Written for my book, In Love With a Sailor + The Captain in Me, 2013-2014 © Karen Maeby
It was the spring of 2003, my second semester of junior year in high school. I was sitting quietly with the rest of the students in my keyboarding class; typing away at a test that we were given in the early days by our teacher.
All of a sudden, a deep Philadelphian accent sounded in my ear. “Do you want a pair of scissors?”
I stopped typing, turned around and asked, “Why?”
As an answer to my question, she offered me a scarf and said, “Are you having a bad hair day? Because it REALLY looks like it!” A smile never left my teacher’s face that day.
That was the jest of mine and Elaine Hunt’s friendship for the rest of the year. She and I didn’t really grow close until I found out that she was from Philly right before I was leaving for the city with my choir. After that, I’d hang out with her after school. Not only was she a great advice giver, but she also filled me in on things I wanted to know about Philly and she really knew her stuff when it came to sarcasm.
We had several different “fights” throughout that semester. She’d tell the class to be quiet, look at me and I’d laugh; then she’d say something smart instigating another fight. Anyone else who did that would get into trouble. I felt a little bad about it, but I must confess that I always looked forward to the days where we’d battle it out right in front of the class.
Around the second week of May, I begged Elaine to come see our last Bye-Bye Birdie performance. When I saw her at school the next day, I asked if she had come, and she had not. I told her that I was mad at her and I wasn’t going to speak to her for the rest of the class. She then said, “GOOD! My wish has finally come true!” I nearly died.
Later that day during our class, one of my close friends got mixed up in the middle of that specific fight. My friend became our “messenger” to reply messages back and fourth since we weren’t speaking (but we could clearly hear one another). Right before school let out, she gave our messenger a push pin to give to me. I asked, “What am I supposed to do with this?” She replied, “GO SIT ON IT!”
She must’ve told her classes about that, because the following weeks, I had several classmates come up to me and ask about the famous “push pin story.” The rest of the year was classic, but nothing compared to that. Before school let out, I asked if I could be her teacher’s aide. I think the answer might’ve been a “maybe”—just like everything else in my life.
When August 2003 rolled around, I was finally a senior, and boy, was I ever so excited to get back to school! As a tradition, I returned the day before to catch up with my teacher friends and to see if they needed help setting up their rooms. I went straight to Elaine’s business room and found another teacher in there.
“Where’s Mrs. Hunt?” I asked.
“She won’t be here this semester.”
I was stunned. I backed out of the room out to the hallway, where I met another teacher. I asked her what happened. She said, “Karen, I think you need to come down to my room. I have something to tell you.”
I was told that Elaine had ovarian cancer for the second time and she wouldn’t be returning to school that semester. I couldn’t stop crying. That was not the way that I had planned on starting my senior year. Since I knew about it before all of the other students, I had to stay quiet for a few days. Soon enough, everyone found out from the staff at school and I was asked multiple times if I was okay—because they knew how close Elaine and I had been.
I kept Elaine informed of my life that semester, but I barely heard back from her. I’d get weekly updates through her best friend who also worked at the school. Every other update would be ‘she’s better’ or ‘she’s worse.’
One day in October 2003, I had a dream that we were in her classroom with the new teacher and she was telling everyone that Elaine wasn’t coming back. I fought them, screaming, “YES SHE IS! YES SHE IS!”
The following morning during my first class, Momma pulled me aside and told me that Elaine was forced into early retirement and she wasn’t coming back. I was an absolute mess.
Before I knew it, school was out at the end of May and I was helping my teacher friends pack up their stuff for the summer for my very last time. Because I had dealt with so many of my own battles that year, and I was sad about graduating and leaving everyone, I had forgotten one tiny huge detail that made that day so special. The teachers would always have a “day after” meeting, one that I was allowed to attend that year.
When I walked in, I got the biggest surprise of my life: Elaine was there. She waved and smiled at me. During the meeting they showed a video that I had made for Momma’s retirement and they had a small party for her and Elaine’s retirement.
When the meeting was over, I walked over to Elaine, gave her a hug and talked to her. We walked around a bit, and before she left, I made sure to tell her I loved her and I still thought about all of our inside jokes. She told me the same, we said goodbye, and that was it.
Year 2005 rolled around and I was moving on with my life, going to college and working. I never heard one update about her that year.
One day in October 2006, I had just gotten home from work and I opened up my email. The subject? Elaine Hunt’s passing. The funeral was arranged for the following day but I was scheduled to work. I went to work, but was only there for a few minutes; I realized I was physically in the wrong place.
I left work and went to her funeral mass. It was the most beautiful funeral I had ever attended, and the most saddest. I ran into the school principal and some teachers, and also met her husband. When I talked to him, I promised the family that I would gather up all of our inside jokes and our stories to send to them. I finally fulfilled this promise a few years later, right before moving out of Kentucky, and I received the most nicest email back in regards to my present.
It’s 2014 now, and I still can’t read through the entire storywithout welling up with tears. It’s just one of those things. Only a tiny portion of the story was captured for The Captain in Me. There’s still so much more left to this.
The letter from her husband stated that he was really surprised to see that she let her guard down with a student (me). Almost the entire staff at school told me I was extremely lucky for having what I had with her, because she was not at all that way with other students. When I think about it, I was in her very last class of her very last semester, and the only student she allowed in like that. Being the one exception to her rule made me absolutely special.
I would really like to think that Elaine would be proud of me for where I am today—for being in business, marketing and doing all kinds of fun things, staying positive and just enjoying life. She taught me so much in those few months that I knew her.
In the current place where I am living, I have so many push pins in the wall holding up posters and photos of things that I love dearly. I guess it’s me thinking that if I push pin it, it’ll be there forever.. in my memory.
“If you can’t remember it—push pin it!” (And also use a sticky note—if you need it to stick longer!)