Sahuaro – More Than Just a Job

In NYC in my Sahuaro Hat

In NYC in my Sahuaro Hat

Eva Lange, Sponsor

My very first “real” job was working at a TrueValue Hardware store in Queens, NYC.  I was thirteen and working off-the-books for $3/hour.  In retrospect, this was totally against child labor laws and I never should have been permitted to work, hence the $3/hour.  My mom was a struggling single-mom, working until late at night as a hairdresser.  I wanted things that I knew she couldn’t afford, so I worked from right after school until eight o’clock at night myself.  My grades suffered terribly and my math teacher, Mr. Peskin,  accused me of using drugs – I would fall asleep in class.  Rather than tell him I was working for five hours every day after eighth grade, I just let him believe what he wanted, but really I was just exhausted (plus, math and I just don’t get along).  The point is, on the day I was first hired, I already knew the exact date I would be quitting – I had a plan.  I always have a plan.

That job led me to the next and then again to the next.  Waitressing, selling everything from cosmetics to at-home-meat-delivery, administrative work, bartending.  Each time I began a new job, I always knew just when I would be leaving it behind, on to my next city I was moving to, my next stepping stone, my next adventure.  I was in my thirties and the longest I had held down any single job was 14 months.  Nothing could satiate my boredom, no place felt like home.  That is until 2003 – that’s the year I started Sahuaro.  And working here has sculpted my world in ways I never fathomed.

For one, it’s given me the time and opportunity to travel the world.  My sophomores role their eyes at me when I start talking about my travels (I’m super pretentious about it!), but I know they secretly love when I digress from literary discussion to a story from my travels.  I’ve gotten to zip line over the rainforest canopy in Costa Rica.  I almost got mauled by a sea lion in The Galapagos when I thought it would be funny to taunt him from behind. I climbed to the top of Machu Picchu. And I’ve even touched the same walls Elie Wiesel did in Auschwitz and visited Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the same week.  (see…super pretentious).

But that’s not all.  I’ve made the majority of my best friends at Sahuaro.  Megan Hughes, Holly Ledke, and I have been in the same book club for over ten years (although most of the time we spend way more time trying to decide which book to read next rather than the one (maybe half) of us actually read.  When Lynn Gregson was an art teacher here, her husband called me one Tuesday morning during conference.  He needed a favor.  Lynn’s beloved little dog have been torn apart by a bob cat in their backyard.  He didn’t want to tell her over the phone so he asked me if I would go and break the news to her.  Are you kidding me?  What could I do but traipse down to the 300 building.  I had to literally convince her that I wasn’t joking (I get that I can be a tad mean, but a dead dog prank?!) and then comfort her as she realized I was telling the truth.  Andy Christian installed the ceiling fan in my kitchen and he whistled and sang Elvis while doing it,  Ken Marrs took me and my 12-year old son out rock climbing for the first time in our lives…he told “mom” jokes the whole entire time.  We laughed all day. I can’t even begin to tell you how Shelley Krause is my hero.  Her eloquence and brazenness is role model woman.  And Mrs. Watters – Cheryl…she makes the best banana bread ever and even though I am on a perpetual diet, she will sporadically surprise me when I walk into my room in the morning to find, awaiting me on my keyboard,  a little Ziploc and a couple of pieces of the best banana bread you have ever tasted (no lie – and diet out the window). If I ever needed chocolate or aspirin (and I regularly needed both!), I could always go to Room 210 and Dianne Bouchard would bust out her stash.

Finding each other on the football field during the bomb threat of 2015 by shouting “Whootie Hooo”

Before I knew Mark Chandler’s name, I would call him “Raccoon Eyes”.  He was always super tan from living on his baseball field and when he took off his shades, the skin around his eyes were as white as his teeth.  A group of us went out after chaperoning a prom one year and we became friends.  After that night, he convinced me to train for a triathlon with him.  This was something that was never on my bucket list to do, but next thing I know, I’m in the best shape of my life and I made the best friend of my life. There’s no one else I would rather go through a world-wide pandemic with – we’ve been playing Connect Four and Rummy Kub, going on long hikes, shooting pool in my garage, and debating which show to binge next. Happy, hurt, angry, sad, excited – Mark Chandler is who I want to share all my ups and downs with and I’m grateful to Sahuaro for putting him in my path.

And of course…the students.  So many have impacted me, changed me, expanded my mind, and left an indelible mark in my soul.  Aaron, who died in a motorcycle accident on Mt. Lemmon around this time during his senior year.  We sat around in a circle and shared memories of Aaron, crying together for days on end.  And Victor, who brought a black Hefty bag filled with teddy bears and flowers for all his female friends every Valentine’s Day and was stabbed to death over a stupidity.

The two of us in Mykonos, Greece last summer

Haeleigh, who to this day introduces met to everyone as “Langer” and is now in her thirties and one of my best friends.  James, whose meth-addicted mom got him addicted and whose door I almost broke down trying to get him to come back to school.  And the kids I have in my classes now – the ones who share their problems with me, tell me I’m their inspiration, call me ‘boomer” when they’re trying to get a rise out of me (FYI – I’m too young for that title!), and the ones who make me laugh – that loud. spontaneous, cackle laugh I have when someone says something super unexpected and witty, and the ones who are so passionate about life – I miss my kids.

I am truly blessed.  And I realize how lucky I am to be a teacher at this very moment in history.  I have job security when a lot of our kids’ parents and our friends, don’t.   This “job” is so much more than just a job.  Its created a little world for me. And true, I do know the exact date I’m going to quit this one as well. But by then I will have been at Sahuaro for twenty-five years, taught over 3,500 students, and been touched by many more lives along the way.