Linda was quiet and shy and never spoke during class, so when she raised her hand and asked to use the restroom, I readily handed her the classroom bathroom pass.
When she didn’t return, I warned the class to behave while I went to check on her. All the stall doors were ajar except for one. I knocked and called her name.
There was no answer.
I squatted down and saw her feet. I called her name again and asked if something was wrong. That was when I saw the pool of blood. At first I thought she had started her period. She was a sixth grader and maybe she didn’t know what to do.
When she didn’t answer I thought maybe she’d fainted. I got down on my hands and knees and saw her arms hanging by her side and blood dripping from her wrists. I couldn’t leave her, so I stood and yanked on the door with all my strength. When it didn’t give, I threw myself on the ground and crawled under the door. (Don’t ask how I did it. It was forty years ago and I was a lot thinner and more limber.)
After that I remember everything in snatches. I unlocked the door. I grabbed both her wrists with my hands; my fingers clenched over the cuts she had made. She was not conscious. And I yelled for help. I screamed and yelled for help.
I remember footsteps, a small yelp, and the footsteps ran away. Soon I was surrounded by many others, none of whom I remember to this day. Someone pried me away from Linda and walked me over to the one of the sinks. A woman, I think, washed my hands.
I remember sitting in the principal’s office, sipping on a cold Coca-Cola, answering questions, until everyone decided I was calm enough to drive myself home.
Linda never came back to our middle school. Her family placed her in a facility. A counselor told me Linda’s father had committed suicide the summer before, a bullet to the head, and she had been the first to find him.
I never understood why the administration waited until then to tell me this. Why not before, so we could keep an eye on her, protect her, help her through her grief?
I think of her often. She was twelve; she must be in her fifties now. At least, I hope so. I remember her face, her shy smile, her blood seeping through my fingers as I willed her to stay alive.
I was supposed to be the teacher, yet she taught me something that day that I have never forgotten.