There was a moment before midterm when C was walking around a corner with her friends and suddenly saw me. There was on her face, for a second, an unguarded reaction to me. I have remembered it because I could not process it. I tried for a long time and could not.
It was the look of someone’s heart leaping suddenly. It’s not that I could not name what it was. Processing is somehow different.
Then she suppressed it very quickly, and put her head down, lost all expression. I don’t know why she did that. Maybe she did not want anyone to see the joy she felt at seeing me, or maybe she did not want me to see. Maybe she did not realize I feel the same way about her.
I know I have not processed it because of the way I remember it—like a fossil, like something preserved perfectly in amber—and because I cannot feel anything when I think about it. I am just blank inside. I cannot replay within myself how she might have felt. I cannot replay how I felt.
I meditate on this for while, because I am trying to get these things worked out. And something does get worked out, but it takes a long time—it takes a good night’s sleep—before I know what it is. At first, I get a feeling, but I seem to have no thoughts to go with it. None at all. I just cry.
The feeling is about being someone’s particular person. There is a relationship I have with all the students because I am a teacher and they are students at my school and it is warm and affectionate and maybe that is all. I mean, I am for some of them “their” teacher, but it is not more than that. I am not special to them in the way I am special to C. But I am special to C.
It’s the opposite of the cube steak feeling.
That’s one thing.
But there is something else too, and it is far more important. It has to do with being alive.
In death, we are sort of all the same. What made us unique was a part of what made us alive: our consciousness, our awareness of the world and our internal reactions to it. In death, we are merely corpses. We treat bodies with respect because of what they once were, but they are no longer that thing.
I don’t know if you never have to come to grips with this if you have not once been surrounded by death, or if it is easy to understand if the deaths you experience are not so profoundly traumatic as what happened to me.
However, it is as though I saw the dead bodies of my friends, and I instinctively, empathically imagined myself in their place—as merely corpses, like other corpses—and I never left that moment. I could not process it, and so I stayed in it. It is as though I remained, in some way, like a dead person, or like what I imagined a dead person would be. It is as though I came to see the difference between the living and the dead as being only time, and I developed the self-image of a corpse.
When C came around that corner and saw me suddenly and had a reaction she would not have to any other teacher, I was empathically and demonstrably alive for her. I was not a corpse like other corpses. Something aside from time separated my aliveness from what I would be after I am dead. I could not process it because the feeling of it for me goes far beyond merely special to someone. For me, it is the difference between dead and being alive.