“Hey, Ms. Emerson. It’s Katie J. A bunch of us are talking want to get together. What are your plans this weekend?” This text comes mid-week in a frenetic scramble of days since our house sold. We are having a get-rid-of-everything sale during the day, that Saturday, and even though I know I’ll be exhausted, the kids, however many a “bunch” represents, are available, so I’ll go.
Katie’s had not been an easy group—some years are like that. Individually I loved so many of them, but together they could be volatile, unpredictable, so that year was not one of my best. I used a lot of self-talk to recharge my attitude, to reassert the possibility of turning things around. They constantly challenged me to bring the best I had to the table…every damn day!
In that eighth grade class a decade ago, Katie and her best friend huddled together writing and talking, lots of talking. One student wore the same white hoodie almost every day, flipping up the hood as he sprawled on the carpet to find his muse. One spent most of the year during my class in the bathroom; it became a joke to his peers, but continued to plague me in the years after he graduated. These kids wrote amazing poetry and drew caricatures that mocked their passionate Language Arts teacher. One wrote a story about losing his lucky baseball cap at a ticker tape parade for the Yankees that stayed with me (lucky because it was returned, the kindness of strangers).
Here they are on that night, minus one who had had to go home; she’d wrenched her neck and was holding it gingerly in that we do when pain accompanies each motion, but said she didn’t want to miss saying goodbye. She, too, would be heading west, California though, “‘cuz it’s just too gray in the Pacific Northwest.” Now these “kids” have jobs, work in the city, are finding their places, telling me stories about those friends who couldn’t make it. I am nursing a beer a student bought me, disinterested in all but the conversation, their laughter and easy banter forged by life shared in a small community. We are together again, and time has worked its magic. As the “bunch” swells and the local outdoor bar becomes impossible—the noise, the crowd, the heat—we move to the end of a dock to snap this photo before heading out and on our separate ways, another memory framed, our futures before us.