If we go through life fast enough, we can disremember the people who helped us get where we are, wherever that may be, whether we mean to or not.
But every path begins somewhere.
A year ago, I didn’t even think about her. Two years ago, three. Five. In fact, the process of forgetting her began – sadly – in high school, when I was not in the least bit removed from her.
I never told her thank you.
I was in fourth grade when I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. I missed nine days of school. When I returned, things were not the same for me: I had a tremendous amount of academic catch-up to play, my fellow 10-year-olds thought I was dying and teachers seemed hesitant to learn about my condition.
More immediate a concern, when looking back on these days, was how I viewed myself, which was through the same scope of confusion as my comrades.
Should I be in a special school? Would I survive? Was I different now? I did not understand, medically, what had just happened.
And Mrs. Feely stepped in, and became the calming voice of reason I desperately needed.
I cannot remember a thing she said. I cannot recite a quote of hers or retell one of my daily visits to her office, across from the elementary gym. I can, however, recall the impact she had on this critical time – these crossroads – of my life.
I had a snack at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day. I would check my blood sugar in her office before lunch. The teachers, they let me leave for these events, and – although it was no fault of the educators or, really, anyone at all – I felt like the class “sick kid” as I sheepishly made my walk out of the classroom, inconspicuously as I could.
What an embarrassment it was to a 10-year-old who was more accustomed to the delivering end of adolescent taunting than receiving.
Once in her office, though, Mrs. Feely would greet me as if she was delighted to see me – like she’d been waiting all day for me to arrive. I’d see her sitting at her desk at one end of the room, marking me into a log book, I reckon, and I’d grab a juice box from her mini fridge or apple off the counter next to the sink. Then I’d sit on the aqua padded cot next to the window and eat.
Most days, Mrs. Feely and I would talk. Some days, I just looked out at the bank leading up to the playground behind the elementary school, and she’d ask if I was all right.
Rarely did I ever share the thoughts in my head, but it was always good to hear, know and sincerely believe during such a harrowing time that someone cared. I always left her office feeling better than when I came in.
As time has a tendency to do to us all, I got older. Wiser. More secure. I regained the confidence that overflowed from me before I was diagnosed with diabetes. I relied on Mrs. Feely less in fifth grade and hardly at all in sixth.
In seventh grade, our classes were in the high school and Mrs. Feely, the elementary school nurse, became a mere passer-by.
I graduated in 2001 and never saw her again. I’ve since done all the things educators say they hope their pupils will do: I graduated from college, got a job, started a family and am doing fine. I’m going to survive.
But I never – not once – trekked back down to her office to tell her what a refreshing, motivating and soothing influence she was on me, as a 10-year-old boy whose life could have very well taken an unfortunate turn in March of 1993.
It didn’t, I would say now, if I still had the chance. I pulled through.
“Thank you,” is what I would say to her, if I could. Thank you.