Last week, my mind wandered to one of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Carroll. I first met her when I applied to be admitted into her journalism class in my sophomore year, and she was warm and encouraging, eager to invite a new mind into a fairly well-funded extracurricular (seriously, we were given around $42,000 to make the yearbook). Mrs. Carroll was also the junior English teacher, so that next year, I got to be in her class twice a day, depending on what part of the week it was. She was a tough instructor, expecting the best from her students, but more than willing to help someone out, if they were truly putting forth the effort. As you got to know her better, she proved herself to be witty and self-deprecating, wicked intelligent and motherly. One of the best bits of journalistic advice she ever gave was, "Act stupid. You get the best information that way." She was also the only teacher who approached my parents when, after a friend of mine committed suicide during senior year, she had concerns about my mental state*. One of the only parts about graduating from high school that I was actually sad about was the fact that I would never be in one of Mrs. Carroll's classes again.
Then yesterday, I got a text from my mother, telling me that Mrs. Carroll had passed last week from cancer and offering to clip out the obituary for me. It was one of the most surreal things I've experienced yet. I hadn't even been aware that she had been sick, let alone that close to death. I ran and grabbed my yearbook and nearly burst into tears looking at her picture. And then I ran across a photo of her accepting the award I'd won (second place in the state for layout design) with this big cheesy grin on her face, full of pride and sheer joy. I vividly remember that moment, a time in my past when I thought I could get somewhere in the journalism world. She made me believe in myself in a way that no other teach before or since had. I loved her.
And now she's gone. I'll never get to tell her how much she meant to me or how much she had affected my adult life. I'm sure she's had plenty of other former students tell similar stories, letting her know all the good she did during her life. So all I can really do now is live in a way that I know will make her proud: focus my energy on creating words and images, much like I had done in high school. And I will, Deanne. May you rest in peace, my wonderful friend.
* I had been taking muscle relaxers to help with my TMJ, and I was also given an anti-depressant to help counterbalance the side effects of the muscle relaxers. Of course, my friend's suicide wasn't helping matters, so I was in a very weird place at the time.