Valentine's Day when I subbed in Pam's room. When I didn't have any parent helpers until it was too late. When I had more treats than the class could surely eat, including a deep dish apple pie. Valentine's Day. The party Pam joked about with me for months afterwards. She would leave me pixie sticks on my desk when I subbed. She would leave a hostess apple pie in my teacher's bag. And she would always joke about being absent on the holidays so I could deal with the chaos as a sub.
I had kept it all tucked inside most of the day. The ache was present, ever-present. Her absence was tangible to me, but I kept it in check. Turn a corner and a child will be hugging your knees. Enter a classroom and hear the giggles and forget.
But I was in George's room when it overtook me. The kids had bags of treats to take home. Several had pulled them out of their cubbies and had opened them up to inventory the contents. I was fine. I was really fine. Until Michael pulled out a pixie stick.
I left the room. I walked through the long, quiet hallways, void of all students and parents. I went down to Sue's room where she sat by herself checking her email. She knew from the look on my face. She said, "I'm hiding out here today. Usually I'm in Pam's room helping with her party but today....I just couldn't face it all today."
We understood each other. I didn't have to say anything more than pixie sticks and Sue knew. She had heard us joke about it. She had been there when Pam slipped one in my pocketbook. She knew.
Sue offered a hug, but a hug would have unleashed the tears that I was barely containing. She understood my refusal, too. We smiled at each other and I walked back through the halls, wishing above all wishes that I could turn the corner and see Pam's smiling face.