I learned today that Mr. C. has passed. Though it’s been 35 years since I last saw him, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Rest in peace, Mr. C…and thank you for everything.
Dear Mr. C.,
I was a student at LTHS from 1980 to 1984.
Once upon a time, on a Friday afternoon in the fall of 1982 (my junior year), you stopped me in the hall and demanded my presence in your office the following Monday during third period. I spent the weekend wondering why and eventually contented myself with the idea that you probably mistook me for someone else and would likely forget by Monday.
Monday morning came, and as I sat with friends in the lunchroom at the ungodly hour of 7am, you walked up and pointed at me. “I’ll see you in my office at what time?”
“That’s right. Don’t be late.”
I was stunned. Not only had you not forgotten, but you also picked me out of a crowd of hundreds of people. My friend Quentin was so concerned, he offered to come with me. I figured you’d gotten a hold of my grades or maybe remembered the antics of my family (there were quite a few of us at LTHS when you started there in the sixties). I spent first and second periods watching the clock, awaiting my fate.
In your office, you asked me quite a few questions; nothing about school, just about me. When I realized I wasn’t in trouble, I tried to direct the conversation to my family history and you let me look through old yearbooks, but you kept the discussion about me. When the bell rang, you gave me a pass and ordered me back the next week.
Over the weeks of meetings in your office, I learned you went to church with my aunt, but you said she hadn’t asked you to check on me. She only recently confessed that she actually did just that.
I am writing to you now, Mr. C., because I need to thank you. That day in November 1982, you saved my life. Up until that Friday afternoon, I’d been playing at suicide since my first unsuccessful attempt freshman year. From pills to poison, standing in the middle of 87th and Damen or leaning over the rail in the dark of the second balcony in Keeler Hall; I prayed for death every night and cursed God for waking me every morning.
Curiosity (and the desire to not have you call my mother) made me come to that first meeting, and our weekly meetings were my refuge. Your attention and encouragement made my life bearable and gave me something other than death to look forward to. No, you didn’t make me do any better in school or even go to classes; but I stopped trying to kill myself. Even when my mother sent you a packet of homework slips for all of my teachers and you made me pass them out, I was ok. Don’t get me wrong, my mother wasn’t bad at all. She just expected more than a 1.0 GPA.
There wasn’t really a word for my disposition back then (the most common terms were “troubled” and “crazy”), and I wasn’t capable of explaining myself with anything other than “leave me alone.” Thank you for demanding my attention. Thank you for talking to me. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for letting me sit in your office and cry until I couldn’t breathe and then acting like you didn’t notice. Thank you for never asking about my grades. Thank you for reading my writing. Thank you for showing me my mother’s freshman year grades. Thank you for remembering my family. Thank you for telling me the contact lenses that left my eyes red and swollen didn’t make me look cute at all. Thank you for telling me I was beautiful. Thank you for not leaving me alone.
Since you last saw me, I have (as my daughter says) “totally aced my life.” I’ve achieved every plan and dream I’ve had. I’ve been a model, cook, writer, photographer, artist, teacher, and married to a truck driver. I even found my way through college and to a degree in graphic design. I have a dream job as a graphics specialist at a medical journal, a wonderfully devoted husband, and have raised five beautiful children. I have a life that would not be, were it not for you.
The writer in me imagines hundreds of thousands of students you’ve encountered during your career. If you did for them a tenth of what you did for me, I daresay you have probably saved the world.
Thank you, Mr. C., for saving my life.
With love and eternal gratitude,
LTHS, Class of 1984