Every school day began the same way. Every day but one.
Every day we stood behind our desks, placed our right hands over our left breasts, recited the pledge of allegiance to the flag hanging in the corner of the room near the door between the pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Then we sat, arms folded or hands clasped while someone recited a prayer. The chairs scraped linoleum and papers shuffled and books opened and knowledge spilled out over us.
Every day, that is, until that morning. That morning the fluorescent lights were humming overhead to compensate for the lack of sunshine that usually poured through the wide slatted blinds. That morning the blinds hadn’t been opened at all.
Oddly, the teacher wasn’t in the room when the bell rang and we ready to stand and pledge. We did stand, but we waited, our allegiance hanging midair, unmoving, like the flag in the corner. There was a moment of uncertainty and then the click, click, click of heels in the hallway. The doorknob turning, hesitating, then opening into the room. Our teacher’s presence breaking the silence. We scrunched into our chairs, pulled up to our desks, expectant, curious.
I caught only snippets of words as she spoke. “Stanley” and “heart” and “sleep.”
I heard confusion and felt a buzzing sort of talking. This new thing baffled and stung.
This meant no black rimmed, curly-haired Stanley. He was the one with the ready hand, the right answer, the toothy grin.
Having never encountered this new thing in my seven short years of life, uncertainty and questions swirled around me. I did understand the empty chair and the paperless desk, sort of.
Every school day after that one was the same again. Predictable. Reliable. Regular as the clock ticking above the teacher’s desk. Except, he was absent. Always absent, not even on the roll call list.
We never did vow our allegiance to the flag that day. Or pledge, our hands over our hearts, to the republic. We did, however, pray for Stanley, for Stanley’s Dad and Mom.
And somehow, silently, we each prayed in our own way, for understanding of this new, very hard concept to take in.
What subject, in second grade, does “death of a child” fall under? Social Studies? Biology? Math?
Ah, yes. Math.