Today, I found out that my high school English teacher died on Monday. She was incredibly intelligent, proud, ambitious, generous and kind. She supported all of us through ratty and difficult teenage years and saw many of us go on to do English degrees, because of her.
She was our friend.
We're all still recovering from the shock. She was larger than life, bubbly, engaging, eloquent - a real presence. She only found out how sick she was at the beginning of August, so didn't have much time to do all the things I know she would have loved to do. She deserved a long and happy life. She was the kind of constant comfort that you don't realise you needed until it's gone. The world is a much darker place without her in it.
I guess now that we're all getting older and moving on with our lives and careers, we don't give much thought to how we got to where we are now. It's too cliche to think that a teacher may have inspired you to do what you're doing today but, for many of us, it's the truth. Teachers have a passion for the one subject that you think is tolerable enough to continue with at university. They've read the books you're reading, passed the exams you're taking, gone to the universities you're going to. As inhuman as they seem when you're younger, teachers understand you.
I know far fewer of us would have gone on to study English and journalism respectively if it hadn't been for Caroline Cousins. She brought the subject to life in a way that nobody else could. We would march up and down the corridors acting out scenes from Much Ado About Nothing, shout witchy words at the top of our lungs from Macbeth and squabble over who was going to look after her bust of Jane Austen that day.
She loved words and taught us to love them too and to understand the many clever ways we could employ them to our benefit. She paid careful attention to each and every one of us, painstakingly going through coursework and essays word by word. She could see those of us who had the English bug straight away, and nurtured us for years with extra assignments, essays and projects. She prepared us for university long before any of us had even visited any. When the time came, she treated our university applications like they meant the world to her.
It would be wrong to say that she was just a gentle and sweet person. She was kind, but she had an edge. Those little flashes of sarcastic humour entertained and frightened us in equal measure. She wouldn't tolerate any lack of dedication to her subject. She wasn't afraid to speak to us plainly and like adults. She knew when we were lying or when, as friends, we'd fallen out with each other. She would tell us in few words to buck up. Life was too short and we had a lot to get through. She believed that we could take on challenges and learn new things and meet the expectations she had of us. Nobody wanted to let her down.
Caroline Cousins came across as a fearless woman to her students. We both admired and revered her and will still strive to be like her. She made English not just a joy but a valid and exciting way of life. Six years, maybe more, on from when we all first met her, many of us are carving paths as writers, historians and journalists and we still remember her lessons and her morals as clearly as if it were last week. I don't know how worried or frightened she might have been when she received her diagnosis, but I know she would have taken it in her stride and put on a beaming smile for the benefit of others.
Her biggest wish was always that we would never forget each other or what she taught us. Her essay writing skills and the exploratory way she read a text got me a first class degree at university. Today, I have caught up with more old friends than I have in years. We all wanted to talk about her, remember her, remember being in a classroom, all of us together, watching Pride & Prejudice on a lazy, sunny afternoon.
Caroline Cousins. A life cut far too short. We are who we are because of you.