i Wish i Could Be On Time!

23 June 2004

In memory of Dr. Kathy Burton
I have been trying to remember exactly what I was doing on Sunday morning. I know that at approximately 6am I eyed my alarm clock, only later at 10am to shut it off. I remember thinking that I needed to get up to re-read “Our Town” for my literature class, but sleep sounded better. The next day at 9am I received the call. I remember hearing the phone ring and I remember ignoring it; I remember my cats playing around the bed, and I remember someone cutting the grass outside. I don’t remember how I felt at 11am when I returned the phone call and heard the news about Kathy. I think I may have slipped away in this world I have created for myself when things get dreadful. I went to class that afternoon dazed and unprepared. I had to be the one to tell my friends about Kathy, because I knew they hadn’t heard. I remember not looking forward to that conversation.
At this point the main thing I feel is fear. Fear of forgetting. Fear of forgetting what her face looked liked. Fear of forgetting how she had that lazy eye that squinted more than the other—I think it may have been the right eye, but I don’t remember. Fear of forgetting what her hands looked like, or how she wore those tasseled shoes, or that black fur coat in the winter. And the thing that worries me the most is the future that will be filled with uncertainty this fall. I have the feeling that I will be irritated. I feel this because I know that her office will be empty, or even worse, occupied. Her office will become occupied by another professor who won’t know how many memories I share of that room. How many times I went to see Kathy, sat on the floor, griped about too much reading, not enough writing, reminding her if she had her keys, and lastly, flipping off the lights as we would leave. I staged our last encounter perfectly because I think subconsciously I knew I would never see her again. I gave her this poem I had written for her last summer when I heard about the cancer. I had gotten her address from a friend, but never mailed the letter. Later, towards the end of the fall semester, I heard she was coming back in the spring. I knew there was a reason I had never mailed the poem. Perhaps, I was saving it for the last visit. She smiled as she read it, and made muffled noises at the words. She hugged me and told me it meant so much to her. The last thing Kathy said to me will haunt me forever. We were in the elevator and I was bitching about going to Oxford. As the elevator doors opened, she commented, “oh, come on, you’re ready for Oxford. You can’t stay here forever.” I guess she was right in many ways. I am angry. I am angry because she said she’d be back in the fall. I’m angry because she said she’d be back, and I was to tell her about my first class in Oxford. I’m angry because I want to tell her how well I am doing there, and that I have made new friends, and how I am getting great grades on my quizzes, and the professor is awesome; but above all, I wanted to tell her how I can find not only the building by myself, but the room, too. She was supposed to hear all this. She promised. One friend said to me, people like Kathy Burton are not supposed to die. Then I remember how big of an influence Kathy has been for me, and for many students. She was the one who questioned my studying journalism. After that conversation I changed my major. She was the one who laughed those deep, stomach hurting laughs. The kind you only get with the type of people who have that amazing gift of genuine humor. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anyone in her class, because she had a way of making the classroom a community. We would be laughing as if we were all childhood friends. Yup, you can say there was something about Kathy Burton.
First impressions are weighed heavily in American culture. I can remember the first day of class with Kathy. I remember that I was sure the girls in front of me were absolute idiots, and the boy by the window was a cutie. I remember learning that the boy by the window was an ass, and the girls became really good friends of mine that semester and we laughed over beer and pretzels at the corner bar about our first impressions of each other. My first impression of Kathy was the same as the last. She was Kathy. Funny, to-the-point, very private, and I wouldn’t have changed her for the world. I knew nothing about her personal life, and she knew nothing about mine. She was the first professor that I had a “normal” student/professor relationship with; and if you know me, you know that is hard for me to achieve. I look to many of my professors for parental guidance, friendships, anything but authority. Not with Kathy. I kept my distance. Ultimately, I feel I made the best decision because Kathy guided me academically. She never looked at my grades on paper, yet she still told me how intelligent I was. She pushed me along, refusing any help replying that I need to study and not worry about her. She always commented that she was “fine.” It was hard to hear this because I knew she was in pain. It was hard to watch her come to school after hours of being in the hospital for treatments, but yet, I knew this was where she belonged. In front of the class-- laughing; and I know that is when she will always be, because she has created in all of us humor and most important she has given us a new way to look at life. I know that since her death the trees seem a different color of green and tonight when there was a rainbow in the sky almost all Bob Evans employees were outside looking up and laughing. That was Kathy.

Madame Thalia
Comfortable midnight fur
To keep warm
A gift
Like a cunning cat
With smiling eyes
Strong like a cougar
Speaking words of Shakespeare’s King Lear
Standing tall
Such wisdom
Hands that show history
Of pages turning
Laughing at The Wife of Bath
Only you can envision her
Oh! To have such intelligence!
I envy your mind
Full of stanzas
And rhymes
Literature and professing describes you
Gratitude,
(I feel)
Is not enough
But what more can I give you as your student?
Other than my words of praise
Through time
You have become my inspiration
Instructing me along my studies
Like Egeria
Drops of wisdom
Being sprinkled on your listeners
As you conduct
For years to come
And for the years that have already passed
Your students wait your knowledge
Silently
Patiently
Always

05 May 2004

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