A first for me occurred Thursday, Feb. 4th. I lost a student. Everyone at our high school lost a student, but some of us more than others. She was in my junior general English class, although she chose me as a friend last year. Yes, teachers can be friends. There is a line that we don't cross, but still we can listen and laugh and share to a point.
She was the bulletin girl last year--handing out the daily bulletins that keep us teachers updated on absences --both students and staff--and anything else deemed important. In a world of technology, our school in the middle of "God's country" as I like to call it, is still stuck on hard copies. Some of our teachers only have access to computers at certain times of the day, so the hard copy is still necessary.
She came up to me one day, slung her arm around my shoulders, leaned on me and said in her southeastern Ohio accent and dialect, "Hey Miz Orr--you n me goin' be frenz ! Nex' year you n me goin' have fun 'n English class--you'll see!" And with that first "Lexie hug," I came to know a wonderful, bubbly, full of life, "redneck and proud of it" country girl named Elexis "Lexie" Bender. She often gave me that hug and asked how I waz doin'--sometimes teasing me and giving me her signature wink and the sound folks make to horses --that also was part of her verbal signature.
Then this year came and she was all she promised to be--an irreverent, fun-loving, ditsy blond, who would look at me and say things like "Me read a book? Now really, Miz Orr, it's me, Lexi yer talkin' to!" She hadn't read more than a few chapters of a book all year even though a library book is required in my room and paragraph summaries in notebooks are also required. She had the book --she just rarely read it. The librarian and I valiantly tried to find one she'd like. But she'd just give me her Lexi look that said "Get real!" And I'd laugh. Oh how she made me laugh! I could be spitting mad at someone in the class and she'd say something and the anger would dissolve.
She chomped her gum as she looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes heavily lined and lashes long and full. She was voluptuous and would have looked good in a gunny sack as the saying goes. She couldn't hide her breasts--they seemed to have a life of their own, so she didn't try. She was blase' about her body--she didn't hide it, but she didn't make a big deal about it either. She had a way of making a tank top with a lacy top edge, plaid farm shirt, and "holey" jeans look acceptable and not cheap. Other girls would attempt her look, but couldn't pull it off with the finesse that Lexi could.
I can't wrap my head around the fact that I'm not going to get that hug and that look--that no matter how long I stand at the door for that period, she's never going to stroll in and lean on me , batting those long lashes, chomping her gum, and teasing me. So many of us were "pole-axed" Thursday morning. I won't go into the long details of how it was all handled, except to say that our principal did an outstanding job. Counselors and clergy came and kids were walked down to several places set up as refuges. But at some point, the schedule was put back into place and thus 7th period rolled around. I have NEVER experienced such silence in that room during that period. My hard-edged red-neck boys had red-rimmed eyes. I gave them some choices and they chose silence. I mindlessly graded some easy grading stuff--trying to keep myself composed. When I looked up, right in my line of sight were the empty seats of the girl trio of Abby, Jaecey, and Lexie. I permitted the girls to sit together because it was more of a disturbance if they didn't. Plus they worked better together. Abby and Lexi had pleaded with me at the beginning of the year, telling me they couldn't function without each other. I found out that though they could function sitting apart, they functioned better together. So I finally put them together in the back corner of the room where they would't disturb the rest of the class. One of the guys told me later that he kept looking back there in disbelief that she was never going to sit there again. (Never had they all three missed at once--usually two of them were present and they couldn't sit still, so though you might not hear sound, you saw motion---you always felt their presence. So Thursday, their absence was surreal).
Both Abby and Jaecey were taken out of their classes that morning as was Lexi's boyfriend, and their parents were called to come to the school. But before they left, Abby and Jaecey came to me and hugged me, holding me tightly. The three girls had a special friendship, but Abby and Lexie were almost attached at the hip at school and I'm sure were in regular texting contact. Lexi always had a boyfriend, but Abby was somehow squeezed in.
Abby sobbed to me "Miz Orr, how can I go on without her? Life is never goin' be the same!" I didn't lie. I told her that "No, it wasn't going to be." Then I just held her. What could I say? I refuse to mutter platitudes that often insult rather than help. A good hug, the truth or silence, and just being there--that's what I think is best.
So, you're probably wondering, what happened? Lexi was running late. She was a new driver and she was apparently driving too fast, lost control and hit another car with two elderly gentlemen in it. They had to be cut out with the jaws of life; Lexi was pronounced dead at the scene. It occurred at 8:13--the last bell for first period rings at 8:20. Oh how we wish she'd just let herself be late!