The class was comprised mainly of high school sophomores, as I recall. Young girls and boys who loved to talk and, because I was a substitute, there was that challenge of seeing how much they could get away with. I recall that it was an English class and the lesson plan left for me by the teacher called for each student to write a short, one-page, I believe, essay about anything they chose.
As was the custom I took the attendance after admonishing the class against talking while the roll was taken. I must have seemed like a stern task-master to most because I felt as though the students should behave and talk only when I recognized their raised hand. I guess my reputation must have preceded me. The English class was well behaved.
There always seemed to be an inordinate amount of free time following the completion of the assignments left by each absent teacher's lesson plan and that was the case on that day. What to do with the remaining time? That was always a challenge for me, but that day the decision was made for me.
One of the students, a young girl, had a question. And, as her hand raised, she spoke to garner my attention.
"Mr. Fine, did you write that story that was in the newspaper last week, the story about your wife."
I was somewhat surprised that anyone had taken the time to read the article, let alone remember it.
"Yes, I wrote the story."
"Mr. Fine, since we have some free time, will you read the story to the class?"
I thought for just a minute and, without then or now knowing exactly why, I tried to think of a good explanation which might be used to say, "No." I could have said that I hadn't brought a copy of the story to school with me that day but, instead, I said, "Well I don't have a copy of the story with me, but I'm sure that I can tell the story. After all, I know it by heart."
I rose from the metal swivel chair that rested behind the teacher's desk. I suppose that the desk created a barrier of sorts between myself and the 25 or so students; but if I were to tell the story, the first one I had written, I felt I needed to also expose my vulnerability.
I came to rest, seated on the corner of the desk and, as I spoke, the ordinary classroom noise gradually subsided and I became acutely aware of the almost haunting silence. I continued to speak and, as my eyes moved from face to face, I wholeheartedly believed that the words were in some manner finding their way into those young minds. Then, and quite unexpectedly and just as I finished the story, the end-of-class bell sounded.
The classroom emptied and all of the students left -- that is, all save one young lady. I took a seat behind the teacher's desk and glanced at the daily schedule and was somewhat relieved there were no more classes that day.
As I glanced up from the papers strewn about the desktop, I noticed that a young lady with yellow hair was still hovering over the top of her desk.
"Looking for something," I asked, thinking that she may have misplaced a book, pencil or who knew what.
"No, I have everything, Mr. Fine."
Not knowing what question she might ask next, I responded, "Yes, young lady?"
"I have a comment about the story you wrote. I didn't want to say anything in front of the rest of the class because I thought it might embarrass you."
"Well, Miss, what is your comment?"
"I think you must have loved your wife very much. I think that's what the story is all about."
The naked innocence of our youth bestows upon us such clarity of vision that is completely devoid of even the slightest hint of prejudice -- a gift that is not long enjoyed as we age into adulthood.
I thought for a brief moment, then realized that she had summarized those hundreds of words in one sentence that so succinctly described what I was trying to say and captured the quintessence of the story and of my very thoughts.
"I'm sorry, but I don't remember your name, Miss."
"It's Sarah, Mr. Fine."
"Sarah, you are so correct. I did love my wife so very, very much, and thank you for seeing that in the words I wrote."
"You must really miss her," she remarked.
"Yes, now you better get to class and have a nice afternoon."
"Same to you, Mr. Fine."
As the last school bell sounded and the students hurried towards the doors leading to the waiting buses, I also left; but I left that day with the grace of a young girl's words in my mind: "You must have loved her very much."
I saw the young girl many times at school and I was certain she always made a concerted effort to greet me: "Hi, Mr. Fine, how are you doing?"
Whether real or imagined, I always felt as though her words were more than just words, more than just a polite greeting and she truly wanted to know how I was.
I always answered, "I'm all right, and how are you?"
You see, I was really concerned about her and my question was much more than just a casual remark; it was sincere, and I always hoped that the girl with the yellow hair knew that.
That night, and after I had been asleep for what must have been some time, I awoke and thought about Sarah's comment, "You must really miss her." I hadn't before thought about the many reasons I missed Robin, but then it came to me: I think that, most of all, I miss the way she could make me laugh; oh, how she could make me laugh!
Even after the passage of these many years without her and when I'm all alone, just the thought of Robin brings a smile to my face and a tear to the very corner of my eye.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel, Mo. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 08/02/2018
Print Headline: You Must Have Loved Her Very Much