Friday, February 14, 2014

"You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts."   Cochise - Chiricahua Leader

As I walked past the trophy cases that lined the high school's entrance and came out into the sunshine, there was one of my senior guys sitting on the cement, leaning against the building's wall. He was staring hard at nothing. 

That 17-year-old was smart... so smart that I often prayed that he'd apply for college and straighten out his life. I liked that kid, but then, I liked all "my" kids. He was a "full-out" gangster, though.

"How're ya doin"?"

He looked up at me, and then went back to staring...

I stooped down to talk to him. "You know, you're SMART! You're really, REALLY smart! Have you ever thought about applying for college?"

He looked up at me and made a snorting sound. "I can't..."

"I know you're in a gang, but I read something in the paper yesterday. You were "jumped in," but it said that you could also be "jumped out."

"I can't..."

"Now, I know... They'll beat you to a pulp, and then you'll go to the hospital, but you'll heal. Then you'd be free of it, and you could start your life all over... You're still young and there's a whole world out there for you..."

He looked up at me with such lost eyes... "You don't understand, Mrs. W. You don't know..."

"Maybe you could just leave after you graduate... I mean just drive somewhere far away... You could go to Nebraska or somewhere like that. They'd never find you..."

"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!  You don't understand..."


"Mrs. Waldron, I'll be dead before I'm 21."

The truth is that I DIDN'T know what I was talking about. The place that you are born into and the person who bears you are not a choice for any of us. Many people have a gift given to us when we are born, and we don't come to understand that right away... and sometimes we never do.

When I first came to California with my husband, I began teaching art at a wonderful junior high school close by. The very next year I was asked to switch to teaching English, and, since I also had a degree in English, I was as happy there as I'd been the year before. Each of the students in my classes were pretty wonderful in their own junior-high way. Lucky, lucky me... truly lucky.  

As time passed, there was one particular family that began to stand out. Every year I would have one of their kids in a class, and after four years, I realized that EACH ONE of these four teenagers that I'd taught was beyond wonderful! I kept thinking that these kids were going to grow up to be the "pillars of society" just like their parents. In fact, the night of "Open House" one year, I told those two parents, only half-jokingly, that this country ought to PAY people like them to just stay home and have children! Whatever they were doing was magical. Besides being wonderful students and great kids, their children were never absent! At the very least, these two parents ought to teach intensive courses to any parent who was at a loss about to how to raise children.

The fifth year was the same as the previous four years... There she was! Another of their kids in one of my classes. Lucky, lucky me! This 14-year-old girl was bright, pretty, and polite. What more could any teacher ask for. Well, sure, she didn't always get her homework in on time. And, no, she wasn't getting straight A's like the other four before her, but she was the "baby" of the family, and any teacher knows that you have to make a little allowance for the "babies" of families.

First quarter was over, and we were well into second quarter, when this darling girl was absent. That was a first for that family, but anyone could get the flu. Days passed, and she didn't return to school... Then a couple weeks had passed. Finally, one day she did return to school, looking well enough, and saying nothing about her absence. 

About a week later, I received a memo from the principal that there would be a meeting with the girl's parents and all of her teachers. It was a mandatory meeting. 

When I walked into the conference room and sat down at the long rectangular table, her parents were sitting there already, both in tears. When everyone arrived and the principal closed the door, we found out why...

This beautiful 14-year-old girl had "run away" with a 34-year-old man for a 2-week tryst! Her Mom and Dad had asked for a meeting with all the teachers. This whole thing was "out of my baileywick!" I had no answers because I couldn't even figure out what the questions would be. These two parents were my ideal of what I would have liked to have been.

Her father began. He was tearful, and seeing his tears and hearing his wife's gentle sobs started my water-works. 

"We asked for you to meet with us because, as teachers, you know a lot about kids. Please, please, please, tell us what we should have... could have... What did we do wrong as parents for this to happen? Please, tell us the truth... What is wrong with us...? We LOVE our kids... We LOVE her... What should we have done?"

It was completely silent except for muffled sobbing... I think someone finally mumbled something inane, because none of us could understand any of it... and because the shock was so stunning... and because...

He turned to me. "Mrs. Waldron, you've had all of our five kids in your classes. What did we do wrong? Please, please tell us... we need to know..." and he was awash with grief.

The professional Mrs. Waldron became an hysterical wretch who blurted out between gasping sobs, "Nothing... you didn't do an-an-anything wrong! You have four-or-or ex-ex-ex-examples to prove it! You're per-per-per-per-perfect parents..."

There was silence... a long.......long............... silence. What was there to say? What would you have said?

These parents had been ideal parents, maybe the best twosome to bring up kids that I'd ever met. What more could they have done? I pondered that one for years afterward...

But there is an answer. It's not helpful, but it is true. And that fact can cause the deepest pain, maybe in the whole world. Each one of us will make our own decisions in our lives, and we, alone, are responsible for our choices. There is no one else to blame. ...and we carry those triumphs and those scars of our choices with us. The blame for our actions is us! Just us... that simple and just that devastating... 

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