4 chairs sat in front of the room. Each had a vase of deep red roses before them. The vases were gold and intricate and ornate. It was tradition.
I sat there and listened. Thai is still a language very foreign to me, however it has become one of comfort to my ear. I am more relaxed hearing Thai than English. English indicates a necessary response, however I have become a very skilled listener not speaker.
Speaking is difficult for me. I need patient ears.
I took my place in one of the 4 chairs. With me three teachers adored by the students having been there for years. And so the procession began. Student after student. Their white tops and navy blue bottoms. The girls wore navy blue ties loosely hanging around their necks. The students kneeled before us. Each poured water into my palms. My elbows rested on a pillow embroidered in red and gold and brought out for this occasion. My palms hovered over the roses. They faced the ceiling, but above that, they faced the universe. I was being blessed.
“Good luck” “I love you” “I miss you” “safe flight”
They moved so quickly the only way I could respond was “kop khun ka”
I kept telling myself to feel something. They were saying goodbye. It became a battle. I still have a week left. I still have time. I don’t need to be sad yet.
And that’s where it ended. Rose petals in my hands and baby white buds made them smell elegant and important.
The speeches were made mainly of Thai, however there were small segments devoted to me. As the comfort of the Thai stopped and the English initiated my heart began to race.
“Kru Taylor we are sorry we made mistakes in your class.”
“Kru Taylor you were our best teacher.”
“Kru Taylor you will always be in our hearts.”
“Kru Taylor you will always be with me like an extra finger on my hand.”
It did not feel real. I was angry at myself for blocking emotion from this one day where emotion was expected, appropriate, accepted, needed.
“Hello” I said into the microphone. I did not recognize the voice. It was shaky. Timid. I taught these students every day for the past ten months and now I was shy. There was a long pause. There was something blocking the words from coming out of my mouth.
I was thinking. I understood. I remembered. I had no voice.
My insides were flooded. That’s the best way I can describe it. I had been holding back tears for the past 3 weeks, knowing the end was coming. It was time to say goodbye. To drain the water. I felt it lift from my gut. Come up through my chest, my heart. It choked me. I sobbed.
“This is your second home.” One of my students told me a couple of weeks before. She barely spoke the past two semesters, but now she did. Now she had a reason to. She spoke the truth.
Through my unnatural noises and tears consuming my body, I attempted to speak. I looked at my students’ faces. Some were laughing, some were crying with me. I was still sobbing. I tried hard to compose myself.
I squeaked, I moaned, I attempted to speak, I almost snorted. My face was scrunched and red as the dress I was wearing I finally said “I am your teacher I taught you English You taught me so much more Never apologize for making mistakes they are how you learn Never say I’m sorry for making mistakes..” There was no breath in between these words. They meant so much. They were understood, even if it wasn’t through language.
My hands still damp from the fragrant water of rose petals I sat down and waited for the end of the procession.
I was not only an observer. I participated in Thai tradition. In a small way I became part of something much bigger than myself.
Thai is a security blanket. I am leaving my comfort, to go somewhere new. Home.