Kaitlyn Julia Zolper was the sweetest person I have ever met in my life. I’m not even going to talk about her outer beauty, because that is obvious. She was so much more than a beautiful face.
She was such a bright, radiant person, bleeding with joy and happiness. Every room she entered instantly seemed brighter. When we were living in the dorms, I would be sitting in my room, alone, things were quiet. Then, she would come in. And as soon as you know it, the room was filled with people and conversations and laughter. People gravitated to where she was. Even with my family. I’m not much of a talker around them. Normally during football Sunday, we’d just sit on the couch, not saying much. All of a sudden, Kait enters the room, sits down on the couch, pretty soon people are talking, I’m telling stories, and I’m actually smiling and laughing in front of my family. That’s not me at all, but she brought that out of me, she brought that out of everybody.
And, she was so funny. You would not guess that when looking at her. But, she was always equipped with these witty one-liners that you would never see coming, and soon you would find yourself laughing uncontrollably. Whether it was laughing with her or at her, she made people laugh. She didn’t mind looking silly in order to get a loud chuckle out of me. There were times when she would pull her pants up way high and do a dorky dance that would just have me in stitches. I don’t laugh often from other people, but Kaitlyn had me laughing all of the time.
She was a modern gal, but classical in the same sense. Her most memorable, most enjoyable moments were sitting around with her family, with her cousins, or sitting around with her aunts and uncles, or friends, or whomever just telling stories and laughing away. Those were the moments that she truly cherished, something money could not buy.
For the period I knew her, Kaitlyn lived her life doing everything the right way. She worked hard to achieve her goals and she earned her success. She was humble, never seeking attention. While other people strive to constantly be noticed, Kaitlyn accomplished her goals quietly. Kaitlyn was absolutely selfless, in a world where it seems selfishness and inward focus are rewarded. Very few people know she achieved straight A’s in six consecutive semesters. The only reason few people know is because I or someone else told them. One semester, Kaitlyn had to get up at 5:30 AM to go to one of her jobs, get off at 9 AM and go straight to her classes, be done at 2 PM, go to her second job, get home at 5 or 6 PM, workout, do homework, eat dinner, etc., and repeat the next day. She did this a whole semester. She never complained, rather, she saw this as something that simply had to be done. You would think she would then take a break that summer after such a tough semester, but no, she proceeded to take classes full time and work full time. I couldn’t believe how dedicated she was.
Kaitlyn had a vision of the teacher she wanted to become. She never strayed from that path. Her unwavering discipline allowed her to obtain the tools necessary to make sure she was providing children with the best education and opportunities possible. When she was a student teacher, the day came where she had to be evaluated and given constructive criticism on where she could improve. During her evaluation, her instructor basically told Kaitlyn she was doing pretty much everything great. Then, this woman picked out one flaw in Kait’s techniques. One. Kait was so upset at herself for this, for she worried she was going to be short-changing children of their education because she wasn’t perfect with her teaching skills. That’s how Kaitlyn was. She cared so much about the children she would be mentoring that she accepted nothing less than perfection from herself, even if I told her that was impossible. She then pushed herself even harder. She would never admit it, but she succeeded time and again with children.
After graduating from Whitewater, Kaitlyn began substitute teaching in the Madison school district. One of the main schools she taught for was Kennedy Elementary, where she was called on for many months. It didn’t take long for other teachers and even the principal to take notice of Kaitlyn’s natural ability to connect with children. The principal of Kennedy eventually told me that she called Kaitlyn the “child whisperer”, because she could somehow connect with children that no one else could. I thought this was so neat. Even though I already knew Kait had this ability, it’s always nice to hear it from someone else. Of course, Kaitlyn never told me about this because she was never boastful if she received praise. She would accept the praise and then move on, continuing to improve. One day I even told Kaitlyn, and this was after the umpteenth story she told me of a kid that seemed to open up to only her. But I said, “Kaitlyn, you have to realize that you have a gift when it comes to connecting with children.” She said, “No, no.” I said, “But Kait, do you know how many stories you tell me of all of these kids that absolutely love you? It’s crazy.” By the way, I brought up things like this to her before. But finally, she replied, “Travis, I do sometimes realize that the kids do like me, but I don’t ever want to think that way because I don’t ever want it to go to my head. I feel like if it goes to my head, then I won’t be as good of a teacher.” Of course I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t remember exactly what she said. But, after she said that, I just sat back in the passenger seat of the car, and in my head I said, “Wow! This girl is amazing.” And she really was, in a number of ways.
Her principal called her the “child whisperer”. But, then I got to thinking. She wasn’t just a “child whisperer.” Kaitlyn was able to break down the barriers of any person she came into contact with. It wasn’t just children she was able to connect with, she had the gift of being able to connect with anybody. She didn’t care who you were, she didn’t care where you came from. She didn’t care if you were a nerd or a jock, white or black, rich or poor, she was going to treat you like you were the king of the world. She was going to put a smile on your face whether you wanted to or not. And it’s not even that she would TRY to put a smile on people’s faces, she just naturally did.
She could get any “tough” man to let down his guard with that sweet smile and bubbly personality. I mean, she broke down my walls, and no one, and I mean no one was able to get inside me prior to her. I truly believe I speak for everyone when I say this, but she just made you feel comfortable. She made you feel like you mattered. And, she made you feel like she wasn’t judging you, no matter how crazy your thoughts were. She was always there to listen. She was always there to give you words of encouragement. She was always there to help you pick up the pieces. And, that’s one of the many areas where I will miss her great. Whenever anything on me broke down, Kaitlyn was always there to pick up the pieces and put me back together. She is gone now, and with a heart now shattered into millions of pieces, the task of putting it back together seems impossible without her.
But, she wouldn’t want me sulking or feeling sorry for myself. I don’t, though. I feel sorry for her. I feel so sorry for her. She absolutely didn’t deserve this. No one deserves to have to endure what she had to go through, but she deserved it the least out of anyone I know. However, Kaitlyn would never wish this upon anyone else. If there was anyone tough enough to endure this hardship, it was Kait. Pound for pound she is by far the strongest person I have ever known. Throughout this whole struggle, one would have never guessed she was stricken with cancer if it weren’t for the hair loss to give it away. She maintained her wonderful, happy, positive persona at all times. Even after having surgery and radiation to her brain, somehow she maintained her sweetness.
This sweetness she possessed, it made her so huggable. People couldn’t help but want to hug Kaitlyn when they saw her. She just had this warmth that people would be drawn to. It was okay to be vulnerable around her. My dad, my uncles, her uncles, everyone wanted to hug her. She was just that much of a sweetheart. Everything about her was so darn cute and adorable. The first time she played the board game, Pictionary, with my family and I, the other team guessed a drawing correctly. Kaitlyn proceeded to cheer and praise them. Coming from a competitive family, we all looked at her, me especially because I was on her team, and I said, “What are you doing?” Sheepishly, cutely, she looked around and said, “Well they did a good job.” Half-joking, I said, “Don’t do that. Don’t cheer for them.” But on the inside my heart melted. That was early on in our relationship, and that instance showed me so much about her character.
And, that brings me to our relationship. Kaitlyn and I, we were much more than simply fiancés, more than husband or wife. No labels adequately describe the bond between us. We shared a lifetime of love in just 4.5 years. We loved each other, we loved each other more than anyone could ever see. We were quite guarded around others. But, not a single day went by where we didn’t tell each other 100 times over how much we loved and appreciated the other. It never grew tiring, it never seemed like overkill to express this feeling with her. It seemed right. I couldn’t believe I was with someone that made me feel this way. It felt wrong not to let her know how special she was to me.
Because of the strength of our bond, Kaitlyn and I truly became one. I gave much of myself to her, and she gave much of herself to me. We looked out for one another constantly. We developed a sort of psychic connection where it seemed like we always knew what the other was thinking. If I was thinking about ordering pizza for the night, ten minutes later she would say something like, “Should we maybe order pizza tonight?” This happened all of the time.
From the very beginning, I knew I had someone special in Kaitlyn. It was the second time I had met her. We were both standing, waiting for the 9th floor elevator on the first day of classes at Whitewater. After we said our greetings and stuff like that, we were both silent. Out of the corner of my eye, all I could see was this girl smiling. I thought to myself, “Why is she smiling so much?” Of course it certainly wasn’t a bad thing. It was quite endearing. But, she wore that smile the whole time. I was fascinated.
Then, a few days later, I was sitting in my dorm room, playing Super Mario Bros. 2 on the old Nintendo. She walked by and happened to notice. She stopped and told me she used to watch her dad play this game. Then, we began a long conversation about Nintendo, and Super Mario, and Tetris. Little did she know, she struck a chord with me. I was obsessed with old Nintendo games, and I couldn’t believe this little girl was having a conversation with me about it. That’s when I started taking interest. See, I was her RA. I wasn’t supposed to be taking interest on any girls on my floor, so I tried really hard to stay uninterested. But, I kept on running into her, and every time I would see her, her cheeks would always be bubbling with joy. Her smile rarely went away. How could any sane man not gravitate toward this? Well, needless to say, she had won me over.
From that point on, we shared something that will never be matched. Sure we had a couple of low points, a couple of arguments, but those were very few and very far between. Whenever we had a concern, we simply communicated that concern and worked together to find a solution.
In a dark world, I truly believe Kaitlyn was a gift from God sent here to try and brighten things up. She was sent here to offer her love. And boy did she ever. I’ve said this before, but I’m saying it again. Kaitlyn loved to love and be loved in return. She spread that wonderful feeling to everyone she came into contact with. Sadly, for reasons I will never figure out, this mission of spreading joy and happiness was ended much, much too soon. There will never be a plausible explanation for why this horrible disease entered her life. I can come up with any number of possibilities, but nothing seems to make sense.
Out of chapters and chapters, if each of us took a page out of Kaitlyn’s book, this world would definitely be a better place. If there was anything Kaitlyn would want us to continue to do, it would be that we love and love and love and love. Cherish one another and love. Focus on the positives in people instead of dwelling on the negatives which I know I’m guilty of often. She was always willing to forgive and look past a person’s flaws. She was always willing to give people multiple chances. She didn’t hold grudges. Kaitlyn was the perfect person. Perfectly flawed. She was perfect.
This world will never be the same without her. My only hope is that one day we are reunited.
Kailtyn Julia Zolper, you are the love of my life and a true inspiration. I’m so proud of you and everything you’ve done. I’m so proud of how strong you were and how hard you fought during the darkest times. The deck was stacked against you but you didn’t let that affect you. You are truly one of a kind. You truly were an angel on this earth and now an angel in Heaven. I love you more than anything in this world.