I was too mad to speak at the funeral.
Mad at Suzy for getting behind the wheel when drunk. Mad at Amanda for getting in the car of a friend who was drunk. Mad at our community for promoting drinking and not taking care of the youth who get in trouble with alcohol or drive like idiots because they don’t know any better.
But mostly mad at myself, for not doing more for Amanda. For not helping her see the world in a way which would have helped her cope with whatever demons she was fighting. Mad that I had not kept up with her more since she graduated. Mad that I didn’t land hard enough with the talks about alcohol and drugs and the dangers of driving and the importance of finding her Homeostasis.
Plus, what more could I say? Amanda was gone, her body lying lifeless in a box covered in flowers in the back of Duggen’s funeral home. And although it was nice to see some ex-students, it sucked that we were all gathered to mourn.
People die. I get that, but people should die in the natural order that life dictates. You bury your parents, not your kids. I hugged Amanda’s mom and had absolutely no idea what to say because, there isn’t anything to say, at least nothing that will bring her back.
Amanda was spirited which many people would call rebellious and some would call a pain in the ass. She danced to the beat of her own drum which is why I immediately connected with her. We used to have ridiculous conversations in art class, RAWF (Resting Angry Walter Face) was a great example, an acronym she came up with because she knew I didn’t like saying RBF (Resting Bitch Face).
She often sought refuge in the art room after a conflict with other students or staff or family or friends or really anyone else who she thought deserved her wrath. She usually settled down, sometimes even taking responsibility for her actions but still pissed at life’s injustices.
But then the magic of our little alternative school started happening and the outbursts decreased, school productivity increased and she graduated. I’d like to say it was that easy, it was not. I specifically remember a hair pulling fight and a few tantrums and that little mischievous smile which I would give anything to see again.
In the last couple of years, I would see her at the Republic of Thrift when I was dropping off donations, she always gave me a big hug (knowing full well that I am not a hugger), asked about how my kids were doing and the other teachers at Creekside, maybe throwing in a little small-town gossip and always thanking me for helping her.
But I didn’t do enough. I never taught her how dangerous cars are and how they are the number one killer of teens (actually tied now with guns but whatever). We talked about alcohol and drugs when she was in school but I didn’t know what her life was like after graduation because that’s how teaching is, move forward because the next crop is coming through the door.
In a perfect world, kids like Amanda turn their rebelliousness into assertiveness. They stop hating authority once they realize that they have to play the game to survive and maybe if they play the game well enough, they can do more than survive.
In the real world, kids like Amanda are outcasts and rarely get a chance to shine. They are marginalized and their path is just a little more difficult than whatever is normal. They often make their own roadblocks and sometimes never get past them.
I’m writing a curricular unit called “the 2000-pound bullet” because I don’t want another Amanda (or Kyle or Chris or Steph) to die in an automobile accident. I will come down harder on those who disrespect automobile safety and I will tell anyone who will listen that cars are killers and should be respected as such.
Too many close calls, too many stories about being wasted and not remembering how one got home, too many pictures on too many phones of wrecked cars. Too many bad choices. Too many tragedies. If we can get one kid to think differently about one decision then maybe we can prevent one more funeral.
And if you are lucky enough to have an Amanda in your life, hold on to her, cherish her spirit, guide her and be patient that one day she might get it, because eventually they always do.
And don’t be mad because you didn’t do enough.
Just start doing enough.