Every student has that one teacher who was a real game-changer. The one who didn't dismiss you, but dismissed the teacher-student barrier and took you under their wing. I've only lived 24 years and I've already met a lifetime of people, but it's true when they say that most will be passersby in your life. Then there are the select few who remain in your circle, distant or close by, who mean more than they will ever know. Sometimes words are not enough but it's all I have right now.
Kim Pearson was from South Africa and my teacher in Bahrain from 2002-6. It swells my heart with pain to say he has left us. A multidisciplinary teacher, he taught across the board, but Geography and Religious Education in the main. He was described as 'Superman' for his broad and protective stature and his jet black hair. There wasn't an ice-breaker moment with him, it was full on love and respect from day one.
He just got you. Whether you were the ballsy one who spoke over him, the quiet one at the back or the one who needed an attitude adjustment, you were his friend. I especially remember his way with the latter, the 15-16 year old range. He was the father-friend figure you never had but had on call because he let you. Teenagers will never tell you they want to be put on the right path. But even the most unruly plead for guidance deep down. They just don't want to be told. KP was living guidance just by being KP because he was so cool and you wanted to be him.
Nobody really knew how special he was to me and about our relationship. It was only till after 2009 when I left school and I found him on Facebook that our unofficial 'every couple of months contact rule' began and we'd talk for hours each time about everything a young adult seeks to learn and know. We always had a great laugh - my God he had whip-smart, razor-sharp humour. We'd belly laugh to tears at school and then he'd effortlessly focus your mind on your studies as if it wasn't a humdrum chore. He was also a sensitive being - when a member of our class was leaving for good we all cried. He did too.
He opened the door to his life to you. Between lessons and break-time, hardships, joys (his daughter Mikyla), dreams, travels (something we tossed about all the time) and mistakes were put on the table. He loved a good chat. And because all I love to do is talk and listen, we got on like a house on fire.
I had, like everyone else, hero-worship for him. I indulged my time with him the same way I indulge cake - I always wanted more. He said the things I wanted to hear even if I didn't know it at the time. You see, his words were like sound-bites; a teacher like that has a strong hold on your heart for years, as their words internalise and take shape through adulthood. He's responsible for what many have left on his Facebook wall: "He made me the person I am today."
The fact that I can't tell him what I'm up to now, and read how proud he would have been, breaks me to pieces. I always used to imagine going to South Africa to see him. I was going to run and give him the biggest bear hug and say, "look how far we've come". Just picturing it used to make me giddy with excitement. He always made his students feel unique, as if they were the sole focus of his life. And that's what was so non denominational about KP, he gave everyone the time of day and made them feel wonderful for it - absolutely E V E R Y O N E. In his words to me: "I never really allowed myself to have favourites."
He really was part of the more significant events in my life, like he was for everyone: the loss of my grandmothers, the move to New York where he said we'd go for coffee and have a real catch up, the move back to London from New York where he said he was "so sorry I wasn't there for you" because I was so upset to be leaving; the time I got my first part time waitressing job, the time I was afraid of not getting into my MA program but told me not to worry because "you're gold".
If there was one thing we bonded over most though, it was our displacement. He totally saw through my shouty confidence masquerading my deep-trenched insecurities. I have always felt older than my time, and as a result felt more comfortable around older people. He felt the reverse, "Yes, the 'real' world....stop the planet, I want to go back to being 19 or 20," he protested (with complementary emojis). We both made each other feel "so alive" as he closed one chat in 2012 - the power of words...
This is what makes me sore the most. In the last year we didn't stick to our contact tradition. There was no reason, just life moving forwards and being time poor and distracted. I was travelling solo in Cambodia in 2014 and I told him I was going to The Killing Fields because we had seen it in his class. He told me to watch what I was going to eat and to tell him all about my experience - every single start to our conversations were pivoted on something I had learned from him and was now using in life. The man was a straight up life lesson.
I wish, wish, wish, wish I had finished off our epic chats better. But I guess the last chat would never have been enough. Everything he ever said and wrote to me, is throbbing in my head now.
He was the kind of person we all imagined in his wizened years still sharing sage advice in the guise of a great hand-me-down experience to laugh and learn from like he always did. He wouldn't have been a typical old person force feeding juniors finger wagging, pretentious 'wisdom' - no, he was real.
And as great teachers go, he went against the grain of the exam factory culture. He would put on movies that would better our understanding of life. One of those films was The Power of One. As I recall the premise of it, my cheeks are slick with tears because it couldn't be more fitting to his soul. It's a film about a young English boy named PeeKay whose passion it was to change the world. Through trying times in an Akfrikaans school to becoming an orphan and being placed in the care of a hard German named Doc, PeeKay gets put through the wringer till he comes out strong and pioneers for a better and brighter South Africa.
There was a moment in the film when PeeKay gets told, in one cold-hearted beat: "Your mother is dead." I will never forget watching KP being so involved in that scene as if it was the first time watching it, blasting: "WOW. What a way to tell you your mother died!" KP loved his mum so dearly, I'm comforted by the fact they're now in each others arms.
In moving around the world in various posts, he sprinkled his magic on the next batch of unwitting students who, if they don't already realise, are better and brighter because of him.
Till we meet again my KP, where we'll pick up where we left off and continue to "love the way we say things".