Twenty minutes, maybe, have passed since that phone call. Even though I wish it wouldn’t, the bell rings, and I can count the number of seconds until my students, my lovelies, will start to come in after lunch. I’m not ready. But this is where they belong.

I don’t know if it’s the look on my face, the sound of my voice. They ask me what’s wrong as they walk in the door. I know I can only get through saying it once, so I wait until they’re all inside. Seated. Without looking into a single pair of eyes, I tell them: I just found out a friend of mine died. Please, be gentle with me.

And they are. Of course. My lovelies, with their inhumane amount of experience enduring this particular pain, commit to cradling me. Because they know these early, impossible moments so well. Because they know they can’t make this make sense. Hurt any less. Because the best way they can make the next 90 minutes bearable is by being attentive. Today, love is straightened shoulders and fixed gazes. It is ensuring I won’t need to repeat myself or ask for anyone’s attention.

As my lovelies stand sentry, I try to teach but can barely speak, let alone engage, instruct, challenge. They are used to sentences — entire paragraphs, even — sprinting from my mouth, to following me with their eyes as I boomerang around the classroom. But right now, I am not the teacher they know. Words trudge through my lips as I press my fingertips to my temples. Breathe in out in out in out.

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The best I can muster is to contain the sobs simmering within me. I’m afraid to glance at the clock; I don’t want to count how many more minutes we all must endure.

I’m stumbling through another sentence when one of my lovelies stands up. This surprises all of us. Even on a good day, they distract me if they wander the room while I’m talking. They know it’s not OK to move around until I’m done explaining, reminding, questioning.

We all watch her, and I can’t tell if it’s the shock of my grief or the way she actually moves: She reminds me of a puppet. She walks as though something, someone, else is guiding her.

She’s seated again, this time at the windowsill, looking at the wet, gray sky, but seemingly seeing something else. Something more. By now, I’m not just confused; I’m curious. “Lovely, what’s going on?”

Jumping at the sound of my voice, she says, “No, Ms. Graham, look. I wanted to talk to you about the weather.” She sticks her hand through the open window. When she brings it back in, she turns, holding it toward me. “It’s raining. That means your friend made it to heaven.”

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It’s still too soon to smile. I don’t want to cry. Instead, I breathe deeply, and I know: Today, love is straightened shoulders. Fixed gazes. Raindrops on uplifted palms.

Kerry Graham is a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher and a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.