Saturday, July 18, 2020



"I'm aware of the mystery around us, so I write about coincidences, premonitions, emotions, dreams, the power of nature, magic." ~Isabel Allende

As I walked into Timber Creek Regional High School for the first time, I gaped at the tall windows that provided the walls to the LMC. I recalled my own high school with it's lack of windows and orange carpeting from the 1970s. I had a feeling which I've only had a few other times in this life. It was a premonition that walking into TC was going to be a significant day in my life. I was lost on the way to TC, both figuratively and literally. I was caught between the tumultuous waters of my late teens/early twenties and the calmer, more confident tsunamis of my thirties. 

When I opened the glass door to the faculty meeting already in progress and hid nervously behind people whom I would repeatedly refer to as "family" for the next twenty years, I had just gotten off the phone with Patti Taricone, who directed me to Timber Creek where I was assigned to student teach, before the days of GPS and before Patti would become another mother/big sister/friend/counselor. Mae Robinson, TC's third principal in the fourth year since the school's opening on September 12, 2001, was speaking to the faculty, calling the year ahead "awesome" and the educators before her "awesome." It's funny to me to think that I heard Poly Alacqua's name before I had ever met Abbe, my closest friend, before I had officially thanked Patti for guiding me down the Black Horse Pike, before I ever stood alone in front of a classroom of freshmen to try to explain themes in literature and in life. 

Mrs. Robinson was introducing new faculty and highlighting veteran teachers. She said, "...and if you haven't gotten the chance to sit down and talk with Poly Alacqua, be sure you do. She's from Chile and has an awesome story." 

By now, I know a little of Poly's story, but a lot of her heart. A few years ago, Poly was my Secret Buddy. At Timber Creek, participating faculty anonymously buy each other gifts every few weeks. At the end of a few months of gift-giving, we throw ourselves a party and reveal to each other who has been providing little trinkets of love to whom. I have always been on the lucky end of the Secret Buddy assignments. As my Buddy, Poly gifted me, among other things, a necklace made from a Scrabble piece and a book with the pages folded into the shape of a butterfly. Magic. Her gifts are special and sit on display in my house. 

After my diagnosis, Poly sent a few cards. And few weeks ago, a book arrived on my door step. I opened the accompanying letter and read Poly's heartfelt well-wishes and her thoughts on the book she'd sent. I finished reading the 481 page novel, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende on July 16, 2020. I know that will be a significant day in my memory always, because it is the day that I finished reading what has become this English teacher's favorite book of all time. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "We read to know we are not alone." The House of the Spirits takes place in Chile, Poly Alaqua's and Isabel Allende's home country. The novel was translated from Spanish to English. Anyone who knows Poly knows that she is constantly translating her Spanish-speaking stories into English for her captive Timber Creekian audience. The novel is a beautiful story about forgiveness after unspeakable tragedy. I was surprised at how much I could relate to the characters who lived and died through a military coup in Chile in the early 1970s. We are not alone in our emotions or dreams. That magic is easily translated into a universal language, 

Timber Creek is a beautiful building, and it has my heart as much as my dingy 1970s high school in Toms River, NJ did. Polly speaks Spanish and understands my struggles in English. Our Secret Buddies are always revealed to us if we just show up to the party. 

So to anyone who knows Poly or has just heard her name, be sure to sit down and talk with her. I do not know her whole story. I plan to find out. I do know, however, that she is awesome. 

Gracias, Poly! 


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