Occupational Hazard

It’s not really hard-hitting news if I tell you that I don’t sleep at night. When I was employed, I had myself trained to go to bed and wake up, but with nothing else to do, I can’t sleep at night. This is my writing time. This is also when it’s finally quiet, and therefore when I get a chance to think about things enough for them to get under my skin, but this time it’s in a sad way.

A few days after my second year of teaching ended, I found out that one of my former students, Brandon – who had been in my homeroom and my first period class during my first year of teaching – and therefore present on my very first day as a professional – had died in a car accident. His only passenger, his best friend, died the following day. He was a good, if not ornery, kid, and I enjoyed our banter. I remember walking into his viewing and immediately being approached by one of my then-current students, the class clown. He threw his arms around me and bawled into my shoulder and, though I didn’t let tears go anywhere past my eyelids, I lost it inside (and later that night in the privacy of my own home). In fact, that continues to be one of the saddest memories I have and I think about it a lot. Walking up to his casket, looking at a lifeless form that looked nothing like the vibrant Brandon I had known, I prayed I would never have to do this again. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Two years later, I had just moved back home when I got the call that Erik, a student I taught for two years and with whom I had a love-hate relationship died in a car accident, too (also taking his friend). I was bothered by this because I had been very close with Erik. He drove me nuts and we fought, but somehow we always ended up laughing about it. What drove me nuts about him was that he was brilliant and didn’t care. He just wanted to goof off and disrupt class. My prayer came true – I didn’t have to go to a viewing, and for that I almost felt worse. I feel like I never got to say goodbye to him, but I always think of him when the Cowboys play the Eagles (a fight we would have all the time. Sometimes I still shake my fist at the sky at mutter “You did this, kid…” when the Cowboys win).

So, what’s with the depressing death talk, right? It’s this: during my one year of teaching here at home, two students died. One was murdered in some kind of bizarro hold-up while he was working. That one was devastating because how do you explain to teenagers how someone whom they loved so much, who was just 6 weeks away from graduating, was just inexplicably gone? I didn’t know this student, but my understanding is that he was a great kid and is still terribly missed. The second death, a month later, was a girl I really only knew to see. She dated a girl who was in my homeroom for a while, and I’d see them together in the mornings. I talked to her once when she was suspended (I covered the suspension room) and we had a decent conversation about the book she was reading for English, To Kill a Mockingbird – one of my favorites.

She hanged herself. The day I found this out, I was sad to hear it, but I felt fixated by the fact that it was a suicide. Maybe it was my previous struggle with depression that made it so difficult for me, but I couldn’t sleep for days. Every night I had nightmares of the strange and grotesque variety. (It is at this point that I turn on music because the quietness is creeping me out.)

Three weeks ago, I was subbing at the senior high and was sent to cover the in-school suspension room again. The guys in there were pretty quiet first period. Then this kid Ben with low jeans sauntered in late and started disrupting everything. He couldn’t sit still and he didn’t listen well. My first impression of him was that he was a complete d-bag. During a severe weather drill, he kept trying to leave the designated area. Afterwards, he kept walking out of the in-school room. Then he and I got into an argument and I told him that he was disrespectful.

Thursday night, I got a message saying that Ben hanged himself. While I’m sad about this loss, I keep telling myself that his death doesn’t change his life. Then I keep telling myself that I’m too judgmental sometimes and maybe I shouldn’t have been. Still, I find myself most bothered by this because of the fact that he committed suicide. The day before his 18th birthday, no less. I keep looking at the Facebook memorial page for him, reading testaments to teenage suffering. They break my heart, but I can’t stop.

The nightmares started up again Thursday night. Creepy realistic dreams. Friday I had to sub. I had to go to school when I don’t even work there anymore, and I had to watch teenagers crying. Again. And while I feel sad for everyone affected, I find myself grieving again for those two students with whom I was close. Is that normal?

I guess maybe I started writing this because I was hoping that by the time I was done writing, I’d have made sense of something, but I haven’t. Maybe there’s just no sense to be made. Eventually I will start sleeping normally – going to bed late, but not feeling anxious about impending nightmares. For now, I’m hoping I’ll get to sleep before 4 a.m.


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