Art by Hannah Zhang ’22

Dear Mrs. Mauer,

It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen each other.  The last time I ran into you was two years ago near the meat section at that new grocery store that opened near Costco, the one people were protesting outside of. You asked me how I was. I lied. I wish we talked longer, but the words never came out.

Did you get to hear what we said? I know you were sick and couldn’t make it to the ceremony to hear us commemorate you as our English teacher and how we are still using the lessons you taught us in 8th grade, but I hope you liked the recordings and letters. Since then, many of my former classmates have told me their stories of how you helped them through rough patches. I hope you know how much that meant.

I remember the day I found out. September 26th, 2021. The news had broken through a groupchat of my closest friends from high school, some of whom I no longer talk to. When I saw the Facebook post from your daughter, the one asking your students to send emails for her to compile into a book in your memory, I knew that it was your time. Did you ever get to read them?

I spent half an hour in the bathroom of the art building at my college, running cold water over my numb skin, pouring it over my eyes. I was last in your classroom over 5 years ago, but the memories still came cascading down like autumn leaves in the wind. The clanging of your bracelets as you taught us grammar rules on the chalkboard, your Jersey accent, your permed blonde hair. I remember how the oak wood shelves that lined the walls spilled yellowing pages and creased covers onto the linoleum floor. I remember how fervently I wanted to do well and how much I loved reading, flipping through The Call of the Wild in the dead of night and filling the margins of homework sheets with details I deemed too important to let pass me by. I remember your words.

“Time will be your biggest enemy.” Do you remember that day? The lights in your classroom were off to try to ward off the summer heat creeping in through the open windows. I reshuffled my speech papers in my trembling hands as I stood beside the wooden podium. The slick-haired salutatorian of the class had run through his speech perfectly, even ending with a crescendo as if to say to me, “Try and follow this.” His performance was pompous and unbelievably pretentious, but it was undeniable, he was good.  When it was my turn behind the wooden lectern, my speech was given haphazardly, my words sloppy and rushed and my tones imprecise. To add salt in the wound, I was over the time limit. That’s when you looked up at me from your notes, eyebrows scrunched together and lips pursed and remarked, “Time will be your biggest enemy.”

I cried when they deleted your emails. The ones I had kept for all these years in a folder labeled “Proudest Moments,” only ever seeing them in glances, in hopes that when this time came, I would have something to hold on to and the memory would still be warm. I had planned on downloading them, but time got the best of me. Now they’re gone.

I’ve always waited, waited so that I just barely made it in time. I’ve spent all my spare moments trying to calculate a way to throw a wrench into the mechanisms of the bullet train that is time. In the bathroom of that art building, I retraced my steps, figuring out what I could have done wrong to not have eluded Time this time around, only to realize that the tricky thing about Time is it’s persistence.

I never got to thank you. I never got around to writing that long-winded, hand-written letter I had planned to send you after I graduated. I still haven’t. Time is stingy about its schedule and never waits. I can’t get it back. Sometimes I feel that only through leaps and bounds can I keep up, that Time is something to chase until the next stop. But, what I’ve come to learn is that all I can do is to run alongside it and to enjoy the blurring views as they pass through the windows. Though I curse and plead it, the barrelling beast that is Time is my enemy. I never expected that it would also be yours; I never expected your loss.

You passed away more than a month ago now, but your memory will stay with me, through the way that I still circle the entire answer on multiple choice tests, the way I still scribble in the margins of my homework, and the way I still write in cursive letters that I had traced years ago. The bravado in your voice as you read my Halloween story aloud, the silence of the room as my classmates listened, the giddy feeling that I had when I typed it under my dim lamp late the night before. These memories are feelings I pursue today, a compass oriented by you. I can never thank you enough for that.

Every so often, as I’m penning a particularly passionate piece, I am brought back to a little green chair in room C8, against the oak shelves brimming with books that we have read, and I remember why I love to write; I remember you.

I hope you’re still reading up there Mrs. Mauer, because one day, I want to show you that Time has bested neither of us yet.

With Gratitude,

Brittney/Nghi Nguyen

Brittney Nguyen ’25 is a staff writer
nnyugen25@amherst.edu

Hannah Zhang ’22 is a staff artist
hazhang22@amherst.edu