If you’re a dead man, then stick to being dead

Sometimes things that we thought were over and dealt with pop up again and blindside us. I have been dealing with something the past couple of days that I thought had been put to rest. Instead, that chokey almost-crying feeling is keeping me up at all hours of the night as my mind runs circles around itself.

Last night I tried to distract myself by thinking about things to blog about. Using Brian’s entry as a springboard, I considered who my most influential teachers have been. There was Mrs. McGee, my second-grade teacher (who, I heard a few years ago, sadly passed away), and Mrs. Lopossay, my middle-school English teacher who didn’t laugh at me for reading A Tale of Two Cities and Anna Karenina when I was 13. (I only read them because we had started doing Accelerated Reader, and I wanted to read the books that had the most points. It earned me a bunch of candy, let me tell you.) In high school, there was Coach Stutts, who let us play Risk during the last few days of class, which I won. Even beating him. Mr. Ray, the best Trigonometry/Advanced Math/Calculus teacher a girl could want.

And, since this is my blog, I would like to take a minute to let you know about some of the negative teachers, too. The librarian at my elementary school in Charlotte, who shamed me in front of my entire class for an honest misunderstanding. Mrs. Brown, my third-grade teacher, who gave me a D on a test that included questions like, “How long does it take to eat an apple?” and, “How long does it take to swim a lap in pool?” and, “How long would it take Susie to read a 40-page book that had pictures on every other page?” Can I just say that I am a notoriously slow apple-eater but a very fast reader? I’m still mad about that one, in case you can’t tell. Those things were both over 15 years ago, which proves how influential teachers are. At last I can have my revenge! hehe.

But, far and away, the most influential teacher I had was Mrs. Pate. I have mentioned her before, as the librarian who made me read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. She influenced more than my reading, though – my freshman year, she convinced me to try out for the Quiz Bowl team, which shaped my social interactions for those four years. She even gave me rides home from practice when my parents weren’t able to come pick me up. She made the library a place we could go to seek sanctuary from the bustle and backstabbing of high school life. She expected a lot of us, but she was always there to listen when we were having a hard time. She let me complain about my social status (or lack thereof). She didn’t push me to talk when I broke up with my boyfriend (another Quiz Bowl team member). She helped me with my speech for graduation, and she helped us all practice for our college interviews. She had us over to her house for practices and for a fancy dinner before the prom. She gave up Saturdays to take us to meets, all in the hope that we could make it to the televised round, which we never did. But we sure had fun trying. One year, we did especially poorly at district, and after we had gotten dejectedly back into the van, she turned around and said, “I don’t want you to think I’m disappointed in you. How could I be disappointed in you not knowing the answers to questions as stupid as those?” She was tough, but always on our side.

One of my favorite memories of her is from the day I found out about my scholarship to UNCG. I had gone for interviews the week before, so we knew the letter was coming to let me know the results. The day it actually came, my parents were home, and I had given them permission to open it as soon as it arrived. I got called to the office just after lunch, and there were my parents with the letter and some roses, congratulating me. They were so proud – I had gotten enough to cover everything, and college wouldn’t cost a cent. It was a great moment. I was a little overwhelmed, and after they left, I went to Mrs. Pate’s office to tell her about it, and I just cried for several minutes as she hugged me. She made a joke about it, “This is a good thing, you know that, right?” but she knew I didn’t want to have to take out loans to go to college. (Eventually, I went back to Mr. Ray’s class, and everyone congratulated me. I would like to point out that one of the advantages of being a “good kid” is that I was allowed to roam the halls freely at this point. Should I have been in class? You betcha. Did anyone care? Apparently not so much.)

Last week, before he left for Connecticut, my brother went to see Mrs. Pate. I try to stop by and see her as often as I can, which isn’t very often anymore. But in the past few years, she has started going to my grandparents’ church, so I hear how she and her family are doing from time to time. I know that she is pleased that I have become a librarian . . . but with an influence like her, how could I have done anything else with my life?

Thoughts of Mrs. Pate didn’t help me drift off to sleep, but they did keep the crying at bay for a while longer.

Making both sides of the conversation
Sometimes, I don’t know what to do
Don’t start talking inside my head
If you’re a dead man then stick to being dead
-Sam Phillips (who else?)

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