee said...


Carol Varsalona said...

Carol, I have met many of your J students. They are the ones that need the extra touch, the listening ear, the guidance. Teachers are comforters, guides, and listeners. You may think that your actions were not enough but I bet they were. Life is difficult for those J students and sometimes school is their refuge. Your own dealings with your boys gave you the guidance to be the listener and the supporter.