She’s 18 years old and too nonchalant for gossip, but she has news and she is dying to verify it. I can see it in the furtive, sidelong jerks of her head, and the cast of her eyes as she whispers with her friends. I think, is she really talking about what I think she’s talking about? Or am I imagining things?
None of my business, right? Class doesn’t start for ten minutes; this is her time, not mine.
And then I get one of those text messages. You know the ones: “Hey, I heard…. Is it true?”
And, yes, actually, it is true. But as I sit there staring at the screen, thinking “How does she know?” I see every one of my students in my mind’s eye, just as nonchalant, but just as bursting with morbid curiosity as the next one.
I’ve taught close to 800 different students who still attend this school. That, Folks, is a substantial grapevine.
So at 7:01 on a Tuesday morning, I stand up in front of first period English, and I start a conversation. It’s the same conversation I begin six more times today–and it gets easier every time. It morphs into a stand-up routine, only… more macabre.
It goes something like this:
Soooo…. Um. I have cancer. Like. Not–cancer, like I’m going to die tomorrow cancer, but cancer like, I’m probably going to be missing some school, and when I come back, part of my arm will be missing, and you’ll either all want to know what happened, and I’ll have to tell you, or, I won’t tell you and there will be lots of rumors, so let’s just name the beast, okay?
Actually, you know what? The rumors will probably be more interesting, so let’s make up our own. What other explanations might you come up with for a gaping hole in Mrs. Lybbert’s arm?
Come on–they are high school kids; after the initial surprise, they think it’s funny. They will add to the list on the board all week. Here are my favorite alternative explanations for my absence/pending arm deformity:
- run-in with a unicorn
- street-fight with a panda
- zombie bookworm
- encounter with a rabid student
- she’s all about that life
- she fought back in ‘Nam
- she graded too many essays and lost part of her soul
- light saber injury, she has; beat Darth Vader, she must
So there you have it: the rest of the story. Or the start of a new one.