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Emotional Land Mine

Today Matt and I went to tour our local elementary school. Simon starts kindergarten next year, and we’ve toured three schools so far with another four or so to go. I’ll be writing about this at length, as the process here in Jefferson County is very complicated and going through it forces you to ask some hard questions that can be quite revealing. But that’s for another day: today I want to discuss a very small moment that packed an emotional whallop.

The story starts about five years ago. Well, I guess the story really starts in 1979, when I met a girl named Kathleen at Goldsmith Elementary School as a fourth grade student. It was my first year there, and we soon became friends. Kathleen and I remained good friends until I switched schools in seventh grade. She was Filipina, the daughter of a doctor (mother) and nurse (father) who had immigrated to the United States as adults. She was friendly, smart, and beautiful, with a wide smile and glossy hair I very much admired. Before I met her, I never knew anyone who grew snow peas in their garden, and I have fond memories of attending mass with her on Sundays (really!) after sleep-overs and teasing her about the fact that her nose was too small to keep her glasses up.

After high school, I lost touch with Kathleen. But shortly after moving back to Louisville, our paths nearly crossed again. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that the brilliant daughter of two medical professionals grew up to be a pediatrician. She worked out of the same office my brother Steve does. As the story goes, they were talking one day, Steve made some casual mention of me, and Kathleen looked at him (we look a lot alike), looked at the “Goldstein” embroidered on his coat, and connected the dots. Steve passed a greeting on to me, and both of us talked about looking each other up and getting together.

We never had the chance before tragedy struck. Kathleen collapsed from a heart attack while running the Derby Festival mini-marathon in 2006. She coded and was revived at least twice, possibly three times, at the side of the race and on the ambulance rushing her to the hospital. The doctors got her heart back up and running, but during one or more of her crashes her brain was deprived of oxygen, resulting in long-term physical and mental impairments.

For a while there was talk of rehabilitation that would at least allow her to be home with her two young children, the youngest of whom was a baby of 18 months named Linus. Last I heard, her rehabilitation has reached a plateau short of what would make that possible. In fact, and I sincerely hope this has changed, the most recent news was that her recovery was not sufficient to allow lengthy visits with her children. She lives in full-time care while her husband, who had been a stay-at-home dad, went back to work and became a single parent.

It’s a terrible tragedy for all.

So there I was today, chatting away with other parents and ducking into classrooms when I came across a second grade classroom. Looking up at a wall with name plaques on it, my eye stopped at one you don’t hear very much: Linus.

Now, Kathleen and her husband lived about a mile from me, maybe even less. As I ran the geography and the math through my head, I began to wonder if the boy in this class was her boy. So my eyes scanned the rows of desks until it came across a young boy in a red sweat-shirt. He had black, glossy hair, and when he turned around I took one look at his face and knew he had to be hers.

Then I gulped hard, trying not to cry. Then I asked the principal leading the tour if the boy in red was Linus. Once she confirmed it, the water-works really started and Dr. Bobo kindly directed me to the girls’ bathroom, where I could find a tissue and collect myself. When I re-emerged, I told the principal that I had been friends with his mother and assured her that I was not emotionally unstable.

If she knows the story, she’ll understand. If she doesn’t, I just blew Simon’s chances of getting into that school. Either way, I’ll be thinking about Kathleen and her lovely boy tonight.

One Response to “Emotional Land Mine”

  1. Amanda says:

    There is no shame in being human and feeling compassion. And I’m sure the principal does know the story, especially in Louisville which ism, as you have pointed out, not that big.

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