Near the end of the semester, Patricia invited me over to her home, because she wanted to say good-bye. She was leaving soon for South Korea, where she was going to continue teaching English. We both work for the same school district. She is an English teacher at the high school, while I am a 7th grade teacher at one of the middle schools. We met at one of those district-wide meetings, at the beginning of a school year, always followed by workshops, school meeting, and preparation for the beginning of classes. When I met her, Pat already had seven years of service, while I was beginning my second year, still a probationary teacher.
Pat was leaving after twenty-four and a half years of service. She had been released from her contract, and was leaving in midyear because the school year begins in March in South Korea. During January and February she was going to tutor some graduating students, already accepted, or applying, to universities abroad.
Pat was very attractive, not yet 50, but looking 20 years younger. She was aging extremely well. I thought she looked better now, than when I met her. A very intelligent person, and I feel fortunate to have become her friend. I considered her my mentor, and this was before the word mentor began to be used in education. An informal mentor who always had the time to discuss things about work with me. On the personal level, I was a little bit scared of her. She had gone through two failed marriages, while I had remained single. Not completely sure of myself, I suppose.
After we had something to eat and drink, I said, "So are you selling your home, then?" "No," she replied, "my kid sister, Pamela, is going to live here. Pam told me about my future employer. She taught for two years in South Korea. She went there fresh out college. No experience, no teacher certification. They just wanted a college graduate who was a native speaker of English. I contacted the school. My telephone inquiry turned into a telephone interview, and the rest is history. I'm following my kid sister's footsteps."
"So where is your sister teaching now?"
"She never went into teaching. She thought everything was too big in American schools. Big districts, big schools, big class sizes. Her degree was in Accounting. She has worked for a small accounting firm for many years."
Pat got lost into her own thoughts for a brief moment, then she said, "I have known you for a long time, and I have to ask this. How come you never made a pass at me? I know you like women."
"Well, Pat, I couldn't keep up with you. When I met you were married, then you were divorced, then got married again, then divorced again. What was I supposed to do? Try to catch you between marriages. Besides, you are my friend and mentor. I respect you."
"Oh, please. You no longer need any mentoring, and I have been divorced from my second husband for a while now. No sir, I think you like them young. You go for first-year teachers."
"How do you know this, may I ask?"
"Faculty lounge gossip, of course."
"Oh yes, during prep period, no doubt. You people are supposed to be preparing lessons, and doing other school work"
"We can multitask."
"I admit that I had three girlfriends who were first-year teachers, OK?"
Pat smiled and said, "so you were some sort of friendly stalker at the district meetings?"
"No, Pat. Absolutely not. All I did was to introduce myself to them, and offered any help they would need."
"All three in the same year?"
"You're getting on my nerves. No, different years. All of them were recruited from out-of-state. I knew how tough the first year of teaching is, and I wanted to help them."
"OK, nice defense. But, what happened to these three girlfriends?"
"All three moved away. One became a principal, another got married to an Army officer, and now teaches at a Department of Defense school in Europe.. The last one quit teaching, went to law school, and now she is a practicing attorney."
Patricia was quiet for a moment, then she said, "Ray, I have a lingering question that I cannot help but to ask. How come you never got married?"
"Pat, the truth is that I was a coward. I did not want to assume the responsibility for a family. I knew I wasn't up to it. Never was."
"Wow. Thank you, Ray. That was a very truthful answer. You did'nt give me a bunch of reasons or excuses. I appreciate that."
"May I interrogate you now?"
"Friends don't interrogate; they converse."
"OK, let's converse. You are an intelligent and desirable woman who has two ex-husbands. Why? Did you marry not one, but two fools?"
"Thanks for the first part. Glad you noticed. As for the second part, they divorced me. I loved them both, and they loved me. Ray, they both wanted children, After I got married for the first time, I learned that I couldn't bear children. My future second husband knew this, but he still wanted to marry me. They both wanted children, and this is what lead to divorce in both marriages."
"Couldn't you adopt?"
"I would have agreed to adopt, but my two ex-husbands wanted to have their own children. A lot to do with ego, I'd say. They didn't want to be denied their role as creators of life. They didn't want somebody else's creation. Haven't you noticed that men say 'my child,' not 'our child'?. There is even a song goes 'you are having my baby.' I never told anyone this, but my sister. I took me all these years to tell you. It still hurts. Let's change the subject."
"OK, let's talk about the dream I keep having."
"The one about missing a train, a bus, or a flight?"
"Yes, that one. Two nights ago, a dreamt a new version. My brother Claude was in the dream. We were both on a bus. It was a long trip, and after a while the driver stopped at a coffee shop. We were near a lake, and Claude and I walked to the edge of the lake, and had a long conversation. I don't remember what we were talking about. We were so busy talking, that we forgot about the bus. It left without us. Next, Claude and I are walking following railroad tracks. We had to go through several tunnels, built through the mountains. Then I woke up. What do you think, Pat?"
"It's a beautiful dream. I like it."
"Thanks. But what I'm really asking is whether I should see somebody, like a psychologist or a counselor?"
"What for? So they can give a multiple choice answer? Someone who does not know you; someone who would need I don't know how many sessions to get some background information about you, just to give you some answers? I don't think so. I have known you for a long time, Ray. I know enough about you, so I can give you my own interpretation of your dream."
"OK, Pat. Tell me what you think."
"You have had a recurrent dream about missing the bus, or other means of transportation. You were dreaming over and over about missed opportunities.You feel you could have talked to your brother more, and you didn't. Then, in your recent dream Claude appears. You are talking to him. The lake means your thoughts have become clear. Finally you have come to terms with your brother's death. You no longer have the feeling of not having done enough for him. You did enough for him, Ray, You took care of Claude for 4 years. You were a good brother to him. He was your elder brother; the person who put you through college. What a great brother he was! Claude being in your dream also means you want to preserve his memory. It is an emotional treasure to you. Walking following the railroad tracks means you are taking Claude with you, wherever you are going, You are going to get to your destination; the tracks are giving a sense of direction."
I didn't know what to say for a while. I couldn't talk. Tears came. After I regained my composure, I said, "No need for psychologists when you have a true friend."
"Well," Pat said, "I would like to ask you something else. You were beginning your second year, when we first met. I remember you didn't look very happy, and you didn't talk much. What was happening in your life at that time?"
"I was a disillusioned teacher by the end of my first year, because of too many disruptive students, and their lack of interest in learning. I was planning to stick with it for 3 years, just to pay my student loans. It was my good fortune that I had Matteo in my 7th grade class during my first year."
"Yes, I remember Matteo. He was in one of my English classes in high school. He stood out."
"He did. He was a good kid, who never gave me any problems. He was gifted in Math, and was very advanced for a 7th grader. He was immune to peer pressure, to distractions, and to anything that would interfere with his learning. At the beginning of my second year, Anne Kelly, Matteo's 8th grade teacher, made arrangements for him to go to your high school, to take more advanced Math classes. He would walk the three blocks between the two schools, then return to Ms. Kelly's classroom. He was tall for his age, so some students at the high school didn't bother him, and some others didn't notice him. Somehow, Matteo commanded a certain respect from his peers at both schools.
When Anne told me about the arrangements she had made for Matteo, she also told me, 'I know you are disappointed and discouraged with all the problem students, but Ray, the reason we are teachers is because we want to work with students who really want to learn. We are not social workers, and we are not counselors, but we have to do what we can with the rest of them.'
I began to check with Anne about Matteo's progress. There was always a positive report. She told me more about him. He was supported by his mom, Janet, whose husband had left her when Matteo was three years old. When he was older, Janet had, what turned out to be, an important conversation with her son. At the time, though, it was a friendly talk, while they were eating at their favorite pizza parlor. She said to him, 'Your job is to be a student, my job is to work to support us. I'm doing my best, and I expect you to do the same. You concentrate on your studies, and I will concentrate on earning a living. We are a team, Matt. And no excuses about being poor, or not having a dad, or having to live in a bad neighborhood. Just do your best, and don't worry about any nonsense happening around you' Well, evidently Matteo listened to his mom, and he became a young man with a plan.
So, learning more about Matteo, plus my conversations with Anne, was what kept me going during my first two years of teaching, before you took over, so to speak."
"Do you know what happened to Matt after high school?"
"I do. He got a full scholarship to the University of Illinois. He earned a degree in Actuarial Science in three years. Then he was recruited by a big insurance company near Chicago."
"I know Anne left the district a long time ago. What happened to her?"
"She is still teaching. I guess you don't know. Matteo and Anne got married many years ago."
"What? No, I didn't know. How did I miss that?"
"I suppose you and your teacher's lounge pals were busy discussing men, and occasionally working on lesson plans."
"Well, Matteo was very smart in more ways than one, Not only good at Math, but he preferred an older woman. What happened to Janet, his mom?
"She lives with them."
"Wow, It is nice to hear about this. We usually we don't get to know the end results of our collective efforts as educators."
"Is there anything else you haven't told me?"
"As a matter of fact, there is. At the end of this school year I will have completed twenty years of service. That was the goal I had set for myself. I will not be signing a new contract. I need a change, just as you do, evidently. I wasn't completely sure until now. I think your upcoming departure gave the final push."
"What are you going to do? You are only forty-three years old!"
"I have had my real estate license for almost four years now. For the last three summers I have worked for a broker friend of mine. Also, I have been working at that office on Saturdays, when school is in session."
"I have a better idea. Why don't you come to South Korea, once the school year is over?"
I thought about my last dream. Maybe it also meant I didn't want to be left behind. Maybe I was discussing my options with Claude, and telling him I needed something new. Now, wide awake, I had to admit to myself that I wanted to live with Patricia, or to be near her, and that I had the desire to continue my teaching career.
"I'll do it Pat. I'll go."
"Terrific. I'll talk to my contact person at the school. I am sure they will hire you. And I'm going to have to ask you for a favor. Please stop treating me like your elder sister, like the sister you never had."
"It won't be hard for me to do that, Pat. Not hard at all."