Thomas Malory, Le Morte de Arthur
A new school year started this week. It’s the first week in years–11? 12?–that Drew Chiles didn’t amble into my room and give me hell about whether I was going to teach the kids anything worthwhile this year. Or something similar. As much as his sudden death shocked our school last spring, I didn’t have an insight or memories or comforting words to spread as a balm over the people looking for answers.
I still don’t. What I do know is that this week, I’ve missed my friend more deeply than I expected. I don’t feel sorry for him–he’s past all that. I won’t post messages on facebook for him or write him notes; the man I knew would raise one eyebrow, stare, and comment on how droll superstition is when supposedly intelligent people act on it.
I also won’t engage in hyperbole about him. He was human–and flawed. The last couple months of his life, he and I had some intense disagreements, and we had some very hard conversations. That’s history–and I can honestly say that he and I don’t have unfinished business; before he died, we’d come to terms with what needed to be dealt with. At least as much as we could at the time. People have loved to corner me for sympathetic “talk” about whether Drew and I were “ok.” Guess what: I have no qualms about avoiding and shading the truth to most of the “concerned” people–if it was their business, they knew all the details they needed.
But this week, loss is hitting me hard in several ways, and the lesson I’ve taken from Drew’s sudden death is this: the wheel keeps on turning. There’s a new teacher in his room, a young, energetic man who is even teaching ONU classes for credit, so our kids still have that option. The Senior English/senior social studies combined class is still going on, with the new teacher and I inventing the curriculum to fit us as we are now. Our school may miss Drew the friend–but Drew the teacher has been replaced.
I miss Drew’s scoffing, devil’s advocate arguments with me, I miss sparring intellectually with him–and sometimes, I even miss his mind-games and power plays. But the wheel turns. The person I feel sorry for isn’t him–it’s me.
As a eulogy goes, it’s not much. He’d be the first to tell me I’ve engaged in needless emotional rhetoric without making a salient point. And he’d be right….but the wheel is turning again, and he’s getting further away. Next week, or next month, I’ll walk in his room without thinking of him. Soon, I’ll remember to quit calling his room “Chiles room,” and the kids will know it as Mr. Vermillion’s room. And the ghost fades further away, and the wheel turns another notch.