It’s funny that I’m actually calling the person I’m writing this about a friend. I suppose she is now. It’s only been recently that I could say that, though. Only the last year or so since I felt comfortable calling her Linda.
Up until then she was Mrs. Clark.
She started at Tyrone Middle School the same year that I did. I was in sixth grade, and she was the chorus teacher. When I was in seventh grade, not only did she start a Show Choir but she also began a tradition of putting on musicals at Tyrone. That first musical, My Fair Lady was a truly horrid experience. I still have it on VHS. If I get brave sometime I may just watch it and see how bad it was. I don’t remember it being quite so awful, but from talking to her I get the impression that it was. I had the lead in that show. Played Henry Higgins. It was one of my first actual stage roles. It was what really lit the fire to get me involved in the theater, and helped me to get into the Artistically Talented Program (later the Pinellas County Center for the Arts) at Gibbs High School.
But it wasn’t just the things I got to do with her as my teacher that made her special. What made Mrs. Clark special was that she listened to us. She treated us like human beings, not mindless sheep who were supposed to tow the line and never question authority. She joked with us. She challenged us to think for ourselves. She never talked down to us.
When you’re going through your early teens, having an adult in your life who does that can truly make all the difference.
When I was in eighth grade, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
At the time, we didn’t understand what it was. We asked her if she was going to die. She said no. That was all that was important. Mrs. Clark was going to live.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how debilitating MS can be. Not until my doctors thought that I had it and I actually did some research. Of course, by that point years had passed.
Recently, I went to a show choir reunion with her. She wanted to get as many of her old show choir students to her final show as possible. She retired, you see, because not only does she have MS, but her husband has some kind of very rare disease where his body does not produce it’s own red blood cells.
She drove out to Seattle recently with him because that is where he’s being treated. It’s a risky procedure, and they just found out that when it’s over he can’t drive back.
So she has to find some way to drive back on her own.
When I got her mass e-mail talking about this, I did exactly what I thought was the right thing to do.
I wrote her back and told her that if she needed me to, I would try and find a way to get out there and drive back with her.
It was a way for me to show her how much she meant to me. It was something I could do to let her know that she wasn’t going though all of this trying business alone.
And it’s something I’d do for one of my friends.
Because that’s what she is, now.
It’s so odd.