For Carolyn — a confession that comes too late

In 1990 I began working for Fairfax County Public Schools at Rose Hill Elementary School as a special education teacher. I taught students in grades 4 – 6 and worked with many of the “regular” education teachers. One of the 4th grade teachers, Cindy, was also new that year and we, along with Rosanne, another special ed teacher became instant friends.

Cindy often complained to Rosanne and me about the other 4th grade teachers. I don’t recall the content of the complaints, but it seemed to involve her not being welcomed into the 4th grade community. I, being stupidly and blindly loyal to my friends, immediately took her side without seeing any discrimination for myself.

At grade level staff meetings (I had to attend all grade level meetings that involved the grades I taught) I was downright rude to the other 4th grade teachers. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember being cold and abrupt. How dare these women upset my new-found friend? I thought. I’ll show them!

So all year I carried on a private battle with Joyce and Carolyn. Carolyn once confronted me at the copier about my attitude but I denied anything was wrong.

That summer I gave birth to Clare and was on maternity leave until November. I remember walking into Cindy’s room after school on one of my first days back and being shocked to see her and Carolyn laughing together as if they were the best of friends. Something had changed, Cindy no longer disliked Carolyn. In fact, Cindy liked Carolyn. The war was over and no one told me.  Later I asked Cindy when the ceasefire happened and she denied ever being at war with Carolyn.

As the year went on, I got to like Carolyn too, but I always felt uncomfortable with her because of my actions the year before. When another friend, Joan, began teaching 4th grade, she and Carolyn became very close. I too, got to know Carolyn for the warm and kind person she was and the uncomfortableness I’d felt was pretty much gone, but not entirely forgotten by me (and I suspect by Carolyn).

When I started teaching again in the fall of 1995 I worked as a co-teacher with Joan. Two years later I chose to work as a co-teacher alongside Carolyn because she was retiring at the end of the year. I didn’t realize that Carolyn didn’t want the principal to know that she was going to retire, so when asked by the principal why I wanted to work with Carolyn, said because it would be my last chance because she was going to retire.

Not long after my meeting with the principal, Carolyn met with her and came back to the classroom upset. She said that someone told the principal about her retirement plans and that she suspected Laurie, one of the other special ed teachers. I said nothing. Months later when she met with the principal again, she asked her who told her about her retirement. The principal said it was me. Caught red-handed, I admitted that it was, indeed, I who spilled the beans. Carolyn wasn’t upset that I’d told the principal, but because I’d let her think it was Laurie all those months. I apologized and she accepted it and that was that, although I still feel horrible about it.

The next year Carolyn retired and I took leave of absence to pursue a Master’s degree and never went back to teaching. I saw Carolyn several times after we both left Rose Hill, but not a whole lot — mostly with Joan.

In 2002 Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before her 60th birthday. I don’t know much about the stages of the disease, but she was in a stage where she’d have to be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life. We talked occasionally. I heard through the grapevine that she wondered why I didn’t visit more often — was I afraid of the cancer? It wasn’t that. It was another reason — but just as selfish. It was because once when I visited a friend who’d broken her leg after not having seen her in a long time was accused by the friend of simply paying her a pity call. I didn’t want to be accused of paying pity calls.

Carolyn hosted a Christmastime dinner party a couple of years ago and after that I sort of lost contact with Joan — we used to instant message a bit, but I’d all but stopped instant messaging on AIM. In the late winter of 2007  Joan had a Jewelry party that Clare and I attended and Carolyn was there.  That was the last time I saw her.

Recently (last week, in fact) I decided I should do something about my friendship with Joan — call her or write her. I also decided to write Carolyn a note and maybe go see her. I’d even decided to really apologize for my behavior the first year at Rose Hill and for the incident our last year as well.

I found out a couple of days ago that Carolyn died just over a month ago. At first I was angry that I wasn’t told about it so I could go to the funeral, but then the feeling turned to one of numbness. Numb because once again I could have done something and didn’t. That inertia or whatever the hell is wrong with me when it comes to communicating with those that might just appreciate it set in again and I missed a chance to say goodbye.

9 thoughts on “For Carolyn — a confession that comes too late

  1. Agh, teaching. It seems in retrospect to be a house of independent contractors who are supposed to get along but are too used to being alpha in the classroom to really succeed. At least in my experience.

    But this reminds me that the important things, even if they seem difficult, are worth doing. This is hard.
    .-= Bridgett´s last blog ..Garden Discovery =-.

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  2. I appreciate it when people are honest enough to reveal the darker side of themselves in their posts. Isn’t the idea of confession (I’m removing the notion of “sin” here) tied to that of absolution though?

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  3. The more I delve into memories the more I see the other side of some things. Perhaps it is age. I always thought I was a good person, but now that I look back, I realize I wasn’t so good after all.

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  4. Dona: You are very brave to face this. We can all look back and see things we’d rather not have done. I think it’s called life … and learning.

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  5. I just stumbled upon this as I was playing around with Facebook (new to FB). I was surprised of course to read the post. I had no idea of any of what was written. Carolyn in all of the 18 years of knowing her never mentioned at any time any discomfort between you two. There was a big piece of the history you forgot to mention… the part each of you played the night Sophie was born and the time within that first year. Afterall, who were the only two people I asked to celebrate her first birthday with me?? Carolyn and you. You two interacted a lot around that time.

    I apologize for not letting you know that she passed. I actually didn’t contact anyone. What I did do was come home ( was on the way home from OBX) and prepared to say goodbye to the only other person on this planet who was like a mother to me ( a mom without judgement and expecations), a woman who taught me not to put up with anyone’s *#$@. We all had much to learn from this woman…and in my opinion it was to always do the right thing, especially at the times when we want to do just the opposite.

    When I was at her funeral I was a little jealous as I realized she was not just special to me, but to hundreds of other people as well. That was hr gift to make each person feel like only they mattered the most at the time she was with them.

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  6. Joan — what a treat to read your comment. You’re right, I forgot to mention night Sophie was born. I’ll never forget it.

    I think I was focusing on the bad experiences with Carolyn and neglected the magical ones. Sophie’s birth was truly magical — maybe I’m not such a bad person after all.

    I cannot eat chicken piccata (or see a woman with a sweater tied over her shoulder) without thinking about that night.

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