Last week, all across the great state of Texas, millions of students returned to school. Some went to suck up the knowledge being offered, others went to suck up lunch and socialize with their friends, and some even went to suck up oxygen. To greet these students, more than 300,000 teachers stood ready and waiting to feed hungry minds, hungry bellies, and help others satisfy conditions of probation or parole.
I am one of those teachers, and for me, the first week of school sucked. Not because we had to redo our entire curriculum because of changes to the SAT and PSAT. Not because we are forced to spend our conference period in meetings at least twice a week. Not because my pay raise amounted to $28 per month after yet another increase in the cost our insurance. Nope. All of that pales in comparison because this is the first start of school since Peyton took his life.
Peyton's mother and I have been divorced since he was 4. With the exception of Kindergarten (which I took off from work to attend), I have missed every first day of school. Although I wasn't there in person, I always received pictures and talked to him that night. Over the years, the conversation went from "I love my class," to "Its ok," to "ugh." There were always pictures of him with a smile on his face, his hair neatly combed, and a shirt with a collar.
This year, I spent the first day of school looking at other people's pictures of their kids with elaborate signs, dressed up in their best, standing with their siblings, even college kids with posts reading 16th grade, and I was jealous. I wanted to turn away, but I couldn't. Like sniffing the milk, even though you know it will be sour, I had to look. I looked back at the Time Hop picture on my phone, and there was the last picture ever of Peyton on the first day of school. He looked happy and ready to take on new challenges. If only I knew what would happen a month and a half later, I would have taken the day to go up to Georgetown, to have breakfast with him, to drive him to the school. If only.
Now I sit here wallowing in regret. I constantly think about all the "what if's" and "Woulda, shoulda, coulda's" It is truly painful. I look at all the freshmen running the halls of the school where I work. They are small, goofy, obnoxious, immature and frightened. Peyton would have been one this year, and I keep looking for his face in the crowd, but it is not to be. "Peyton is dead," as his little sister, Emmalee, says when asked where her brother is, and I have to face that every day. What I don't have to do is allow it to happen to another student. I will continue to make noise, to speak out, to make others uncomfortable, to remove stigma, to open dialogues, to keep Peyton's memory alive, and to not let him be just another statistic.