When I was young, every Easter I would beg for a bunny. Since I was allergic to cats and dogs, and rabbits could stay contained in one room, I thought having one would be ideal. My parents thought otherwise.
They showered me with Easter baskets full of Cadbury Mini Eggs (my favorites), magazines with Michael J. Fox on the cover and various token gifts. But never did I receive a bunny. Mom claimed that rabbits smelled, I was most likely allergic to them too, and it would be too devastating when someday said pet passed away.
Though she was right on all counts, that didn’t stop me from wanting one and visiting the rabbit cages at the pet store across the street. I also made a friend of Diamond, a sweet grey bunny that belonged to my 6th grade reading teacher, Miss. V.
Diamond lived in our classroom and we often made a game out of letting her out of her cage. I was one of the trusted few who was allowed to leave the room to retrieve her because I was calm enough to coax her back (I know, me, calm?!)—I took this privilege very seriously and was rewarded tenfold.
Miss. V. sometimes went on vacation and needed students to board Diamond while she was away. Each time she helped try to talk my mom into letting me take her home and each time my mom responded with a resounding “no.” I would get too attached, my Dad (the biggest animal lover of all of us) would relent and get me my own after Diamond left, etc. She never caved.
But Miss V. remained a favorite teacher, and recognized my way-above-level reading and writing skills. She was the first to introduce me to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and the first to encourage me to read forbidden works by the brilliant Judy Blume. Really, she was a hell of a teacher.
Yesterday, in my peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of something grey in my backyard. It turned out to be the neighbor’s cat who often visits, but for a split second I thought of Diamond. Then I thought, “I wonder whatever happened to Miss V.” So I did what we all do these days: I Googled her.
I first saw an image that I recognized as her staff yearbook photo from my years in middle school. Next, I noticed she had married, as she had another last name tacked on to the end of the one I knew her by. Then, a horrible discovery: Just a few lines down was her obituary.
The vibrant, young, strong teacher who I loved so many years ago had battled several rounds of cancer and lost. She passed away in 2010 in a small Oregon town.
A flood of emotions came over me: disbelief, curiosity, grief and guilt. Why guilt? Because I hadn’t thought about her in over 25 years. Because although I know I was a good student for her, I don’t know if I ever conveyed how much her kindness meant to me during those tough years. I’m not sure she ever knew I succeeded as a writer—or even just as an adult in the work force. Many of my classmates in our low-income neighborhood most certainly did not.
Then I thought about why I was getting so upset about it. Why this cat in my backyard triggered a memory that sent me spiraling back in time and seeking out a ghost from my youth. I’m a firm believer that we’re all here to learn how to be better people, so I knew there was a reason.
This memory reminded me to make sure that the people in my life know how much they mean to me. That because of social media, there’s really no excuse for not reconnecting or staying in touch. That I should make more of an effort to learn more about the people I care about; not just what they do for a living or other things I could find out by looking at their profile pages. That I let them get to know me as much as I hope to know them. It’s not something I’ve always been good at, but I’m making a conscious effort to be better about.