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33 Kim - A Good Teacher When Kim and her mother drove up to Miss Elenas house on that warm, August afternoon, she wasnt sure what to expect. Her heart was beating like a butterfly in her chest, and her stomach was tight with anxiety. Lilly took her daughters hand and led her to the door of Miss Elenas house. The house was a small cottage tucked away at the end of a winding foot path through what looked like a wildly happy and overgrown garden. Sweet smelling roses nodded their greetings and the aspen trees waved their silver leaves in whispered applause. If Kim hadnt already been so caught up in worrying about what was real and what was not, she would have believed the garden was enchanted. Lilly brought Kim up to the door of the house and knocked the intricately wrought iron door knocker against the weathered, wooden door. It opened immediately. Miss Elena was tall woman with a willowy figure and long, wavy hair. Her hair was black and shot through with silver streaks, in that salt-and-pepper way some people have of aging. Her face was soft and kind. She welcomed Lilly and her daughter inside with an inviting gesture of her arm. The inside of Miss Elenas house seemed as overcome with plants as the outside garden. She led Lilly and Kim to the sun-bathed living room, where she had tea and hot chocolate waiting for them. Well, it is lovely to meet you both, Miss Elena beamed and looked at Kim as though she truly was delighted to meet her. Id like to begin by explaining how I work. I am a licensed child psychologist with nearly thirty years of experience. I take on only a small number of children so that I can give them each the time and attention they need. In the summer time, I am usually away attending courses at the University of Toronto it is so important to keep current, you know. I have returned home early this summer, and it seems I came home just in time to meet you, Miss Elena smiled warmly at Kim and Lilly. Kim smiled back, shyly. Lilly was still too tense and worried to smile back. Now, tell me. What has brought you both to my practice?

Lilly began, My husband and I are very worried for our daughter. We are worried her imagination is running away with her. Im afraid it may have something to do with her brother. We lost our youngest, our son died this Spring. Kim has taken it hard. She misses him badly and pretends to talk with him. Kim felt her cheeks flush and grow warm with embarrassment. In a flash, she felt angry at her mother. She was NOT taking her brothers death badly, she was happy for An, free of his illness at last, free to play in his invisible world. Kim did not miss her brother so very much An visited her so often, she didnt feel sad about his death anymore. I understand you are concerned about your daughter, Mrs. Young. We all have our own ways of coping with a death in the family, and children can be especially creative and resilient. Kim may be mourning her brother in a very healthy way, yet it is good to talk with a counselor when you are worried. How are you coping with your sons passing, Mrs. Young? Lilly felt a fist close over her vocal chords. She couldnt speak in response to Miss Elenas question, and so she silently shook her head. How can a parent cope with the loss of a child? How can she begin to describe such a loss? How can she express her sadness for her son, combined with her worry for her only living child? Miss Elena placed a soft hand over Lillys trembling one. It is a very difficult time for your family, I understand, she said softly. If you would allow me to speak with Kim privately, I believe I can help her. I have a colleague and friend who could help you with your own grief. Lilly nodded, still silent. She accepted the card Miss Elena offered and left the house quietly. As the old front door creaked to a close, Miss Elena turned towards Kim. Now, Miss Young. How is that hot chocolate? Kim was brought back a moment last winter, when she and An sat in the kitchen while Lilly heated milk on the stove. As she remembered that day, she felt a stab of grief of missing her brother. Oh An, I miss you. Her chest constricted, and Kim felt the heaviness of grief on her chest grow so heavy, it wanted to squeeze the tears out of her heart into the world where this stranger could see them. The pain wouldnt let her breath unless she relented and allowed herself to cry. An, help me!

And then there he was her brother An, or a slightly transparent, holographic version of him. She could only see him if she angled her head and eyes a certain way if she tried to look straight at him, his image would disappear but she knew he was still there. As her eyes cut across the room to the couch beside Miss Elena, where An sat, Miss Elena followed Kims eyes. Miss Young, can you see him right now? Kim knew better than to admit it if she told this woman she could see her dead brother, shed think Kim was crazy. Maybe shed send her to a loony bin, or some terrible place for crazy children. It was very important, Kim knew, NOT to be crazy. Kim, Miss Elena softened, and leaned forward slightly. Its alright if you do see him. I can feel him there too. He is there. If you can see him, its because you are special. There is nothing wrong with you, if you can see him. It would only mean that you have a very special gift. Miss Elena allowed the silence to fill the room again as her new student contemplated this unusual piece of information from an adult. Do you know what it means, Kim, to have a special gift? Kim nodded, thinking of Stephan, the boy her class had gone to see in Toronto, as part of her schools cultural enrichment program. Theyd seen the ballet Romeo and Juliette, theyd seen a performance of Phantom of the Opera, and theyd seen a boy their age play the violin as though the instrument possessed him. It was frightening, in a way, to watch this boy perform in front of hundreds of awed adults. Gifted is what they called him. If you can see people that have died, and you can talk with them - that is a very special gift, Kim. A wonderful gift. Now, if you think that you are imagining your brother An because you miss him, thats okay too. That would also be very normal. Hh-hhow can I tell? Kim stuttered, struggling between the urgency of the question and her fear of saying it out loud. How do I know if I see him because of my imagination, or not? Well, its very simple. You can ask him to give you a sign, to prove that i t is really him. If it is your imagination, the sign will not happen. If it is really An, he will find a

way to make sure you know its really him if you are brave and you ask him to prove it is him. Are you brave, Miss Young? Kim nodded again, with assertion. She may not have known much about what was going on around her, or whether she was crazy, but if she knew one thing about herself Kim Young KNEW she was brave. Well then, Miss Elena continued. Thats wonderful! I can tell we are going to be great friends, because bravery is a quality I MUCH admire in children! Now, I have one thing to ask of you this is something I only ask of brave children. It is rather like a homework assignment. I would like you to ask your brother An to send you a sign, so that you can know in your heart that it is really him who visits you. No matter what happens, you and I can meet again next week. Kim nodded again, rather in shock at the request. This isnt what therapy was supposed to be shouldnt this woman be asking her about her home life, or school? At the same time, Kim felt a tingle of excitement in the pit of her stomach, and a lifting of the heaviness on her chest. Could it be that she wasnt crazy? If she wasnt crazy, then that really WAS An who was sitting there, just on the end of the old, flowery couch in Miss Elenas therapy room. If it really was him, then An was not really dead at least, not in the way she thought of as dead. He was not in his sick body anymore, but maybe he could still talk to her. Maybe. Kim felt her heart pounding, and a swirling of emotions rising to the surface all a mixture of anxiety and hope and overwhelmingly: relief.