Friday, April 3, 2020

Marvin's Book Chapter 10: I heard on Facebook

(From Marvin's Book, 2011)

Morgan told me. When she was in my class, she was a silent sponge who laughed with her hand over her mouth. She took my classes for two semesters, and Carol was one of her translators, so she knew that I knew Carol.

She messaged me on Facebook: “Did you hear? We lost one of our translators.”

“Can’t be” I message back. Then I go right to Carol’s Face-book wall.

She was in the Keys, diving. 

Just like she said she would be. Her status said that she was going back down for another dive.

Already people were posting “I can’t believe it,” and “I’m going to miss you.”

I can’t believe it. Last week she specifically promised me she wouldn’t die. 

This is totally not OK. I can’t teach. How can I act like things are normal?

As I pull up to school the next day my phone rings. It’s Josephine, another TCC interpreter who often worked closely with Carol. I guess it fell on her, today, to make sure that all hearing-impaired students navigated this tragedy.

“Do you know?” she asks, quietly.

I know, I told her. Then we figured out how to make it through the day.

Translators didn’t get the day off, but I told Josephine I’d be talking about Carol in class today, and that she shouldn’t have to translate my tribute to her friend.

That’s too much, I said. Neither of us cried.

At 10:10 I went into class—Carol’s class, the same classroom David had sat in, the same classroom Matthew sat in—and before I can speak, I light a candle.

Pictures of Carol pop up large behind me on PPT slides. One of them is her in her ninja black belt gear. The other is a funny picture she took just earlier that week with a pretend dive mask on. She was happy.

The class is ready for me to talk, and I’m ready to talk to them.

I remind them about the day, before the exam we took just before Spring Break, when Carol was running late.

The class remembered. I reminded them we’d talked about Marvin that day…. And they all understood.

I can’t tell you exactly what I said—it was along the lines of “She promised me I’d never have to worry about her. Crazy. Life is crazy. We had a good time with her didn’t we? An awfully good time?”

They nod. There are sniffs. I’ve done enough crying all morning and weekend. I’m too tired to cry right now, so I sit on a table in front of the auditorium, mascara-free, cross-legged in jeans.

No one comes in late or early that day.

I eulogize my friend, standing next to her silent empty chair and a candle.

Carol led a great life.

She knew what it was she had to give, and she gave it boldly.

She lived the life she wanted to, always growing, always giving. 

I wish that for you all, I tell them. I hope they wish it for themselves as well.

I tell them I hope they find what they love to give and just give it freely and happily. That’s the whole point. The rest comes and goes. But what you have to give only grows if you keep giving it.

After class, I extinguished the candle and brought it back to my office. I can’t grade exams. Or write. Or think.

I can’t imagine just going on through my history classes, through teaching Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement and the Gulf War like no one died. 

For a few days I brought the candle to my other classes, the ones Carol wasn’t in, and tell them stories about Carol.

“I’d jump and about ten seconds later, she’d stomp her feet and sometimes I’d stop lecture and ask, “Was that Lysol? Douche? How do you sign that again?”

The class cracked up. We went back into history, back where we were supposed to go together.

Classes went on all week, mercilessly, until Carol’s funeral that Friday, a week after she died.

I met Morgan at the church. She saved me a seat close enough to the front that I could easily feel and see Carol’s unusual stillness in her open casket.

“Can you hear me?” I ask Morgan, not for the first time.

She nods yes, she can hear me, which is cool because I can’t sign.

We make small whispering gestures, talk, look around. 

Pictures of Carol change every few seconds. There she is in Peru. In high school. Happy, outside, free. An adventurous woman. She had a good time.

When the service ends Morgan and I slip out together—her with long silent graceful strides, me clicking away in heels, separating after a big hug.

“See you at graduation!” I call out, hoping she heard me.

Graduation. Something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I followed up with Dr. Law, emailing my letter to him, cc’ing the vice presidents.

No response, not yet.

The tenth anniversary of Marvin’s death loomed days away, and I didn’t have a book done, or a degree for him, or even an answer about a degree.

Still, on March 27, we drove to Chiefland, Florida to see Marvin’s family and take part in their church’s annual tribute to Marvin.

Monica, Marvin’s sister, hugged me tightly and asked about Marvin’s degree.

I told her I was trying, that I didn’t have an answer…. Yet.

Later, they asked me on stage. I’d never been on stage in a church, nothing like that ever.
I wasn’t prepared to say anything, actually. I just wanted to be there. And also, as I’d been getting dressed I had the spectacular idea of wearing three separate layers of girdles so I could hardly breathe.

I told them that Marvin’s life and death changed me.

I told them that because of Marvin, I was more present with every single student, savoring our time together.

I said that my grief for Marvin and my love for his family has borne fruit and planted seeds that have changed the landscape of my life.

And I know I told them that I’d keep pestering the president to award Marvin’s degree.

I didn’t tell them that I’d told Carol about Marvin, and that she’d died anyway.