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Gone Too Soon
March 4, 2003
Today is Friday, the last day of the week. Thank God! This past week has been so cold, and the cool winter air nips at my nose as I walk into school. As I enter, the heat of the entryway hits me and surrounds me in a warm cocoon. Boy, does that feel good. I head upstairs to my class, chatting with my friends about our plans for the weekend.
The first few classes fly by -- English, social studies, and religion. The bell’s shrill ring scares me as it signals the end of third hour. Shoving my books into my desk, I hurriedly leave the classroom, grab my gym shoes from my locker and head down to the locker room with my best friend, Kelly.
“What do you think we’ll do today?” she asks.
“I don’t know. I just hope it’s not the new game we played last week. I really hated it,” I responded.
“Agreed. That was the stupidest thing ever.”
We take our sweet time changing into our gym uniforms. It is Friday after all, and the gym teacher can’t get mad at us. She likes Fridays. In the gym, she lines us up boys on one side, girls on the other. Kelly and I space ourselves so the gym teacher will put us on the same team, but she notices. So, Kelly and I are split up.
“Line soccer is the game today. Don’t be too rough, or you’re out of here,” the teacher says to the class. I exchange a sideways glance with the boy standing next to me. We both roll our eyes simultaneously. This is not how we were hoping for this gym class to turn out.
Thankfully, the game makes time pass quickly. Before I know it, I hear my teacher, Mr. L, singing on the way to pick up my class from gym and lead us back down to the locker room. Today in particular, Mr. L was singing extra loud, I noted. I steal a quick glance through the doors which I was standing in front of. Coffee cup in hand, Mr. L walks towards the gym. Suddenly, there is a shout from the gym, and I turn to watch the game again.
A few minutes later, I notice that Mr. L still hasn’t reached the gym. That’s odd, I think to myself. I glance through the doors again, and I can feel my heart sink to my stomach. He’s lying on the floor, unmoving. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I dart around and look to see if anyone else has noticed. Apparently not; they are all intent on the game and unaware of Mr. L in the hall.
I turn back around to see what’s happening in the hall. To my relief, two janitors are standing over him, but they appear to be doing nothing. I want to scream and yell and shout at them to do something, but I just can’t seem to find my voice.
Soon after, the principal comes into the gym and whispers something to the teacher. As I correctly assume, it’s about Mr. L because the gym teacher’s face turns white as a ghost, and she runs out of the gym. By now, my classmates are becoming rather inquisitive. They look around, and a few kids around me begin to follow my gaze and look out the doors as well.
“What’s going on?”
“I can’t see anything!”
“Oh, my gosh. Is he okay?!” The gym teacher is giving CPR to him now. Even I know by now this can’t be good.
“Kids, don’t look out the door,” the principal said. And with that, the gym turns to chaos.
Everyone charges to the door to try and see out, and in turn, I get squished against the doors. So even if I didn’t want to see what was happening to Mr. L, I didn’t seem to have that choice anymore.
The principal runs over and attempts to cover up the doors, an easy task because she’s so large. But being the curious children we are, all of us just simply move to look out the other set of doors.
Considering the circumstance, I’m relieved at the sight of the paramedics. They take over for my gym teacher and continue giving him CPR and doing chest compressions. The principal has given up trying to keep us from watching; she was greatly outnumbered. She must have called for backup though, because a few minutes later, some other teachers arrive to try and help her control us. A lot of kids are crying now, and I am too. I feel so helpless, but there’s nothing I can do. Mr. L is dying right before my eyes, and I can’t do anything to stop it.
March 6, 2003
The wake for Mr. L is today. I don’t want to go; I hate these so much, but I know I have to go. He was my teacher after all. Walking into the room at the funeral parlor, it really hits me. Mr. L really is gone. He had a heart attack and died right in front of me. The mental image of that is still engrained in my brain, and I believe it always will be.
Stepping in front of the casket, my eyes well with tears. It doesn’t even look like him in the casket. They did an awful job making him up. The makeup looks caked on, his face seems pale, and I could still see the purplish tint to his lips. As I stand gazing at Mr. L, I’m reminded of all the great memories I have of him. Of all of them, the watermelon seed spitting contest had to be my favorite. We had stayed after lunch one day when my friend brought in an entire watermelon specifically because Mr. L had bet her that she couldn’t even spit a seed, and we made it a class contest to see who could launch one the farthest. On top of that, he called all the kids “Tigger,” always sang wherever we went, and he looked like Santa. A guy can’t get much cooler than that.
As I walk away from the casket and towards my classmates who are there, my sadness fades. I remember Mr. L is in a better place, and that’s all anyone could ask for. He’s happy now, and I can only be thankful for that. But today is hard, and tomorrow will be too at the funeral.
March 7, 2003
Funerals are almost as bad as wakes, in my opinion. Dead people scare me, and I can’t stand to look at them. But here I am, staring into Mr. L’s casket once again. The feelings from yesterday come flooding back, but I manage to hold the tears in this time. I hate crying in front of people almost as much as I hate looking at dead people.
Making my way into the church, my class is sitting in the first few pews because Mr. L’s family requested that we sing during the funeral. It’s going to be really hard to try and sing with a lump in the back of my throat. But somehow when the time came to sing, I managed to croak out the words of the song. I take my seat solemnly. I can’t hold back the tears any longer. They stream down my face and I glance around at the kids sitting around me. They are all crying too. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire room.
Mr. L was such a genuine person and he was to be missed greatly. But as I sit in the pew surrounded by so many people who loved him, I remember all the good times and I thank God that I was privileged enough to have known him. He showed us all an example of how to live life to the fullest. Always smiling and joking and singing, Mr. L never let anything get him down, and I envy him for that.
March 11, 2003
It’s been a week now since Mr. L passed. We’ve had different substitute teachers everyday, and none of them can compare to Mr. L. It’s just not ever going to be the same again. There is a sadness in the air of my classroom, and everyone can feel it. The kids in the other class have it lucky. They don’t have to come back to this room full of memories everyday.
But in a way, there aren’t so lucky. They didn’t get to spend seven hours a day with him. Mr. L made class fun, and they never got to experience that. I feel bad that they didn’t get to have the opportunity to get to know him the way my classmates and I did. He was a wonderful man, but he was taken too soon.