Chuck Brooks' column: Reestablishing connections with a long-ago student
Not too long ago, I reconnected with one of my students from the class of 1986. I’ve shared with you before my love for this class. To remind you, they were freshmen, and I was a new teacher at RHS. The four years we spent together were beyond any I have had since in my career. It stands to reason; we all were the new kids on the block.
The student I reconnected with is now 45. Make me feel old, you ask? Heck, yeah! What doesn’t lately? I need to get out of this career before someone comes in and says, “You taught my grandmother.” Not even a hint of humor in that scenario.
I digress. I met up with my former student at Applebees in Rosemount for dinner. Arriving first, I watched for him at the entrance. We stayed in close contact after he had left RHS and through his college career. I attended his wedding. Then, about 15 years ago, life sort of happened, as you’re well aware, and we lost touch with one another.
When he walked in to the restaurant, my first thought was, “Dear God, he looks old.” Then I realized if I thought that, I might look like death to him, so I tried to cool it on that reaction.
Oh, but how his voice hadn’t changed. It was a distinctive voice, and it was like it was 1986 again. When he was a sophomore in high school, his mother died. I remember it all too well. My mother died the next year. It gave us a connection I held with no other at that time. I learned on this reunion night his marriage had ended a little over three years ago. He and his wife had raised two daughters. One is just beginning her career in college, and the other is a junior in high school in another community. I was somewhat surprised since I knew the two when they were dating and, though I didn’t give thought to this then, I guess I never imagined the marriage breaking down. It happens to the best of folks, I guess.
We talked about our four years together — 1982-1986. As college once told me I’d feel, I came into this job planning on being Super Teacher, cape and all. How quickly reality slapped me in the face. When I was an RA in college, I learned the hard way that not everyone is going to like you. I totally disregarded that lesson coming into teaching, but the powers that be made sure I was reminded about it sooner than later.
We talked about the night one of his classmates whom I knew very well and enjoyed in class, came to the Sadies dance in his senior year. I was playing Marryin’ Sam, complete with farcical marriage licenses, marrying Sadie couples with Party City rings all night. I spoke for four hours. A senior boy I was quite close to came to the podium with his date, and I could smell booze. I had a long line of people waiting, and I chose not to deal with it at the time, but I was given assurance from his date he was not driving. That next week when he’d see me approaching in the hall, he would turn into the closest hallway to avoid me at all cost. It was that following Thursday when he would come to my house and ask to be let in so he could apologize for his behavior that night. We are still in contact with one another. He’s an impressive adult.
We talked about how I turned the baseball team in their senior spring after spring break because I had heard from a junior boy there was a lot of drinking at night on that trip. While many of the classmates came in to support what I had done, four of them from the team cut me off and wouldn’t talk to me the remainder of their senior year. Three of them would reconnect with me that summer to apologize. The fourth one called me five years later to meet for lunch, and it was there he apologized as well. It had been baggage, he said, needing to be unloaded.
Back to present day, dinner was wonderful. We talked about the then and the now. We talked about how life takes turns none of us can predict. We talked about the shouldas and the wouldas and the couldas. It was simply nice to see him again after all these years. He represented what was then a wonderful start to my career.
Over the years, many of us remain in touch with the students who cross our paths. It is the part of this job that keeps on giving. It is the part of this job that is so enriching years later. It is the part of this job that is priceless. So sayeth the guy with the marshmallow core.
And so the job of connecting and establishing relationships continues. Not a bad gig.
Chuck Brooks is a teacher at Rosemount High School.