Dear Stacy Johnson,
It’s been over a year now and I still have no idea where to start. But I guess that’s how it’s always been with us, right?
But how are you? I hope Jesus is hilarious. Gosh, there’s just so much I’ve wanted to tell you ever since you left, but you probably already know everything since you’ve been watching over me. But just in case you’ve been distracted by those simple yet delicious Japanese breakfasts they’ve been serving you in heaven, I’ll write this letter and you can read it while sipping on heaven’s tea.
When I first met you, you were pretty lost (as was I).
Thinking back, I realize how odd of a first meeting it was; I mean, it’s not every day you meet someone because your students had requested me (more specifically, Glee Club) to serenade you. Ah, ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations…memories. At the time, you were going through one of your most heartbreaking crusades; I can’t even begin to imagine how you must’ve felt in those moments. Your students’ request for a special classroom appearance — that was the first time I truly learned what service was about. I always hoped that we were able to help you smile during a difficult time; but knowing you now, I’m sure you were able to. I mean, come on, four cute boys serenading you in the middle of your lecture — that’s pretty…cute.
You had seen me once before, during Interact board member interviews, but we didn’t truly meet until I was already an adult. I came into your classroom worried, lost, and determined. I was sure you would recognize me eventually — especially since the reason why I was rejected by the club was because I had hurt one of your Interact board members — a part of your family. If that wasn’t enough, I had the words ‘delinquency’ and ‘failure’ written all over me.
I knew it was selfish of me to approach you years later, asking for you to be my teacher. But I did so anyways, because that’s a part of me that I’ve never been able to get rid of (though I guess that’s the point). Expecting rejection for a second time, I raised my head; you welcomed me — a delinquent, a failure — into your classroom — and accepted me as your student. That was a really profound moment for me since I’ve been rejected and belittled by my family and society for as long as I could remember — and you were the first adult to believe in me. As you know, I’m hella lazy, so the fact that I went home that very day and started planning my lectures says a lot! From then on, we learned so much from each other as I got the opportunity to teach your students about economics & the U.S Government. You trusted me with all your heart to teach your students not only about the subjects, but about my personal experiences and struggles throughout life. I’ve spent a big deal of time asking myself, “why?” Why would you ever trust someone like me to do that?
But I know now that it was because you believed in me. Present tense*
You departed this world so suddenly that no one could grasp the fact that you had left. But I guess that’s how death is — difficult to grasp, difficult to understand, difficult to accept. Over the years, you created and nurtured such a strong and loving community of students, teachers, and faculty. I hope you were able to see that from above when that very same community came together — stronger together — to put together a memorial for you.
During my short time working with you, I could see how much pain you were going through, both physically and emotionally. You had also just started your physical therapy and you were so excited for what was to come of your newfound determination to move forward. I could sense that our relationship was mutually beneficial; you learned just as much from me as I did from you. You were always entranced by the way I would lead the class and I hope I was able to inspire you to continue fighting for yourself.
Amidst grief and despair, the community’s display of love and appreciation for you had shined the brightest. There were all sorts of different people there to pay their respects — from people that you’ve cared for closely to people that you’ve only met once (but you still left a lasting impact on).
But I’m so, so, so sorry.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to cry at your memorial.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to be there immediately for your grieving students.
I’m sorry for hurting your family all those years ago.
I’m sorry for failing.
Quite some time has passed and I’m now in my second semester at Cal. Gosh are you caught up with 2016?? It’s been a wild ride for America and haha I remember you telling me “Nah that Trump foo gon say he gon run again but he ain’t gon do it.” WELL JOKES ON YOU!! I miss you so, so bad and I would have loved to talk about the election with you.
But anyways, I’m a Senior now! I hope you’ve enjoyed the view of Berkeley from the shoulder-strap of my backpack. Wherever I go, I carry that paper flower from your memorial with me. You’ve kept watch over me as I grew, fell, and stumbled.
But I think I’m finally content with who I am. I truly feel that I know who I am as a person and what I want to do with the time that I have left in this world. I hope you’re proud, hehe. Since then, I had a mini summer fling, inspired elementary school kids to pursue interests in science, started my own UC application workshop focused on self-advocacy, got into UC Berkeley, joined Cal Rotaract, inspired many Interactors to continue fighting for themselves at our stayover event, and I’ve finally found ‘something genuine’.
Everything that you taught me — I brought it with me during our Rotaract stayover event for the Interactors. You taught me how important it was to invest and believe in the youth; I spoke, I shared, I cried, and I listened — with all my heart. When these Interactors came back to me after the event asking for advice and guidance, I saw myself in them. I promise you: I will guide, inspire, and love them with all my heart — just like you had with your own students.
I’m sure you’re all smiles up there when you look at how far I’ve come. It hasn’t be easy, especially right after you left. It was a really dark time for me — not being able to find work, friends, interests — I nearly left this world quite early. But I found something genuine in my ‘new’ friendships and they saved me. Before I end, I’d love to tell you about them.
I’m sure you remember my handsome boy Colin. I’ve known him for 10 years now and we’re pretty dang close. He’s always been curious about the world, its people, and their interactions. We’ve been through a lot together this past year but I’m sure we’ll be able to get through anything. If you were still here, he would probably take a gazillion pics of us having a grand time in the classroom.
If things had turned out differently, I’m sure I would have eventually brought in my best friend Jimmy. It’s crazy how much this guy loves me (almost creepy) but I couldn’t possibly appreciate him any more than I already do. He’s been there for me during all of my lowest lows and has never judged me once. He wants to be an educator, just like me — we probably would have been the best teacher/student-teacher trio ever.
And Kim…wow what an individual. A sassy one, at that. I think her whole college lifestyle of perseverance and diligence would inspire you. She also wants to teach a little bit down the road. Wow — you, me, Jimmy, and Kim woulda been the best…team of four ever. hahaha sorry berkeley didn’t teach me sick nasty ways of saying that
And Rainey. UGH. I would’ve introduced you to her in a HEARTBEAT. One smile and laugh from her and your heart woulda instantly melted. She’s kinda like me, super goofy and fun to be around but with a slightly cuter demeanor. Shit it kinda hurts to admit! I’m sure you’ve noticed; but I’ve been able to smile so much more lately because she was always there to protect it, much like the rest of my friends.
Please lend me the strength to protect the smiles of those I truly care about. Though I guess you’ve always believed that I had it in me to do so — not only for your students, but also for those around me.
There are so many things to apologize for, but I recently learned that instead of saying a million sorry’s, I should instead say one thank you.
So thank you, Stacy Johnson, for everything that you’ve done for me and for every single person whose life you have graced with your presence.
And I promise with all my heart — I will inspire, persevere, learn, grow, protect, and love.
It’s a long way forward, so trust in me
I’ll give them shelter like you’ve done for me.
Much love always,