She wasn't letting me out of this trap, so I sat up from my slouch, I looked at the booklet and said out loud: "Emily Dickinson — The Bustle in the House". Its a short poem so I read it just to put off the inevitable. Then I heard:
"and share what that means to you" Mrs. Goodwin said in her usual encouraging voice....
So I took a deep breath and read this to them softly but loud enough for Mrs. Goodwin to hear:
This poem is not about a busy house when a
family comes home from the funeral.
Its about a person's heart being sad and
where the love goes after you die.
Its how your supposed to save her love
in your heart in a place where you
remember - in your heart.
The eternity part is the same as forever.
We have to keep the memories so the love
will stay with us forever even if
remembering makes you sad. But you
won’t be sad forever.
This poem is like when my Mom died.
The last line was crossed out but my mouth just kept reading until I finished that last sentence. I was done and I kept looking down at my page. I didn't hear anything… no "thank you", no sound at all from Mrs. Goodwin. When I looked up she was watching me with deep eyes. I glanced across the room to see all the faces staring at me. I looked at Dottie and she had a look I'll never forget. I didn't know what to think. This was the last, absolutely the last thing I expected. I expected to be laughed out of the room. Mrs. Goodwin came to me and squeezed me tight across my neck and shoulders. She whispered:
"thank you so, So Much! you were perfect" she held on for a moment more and then started back to the front. Another student in the middle row asked:
"were we all supposed to write it like THAT!? “ But the room stayed silent.
Mrs. Goodwin just went to the next row and the next and the next after that. There was just enough time to finish the last person before the bell rang.
I wanted to be the first student out the door but Mrs. Goodwin called me to her desk before I got away. She told me that she knew about my mother and that I should be very proud of what I wrote and that she was proud of me. She asked if I thought about my Mom often so I told her that I hadn't thought of the funeral for a long time — until I read Emily Dickinson.
She said "now you know why I like poetry so much, I hope you will too." She smiled and started pulling her desk drawers open as I turned toward the door.
I left her class room feeling a little better but three steps down the hall there was Dottie waiting for me. I stopped and she stepped into me with a hug. She held her cheek to my neck and I put my arms around her. I had never hugged a girl before. She was warm and her black hair was sweet, like orange blossoms. She stepped back, looked me in the eye and said:
"you were so brave to say what you said, I'm sorry for your Mom". I just said “ . . . thanks“.
She walked with me until we had to turn toward our next class. I wanted to tell her that I hadn’t written that report for sympathy or anything like that. I thought I was just doing the homework. I just thought I was doing what Mrs. Goodwin asked. I wanted to tell her all this but I was too scared to talk to her. The next week it was back to usual: me sitting in the last row on the right and she chatting with all her friends.
I was a "B" student in high school but I got an "A" in Mrs. Goodwin's English class that year. I had her again my Sophomore year and yup, I got another "A". I liked Mrs. Goodwin and she liked me. Her homework was always easiest and I never missed a test or ditched her class. I think after my poetry lesson she always symbolized a little bit of my Mom while I was in high school. I never wanted to disappoint her. I don't think I did.
I never did have a girlfriend in high school — shy guys don‘t get girlfriends. But as for Dottie, she was the prettiest girl in school and had boyfriends all the time. The next year she walked past me with her friends and reached out and poked my arm. "Hey you!" she said and winked a smile at me.
Wow, that felt great but all I could muster was a smile back at her. When she was on the homecoming court, two years later, I was proud of her when they made her the Queen. She had made a timid and embarrassed guy feel better for one day — she deserved it in my book.
A few years later I wrote a short poem for my girlfriend and she got a little misty and hugged me. It was for just a short moment, but in that moment my mind went right back to that freshman English I class . . .
"Leray — what are smiling about?" she asked me.