The Tragic Blessing of Doc
August 1, 2008
Mortality is real. No one really has the time they need or the time they want. Some people spend their whole lives trying to figure out what they love to do and at what they excel. Doc knew what she loved and she took advantage of every aspect of her career to do more. She became one of the greatest blessings in my life, but also my greatest tragedy.
Doc Porter was everyone’s favorite art teacher and the yearbook advisor, but I knew her through National Honor Society. During my junior year, we grew close because I was a very active member, but I wanted more. To get her attention, I ran and obtained an officer position. My goal senior year was to build a stronger relationship with Doc because I truly admired her for her strength, which I lacked.
I did not know much about Doc’s history previous to my enrollment at Riverside. Mostly, I just knew that she had cancer. I heard stories of her strength during this time told by admirers. They smiled dimly and stared just past me as they recollected a scary time in their past. I was told of how she came back from chemotherapy immediately and never took a rest; I was told of how she could sense when people were uncomfortable with her bald head and she would wear a silly wig to lighten the mood. The thing I remember most is the story of her smile, it would never fade. The pain on her face was apparent from miles away, but the smile glowed brighter.
Doc recovered and was fine for several years. Everything changed my senior year. Being a NHS officer, I got to spend a lot of time with her, before and after school. She always made fun of me for saying stupid things that were irrelevant, sometimes she even suggested adding clauses into our constitution to remove me if I continued to speak nonsense. It was hard to be too serious around Doc because she carried such a light air with her.
About a month into the school year, I attended a home football game. Doc was working at the ticket booth. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and shortly realized Doc’s well-known spark was somewhat dull. I asked her if she was alright and she informed me that she had fallen down the stairs early that day and was just sore. I thought nothing more of the situation.
That following Monday, we had an officer meeting with Doc. Afterwards, I had to ask Doc a question. Well, that question turned into an hour-long discussion about my future plans and hers. Although Doc loved teaching and impacted several lives, she admitted that she was getting old and was ready to retire soon. She spoke of an art history book that she had been working steadily on over the past year or two. Doc’s eyes always sparkled with love that she was ready to share, but an extra glitter flickered in her eye and lit up her face in such a way that I had never seen. She stated to me that when she retired, and even though she would definitely miss teaching, she could not wait to wake up every day and write her book about what she loved. I felt that Doc and I had finally become true friends at that moment. The honesty and truth radiating from Doc beamed onto me, and I could do nothing more than smile back in admiration and thank her for this time.
I never spoke to Doc again.
She wasn’t in school the next day, or the next. A few more weeks passed and still no update on where she was or what had happened. A new advisor had “temporarily” taken over NHS, and I began hating every moment of it. A big part of NHS to me was learning from Doc. Without her, what was the point anymore? After about a month of mystery, we were informed that Doc’s cancer had returned, resulting from her crash down the stairs, and that she would be out of school at least until next semester. This was horrible because I missed her and wanted her back, but I was not worried. Doc had done this before. She was strong. She would not lose and would smile through it all. She had a book that needed to be finished. Why would I worry?
Just before Christmas, we received another update; the cancer had spread and her body was rejecting treatment. She had to receive a transfusion of platelets because her count was so low. I still was not worried and was more than certain that Doc would return shortly. There was no other option in my mind.
A week after we returned from Christmas break, the school called an assembly for all members of NHS and yearbook staff. At the front of the room was my principal, the new NHS advisor, and a woman I did not know from some kind of clinic. I was still not worried.
They didn’t sugar-coat anything. Doc was on her deathbed. She would not make it past this weekend, no matter what kind of miracle took place. I listened to this woman I had never met, and I had no thoughts, no feelings. I stared at nothing and I cried, but not a deep emotional cry. Silent tears poured down my face of which I was barely even aware. People kept handing me tissues and I could feel the weight of my peers, who were not as close with Doc, staring at me. I did not know what was going on, all I knew was that it might be time to worry.
Doc died that next day around 4am. We received the call during a drama rehearsal, and I shut down. I knew not what to do or what to think. I had never lost anyone in my life, let alone a teacher, a mentor, and a friend all at once. My friend, who shared my love for Doc, and I spent a good couple of hours at Starbucks, sitting at a secluded table, barely sipping our drinks and staring out the window trying to comprehend what had just happened. It was raining outside, mimicking the depression I felt. All I still knew was that Doc was strong. She had fought the battle once and won. It was not fair! Why did it come back? Why her? I did not understand.
As a teacher, Doc would want us to move on. She would hate to see the entire school wandering the halls almost silently for days. She left those that she touched with such powerful lessons and examples of love, strength, and passion that it would be a sin to mourn. Doc was a blessing to Riverside High School. On a personal level, which I felt that I knew of Doc, this was not a blessing. She fought, she conquered, she lives… she fights again, she loses, she dies. Doc doesn’t get to see the students she touched graduate and never gets to sign our yearbooks. I never got to tell her I loved her, although I’m sure she knew. People like her always know. The one thing I’m sure she regrets, though, is not finishing her book. She never got to wake up and write about what she loves all day. That is a tragedy.
Molly Fratianne is a freshman from Painesville, Ohio, majoring in International
Studies and French.