Back when I was teaching, I had a boy in my first/second grade blend for two consecutive years named Nik. Nik was SUPER interested in all things Army. Born from two military parents, Nik was bound for Westpoint from day one. He wore his Ranger t-shirt and beret often.
Teachers aren't supposed to have favorites but I am here to tell you that Nik was mine.
Bright and responsible, Nik was easy to connect with. I once asked him to do something and he replied with, “Roger!” He always sat rapt and absorbed whenever I read from a chapter book to the class, cracking up over things that sailed over the heads of his classmates. I can picture how he looked when frustrated with clenched hands and a grimace. He pored over Tin Tin books that I checked out for him from the public library.
He once made me a little square of construction paper with a circle cut out of the middle. Suspended in scotch tape in the middle of the circle was a little piece of orange crayon. He had written, "I like skool” on the paper and it hung forever on my filing cabinet in the classroom, even after Nik was no longer in my class and I had his younger brother, Devon.
Last fall I was surfing around and decided to visit the website of the high school Nik and classmates were now attending. I saw many familiar names, but never Nik's. Curious, I googled his name and I got some shocking, tragic
I cried again and again. I felt just sick. It had been nearly ten years since I taught him, yet his death impacted me as though I'd just seen him the day before. For this to happen to any student was terrible. But Nikolas Salerno? Nothing was supposed to happen to him other than a long career as a U.S. Soldier!
One thing I found in my memorabilia is a photocopy of Nik's handwriting assignment to copy the following poem. I saved it both because his handwriting marched upright like a soldier across the page and because it was a sweet sentiment.
It is called Night.
Stars over snow
And in the west a planet
swinging below a star-
Look for a lovely thing
and you will find it,
It is not far-
It never will be far.
We think we will have opportunities to reconnect with the people we meet along life’s path, but we aren't guaranteed that. I can’t tell Nik how thankful I was to know him. For now, all I can do is look for a lovely thing and find it. Suspended in my mind wearing cowboy boots and perpetual grin, Nik will never be far. I will find my memory of him again and again.