I meet my best friend in Grade 3.
Her name was Patty; she had a gerbil and lived in a BIG house.
I had my first sleep over at her house. We whispered stories all night. We wrote notes all day in class.
We finished elementary school and moved on to high school together.
High school was a Catholic all-girls school: uniforms, nuns, and the whole deal. We had chapel on Tuesday mornings and “study hall” on Wednesday. Mother Johnson gave us the ins and outs of setting a table, writing thank you notes and how to make conversation in any situation.
We led sheltered lives. OK. Let’s be serious, VERY sheltered lives. We went to church, confession, study hall, and spent our days with nuns.
In grade 9 some of us starting hanging out with boys from the public school: “bad boys.” How cliché. I know. It was our rebellion to the strict dress code (no make up, jewelry, or rolled sleeves) and knees together world (the phrase repeated daily).
On a morning in May of Grade 11, Patty was fatally shot, once through her heart, at close range by her then estranged boyfriend in the basement of her BIG house.
We all knew things were not right with Danny. We all saw many significant signs. Patty herself knew things had got beyond what she could deal with. We all felt extremely uncomfortable with what we saw and Patty had shared with us.
In our tightly controlled, mandated and safe world there was no one to tell. No one.
No one we trusted or who was open to talking to us at school, or home, as people.
I am sorry. So sorry I did not tell someone what I saw, what I knew. How scared Patty was. How unwell and threatening Danny had become. I will forever be full of heatfelt regret, Patty.
Looking back, I cannot identify one person I could have talked to.
We all have events that define us and who we become. This defined me. Still defines me.
I left high school disillusioned.
The tools I needed to navigate the most important challenge of my life thus far had been missing (and arguably none of us are ready for such a tragedy). School failed not for lack of trying; it failed in providing any real, meaningful points of connection for me, for Patty, for all of us.
Eventually this pulled me. I wanted to connect to kids. Kids who needed to talk and to feel supported. Kids who felt lost, overwhelmed or unsure about what they were feeling, seeing, or hearing. I wanted to be a person they could talk to or in a small way feel connected to.
I wanted to be there if and when someone needed that someone to talk to. I hoped to connect to young people…that I once was…wondering who can I talk to?
I wanted them to see themselves as a person before they saw themselves as a student. I wanted them to feel connected to me as a person before they saw me as “a teacher.”
I became a teacher to give my heart, slightly broken, but ready to hear and hold.
I became a teacher to redeem myself; for wanting to follow my instinct and for not giving voice to what I knew was wrong.
I don’t talk about Patty. I have not shared her story in my adult life. I still meet her in my dreams.
I dreamt of Patty last night. I woke up today knowing it was time to give voice to her story…
I love you Patty.