Because I did not attend kindergarten, the first day of first grade was literally my first day of school. It was the fall of 1978. I’ll never forget that first day. It wasn’t because my bus was late. It wasn’t because I was locked out of the trailer where my class was located, and it wasn’t because I had the coolest book satchel at Jeter Primary, although all these things were true.
I’ll never forget that day because when I walked through that door into Ms. Perry’s classroom, I saw more kids than I’d ever seen at one time but there was one that stood out above all the rest.
Her name was Kim and she was an angel.
I was only six years old, so Kim was the first girl to make me feel all nervous inside whenever we talked. Perhaps that explains my stuttering.
After first grade, I didn’t speak to her for six years.
In second grade, she was across the hall, which might as well have been China back in those days. After that, we attended different schools until the 6th grade. At that point, we were on opposite ends of the school, and, by then, I was way too shy to talk to her.
But the stars aligned in the 7th grade when I had four of six classes with her. She made “favorites,” was on the Christmas court, and was “going with” all the popular boys, yet we quickly became great friends.
I remember walking down the long hall, arm in arm, with the prettiest girl in the whole school. To this day, that still makes me smile.
She would steer me in the right direction whenever I got out of line. Once, after I made fun of someone, Kim pulled me to the side to set me straight. She would continue to do the same throughout high school.
I was lucky to have her in three classes in the 8th grade.
One day at school, she was describing the pain she’d been experiencing in her pelvic area, which resulted in great discomfort and difficulty sleeping.
People remember where they were when President Kennedy was killed. People remember where they were when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. More recently, people remember where they were on 9/11. I remember where I was when I learned that Kim had been diagnosed with cancer.
I was at the Friday Night Drop-in at the Opelika Parks and Recreation Center on Denson Drive.
Prior to writing this article, I called Kim’s mother to make sure she approved and to confirm a thing or two. I’d always thought Kim was diagnosed with Leukemia; however, I was wrong. She was in fact diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer most commonly found in the pelvic area of 10-20 year olds.
Unlike many of my friends, I never saw her while she was going through the initial treatment. I didn’t see her until several weeks later when she returned to school.
We didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I couldn’t afford to buy her a gift but I got her one anyway. One of my brother’s girlfriends had given him a yellow rabbit with long floppy ears and a t-shirt. If I remember correctly, “I Love You” was embroidered on that shirt. That floppy eared, t-shirt wearing rabbit just happened to fit perfectly into my duffel bag.
I gave it to Kim in Mrs. Logue’s history class and wouldn’t take a million dollars for the smile, hug, and kind words that followed.
She would be in and out of school for the next few years but was always around making a positive impact wherever she went. Kim was even voted Homecoming Queen our senior year.
On November 12, 1990, our angel was called Home. She was just 18 years old but made more of a difference in her 18 years than most of us will ever do in a lifetime.
On January 20, she would be turning 41 years old, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that she would have been a shining example of what a wife and mother should be and would have continued to be the perfect daughter, sibling, and friend.
The group Alabama had a song called “Angels Among Us” and I think of Kim every time I hear the chorus to that song.
Oh I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love
I still have a short note that she wrote me in the 7th grade. The last few words are “and remember, if you ever need anything, just ask. I will always be around.” She was one of my best friends but I’m not special in that sense, because there are a thousand others who can make that claim. She was best friends with everyone.
Her name was Kim and she was an angel.
Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com