The trail was in good condition despite the torrential rains last night. I felt like I could have run for hours.
Afterwards, I took the time to wander around the river trail on the other side of the road with my camera, which was a lot of fun. I need to make more time to just wander aimlessly. There’s something to be said for having no particular destination and no special time to be there.
When I left the trail, I remembered that I was supposed to pick up cookie baking supplies for the kids. I should have gone before the run because I was muddy, bloody, and wet through with sweat, and the temperature was dropping and the wind was cold, but I braved Food Lion anyway, and went in, briar scratches and all. While I was there, I ran into a former track runner from the high school and heard about her first semester at college. It’s always nice to see old students and athletes and know that they’re doing well. Then, I picked up my butter and flour and a bottle of wine for later, and I went to the checkout.
The girl behind me in line looked so familiar to me, so I asked if she had gone to Surry Central. She said, “No, I went to North.”
“Why do I know you?” I asked. “I’m just sure I know you.”
She looked at me for a second and asked my name; when I told her, she smiled and said in a whisper, “I went to Foothills.”
Years ago, I taught English at an alternative high school for at-risk teenagers who, for various reasons, could no longer attend mainstream high school. It was, hands down, the best job I ever had. It taught me everything I know or would ever need to know about teaching and caring for other people.
I think I must have squealed with delight when she told me her name. I couldn’t believe how good she looked, so healthy and together. We hugged in the checkout line (despite my previously mentioned stinky and messy state), and chatted for a few minutes as her groceries were being rung up.
She has a little girl of her own now, and is a nurse. She also works part-time at a center for at-risk and displaced children, the kind of facility I had close ties with back in the day. She said she worked primarily with troubled teens and really loved her work.
We said our good-byes, and I promptly went to the Jeep and cried. I was completely overwhelmed by seeing her. I know that I had nothing to do with her success; that was her determination and the grace of God. But when I see one of my old students, kids who were so much more than students to most of us, and I see that they are doing well– that they have a job, a family, a life– I am sometimes overcome with emotion. Until you have worked with kids like that, it’s really hard to imagine the horrific lives most of them led and the destructive paths they were on. To see them not only surviving but thriving is such a joy. It was the highlight of my week to see her there today.
I drove home, thinking about my years at the alternative school and the craziness of it all and how much I loved it, and how different my life is now with my own children and all the lessons I learned along the way. When I got home, Harper Lee was waiting in her “funky spa person” outfit, because as she said, “spa people are just kind of funky” and she had set up a relaxing post-run spa experience for me. She had posted a sign on the door and had transformed her bathroom into a mini-salon complete with massage table (a towel and a pillow pet on the floor), a soft lullaby CD playing in the background, and a load of bath oils and lotions (some of questionable age).
I positioned myself on the floor and settled in for what turned out to be a surprisingly awesome treatment and massage. I’m not sure what she slathered all over my face, but as long as I don’t break out in the next couple of days, I guess it will be OK. She placed something cold and hard and rectangular on my eyelids and said, “We didn’t have any cucumbers so I’m using celery.” I tried not to laugh, and instead, enjoyed the strange coolness of celery on my eyeballs.
When she was done, she asked if I thought she might have a future in massage therapy. I said that she definitely did but that I thought she wanted to be the scientist who discovers the cure for cancer. She said she still plans to do that as well, but this would be fun on the side.
Then, we baked cookies. Mostly, Harper Lee mixed and rolled and cut, and Isaac licked the utensils, but it was a good time. The house smelled of warm cinnamon and lots of love this afternoon. All in all, it was the kind of day that makes my heart swell twice its normal size, my favorite kind of day.