Mrs. Sabo pulled me aside when I went up to the front of the room to sharpen my pencil. I thought I was in trouble. I always think I’m in trouble. I’m halfway through my forties, and when the teachers send a note home that they want me to come to a conference I think I’m in trouble, nevermind that I’m not the student.
I wasn’t in trouble.
“Is everything alright?” Mrs. Sabo asked. “You don’t seem quite yourself.”
Everything was not alright, and I was even less adept at faking it than I am now.
“Everything’s fine,” I said.
She looked at me.
“Um,” I said. “My dad is having surgery today.”
Sheer perseverance got the details out of me, what little I knew. He had prostate cancer. I didn’t know what stage. I didn’t know what exactly they were doing in the surgery. I didn’t know what he’d have to do after. I was at school — she seemed somewhat shocked by this — because it didn’t occur to me to be anywhere else. It was a school day.
“Do your friends know?” Mrs. Sabo said.
I shook my head.
I hadn’t told anyone because I didn’t want to upset them. More than that, I didn’t want to be upset. I hadn’t learned yet that fear and grief demand their due. The longer you wait, the more interest you pay.
I was making it. I was fine.
Mrs. Sabo patted my arm. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You go sit down and just do what you need to do.”
One or two curious classmates watched me go back to my seat. I smiled and kept walking.
I can’t recall much that I learned in freshman biology. I saw a diagram of a cell the other day and ectoplasm sort of sounded familiar. Most of the specific knowledge I regurgitated back on tests is long gone. But I remember that day.
I remember the cool smooth finish of the black lab table under my hand and the tears pricking the backs of my eyes as I tried to be a good soldier. I remember that I felt seen.
Take the two minutes. Be extra kind to someone today. Maybe they won’t notice. But maybe they’ll still be noticing almost thirty years from now.