Saturday, September 10, 2011
WAITING AT TARGET
NEWLY PENNED STORY
Waiting at Target.
What kind of story begins that way?
Not your usual story, certainly, but "story" implies a tale of fiction, a creation of fantasy...fabrication.
Not all stories begin and end in the "Once Upon A Time" world.
This is such a story.
I am sitting here at Target, nearing the ten year anniversary of the event that forever changed my already challenged life.
I'd finally, after years of hard work, both academically and in the world of multiple employment finished the last phase of my Masters Degree program, parchment and most coveted license to teach Special Children in my hands. How could I not feel like I was walking on my personal cloud of achievement and validation?
The first person outside my son and daughter, I proudly waved my documents before, my mentor, a teacher I had been praying one day someone would respect me as much as I respected him.
His name is Bill, and I found him quite by accident. One of the three major jobs I worked to put myself through college and keep a roof over my family's head, just happened to be substitute teaching. Bill needed a sub one day so he could get all his wisdom teeth summarily yanked, but he needed a sub willing to take on society's version of "severely" handicapped.
I hold no prejudices. Children are children deserving of the same respect no matter their level of learning abilities.
The minute I walked into Bill's class I knew I'd stepped into "Special"...not the negative connotation so often directed at children like these, but "Special" because they were about to open my heart so wide nothing short of awed appreciation could ever live there again.
Allow me to explain. Bill teaches joy-filled angels who just happen to have been born with varying degrees of Down Syndrome.
Mrs. D, Bill's delightfully dedicated Teacher's Aide (TA) showed me the routine she and Bill had fine tuned into perfection during their ten years together. By the end of the day, I knew the Bachelors Degree I was within three weeks of being awarded meant nothing. No longer did I feel the calling of my dual majors, Psychology/Sociology. Nope. My destiny changed just like that.
Hurriedly I contacted my faculty advisor when I got home and applied for Grad School. I also quickly filled out the papers near their deadline for some of the scholarships I would need to continue on. (May really is not the optimal month to start either process for September acceptance.)
But someone up above knew this had to be, and thus began three years of post graduate studies with an advanced speciality in educating children and adults born with Down Syndrome.
Bill, who'd called me the day after I subbed for him, became my unofficial mentor. I'd acquired enough in scholarships I only had to work on the weekends. Three days a week, I drove the two hours in my rat-trap car to attend classes from eight in the morning straight through seven at night.
The other two days, I volunteered in Bill and Mrs. D's classroom and learned more than I ever learned from all my professors, three practicums, and a full semester of student teaching.
My daughter, joined us on her days off making this a family adventure. The students loved her as much as they loved Bill, Mrs. D, and yes, me too.
May 2001...no longer JUST a licensed substitute teacher. I could not believe how happy I was. All my hard work being a single mom, full time student, and avid would-be teacher had come to a successful conclusion.
Bill, Mrs. D and the students with the permission of the principal, threw me this wonderful party. I have plaques Mrs. D. helped the students make from hand cut wood with red painted wood hearts attached prominently beside the words "We Love You, Mrs. Holmes."
My heart never left my throat.
With June approaching, I stayed with them, helping prepare the room for the summer months, securing this, boxing that, inventorying everything else.
Then the real world stepped in. Applying for a teaching position, a woman in her late forties, against graduates half my age. The odds were so against me.
July led to August.
I'd done a great deal of long term subbing in my years...one assignment had me working the entire school year. (I took that year off from college.)
Naively I thought experience and a briefcase full of letters of recommendations would win out over youth. WRONG!
The dog days of August saw me pounding the schoolyard pavements praying this interview or that one would lead me to a coveted contract.
My chance came, but nearly destroyed me. September 4, 2001, Bill was in a serious car accident. He would never return to the classroom. He, Mrs. D. and the principal unanimously agreed I was the only one who could take over his class.
I would need to pass a couple of medical classes, CPR, testing sugar levels and administering insulin...that kind of stuff. Officially I would begin September 24th.
I went to visit Bill in the hospital and promised I would come every week and bring him up-to-date on what would now be "our" class.
One week later the world changed for everyone.
I've written about that day, where I was, when I heard, how I frantically tried to reach my son for twenty-four plus hours, and wept with my daughter as we watched the ongoing anguish well into the night...I'll add the link here if you chose to read my 9/11 TRIBUTE.
Bill and I talked for hours about how to make sense of the senseless for our beloved students. How do you do that when it doesn't make any sense to you?
Two days a week I would pop in on what would very soon be my classroom, writing lesson plans for the subs to follow, assuring the students I'd be there all the time very soon. We made a calendar bulletin board to count down the days.
September 22, 2001. Our library branch opens on Saturdays and Sundays only after the school year officially opens. Bill and I had discussed how to best present the concepts of the emotions following 9/11.
He'd told me about an excellent video I could get from the library and where to go afterwards to get the supplemental resource materials.
Saturday morning, September 22 at eleven o'clock in the morning I pulled into the library parking lot in the car I'd just bought, using the last of my scholarship money as a down payment.
The librarians, women my daughter and I have known and shared much with for twelve years at that time, were excited for me. The video and several new children's books were signed out on my card and now resting inside my briefcase.
11:35 back in my car, I headed out to the mall and the resource store.
11:45, she was talking on her cell phone, this seventeen year old child. Either she did not see it, or it didn't register with her that she had a stop sign.
The force of the crash shot me into the next intersection, crushing both sides of my brand new car. The Jaws of Life, a neck brace and back board, and injuries I will never completely recover from followed.
Just like that, it was over.
I've always played by the rules. I don't step on others, I don't try to muscle my way around people...but just like that everything I had spent so many long hours, long years achieving disappeared. Years of surgeries followed...along with
I'd gone to college to improve the world my children and I had to exist in after my divorce...and was finally this close to reaching my
I'm about to turn sixty, the body grows weary, the spirit is tired of battling uphill. If you play by the rules, shouldn't the outcome at least swerve every now and then in your favor?
I wanted to give my children so much...instead I am disabled, forever, and my beloved students? I never got to see them again. I could hardly let them see this broken shell I'd become after my crash. To this day I ache for them. They showed me what really mattered, but it was taken away too soon.
I still have my beautiful daughter, so I am rich beyond the measure of most, but I so wanted to give her the world...in that I failed. The months are much longer than the limited resources not at our disposal and we both feel like somehow, despite playing the game by its rules, we've failed.
I loved teaching, and adored that class. The car accident made me feel so deeply crushed, but I guess I didn't realize I had such wonder was waiting for me.
There are angels here walking among us, and if I'd been able to enter Bill's class and truly make it my own, I would not have been ready when my corporate auditor daughter's seizures became so disruptive she could no longer do her math intense job.
Now, we're authors! PUBLISHED authors. For someone who has been writing since I learned how to pull myself up, plant my chin on the the rim of my playpen and observe the world around me, this is a miracle...a miracle I can share with my daughter, herself now a published author.
Angels truly do walk amongst us and had that teen aged girl realized she had a stop sign, I might not have found my way to my soul's angels.
If I try to put names to all of them, the mind that suffered a mini-stroke in 2008 will surely forget many...so I'll just name a few...
Lea...The Big Kahuna Angel,
Litsa, Her equally Big Kahuna partner Angel,
Delilah and Tiger...your art inspires me, your grace against the odds humbles me.
Karen (in your dark haired phase) and Todd...you both have wings that spread wider than the eye can see.
Ginger...without your humor there are days...
Brad...I always wanted brothers that weren't annoyed by my sharing the air they breathe.
Jim...I'm scared to death, but you, Gimp, and me in 2012...Heaven Help me.
Gail...Like recognizes like
Tanja...I will always stand in your corner.
Suzannah, Penny, Nancy, Chris, Carrie, Rosalie, Barbara...like I said if I try to name you all, the mind will hiccup.
Heaven here on Earth is
I miss my students...especially Zach, but you've all given Kat and I so much.
Before I close this...Glenn...you're not with Muse...but you have given me more than I can begin to tell you...and all because I acknowledged how much your story
THE LAST DAY meant to this evolving...whatever it is I am.
Thank you All.
Now...what will I come up with the next time I am waiting at Target?
Lea I DO take a notebook with me there.