Being a student can result in some awkward situations. Especially when you run into your teacher at the supermarket on a Sunday. We have all been there. You recognize the familiar face only this time they are with their families and are wearing flip-flops. You forget that teachers have a life outside of school and their students. Teachers are people. You forget that some people are good, some are bad, some are in between, and some are criminals.
I remember the first time that Mr. Vahey died. Even at that point when everything was supposedly innocent, it felt strange that something like death could creep upon the safe walls of a school. I never expected that teachers could die. A teacher seemed like an invincible force in the eyes of a teenager. They couldn’t die, or sleep, or do anything but grade papers and make rubrics. Some teachers are mean and some are nice, that’s all. But when I heard the news of a teacher dying, it almost seemed impossible. I never had his class, or for that matter, I never said two words to him. But I passed by him everyday. And not a single time did I ever question or doubt him. Everyone who had his class loved him.
When I walked into school that morning all I saw were students freaking out and teachers running around in disbelief. It was a regular day. I was supposed to have a test and turn in a project, nothing unusual. But seeing everyone in a complete state of hysteria changed that. We were all told by the school councilor to crowd into a tiny room because there was some news that needed to be shared.
Of course, by this point rumors were already spreading. To my knowledge, I heard the announcement was going to be about a fight between two students from last week, or PSAT scores. But people seemed way too upset to cry over test scores. So then I thought of a tragic world event. As the tenth grade crowded into a small room, the teachers had no trouble in getting everyone to be quiet (as they usually did). Everything fell silent in a matter of seconds. I have never heard the students in that room being so quiet, so the circumstance was haunting. The teachers announced that they had some news, and then they eyed every person in that room. You could hear a pin drop.
“Mr. Vahey was found dead in his home this morning.”
No one said anything. Complete silence consumed the room until one girl asked, “What happened to him?”
The councilor responded with the answer that we would hear an awful lot for the next few months: “I don’t know.”
They told us that we didn’t have to go to classes that day since the school’s favorite teacher had passed away. The day was a blur. I even shed some tears. It was an awful feeling to know that something like death could never be stopped, even in a safe haven like school.
However, there was only one other thing that I found rather unexpected about that day.
I was sitting in my last period drama class, when I heard my drama teacher scream and type nervously at her keyboard. I saw her eyes widen in disbelief. Everyone asked her what happened, and she didn’t answer until about the twelfth person asked her.
“Mr. Vahey isn’t dead! He is alive!”
This was a miracle to us. How was this possible? It can’t be true? Confusion took over the room. But a group of the girls started to cry out of joy. A smile slowly crept upon those in the room. Class was dismissed. What just happened?
The next day the school was filled with posters and banners that students would sign and write messages on. The principal said that Vahey would be back after winter break to continue teaching. And so it was. After winter break, he was back in school teaching ancient world history as if nothing ever happened. I was back to passing by him in the halls and not saying a word. I was still shocked about what happened, especially because everyone was so vague about how he randomly started to show vital signs. Everyone said it was a miracle.
A few weeks later the school was in an uproar again. The funny thing is that it was because of the same teacher. Mr. Vahey. The American Nicaraguan school is a very tight knit community were news travels fast. There were rumors going around that Mr. Vahey was a pedophile. No one gave the rumor much thought until we walked into our chemistry class last period. Our teacher informed us that Mr. Vahey was fired and that he would no longer be teaching at our school.
Were there red flags? There had to be signs. My friend told me that he held a “who has the best jeans” contest. Another friend told me that his constant sexual jokes were common. Aren’t these signs? But since he was supposed to be a trusted teacher, no one gave it much thought.
Wait. Mr. Vahey? Why such respect for a pedophile?
When you walk into your class on the first day of school, you are expected to respect and trust your teacher. You are expected to refer to them as Mrs. or Mr. out of respect, so why Mr. Vahey? Most importantly why the assumed trust between students and teachers?
Remember the saying “stranger danger” in elementary school? If we ever encountered “stranger danger” we were supposed to tell a teacher, or a parent. Why is a teacher on the same level as a parent? Isn’t a teacher considered to be a stranger.
After spring break, I found myself waiting at the Houston airport at gate 83. I walked into a newsstand and grabbed my king sized pack of Twizlers and Rolling Stone magazine. I was so excited because there was an article about Ed Sheeran in it. I walked over to the cashier to pay for my essentials that I can’t seem to find in Nicaragua. But as I looked up at the television that adorned the wall I saw that face that I used to pass by every day at school. Vahey was headlining the Houston news. Words like “suicide” and “sex offender” lit up the screen. Apparently it was true.
He was dead for good this time; the second and only time.