Monday, January 25, 2016

With Memory and Love, Cody Thomas. At 27 Years, You Were Way Too Young. Rest In Peace

Dear Cody, 

The news came Saturday afternoon and it punched me in the stomach. I am sure many who know and love you feel a similar pang. You were in the beginnings of a career in teaching at Staples High School and, I felt, your time at the helm of the classroom was just beginning to bloom. In 2014, you and I were the only males in our cohort of literacy leaders and, together, we bonded over the profession, writing, and the struggles one faces on a year to year basis as an English Educator. 

You were an early bird. Julie and I could always count on you being the first one in and, as we sipped our coffee and began to stretch our minds, we often chatted about philosophy, theories, the news, and our own writing struggles. That is, perhaps, why your early departure is so hard for us to understand.

Earlier today, I sent an email to let others from the 2014 Invitational Summer Institute know that you were no longer with us.  I'm always unsure what is the best way to reveal such tragedy, especially to the family we've created in southern Connecticut. Even so I put my fingers to the keyboard and wrote,

Dear Friends of CWP-Fairfield,

It is with heavy heart and sadness that I report the loss of an incredible teacher and advocate for CWP-Fairfield. Cody Thomas, ISI 2014, passed away this Saturday at age 27. Information can be found at Westport News. Cody was an admired teacher at Staples High School, where he helped run the award-winning newspaper, The Inkling. He was part of a stellar cohort of teachers who worked with Brett Orzechowski and the CT Mirror on Special Report: Education, Diversity and Change in Fairfield County. Cody's Op-Ed,“The Self Perpetuation of Teacher-Cynicism” addressed turnover in Connecticut and the needs of first-year teachers.

One of Cody’s more memorable pieces from CWP was entitled “Falling Off Ladders,”  a narrative inspired by MFA Director Sonya Huber. He told a tender story about doing manual labor under his father’s supervision. Cody's tendency, he penned, was to “screw up" and get reprimanded, Behind the scenes, though, his father mentored him for something larger: "When I first asked [my father] if I could work with him for a while, just to save up for grad school, he told me sure. But, in all seriousness, he punctuated, “Code, that’s fine for a little while, but I don’t want you doing this as a career.” 

Cody, instead, went into journalism and teaching. He maintained absolute admiration for his father and the students he worked with.

The following was written in “Our Way With Words,” a poem I wrote to culminate my work with Cody and his colleagues during the Invitational Summer Institute. The stanza I dedicated to him captures his essence best. He was funny, edgy, sharp, and ‘one of the guys.’ 

C razy, but I want this stanza to be about chest hairs
o r belching, or farting, or scratching, or
d istractedly, not listening. I want to  
y ell, “Dude,” or “Bro,” or “Yo,” ya know?… 
T o have it stand at a urinal or to 
h igh five for saying something stupid 
o r to pick lint out of its belly button.
m an, oh man, oh man. In truth,
a ll I really want from this poem is a beer.
s o there. But also to admit I love working with women.

I send my love, friendship, and support to those who knew him best. His time, too short…too short.

Since writing the email, I was sent more details of your services and the whole reality became harder to take. I hope your looking at social media right now and the ways your students are filling it with praise, 
  • Thank you for helping a self-conscious anxiety-ridden nerd come out of his shell.
  • Thank you for introducing me to Faulkner and Joyce and DFW, while still assuring me there’s just as much intellectual thought in an episode of Futurama.
  • Thank you for calling The Black Keys “angsty white girl music.”
  • Thank you for always asking if I was alright junior year, when days could be especially depressive and lonely.
  • Thank you for coming to my first show. Middle section. 4th row. Your girlfriend seemed nice.
  • Thank you for encouraging and proofreading my writing, even when it wasn’t for your class.
  • Thank you for defending my writing, even when it clashed with others.
  • Thank you for inspiring more students in your few years at Staples than many teachers would be lucky to recall in decades worth of teaching.
  • Thank you for accepting my advice that you are not a “porkpie-hat guy.”
  • Thank you for always encouraging me to do better, that, like everyone else, there was potential in me.
  • Thank you for inspiring me to pursue writing professionally.
  •  Thank you for being more than a teacher, but a true friend.
  • Thank you for coming to lunch with me that day in November. It meant the world, and it was good to know you still wore the same goddamn tennis shoes.
  • Thank you for accepting our birthday card, I’m sorry most of the people who signed were 1) made-up, or 2) C-list celebrities.
  • Thank you for that hug the last day of classes senior year. I heard your voice crack and a small sniffle as you said, “Good luck man.” After two years with you, I knew I would never need it.
You are going to be missed, Cody Thomas. I can only hope that you are at peace. May the better memories you created on Earth be with you as we all reminisce the influence you had on us down here.



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