For most people, seventh-grade English is inconsequential, a stepping stone filled with worksheets and grammar books and simple themes in classic stories. Most people don't walk into seventh-grade English looking for a spouse. Of course, I didn't either, but I got one. I totally won the seventh-grade English grand prize lottery.
I can still picture Mrs. White's classroom. It was on the second floor of the school, blue carpet, green chalkboards in the front, and a row of windows in the back. Her neat cursive writing displayed the latest lesson in chalk. I joined the class the first day of the second quarter of school. In fact, my whole schedule had been revamped and it felt like the first day of school all over again, except that I was months late and everybody else already knew what was going on. Oh, I was nervous, as evidenced by the seventeen changes of clothes that morning.
I was shown my seat near the front of the room, right behind a boy named Ryan. And even though seventh-grade boys and girls don't generally mingle comfortably on the first day of the second quarter of seventh grade (that generally happens on the last day of the fourth quarter), something clicked. We began talking, which, as it turns out, is one of the things we do best. We were talking prodigies, ready for the Talking Olympics, and born for marathon conversations.
By the second day of class, Mrs. White moved me across the room. Who could blame her? (Although, if you're going to talk excessively, shouldn't it be in English class?)
Fast-forward 20 years.
Ryan and I were working one day at our respective laptops when he said, "You're never going to believe this." He went on to read an email from Mrs. White! As luck and Google would have it, she'd tracked him down after finding out that he'd grown up and tackled a PhD and become a professor. I'm guessing that aside from immediate family, nobody is more tickled with that kind of accomplishment than your seventh-grade english teacher.
Mrs. White also mentioned that she would be in Washington, D.C., for a conference and asked if we'd be interested in meeting for dinner. Our answer: Oh, yes!
It was the kind of moment you don't expect to have in life, unless you're someone like Oprah who coordinates these emotional meetings every other day. (We did it without Oprah!) We'd done all the correspondence by email, which is why, when I heard Mrs. White's voice on the phone Saturday afternoon to touch base and confirm, I let out a giggle. The sound of her voice took me back immediately to my seat in the corner of her classroom. I almost expected her to ask me if I had my homework to turn in.
We met on a busy D.C. street, exchanged hugs, introduced our children and her husband, and waited for a table. We then enjoyed a few hours together, reminiscing and catching up. She looked older, but not 20 years older. I'm sure it was Ryan and me who had changed the most. But, then so much seemed the same. She still had the same enthusiasm for education; it's practically infectious. And Ryan and I still have the same knack for wanting to sit by each other.
Of course, it couldn't go without pointing out that Christian, our son, is approximately the same age that we were when it all began. He didn't seem as freaked out and amused by it as we all were, staring at his young face and realizing the sheer unlikelihood of our story. I mean, really! What are the odds?!
We parted ways again on the street, exchanging hugs, and promising to keep in touch. I don't need Oprah to tell me--this was a night to remember forever.
I've mentioned before that much of middle school and high school was hellishly terrible and terribly hellish. It was so nice to revisit and relish in a good memory. It was nice to be reminded that the worst of times was also the best of times, that winning the seventh-grade English class grand prize lottery may have been accompanied by some pretty steep taxes, but at the end of the day, I was still the big winner.