I was being watched. I could feel it. Sometimes it was so subtle that I felt I was just by chance in their line of sight. A casual 'hi' as I passed by. Looking me directly in the eye when I asked a question.
But other times, the pull of their grazes was so strong, I had to learn to not turn and seek them out. The glances would make my heart beat fast and made me want to run for cover.
Because less attention was good. Because I was desperately trying to hold in my secret. I wanted to be a shadow in the sea of kids. I wanted to just make it through this moment to the next stage of my life.
But they refused to leave me behind.
I was smart, so they encouraged my knowledge. Even in the face to the treacherous teasing by other kids. They would call on me even if I didn't have my hand raised. Because they knew I knew the answer. And with each time my name was called or I was asked for my input, my confidence was built so I could speak for myself.
And when my life started crumbing in, they were the ones who made sure, despite hands being tied, that I wasn't left behind. And they let me know they were watching even closer.
I returned to school the fall of my junior year so thin the skinniest guy in the my class whispered. "Holy crap. Is she anorexic?" as I walked into first period. In my mind I thought "You don't know a quarter of what would cause this." Two or so weeks later (it's a blur almost fourteen years later) I was brought into the counselor's office and he and the nurse sat me down and said.
"We've been watching you."
My heart sank. I just wanted to make it through to the other side of whatever my current state of being could be called. I couldn't quite call it hell, but it sure wasn't comfortable.
"We've been watching for a while, but now we're concerned." From there on out they checked my BMI periodically every month. They would pull me a side to chat, help me cope with stress.
But here's the most crucial part of my story.
You see from the moment I stepped foot in my high school my teachers were silently rallying around me. Honestly, the first year or so I was pretty unaware. But even now I remember walking into my history class and my teacher looking me directly in the eye and asking "Are you doing OK?" My world history teacher made me a quiet, but impassioned advocate for sniffing out falsehoods and those treated unjustly. My art teacher encouraged my eye for drawing and painting and to see art everywhere. During every moment I spent in her classroom she fostered my creative spirit knowing that that beauty didn't exist at home.
And my English teachers....they took my love of reading and the DEPTH how I wanted to understand the characters and the twists and turns of each plot line. They fed me large doses of curiosity for breakfast, a good solid plate of challenge for lunch, with a generous helping of knowledge for dessert on the side. All while showing me how to apply narratives to world; real life...my life.
Earlier, this year, I was sitting in a local eatery and as I chatted with a client about their photos I saw my elementary music teacher sitting with a group of ladies. Instantly, I was taken back to being a kid and she questioned me about black eye I had received from one of my estranged siblings. I remember her asking what my then (and first) adoptive parents had done about it. And even in 5th or 6th grade (again even more of a haze twenty or so years later ) I remember the sad smile/laugh I gave...and her sympathy. At the time that simple emotion was manna from heaven to a girl who was never touched...or hugged.
You see, teachers are the ones who built this woman you see today. The woman who believes she can do anything if she puts her mind to it. The business owner who has found success photographing the real and beautiful pieces of other people's lives. The woman who reminds those who are down to never say "never". And most importantly, that you need to love yourself the most before you can give the best of who you are to others.
Because they weren't just teaching me. They weren't just showing up for a paycheck. Everyday they were rebuilding a broken girl. A girl who was told no matter how 'smart' she was she was would always be disobedient and disrespectful. A girl who was told that if it hadn't been for being adopted, she would be worthless laying in the gutter some where.
Every day there was a teacher that CHOSE to invest in dismantling and rebuilding the damage done by my nights at home.
It didn't matter what school district, elementary school, high school, they all showed up. Making sure that I didn't leave myself behind. That I didn't become a statistic. They showed me that I was smart, confident, sometimes outspoken, respectful and always worth of love.
And that I had a place in this world to fill.
So though you're not mentioned. I know who you are. I think of your often, I thank you often for never leaving me behind.