Special thank-you to my own computers teacher who is the kindest teacher I have ever known.
For everything that I know, there is so much that I don’t.
While I know how to keep a child engaged while learning even the most boring of coding languages, I don’t know how to explain the bruises. While I know how to make an amazing task bar with flashing rainbows and unicorns using CSS, I can’t explain the sudden weakness or how it suddenly hurts to breathe.
I wish I could tell them. About this.
“We’re sorry. We could have saved you if you had come six months ago. The cancer has progressed too much to be removed without hurting your body. It isn’t even normal cancer and I don’t blame you for not realizing it sooner. You have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which develops very very slowly. You had a quarter chance of getting it.”
“H-How much time do I have left?”
“A year, give or take.”
“Will I have to do chemotherapy?”
“It would do more harm to your body, seeing as you are older than most cancer patients.”
“Doctor, thank you… I’ll be leaving now.”
One year. That’s all I have left.
No, I shouldn’t think like that. I need to make the most of my time, and teach this new batch of children the best I can.
What makes it worse is that the school wanted me to leave and rest and I insisted to stay, so they lessened my work load and made me teach just one class. Which would be this class.
I told them to leave the first page of their notebook open.
I wish I could yell at them for being naughty, but I don't have the heart. This will be the last class I will ever teach.
My doctor is insisting I get a cane. In true family tradition, I only agreed if the cane is shaped like a flamingo.
(It took him 4 days and more than 200 Amazon searches to find a flamingo cane that I liked. I made him pay for it too, claiming that I would tell God in heaven that he did something good for me. It works every time.)
Like I imagined, my children were highly fascinated by my flamingo cane. I quote, “He’s ACTUALLY kind of cool!”
I keep on meaning to tell them that, but I don’t.
It feels too much like a goodbye, so I avoid it.
My children are so much better behaved now. Every time they do something bad I just swing my cane a bit and they quiet down and submit very submissively.
My bones hurt and I’m starting to think that this must be how the Tin Woodman felt before Dorothy oiled his joints.
I suspect something is afoot, however, that they are either giggling whenever they see me in the hallways or look straight ahead as though they are afraid to give something away. I’ve never dealt with anything like this in my forty years of teaching.
But I like their laughter, so I give them less homework than usual today.
It’s my birthday week! And today I coughed up blood.
Well, what a sad way to start the last birthday week of my life.
I bet the children are anxious, the mid-year parent teacher meeting is nearly here.
I feel young again, giddily waiting for cake and presents.
“So how has my child been so far?”
“They are a wonderful student. I’m very happy to have them in my class.”
That’s what every parent asked, and that’s what I answered to every parent.
The parents told me all sorts of things too.
Apparently I was a favorite teacher and all the kids loved me?
THESE CHILDREN THREW ME A BIRTHDAY PARTY. ALL BY THEMSELVES.
I legitimately started crying. In all my years of teaching, no class had gone out of their way to do something special for MY birthday.
They deserve to know the truth.
We’ve finally reached the last three months.
We’ve also reached while loops and for loops and Boolean values.
I made up a theory and shared it with my class.
Everything is actually black or white. You’ll either do your homework or you won’t. (I will die, or I won’t.). Someone could win the election. Or they couldn’t.
Based on this theory, I taught them how to randomize Boolean values to create a sort of coin flip code. They had a lot of fun with it.
I have four weeks to live. Today would be the day I told them about it.
I walked up and down, willing myself to say it. My children were quiet already. I guess they knew me so well that they knew I was tense.
“Children… I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia.”
No reaction yet. Don’t think they know what that means.
“It’s a type of cancer that… is very deadly to, um, people of my age.”
Stunned silence. This is going worse that I thought.
Anna bursts into tears. Other kids begin to tear up too.
“No, no, it’s ok… I still have a few weeks. And I want to spend it with you guys.”
The only boy who wasn’t tearing up had his hand up in the air. His name was Alex.
“W-why would you want to spend it with us?”
“Because I love you guys and you guys are like my children. Speaking of that, remember how I told you to leave a page in your notebooks? I’ll need those now, please pass up your notebooks to the front.”
My kids were still mostly crying but they listened to me and passed up their notebooks.
That day, they all gave me a hug when leaving, as though afraid that I would die over the weekend and they wouldn’t see me again.
I spent the weekend writing a note to each and every child on the first page of their notebook. Although each was personalized, I ended each with,
“The only thing I regret is that I only got to spend a year with you. I am very, very proud of how far you’ve come, and I’ll be watching you all the way. I love you all.”
I was still alive by the end of the weekend and I gave them their notebooks back and they all became teary-eyed again. We spent my last class playing video games.
I took them all to the beach, and ice cream, and to the dog park to play with dogs and to the animal shelter for cats and dogs and birds and then it was the last week and I felt very weak so I stayed home and rewatched old romance Hallmark movies.
(The nostalgia is real.)
Luckily, it came like sleep and it was actually kind of cool how fast it went by.