Painful Regret

I am sorry.

Those words seem so trite and so over-used. But they’re the only ones I know.

I am so sorry. I didn’t know.

If I’d have known, I promise I would’ve done a better job. I would have been more sensitive. More helpful.

I’m sorry, Keith.

I’m sorry. And I’m filled with regret that I wasn’t the one who made a difference in your school experience … in your life.

The emotion surprised me this morning, driving home from dropping off the kids at school. Someone on the radio said Keith or something that sounded like Keith, and immediately there he was as clear as crystal in my mind’s eye.

Keith. I have no idea what his last name was. I can’t even think how old he might be now. I haven’t thought about him in nearly 20 years. But I was his English teacher when he was in middle school. I didn’t have a relationship with Keith at all. I just graded his papers, signed his report card, and shook my head when I saw him struggling with his horrendously trashy locker. I grinned a grin motivated by sympathy and disgust when he walked down the hall under the weight of his backpack that held an amazing heap of disorganized chaos. He had no friends. He was just Keith … odd and alone in the world.

I didn’t know.

I write through tears this morning as I feel the deep regret of missed opportunities. I could’ve been his angel. I  could’ve been the one who stepped in to support him.

But I didn’t know.

I feel certain that Keith was on the autism spectrum. And I don’t think I knew anything about any spectrum back then.

I don’t even think he had an IEP (special education paperwork). And I know I had no idea what an IEP was or the information it contained.

Along with thinking about Keith this morning, I remembered painfully the portable building at that same school where I taught. I never knew what that building was for until my 2nd or 3rd year teaching there. But I eventually learned that the portable building housed the special ed kids who were bussed here from all over the rural county where I taught. It was a self-contained class — and none of us even knew they were there. Those students ate lunch in the portable by themselves. They went to the restroom while the rest of us were in class, I guess, because we never saw them, and we never knew they were there.

Picturing those students in the portable building today … their disabilities were no more “severe” than Chloe’s. Knowing that that portable building is the self-contained environment that Chloe would be placed in if we still lived there caused a deep pain in my chest. Those students were shut off and secluded from the rest of us. They were never given the chance.

And I didn’t know. I didn’t understand.

In a way, I guess Keith was the lucky one. He at least got to live life with the rest of the world. But he had no support. He had no one who understood his struggles. The adults he might have depended on — of which I was one — didn’t step up to support him. So he was alone … alongside the rest of the world.

It pains me to think about Keith. I partly think I can’t blame myself for what I didn’t know. But then again, I’m guessing that there were people 20 years ago who were trying to educate teachers — trying to educate me — and I didn’t listen. Or I didn’t hear. Or I didn’t go out seeking.

I’m sitting here wishing I could again forget about Keith. I’m trying to force his image out of my mind. But that wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair to Keith. It’s only fair that I remember his face well. It’s only fair that I choose to learn from my experience — or my lack of experience with him. It is only fair that I am motivated by the memory of his face and by the memory of his struggle and by the memory of his lack of support.

So really. I’m sorry, Keith. I sincerely hope that you found someone to understand you. I truly hope that you found someone who could support you in the exact ways that you needed. I hope … I really hope that you are happy today. And that you are fulfilled today. That you are loved today. And that you are appreciated today. And I hope that you are heard today… And I hope you don’t remember me. And I hope you never saw the way I looked at you. I hope my face isn’t one you remember in the lineup of adults who coulda, shoulda tried to understand you.

But, Keith, in case you do remember me … know that I am changed. And know that I am striving to make this world a better place for you and for those who come after you. And know that I, today, am pretty convinced that while you sat in my classroom nearly 20 years ago silent,… that you probably could’ve taught me a wealth of content had I simply had ears to listen to you. And I hate that I missed out on knowing you.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, wow. Huge hugs to you! Try to be easy on yourself, which I know is easier said than done.

    You did the best you could with the knowledge you had then. So much has changed in those 20 years. Not many were speaking out then and there was no one to show you the way. So many mothers like you have come forward since then, and have made such an impact on this world. Just like you have!

    Reply

  2. When you know better, you do better. {{{Hugs}}}

    Reply

  3. Posted by Regina on April 19, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I think we can all think of people in our lives in whom we should have invested more of ourselves. This scenario could be a grieving child,a child whose parents fight,someone struggling with depression. The middle school years can be amazingly difficult. Shoot, every stage of life seems to have its issues. I think the moral of the story is LOVE ON PEOPLE the way God loves us.Everyone wants it.Everybody needs it.Everyone has a story.We don’t always have to know the story or the situation but everyone understands love, acceptance and friendship.I’m preaching to myself!

    Reply

  4. Very powerful story. Brought tears to my eyes. You didn’t have the knowledge then, but you do now, and you’re making such a difference.

    Reply

  5. Posted by PAPA on April 20, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    we all have been there. I too have changed,but Im sure I miss chances to be there for the forgotten children and adults (including my grandchildren) everyday!Thanks for the reminder.Im so proud of you….you ars doing things that will change the world for other children,THANK YOU !!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Mimi on April 20, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    WOW!!!! A lesson learned by all of us. Hopefully!!

    Reply

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