Don’t call me to sub again. I am glad I came today because, within three minutes of arriving on the campus that almost swallowed me whole, I bumped into the one person I had hoped to see, Anita. But, please don’t call again.
I enjoyed my job both as a speech pathologist and as an ELL teacher. I had a heck of a lot of fun turning my minuscule therapy room into a log cabin or an underground cave or a forest or a jungle or an Ocean reef. Years after I stopped working, I occasionally learned I actually had made a difference in some kids lives. Amber not only learned to read but went on to be a child advocate. Steven now the manager of the photography department, greeted me at Costco as if I was a visiting dignitary. My beautiful Lilia and I go out for lunch even if I don’t remember enough Spanish to keep up my part of the conversation in a language I at one time could at least fake. Best of all was Anita. The day I first knew I wanted to work with her I was sitting in the library hidden behind the magazine rack. Our librarian was out sick and Anita, who was a teaching assistant, was filling in. She could’ve just sat at the desk and stamped the books but she re-stacked every returned volume, staying through lunch to finish the job because she knew the librarian was really sick and it would be good to come back to the job site without feeling immediately overwhelmed. When after years of requests I finally was granted an assistant, I was grateful and relieved ; I was very clear about who I wanted. Anita. They tried to talk me out of it. “She can’t walk fast enough or get on the floor with the little ones because of her CP. She talks too much, ….are you sure that’s who you want.” I had no doubts then or during our years working together. Yep, it was her or no one and that was saying something with a caseload that sometimes hit over 100. Anita made my life better. I’m sure there’s lots of little things she didn’t do the way someone else would demand. Somehow I can’t remember any of them. All I can see looking back are the kindnesses and incredible examples of going the extra mile. When my therapy kids created a game drawing little squares, she turned their artwork into a game board beautifully stitched quilt I still treasure. If it seemed impossible to do all the paperwork demanded by countless IEP’s, she spent hours creating a color-coded system that kept both of our heads above water. No money in the budget for a kid sized therapy table? No problem. she and her dear husband spent weekends hand building one, without saying a word, delivering it as a surprise. On gray mornings warm pumpkin cookies would appear on my desk. Her never failingly positive attitude made the air lighter. When the days could have been overwhelming, she made sure we found ways to laugh. I finally decided to retire and my one hope was there would be someone who could appreciate my dear Anita for the gift she is. My short conversation with her this morning, many years later, sadly proved this has not been the case.
I’m back subbing today–because my daughter, teacher of the deaf at the rural high school, needed a certified warm body who could sign–so she could deal with a medical situation. Wouldn’t you know it, the only person I wanted to see, my dear Anita, was who I bumped into as I walked to the classroom. We had a few minutes to share the cup of coffee I had just picked up from the Human Bean. She’s a bit grayer but still beautiful and gentle, positive and uncomplaining. When prodded, she did mention the latest new teacher she was assigned to work with will not even say good morning because, oh no! Anita–trying to help–had reorganized the files in the wrong color cabinet. I loved teaching and my time with students but being back here and talking with Anita I remember too clearly how much cruelty and smallness there was, from coworkers no less, so often thinking only with their heads or insecure egos and not their hearts. What is so important that you cannot show a little kindness instead of belittling a good person over a stacks of files? During our way too brief coffee moment I begged her to consider retiring. I think she listened. It was so good to see her, but please please don’t call me to sub again.