Today, in the sweltering heat of bus duty, I had one of the best moments of my teaching career. As I stood corralling kids in the bus line and stopping kindergarteners from throwing their backpacks at each other, a young woman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned as she said, “Mrs. McCauley, do you remember me? I used to be in your first grade class.”
Of course I remembered her. I knew her the second she said my name. I knew her eyes. I knew her voice, quiet and strong. I knew the tip of her shy smile.
I often dream of former students, children who lived nightmarish lives and found refuge at school, safe in our classroom. I dream of little ones who lived with monsters, horrid monsters who were careful to never leave a thread of evidence for me to report, but leave me still with a sick pit in my stomach. I dream of little ones who one day just up and moved, never to be seen again. They visit me in the sacred space of night, these lost children.
My lost children.
As I stood by the bus area, looking at this beautiful young woman, I hugged her, probably too tightly, and peppered her with questions. How are you? What are you doing now? Are you going to school? Are you working?
She is the same sweet six-year-old I taught eleven years ago. She’s the darling girl who I hugged hundreds of times, her head resting on my shoulder as her little hands gripped my neck. She is the same girl who fell in love with reading. She’s the same girl who used to light up the room with her giggle.
She told me about her life and how, at the age of 17, she has removed herself from her monster. She tutors her peers. She’ll graduate this year. She’s college bound.
She is the woman I always knew she could be.
She’s the little girl who filled my heart so many years ago and she is the young woman who made it overflow today.
Tonight when my lost children tiptoe into my sleep, I will think of her. She’s given me renewed hope that my other lost children have grown into strong and courageous adults.
And in the solitude of night I will fall asleep hoping that maybe, just maybe, they too will someday return to me.