I rolled open the sliding glass doors to the Barrie Learning Centre yesterday morning with a racing heart. I was early – earlier than most of the staff and so the school was quiet. Sitting at her desk, right behind reception, sat Barb.
“Excuse me, lady”, I began. “Is this where I can get a high school diploma?”
Barb looked up and didn’t recognize me at first. Afterall, with my short grey hair, I did look a little different. Furthermore, since I hadn’t been to school since the second week of September 2014, she certainly could not have anticipated that the stranger walking through the door would be “me”.
“Stacey!” she exclaimed and rose from her desk to greet me.
I don’t know where it came from. I thought I was “cool”. I knew I’d be happy to be back – but I didn’t expect that I would react the way I did. I walked to give Barb a hug and bust into tears. I literally sobbed. What the hell? Who was I? Barb kept hugging me as I heaved in her arms. I was home.
“Barb – I’m so sorry. I don’t know where this is coming from”, I tried explaining.
“Stacey, it’s been a very long journey for you.”
Yes. That was it. I had ventured to literally the four corners of the earth, not knowing if I’d ever come home – and here I was. These were tears of relief. I made it. We made it. It had been almost seven months, my journey. It was not over yet – but I had made it through the rough patches and come home alive. I even had the battle scars to prove it.
“Want to see my scar?” I asked excitedly (expecting that she’d be as thrilled with the scar’s progress as I was).
“Sure”, she replied tentatively.
And so – I flashed her.
Why was that so necessary, I wonder to myself now? Was it to prove I had been gone? Was it like a map of my excursion into danger and back? Was this a show and tell? Now that I think about it – I’m not sure how excited I’d be to see someone else’s wounds. In any case, Barb was gracious. She was clearly a Mom – used to seeing scars and “ick”. Her eyes were soft. Her voice was so kind and reassuring. “It’s good to have you back, Stacey. We have missed you.”
I wished I could have, once again, find the way to express how I felt at that very moment. I had not been forgotten. My years working with this group of people had not been brushed under the carpet. They had been there for my family and I from the beginning and here they were now at the “end”. Working with a staff for such a long time and having them accompany me on this very long journey galvanized my relationship with them. We had all gone through losses together, victories together, and now journeys such as this one – together. We had history – we have history.
Staff began arriving as I sat in the front reception with Barb. One by one, I greeted them with a big hug that seemed to bridge time and distance. In walked Liam. “Coffee”, he inquired as though there had been no time in between when I left in September and now. Nothing had changed. I chided him with a “Hi, Liam. How are you? Good to see you. Would you like to go for coffee?” We all chuckled as we knew Liam was always a very straight – shooter and mince no words kind of person. Truthfully, that routine was as comforting as rain on a hot summer day.
I excused myself from Barb and Liam and I walked back to the staff workroom to pick up our other two “old-salt” colleagues Anne and Sandra. God it was good to see them! We had shared so much over the years as we tried to mentor and support students through their trials and help get them on track for their new lives. We supported each other. We had always been there for each other as colleagues. We fought, we laughed, we cried – together. Here we were – on this day – together once again. We were a family. I was welcomed home.
As a young teacher, I had witnessed this same interaction between colleagues who had worked together for long periods of time. I was an outsider. I was too young and too green. What I didn’t know then was that only “time” would allow me to be a participant in this sort of relationship. Time and history. I was envious of those who only needed to “look” at each other to know what was going on in their minds. I was naive.
I am no longer naive. I have the battle scars to prove my salt. I have stories to tell and experience to share.
We walked, the four of us, down that oh too familiar hallway to the coffee stand. I danced to the Muzak that played on the loud speaker. I was happy. I felt good. At that moment, the cancer was gone. It was a memory – a thing of the past. I was in a place and time when cancer dare not rear its ugly head. There was no place for it. I was with my friends. I was safe. I was home.