We often never know what difference we’ve made in someone’s life. We, as teachers, may never see a student after they leave our classroom at the end of the school year. I don’t remember all the students, but some do stick in my mind and my heart.
My first three years of teaching in the public school system were at a school in Haines City, Florida. I taught fourth grade in this school that was more than 50% Hispanic. I worked with a group of teachers that became my friends. We poured our time, energy, and hearts into the young lives we had from 8am-3:30pm each day.
By my second year I was more comfortable in the classroom. I’d taken some ESL classes, I had a little experience under my belt and my teacher-friends and I worked especially hard that year in writing instruction. We were test driven, not by choice, but we tried to make it fun. That year some of our students got their letters to Al E. Gator published in the Lakeland Ledger. I still have a photocopy of the paper where five of my kids had their letters printed. I can still remember their faces. Their was towheaded Jeremy, funny Jah, outgoing Aida. And then there was Zenaida and Hector. Both were shy and still struggling with English. The letters were simple : telling Al E. Gator about their Thanksgiving plans. Zenaida’s letter ended with, “All my family is going to go to my house and I am going to be very happy about that.” Hector talked about the previous year’s Thanksgiving, “My grandpa, my sister, my dad, my mom, my big brother and my dad’s friends were there. I played with my friends. We played hide and go seek. I felt happy.”
Simple childhood joys. This was in November, 1997. I don’t know the details of their lives, but I know Zenaida and Hector grew up and fell in love. They had a baby.
Fast forward to February, 2005. Hector’s sister was home for the weekend from the School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, along with her boyfriend who also went to the school. She was deaf and mute and he also had hearing loss. For some reason, Hector’s sister checked him out of school early and, along with Zenaida and baby Jasmine, they were all headed somewhere in the car that the boyfriend was driving. He ran a stop sign, hit another car. Hector, his sister, Zenaida, and baby Jasmine were all killed. About a month later the boyfriend also passed away.
Hector, just 17, was on track to take his GED test. He wanted to be a mechanic and take care of his parents. He, Zeniada, 18, and the baby all lived with his parents. It’s been nearly 15 years since the accident, about 23 years since I last saw them, but I can still see their sweet 4th-grade faces in my memory.
I cannot even begin to imagine the grief of his parents. To lose two children, a granddaughter, and a girl who was soon to be their daughter in law, all in one fell swoop. Loss is part of life, but some losses grip us harder and stay longer. We don’t any of us know our days or times, which makes that time even more precious.