I don’t have many bad days. It takes a lot to get to me.
But Wednesday, September 23, 2017 was the absolute worst day of my life.
My husband had been gone about a month. The girls and I were in a routine by now, packing lunches, gathering the trash on Monday nights, making sure clothes were clean and baths were done semi-regularly.
I was sad, but I didn’t feel alone.
I got the girls on the bus like I did every morning, and then had twenty minutes to get the house and myself in order before I sat down to work for the day. I have, for the past few years, worked at a virtual charter school, teaching freshman and sophomore English online after spending ten years in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
My school day begins at 8:00 and those precious few minutes before my office hours start help me get the house picked up from the morning chaos, make beds, get dressed, and start some laundry.
As I settled into my desk chair, I opened my virtual office for the morning and began checking emails.
And there, second email from the top, was the unexpected announcement that the school board had decided, at the end of the current school year, to close our school.
I would be unemployed in June.
I would be a teacher without a school.
I say “unexpected” but I don’t mean this was completely out of left field. When I hired on at the school, it was failing. They were working hard to improve and were doing lots of innovative things in a field that was not mainstream or well understood. I liked the challenge of a new way of teaching, plus the ability to be home more with my daughters.
But our school never stopped failing. The longer I was employed as a virtual teacher, the more I realized we were a place for disengaged students and families to hide from the system. We were serving a need for kids who had medical issues and couldn’t attend regular school; we were a refuge for bullied and special needs kids; we were a good fit for kids training to be professional athletes, actors, and singers. I’ve had students who traveled the semi-pro bowling tour, the rodeo circuit as a family of clowns, and kids working full-time in off-Broadway productions. We also served a lot of families who wanted to homeschool their kids, but don’t want to make all the curriculum decisions.
But that was only about half of my student roster each year. The other half were kids who had been expelled from their last school and came to us because Indiana law says you have to go to school. The other half were kids whose families moved around a lot, kids who were grade levels behind in reading, who thought virtual school was easier and didn’t want to actually do any work.
Virtual school is hard. It’s not for everyone.
But no one seemed to tell students and families about that part so we just kept enrolling missing-in-action kids and then wondering why we were a failing school.
Finally the board was tired of fighting the state to keep us open, it was too much work to jump through all the hoops they required, so they just gave up.
8:05 AM: I had eight and a half months left of my job.
The thing about teaching online is you sit on your butt all day. And sometimes it drives you crazy.
Early afternoon, I put my dog on his leash and we headed outside. It was sunny, the weather was finally cooling off, and I needed some fresh air.
As Blue and I strolled down the driveway to get the mail, I heard a deafening crunch to my right and turned my head just in time to see two cars going airborne through the intersection southeast of our property.
I turned around and ran back inside, shoved the dog in the house, and grabbed my phone. As I ran down the hill toward the wreck, all I could hear was the blood pumping in my ears and the horrible screams of a woman trapped in one of the cars.
I dialed 911 as cars pulled over to help. No one was moving in either vehicle and smoke was barreling out of the diesel truck parked about 75 feet from the road, right where my grandpa once grew corn and squash.
The screaming didn’t stop. At one point before help arrived, I assumed there was a child inside the truck because someone kept yelling, “I want my mom!” But once emergency responders arrived, I saw it was a grown woman who just really wanted her mom as she sat stuck in her smashed truck in the middle of someone’s yard.
Paramedics and police arrived. They removed an elderly lady who had run the stop sign on our road and then helped a man and woman out of their truck. He was able to walk to the ambulance, she was not.
I stayed until police were done with their paperwork, answering questions and telling them what little I saw.
1:55 PM: Witness a horrific accident and hope everyone lives.
By the time everything settled down, the girls got home, we did homework, and then rushed to have a quick dinner before Harper’s soccer practice.
At around 5:00, I realized I hadn’t heard from Chris that day. In the chaos of so many unexpected events, I lost track of time, lost track of my responsibilities, lost track of my alcoholic, estranged husband.
And when I finally texted him and read his response, I knew immediately he’d been drinking.
I don’t want to write that story again. It doesn’t need more space or attention. It’s here if you’d like to read it.
But by 10:00 that night, I was checking my drunk husband into a rehabilitation center as a last hope to sober him up, as a last hope to save him from himself and his demons.
My friend Adam drove me back to Indy that night. I wasn’t too upset to drive. I wasn’t distraught. I was just tired. Maybe in shock.
Shock because I don’t really have bad days. Shock because it takes a lot to get me down.
But in the span of less than 24 hours, I’d lost my job, witnessed a horrific car accident, and admitted my husband to rehab.
It was, as far as I could tell, the worst day of my life.
(This isn’t the end, I promise. Come back tomorrow. As always, I’ve got more to tell you.)
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