Whoa… has it really been 32 years since I was sitting in your 8th grade English class and you assigned those speeches about what we wanted to be when we grew up?
What I remember most vividly about you were the braces. You walked into a classroom of insecure junior high schoolers and pulled off braces as hip. Ok, so it was the 80’s, but still, that was as bold as you were beautiful the way you smiled upon our class. You didn’t smile at us with those shiny braces. You smiled upon us, with kind eyes and a beaming smile. Especially when you would get all excited about diagramming sentences.
I will never ever forget how excited you got about diagramming sentences. I don’t think you drooled or anything, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if you did. That’s how crazy exciting diagramming sentences got to be. Oh, the races we had on the chalkboard! I’m not saying if I drooled or not, because this isn’t supposed to be about me. However, I did emerge from junior high English classes (yours, and Miss Layman’s 7th grade class) thinking diagramming sentences is cool (well, isn’t it?) and I credit the two of you for instilling this, socially acceptable or not, NEED TO PLAY WITH WORDS, that I seemed to have caught in your classes.
I was shocked to find out that diagramming sentences and Mad Libs were not competitive sports in high school though.
I especially remember the way you dialogued with my compositions, nurturing my barbaric yip into a yawp. I credit yours (and Miss Layman’s) enthusiastic encouragement to the writer soul in me, as that which egged me on to not merely fall,but dive head over heels into the art of language, and the love—almost to the point of drooling—of the crafting of my art.
So I just wanted to say thank you. You’ve had more influence on this class clown than you probably would’ve ever imagined. And I really just I wanted to let you know.
I also wanted to tell you I grew up and wrote a book, and that you and that speech you assigned to me 32 years ago is one of the first scenes in my story:
By eighth grade I was so primed for the spy life that I thought I’d better invest a little more in inventing and substantiating my backstory and parallel life. So I went on “official record” that I wanted to be a clerk for a Supreme Court justice when I grew up. My English teacher (you, dear Mrs. Ladyga) was filming our campaigns, I mean, class speeches about what we wanted to be when we grew up, so the opportunity just presented itself. I said it right to the camera. From there my course was set, and I followed through with it, almost to a tee. Practically a double major in college with my emphasis on my journalism degree and one course short of a second degree in political science. “Missed it by that much!” as Maxwell Smart would’ve said.
I wanted to turn in my paper, I mean, give you and Miss Layman each a copy of my book—because, even after all these years, I can’t help but wonder if you would draw smiley faces and hearts, and make comments throughout my book, just like the good old days. Just thinking about it, I find myself holding my breath, hoping you’d write a big fat A on it.
Also I hope you’d like the protagonist in the story, the person you invested in. And inspired. I’m sorry but yes, it’s true that I still like to begin a sentence with And now and then. Occasionally I even end a sentence with a preposition. (See that? I just did it;) Anyway, I hope this does not mean you’ll have to give me an A-. (For some reason, it’s starting to feel like it’s time for a segue…)
So guess what? I grew up and became an English teacher too! And I’m not going to lie, I did channel you and Miss Layman and I think we made quite the literary menage a trois.
Another time I channeled you, dear Mrs. Ladyga, was kind of unexpected, but then again glancing back over my life in the writing of my book, which happens to be a memoir, I found a little foreshadowing stuck between those braces of yours. I have no idea if your braces made you nervous when you walked into our classroom on the first day of school? Maybe it was no big deal, like getting carded or something—and I’m sure you got carded all the time anyway, but especially when you had braces. And by the way, did you ever lose your retainer in the cafeteria?
Anyway, I had a slightly similar situation (I knew you’d appreciate that alliteration) when I was teaching a high school Brit Lit class. I haven’t exactly told you this part yet, but the book I wrote is a memoir about my breast cancer story. Before I go any further, I just want to let you know at this point in my story I’m in remission, or NED, or no evidence of disease.
But 3 1/2 years ago I had a particular evidence of disease to contend with: walking into my class with a bald head for the first time. I was nervous as hell. I know I clowned around in your class a lot, but I’m really quite an introvert by nature, and not really an up-front kind of person. I know they always say to picture your audience naked but thankfully I’m not a very graphic person plus that would just be wrong on so many levels it’s not even funny. Anyway, here’s what I wrote about the day I walked into my classroom feeling like my head was as shiny as your braces were that day you walked into my 8th grade English class and thankfully, my life:
You can’t imagine the pep talk I had to give myself the first time I had to teach my Brit Lit class bald. On the very first day of class I’d given my class a heads up, that a short, kind-of-cute, bald chick might be filling in for me in a couple of weeks, and that she would be as badass as she looked . . . so they’d better have kept up with their reading of Emma, when she asked them about it.
They are all pretty smart. You have to give them that. The day I walked in without any hair, they were all sitting there like angels. with bandanas on! Such. Sweet. Solidarity. I’ll never ever forget that kind gesture.
This year I’ve decided to add to the counting of my 1000 Gifts, which, inspired by this book, I began recently, by taking note of acts of kindness when they happen to me. And by taking note, I mean actually writing a note to actually thank said kind peeps. This sort of New Year’s resolution was inspired by this book, which my friend Litsa (#166) gave me, which our friend Amy (#167) gave her. Our friend Pam (#168) has it now.
All this to say, ever since I pressed send to publish my book on 11/11/11 at 11pm, I have been remembering you and wanting to send you a thank you note tucked inside my book, Dear Mrs. Ladyga (#169).
What I didn’t know is that you . . . already knew all this.
Oh how my heart just broke into a million pieces all over Thursday . . . when I finally figured out a way to track you down . . . having contacted another favorite teacher of mine, Mrs. West, my junior high volleyball coach (#170) to see if she could help me reconnect with you and Miss Layman (#171) . . . at which point she was very sad to tell me that you too had fought the bitch that is cancer, and had recently gone to your rest in September.
This is not an “Alas . . . I was too late” kind of post. (Like I said and believe, I know you already know everything I wanted to say to you, Dear Mrs. Ladyga.) Although, if anybody takes away a like-minded challenge to not leave any thank you’s unsaid, I’m good with that.
What this is, is a “Dammit cancer! I wanted to thank her myself. I wanted to give her my book, dammit ” kind of post.
Everyday I am reminded that cancer doesn’t play fair. Thursday was no exception. Friday was no exception when my dear friend and mentor, Terri (#172), was scheduled for an upcoming biopsy, at which we hope to rule out lymphoma. Yesterday was no exception when Dave and I went to a benefit for an organization that is near and dear to my heart: The Dragonfly Foundation (#173) whose mission is to bring comfort and joy to kids with cancer. Today is no exception. Tomorrow is no exception, when I go in for my 3-month check-up with my oncologist. I could go on, but I won’t. But that, in a nutshell, is why, even though cancer is done with me, God willing, I AM NOT DONE WITH CANCER, dammit. Damn cancer.
And thank you and may you rest in peace, dear Mrs. Ladyga.
Joules Bond 006.9