Helen appeared in my life two years ago. She showed up in my English class, a green-haired tomboy who wore large headphones around her neck. Later on, she dyed the green to blonde and I got to know her beyond a name at roll call. I found that she was a notorious hugging machine, that she gave great backrubs, and that she wrote beautiful whole-hearted prose. When I played a song from Hamilton, Helen was the only student who visibly geeked out. It was this musical about American history that kickstarted a hundred different afterschool conversations. The moral I quickly discovered that semester is: don’t underestimate the unifying power of fandoms.
I work in a small school and have the luck of sharing a relatively close and positive relationship with most of my students. We talk about books, politics, big dreams for the future, and – my guiltiest pleasure of all – the current state of their love lives. So while my Hamilton-Harry Potter banter with Helen was pleasant, it was also not highly unusual.
One summer ago, in the middle of a Creative Writing elective, Helen began spiraling into a deep depression. I can’t tell you what caused it but I will say that hearing her story, the morning she unraveled a dark and sordid history in front of me, still breaks my heart when I think about it.
She took a leave of absence shortly after that class, popping up in school every now and again just because she couldn’t stand being alone. Sometimes we’d talk in my classroom after everyone had been dismissed – me and the sad blonde girl, the one I didn’t know how to save.
How is one to speak of tragedy? I’ve been blessed with more love than I know what to do with and though ugly things may have happened to me, nothing came close to what happened to Helen. She’d talk and I’d listen helplessly. I could never conjure up the words to express just how much I wished I could rewrite her story. I cannot tell you why we end up with the cards we were dealt. I cannot tell you why a sweet girl, the kind who brings you apples because she knows you’re trying to quit sugar, got the worst hand.
But here’s the thing: in the middle of Helen’s depression we’d play pusoy dos to get her mind off things. It seemed like a cheap trick but the truth is that the game was therapy – for her and for me. I won a few rounds but she beat me at most. I cannot tell you why we end up with the cards we get dealt, but I know that people find ways to play them well and, every once in a while, win.
Helen recently cut off her blonde tips. It’s harder to spot her now in the small ocean of students. She’s back in school though and that is a small yet monumental step forward. The dark days, of course, are not quite over. Trauma doesn’t work that way. But sometimes she shows up in my classroom, all smiles, and hugs, with some weird story about music or coffee or boys, and I know, somehow, that we’re getting somewhere.
This morning I found this in my inbox:
Dear Ms Isa,
I miss my guitar.
I’m gonna say that again, I miss my guitar.
I haven’t wanted to play the guitar in a long time. I haven’t wanted to do anything in a long time, but right now, this morning, I miss it. And I want it.
Miss, to want something after being depressed for a long time is finding a bit of yourself you lost.
I haven’t wanted to make music in a year, but in the past week, I’ve been getting hit with melodies and lyrics and beats— that hasn’t happened in a long time.
I feel so close to really being okay right now. I cannot articulate this Miss. It’s so crazy, I’m so emotional right now.
And I wanna say thank you. Because you’ve been there. You were around for all the tears, all my drama, all my mental issues. And you’ve always been there to give me hope. That I might get to a place where I can actually say that I’m okay.
Of all the days I’ve just been hoping for it to be true, today feels like it might be.. and that’s all you… Okay, yeah I had a big part of it too, but a lot of it is still you. So thank you.
Thank you, Miss. For all your prayers. For all your time. For the tissues I use up. For the hugs on bad days. For your words. For your letters. For your presence in this weird roller-coaster life.
How is one to speak of tragedy? Perhaps one shouldn’t. It is, after all, not the narrative of my life. What exists in mine is an excess of hope and love. They often feel flimsy, hope and love, like things that will buckle under the weight of so much pain, but today it’s a bit more possible to believe that they’re not.
Featured image by Madel Crudo
When she isn’t writing, Isa Garcia is a teacher in a private college in BGC. She is also the author of Found: Letters on Love, Life, & God, published by OMF Literature. You can read more of Isa’s thoughts and her writing at her blog, Isa Writes.