Friday, August 1, 2014

"There is no grief like the grief that does not speak."  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pat Flynn popped into my head again, and it seems like he always does about this time of year. I don't know why... there's nothing I could have done to stop him, I guess. But I'll never know. He's dead.

I already wrote about coming to California and substitute-teaching long-term because some art teacher had decided that he wanted to be a professional surfer, and teaching wasn't for him! You remember... He was the one who I first saw carrying a girl student on his broad shoulders around the black-top in front of his art room WHILE his class was in session...

I wrote about my getting the long-term replacement job and unwittingly teaching a first-rate graffitti artist how to write his name perfectly in the Old English alphabet over every blank wall in Orange, California. And I told you how I was hated by all 220 students for actually teaching art in that art class!

But I didn't tell you about the 221st ninth-grade student who walked into my class one day. And, if I already did, I'm going to write it again because it's the time of year I remember Pat.

It was the middle of the school year, and I had finally turned the kids' opinion of my class around, kinda. They seemed happier, at least comparatively. The day before, they had done some really good torn-paper collages, and now they were in the midst of drawing a still life in ink over the top of them, when in strolled a new student. He handed me the transfer slip. His name was Pat Flynn.

When I looked up, I saw my entire 1st period class was, naturally, looking at Pat. The girls were swooning, some shyly, and the boys were sizing him up. Pat was tall, close to 6 feet, and so I didn't see much of a challenge on any of the boys' faces.

I found him a place at one of the large wooden art tables with 3 other students working on their collage/drawings. As soon as he sat down, he smiled. Within minutes it seemed, he was friends with all 3 kids. He seemed comfortable in his own skin. His smile seemed genuine, and he told me that art was his favorite class. Just about the time I got him the supplies he would need and started to explain what we were doing in class, the bell rang, and class was over.

The next day when class started, I sat down at Pat's table to help him understand the project and help him catch up with the class. He was friendly, and he seemed nice. I asked him why he'd transfered from the Catholic school across town to our junior high right in the middle of the year, and he said, with a smile, "Well, I didn't exactly 'transfer.' I got kicked out of school."

"What did you do to be kicked out of school?" The entire class was quiet. We all wanted to know.

"Well, nuns don't like it when you talk back to them. In fact, they hit you, and I don't like to get hit," he said with a smile. And it wasn't a sneer or a sinister smile. It was just a warm, kind of cordial smile. And with that, the entire class was "in his pocket!" 

Pat was funny, comfortable, and the fact that he was good-looking, too, didn't hurt. There was something about Pat I'd never seen in all the students I'd taught for those 12 years. As a matter of fact, if I could have had those 10 kids of my own that I'd always wanted, I sure would have liked Pat Flynn to have been one of them. 

He lived quite a distance from school, it turned out, but he was never late for my first period class. He told me that he walked to school and back everyday. He went out for sports and was a really good baseball player, according to one of the coaches. But the thing he liked most of all was art. That "warmed the cockles of me own heart, it did!"

June rolled around one day, and the school year finally ended. Pat came into my room after that last day was over, and he told me that he loved my class, and he asked me if it would be OK for him to come see me some days after his classes at the high school were over. Of course, he could! And he did, once in a while. And time passed...

It was maybe eight years later or so when I got home from school one day, stretched out on the couch with the newspaper, and relaxed. It wasn't until I was reading the local news that it hit me...

The day before, a man had been killed by the freight train that ran though the town of Orange. I never read things like that... too awful... too sad. But I did read this one.

The engineer saw a man walking straight down the middle of the track! Frantically, he blew the train whistle, over and over and over. He said that the man kept walking, but turned back and looked at the train once. Then he just turned around and kept walking down that track... The engineer did every single thing he could do to try to stop the train in time, but it was a TRAIN! It takes such a loooong time to stop one. 

The train hit the man, and it was over just like that.

The 22-year-old man's name was Pat Flynn.

I'm not going to wallow and slobber all over this page, asking why or how or... anything. I cried. And when I think of Pat, the tears come all over again. And I wonder how many times a smile you see is not really a smile... I wonder what that smile might really be saying...  


  1. So sad when things like that happen. Such a waste of precious life, and how heartbreaking for those who knew him.

  2. I know what you mean, Cindy, but I have more grief for him than any of the others. There was something happening to him for a long time, but no one stepped up. He was 14 when I knew him, and he somehow seemed too old for his years, and I was too young for mine to understand! And the sad truth is that I saw way, way too many kids like him in my teaching... way, way too many.

  3. Thank you for this story. I feel your pain, and pain for all the kids who don't have a loving supportive family network to lean on. I think our tech savvy lives isolate us too much from feeling, and reaching out. Teachers like you who care, just can't solve everyone's problems because of the laws and time restraints. I'd like to remind you, ART was his favorite... the time in your space was special for him and for that I'm sure he was grateful.

    1. That's so kind of you to say, Donalee. And I did help lots of kids, mainly because I taught about 10,000 secondary kids in my career. But there were too many Pats in my time who could have used some... I don't really know what... Now, though, there are more support possibilities, if a teacher recognizes problems.

  4. You are good to remember him. Although it's too late to do anything, precious memories are important.

  5. He deserves remembering... Sadly, though, Patricia, I have memories of many more students, way too many, who have died in ways that they shouldn't have. As I've said before, some nights some of my students couldn't do their homework because they were on the floor with bullets flying outside their windows.