The bell rang echoing down the hall into the seventh grade classroom where several students fought the reality of another school day beginning. One girl nervously read through a chapter, pages of last night’s assignment she failed to complete. One boy ran his finger back and forth across his top lip, discovering the peach fuzz that sprouted out of nowhere within the last few days.
Each student accounted for, acknowledging they were here at the sound of their name called from the roll until the teacher said her name and there was silence. Again. Then again. Three times her name filled the room, a question without an answer in return. A confirmed absence.
It wasn’t like her to miss a day. Her attendance was impeccable, even though her locker would lead you to believe otherwise. A previous conversation came to mind where we both filled the invisible phone lines between us with complaints and preteen emotions laced with hate and disgust and other general statements of angst. An overdramatic exchange that led to utter fear when recalled in hindsight.
I walked to the teacher guided by my gut instinct and whispered in her ear. I could feel my voice shaking. I don’t remember the words I chose but her body language assured me they had an impact. She stood swiftly asking us to review amongst ourselves for a moment then she armed someone with a piece of chalk and the task of being in charge before leaving the classroom.
The next day came and the roll was called and when her name was announced, she answered quietly that she was present. Years went by without mention of the day she missed and it wasn’t long before I forgot it completely.
The bell rang echoing down the hall into the cafeteria where several seniors sat reminiscing about their final days of high school. One young woman flipped through her yearbook, faces and memories frozen in time she would later use as a reference of her past. One young man ran his palm over his cheek and under his chin, rubbing a shadow of yesterday’s shave.
Each student accounted for, everyone was there including her. She pulled me aside and unwrapped the events of a day from seventh grade, a day she claimed I gave her the best gift she’s ever received. A day she skipped school and unloaded the medicine cabinet from her parents’ bathroom; the day I followed my gut and the path from my desk to the teacher’s prompting a call that changed everything.
I haven’t spoken to her in a very long time, but where ever she is I hope she’s okay. She thanked me for an act of kindness that saved her life, but I never got to thank her in return for teaching me compassion and concern and to trust my inner voice… lessons I intend to pass along to my daughter in hopes they continue reinforcing themselves generation after generation. In the end, kindness is the most recognized language and the gift most likely to be returned.