(After reading the mandated "grief statement" to the class about the previous night's suicide of a freshman, the 8th in the last four years, and the 5th one this year)
Me: So remember that if you need to talk to someone about this or anything else, you may go to the Commons. We've got guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, clergy and students and staff there for you to talk to. . .
Patricia: But that makes me so mad . . .
Me: What? Why?
Patricia: Because people do that just to get out of class. They don't really feel bad, or they didn't know this girl . . .
(Some students mumble in agreement.)
Dolores: Yeah, it's not like they really care about that girl.
Me (sighing): Look, I understand your point, but how can you or I determine who needs help or feels bad? It's not right that some people abuse this, but still, something like this affects us all. (Slowly) I mean, even though I didn't know the students who killed themselves recently, that doesn't mean their deaths don't affect me. (More slowly now) I did know Dashad, for instance. (Stopping abruptly, struggling to make some point and suddenly terrified to find my eyes filling with tears) He was my student . . . and that was really hard (shocked to realize I won't be able to continue or even look up at them) . . . and um, right now . . . see? This reminds . . . me . . . um, of . . .
(Sorry to have begun this at all and even sorrier not to be able to finish, all I can do is turn away and wipe some random words off my white board. Class is silent.)
Dolores (from behind me, quietly): You had to bring up Dashad, right? You know he was my best friend?
Me: I know. I'm sorry.
(Dolores holds her phone out, showing me a picture of her at his grave.)
Me (finally able to look at her): I'm sorry.
Dolores: I know. It's okay.
(She walks away. I walk to my computer, hoping to distract myself with some email but realizing Patricia is still in the room. )
Patricia (walking slowly to stand next to me): I mean, it's so hard still. He was our friend, but he was your student, too.
Me (able to look up and seeing her eyes filled with tears): I know (sighing). It is still really hard. But that was my point, I guess.
(Long pause as we both reach for kleenex.)
Patricia: I know. I mean . . . I'm afraid now (stops to blow her nose) not to answer my phone. I think, what if it's one of my friends who needs me? What if I don't answer the phone and I'm not there to help them?
Me (as the weight of this burden sinks in): Oh, Patricia. . . (slowly, wondering what can possibly be said) It's going to be okay. You need to take care of yourself. . . You're a good friend.
Me (hugging her): Thank you. You have a good weekend, okay?
(She hugs me hard for a long minute, then lets go.)
(Study hall students arrive as she leaves. I focus on taking attendance.)