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Published: April 3rd 2016
As I sit at the Vancouver airport with a annoying cold and three bags full to the brim with chocolate, souvenirs and memories, I now get a small chance to reflect on the last week of my special journey. From a last minute surprise trip to the Flames versus Rangers games in awesome seats to having to say goodbye to the wonderful people I have met, the students I have educated and the colleagues and friends that I feel I’ve only just started to get to know. Its not healthy to hold in emotions, but I feel the body is about to burst with the flowing river of tears as I question whether I really want to leave.
The great part of this last week is I got to say farewell to the city I have grown to love, and the places that have become regular stomping grounds; blessed with memories, experiences and connections I will always cherish and reflect upon with a smile.
It was great to spend one last night with Scotty, my exchange friend from Croatia. The fact that we had awesome seats at
the hockey to watch the Flames and Rangers was just an added bonus. Was great to watch an amazing game of hockey where the flames were 4-1 up only to see the Rangers get a flurry of late goals to send the game into overtime, while enjoying conversations of Scotty’s trip to Jamaica , beverages and the overall atmosphere of the Saddledome. The feeling of sharing in the moment when TJ Brodie scored the winning goal in overtime was like seeing the Tigs achieve a come-from-behind win. The energy the slapped into high fives and the smiles on the faces of the ‘sea of red’ left a positive imprint on my opinion of Ice Hockey, a better understanding of its culture and an appreciation for the skill the players put on show and the toll of the bone-crunching hits into the glass their bodies endure.
The night was even better when I got to walk through Olympic Park at night and watch the old group of people skating in the brisk, foggy Calgary evening. The tower was a glowing torch of blue that was blurred by the gloomy, yet mesmerising fog that covered
the city. One final walk along Stephen Avenue where I had shared some good and not so good times and then a final chance to say goodbye to Jackie (Scott’s Partner) and say thank you for the time we had shared and the memories we had formed.
The next place I was able to say goodbye to was Kensington, where many of my social catch-ups with the Calgary Kangaroos, the odd date and dinners or breakfasts had been shared with friends. On this particular occasion I was actually catching up with a young couple from Adelaide. We had met when watching the AFL Grand Final at Side Street Pub in Kensington and after getting to know them found out that I had been a teacher at Willunga High School when she was in her final year.
After occasionally sipping at the cup of Mocha that they nicely shouted me, it was great to hear the excitement of their 2 year journey that they were now 3 months into while I reminisced about the year I had, giving them ideas of what they could investigate and realizing
a number of experiences that I had wished I had taken the opportunity to experience. Higher Ground had been a place I had frequented on occasions when in Kensington so it was fitting that I have my last memory of this particular journey at the nice, friendly establishment. I also caught the C-Train for the last time, and reflected back on the early days when that was my major source of transport, the interesting characters I had observed on particular trips and squishing in while jostling for position with the city work crowd when I caught the C-train to work. Even the same Busker was still performing on his guitar as he had done when I first arrived. No matter how cold, no matter what time, he still had his friendly smile as he sang his tunes to the generally empty spaces of the ticket machine area at Anderson Station.
The hardest part of this journey was always something I wished I would never have to confront: Saying goodbye to Fairview School. As I have mentioned before , I enjoyed teaching the students and although ‘society’ frowns upon taking class photos, I made
sure I would have a lasting memory of the great students I taught. Every day of the last week, I would be asked ‘when are you leaving?” Do you have to go?” “Can you stay?” This was all very touching and at times took a great deal of self-control not to become a blabbering mess.
What was really overwhelming was the number of students who gave me presents and cards as they wished me all the best for returning home and to say thank you for being their teacher. Lucky I am not a diabetic as the number of chocolate gifts has left my luggage containing more chocolate items than clothes. One of the strangest gifts I received was from one of my Volleyball players, who gave me a piece of smoked salmon, along with some other beautiful chocolate arrangements. While you may see this as strange as I did, when I found out the story of this gift, it actually was really something special to receive. The student had caught this rather large piece of fish (which I only had a portion of) got it specially smoked and had arranged it to
be a gift for me. The sad aspect of it all is that I don’t eat seafood but felt touched that he would give me such a gift. My boys volleyball team also sent me off with a volleyball signed by all the players. I felt bad as at the time of presenting me the gift, I had questioned why they were entering an area that students were not to frequent during the lunch break.
The moment had come! Friday, the 18th
of December. It was not the most strenuous day of my teaching career as all we did was supervise locker clean out and watched the Talent Show, of which we were blessed in seeing some amazing talent in a number of different areas. From amazing pieces of students fluttering flickering fingers as they caressed the keys on the piano, to dance routines that made me cringe in the way that their bodies were capable of being in such positions. To voices of performers that had you spellbound to voices that you admire for getting up on stage and giving it a go, the show was entertaining and really cool to witness
students in a light you would not normally expect to see them or in a passion that had been shadowed by the constraints of profession discussion rather than developing professional interpersonal relationships.
One aspect of this show that really grabbed me was a young girl who went on stage to play her violin. She took the risk of playing without her music and whether it was stage fright or a lack of confidence the bow that she crafted in to the strings of the beautiful sounding instrument did not flow to what she was capable of producing. Over and over again, she tried to remember the tune hidden somewhere in the corners of her mind and laying dormant in the motor skills that had activated these movements. The crowd cheered her on and encouraged her to keep going but unfortunately the tune did not get past the first few notes. A few more performances lit up the stage until to our surprise she returned to the stage and performed with the music. The story was that she actually went home, grabbed her music and then came back. The performance was not the best
performance but for a girl who’s self confidence is questionable at best to show that much courage and determination just blew my mind and impressed me far more than some of the brilliant talent that was displayed.
The event was coming to a close when suddenly a familiar tune belted its way through the speakers. The tune that had been in the courts over the last few years for its familiar and similar sound to ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’ and the song that bellows out of slurring mouths at pubs or karaoke bars when it is played rang in my airs. Accompanying the song made famous by Men at Work – ‘Down Under’ was the voice of Carman Portelli requesting my presence at the front of the stage.
The cheers of the students was humbling as was the number of hands that were stuck out in the isle searching for a high five as I walked passed and made my way to the stage where I was to be presented with a farewell gift. If it wasn;t for the bright and powerful rays
of light beaming from a spotlight at the end of the gym, I may have lost control of my emotions. It was lucky I could not see anyone as a look at one student would have set the water works into overdrive. The cries of ‘Don’t go’ and ‘We will miss you’ was also nearly enough to bring the powerful emotional response to be witnessed by the old students of the school body, but I managed to keep it in an accept a beautiful gift from Werner, the Principal of the school.
As I tried to get to the Phys Ed office to place my gifts on my desk, students who wanted hugs, high fives, and students wanting to say their final goodbyes bombarded me in the hallway. As hands wrapped around me (at one stage a group of 5 boys were covering nearly every inch of my body), the only thoughts that entered my mind was the inappropriateness that was being displayed. Afraid to innocently say good bye to student sent fears and dread through my body and I could only stand awkwardly and accept their parting gift of emotion as I
said goodbye to them for the last time. I even had a Year 9 student from the first half of the year, who was now in year 10 at high school come say a final goodbye. She was a good student who I got along with well when she was at Fairview and was glad I got the chance to find out about the early stages of high school and say goodbye and good luck in her future pursuits.
The hardest steps I took on this day were the last that saw me leave the Phys Ed office for the final time. I looked up at the sign above the entrance to the office, then to my name in amongst the great people I had worked with all year stuck on the wooden doors, I smiled one last time then, with a heavy heart trudged to the back entrance to the car park where Dave picked me up to take me to the pub.
It was really nice to share a last drink , lunch and chat with some of the staff, in particular the three Phys Ed teachers Dave, Shannon and Laura I had worked so much with and inspired me throughout the year. Seeing them leave the doors of the restaurant though was as hard as giving away your favourite and most priceless position. A friendship that will be ever lasting but one I wished could continue face to face, rather than a click of a keyboard using one of the many social interaction sights that now dominate our world.
One final story about Fairview I will share is one of intrigue and mystery. One I wished had occurred earlier than it did. I remember coming from yard supervision from the snow covered spine chilling temperatures out on the fields when I saw a new face holding the door to allow students back in for the final periods of the day. She had had long curly hair that had a wet look about it that dangled from underneath a pink beanie. Her eyes were big, brown and mesmerizing and her face had a natural beauty that could not help to catch your eye.
I saw her a few times in the hallway and would smile shyly as I walked passed. The smiles turned into a friendly hello and it wasn’t until the last week that I finally decided to introduce myself. She was a quietly spoken, but a kind and caring soul that had me butterflies tuning around in my stomach that I had long since forgotten existed. An abnormal rise in heart rate slightly distracted me as I found out about how she had come to the school only recently to work in the cafeteria. In her quietly spoken voice and after I had introduced myself she told me her name was Jessie. We spoke once more when I was fortunate to have our paths cross one last time, and it was unfortunate I was running late for my supervision as all I wanted to do was find out more about this mysterious woman who for some reason had infatuated my intrigue. Its weird I talk about this in my blog but I question what would have happened if I was not leaving the country. Was she a parent of one of the students at the school? Was she happily married? Or did she just have me inquisitive to get to know her because she gave such a kind, caring, shy and friendly vibe? It is something I’ll never know but it made me believe that as I return home, that I can maybe rediscover feelings I had long since discovered in my journey in completing the large hole that lingers in my life.
My final day was spent cleaning before I was picked up with easily one of the greatest people I have gotten to know since I have been in Calgary. Brian and I had really first met at the gym where slowly but surely we got to know each other. A great teacher and a student favourite, an intelligent and professional educator with a personality you can’t help but get along with, I was glad that I got to share the last few hours with him before the journey came to an end. He had truly become a great mate and he along with Wayne, Tanilia, Simon and Jacque had just started to become really good friends. It was only a week ago we were working together and testing our cooperative and strategic, logical thinking in the locked room, and even playing volleyball with them. Now I was forced to be saying goodbye.
The final farewell at Brewsters where they ordered shots with politically incorrect words and word make my mother question that I would associate such concoctions and allow them to pass down my throat, was great fun and to top it off, a final game of cards against humanity was played on the pub table where a good laugh was had, and lasting memory shared. It was hard to say good bye to Wayne and Brian at the airport today. I seemed to dawdle with collecting bags, even had Brian going back inside to get my coat and scarf as my head just didn’t seem to be in the right place. It never really felt like I was leaving, and yet it was an escapable fait that had been eating away at me for a good while. Again, emotions were tested but before I gave both blokes a hug and a final smile before disappearing into the security check, there was one final adventure we got to share with each other.
I had been battling weight issues for the last few weeks. Not my own personal weight but the weight of my luggage. I had packed and repacked so many times and with the sudden influx of chocolates and gifts, again, I found myself battling this weight problem. I put my two cases on the scales at the airport to see that they were both overweight. I had to try and remove items and in the end even changed to wear my cowboy boots rather than my shoes just to get the weight to the required level. I did have to off load some chocolate who I decided, to give to the friendly staff that were assisting the boys and I with my luggage. I can’t claim it was my idea, but the smooth thoughts of Brian who suggested it. The chocolates were appreciated and caught the lovely ladies by surprise but I was grateful for their assistance with this ongoing conundrum.
My heart sank as I looked out the window at the city that had become a great part of my life grew ever so distant. It was simply beautiful from the sky, covered in a sprinkle of white as far as the eye could see. I nearly broke down again on the plane as it all started to sink in but again I held it in. I now wait to catch up with Liam and Clare who have been a big component of my journey, where we will sit and share stories, laugh at some of our crazy adventures and brace ourselves for the long plane ride home and head back to the life that once was normality.
But something tells me I still have one last story at the airport to overcome and yes, I fear it will be my luggage!
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