She was a delicate, sentient child. I liked her. She had ideas and questions and interests well beyond her years. An engaged child among ball chasers, cliques, gossip mongers and acrimonious whiners and tattletales.. Her heart had been battered and bruised by the cruelty of not being “one of” of not being the “same as”. She had entered our school in second or third grade after many of the bonds among children had already taken hold. She had come from overseas. Over the same ocean that the grandparents of her tormentors had traversed. Just not from the same country of origin.

She devoured books and was teased for it. She wore clothing that matched. She wore ribbons in her jet black hair accenting a Snow White kind of beauty. She liked classical music on the radio.

Her mother was very protective. The little girl was not allowed to be photographed, was not allowed on school outings and was not permitted to be on stage for any kind of presentations. The mother somehow believed her child had a rare beauty that would (not might) attract kidnappers. This maternal attention I am sure contributed to the torrents of teasing that she endured.

She adhered to the teacher on duty at recess. She knew that harm would not befall her in our shadow. It was at recess that I got to know this child beyond what we experienced in the classroom. She spoke of her habits and desires and provided stimulating conversation beyond her years. One particular recess in the spring, just before her graduation stands out in my memory. She was walking beside me in her stylish red matching rain gear and red boots. I asked her if she had chosen a high school yet. She lit up and exclaimed that she had passed an entrance exam to an exclusive French all-girls private school that favoured students like her: Studious, cultured, inquisitive, eager to learn. None of the kids at our school ever went there. She said to me: “monsieur, I will be so happy to leave behind these bad memories and start brand new with maybe some new friends and a clean start.” I wished her well, and I was thankful we had had that conversation. I felt relieved that at least someone and something was going right.

Not being allowed on stage, the child missed her graduation ceremony, but I am pretty sure she was relieved to not have to attend the “Grad party”. She sought me out on her last day as everyone was emptying their lockers and gathering their stuff for the last time. She gave me a little card and thanked me for teaching her and for being understanding. I remember wishing her well and asking her to let me know through her younger brother how things were going at her new school.

In August of that year after a well deserved summer break I was issued my new class lists and I noticed that her brother was not on there. I asked about it and was told “Oh, haven’t you heard?” I replied in the negative. Her brother was not coming anymore. The family had split and he was now in another district. It is always tragic to hear about families breaking. I asked “What about his sister?” I am very low on the totem pole when it comes to news,

“She died this summer!”

She had gone to La Ronde with her brother and was on the roller coaster when she fainted and had to have emergency services called for her. They went to the hospital and ran tests and found a hitherto undiagnosed heart anomily. The little girl was given some follow up appointments, maybe some meds and was told to take it easy.

Several days later she was swimming in their backyard pool and had a heart attack. Her non-swimmer brother witnessed it helplessly calling out frantically but unable to reach her. She drowned.

Her little heart gave out. They said it was a congenital defect, but I knew differently. I knew that it had already been weakened and broken hundreds of times. My heart broke a little when I heard the news.

The spiral downward for their family was swift….differing ways to grieve and the brother probably confused as hell. The cracks in the family may have already been there. I don’t know.

My little friend never got the second chance she so desperately wanted. She was never kidnapped either. I swore I would never forget this child nor the profundity of this story.

I was recounting a little of this tale to my daughter recently. She had asked me if I had ever lost a student to death. I was telling her in detail but I was horrified that I could not recall this child’s name. This child I swore I’d never forget.

Angry with myself and a little disappointed in my fading mental acuity, I went over all the clues I could fathom. I remembered her brother’s name. It was unusual {as was hers). In my lengthy career these were unique monikers that I thought I could never forget. I messaged my friend (a colleague) who was teaching at the same school at that same time. She had a vague recollection and had to use her “sources”. I remembered the face, the clothing, the oddness of the name. I finally wrote “it sounds like…..” and we both got the flash. It is not necessary to name her for this story, nor is it ethical to write it. I have it in my notes.

Her little heart gave out. It just broke. She might have had a chance if she had been kidnapped.

 

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