I was in a 'home room' kind of class when all the kids were at computers doing school work, etc., and I was at a master screen which can look in on any of the computers in the room to make sure they're not messing around on Facebook and otherwise wasting time. She was working on a paper and I started to read it but then felt I shouldn't read more unless I ask her if I may. So, I approached Jane and told her I'd seen a few words and did she mind me reading over her shoulder now? She said she didn't..........She was writing about being an 8 year old black girl being driven up to a very white, very privileged private school nearby (I have never asked how the family could afford this). She was scared, she was excited. I asked her how long she felt like an outsider because of her color and she said it took only a few days because there were 3 other black kids there and, anyhow, they treated her there like any kid; kindly, encouraging, etc. I told Jane about when I was in Paris and had a French General insult Armenians (which is my descent) at a dinner party. When I told him that I didn't agree with him that the Armenian lobby was too strong in France and their Senate had caved by passing an acknowledgment that Turkey committed genocide on Armenians, and that, as a matter of fact, I was American with Armenian ancestors, he turned away and never addressed me again. (he actually said "I even know some Turks who speak French like FRENCHMEN!" as if that spoke for their character).
That night, after the dinner party, Mr. Z asked why I seemed happy about this snub and I said "Now I know what it feels like to be black, or Jewish, to be judged by what I was instead of who I was. Now I can relate better to racism and other prejudice because it happened to me." I told young Jane this story and she indicated that she felt close to me for having told her that....that she had a rare confidence in me because of this.
Jane and I always stop and talk when I see her between classes, etc., and Friday, when I sub'd for her Physics class, she had time to chat while the others were working on some textbook problems and she approached my desk and stood there making small talk. She asked how my Christmas was and I told her I'd lost my husband two years ago, this was my third Christmas without him, and how that colors many happy occasions for me now. This 17 year old stared into my eyes and said "Mrs. Z, I didn't know you were going through that. Two years is like yesterday. How'd you get through it?" "God, friends and family," I said. We all know that two years to a normal teenager is an eternity, but this wise, lovely girl understood how short two years is when you're grieving. Talk about a mature girl. I asked about her Christmas and she said they had family problems.
Jane's mother has a restraining order on her father, who left about 3 years ago. First, when she told me her dad had left the small family, I sympathized and said "But you mustn't ever feel it's because of you....what father could leave you?" She said it was their choice to get him out and when I asked if it was because of drugs or alcohol, all she said was "It wasn't alcohol." She admitted that money's tight and that her mother can only work part time jobs she can manage to get because she's depressed and has chronic fatigue.......she and her mother are extremely close and I could see the hurt in Jane's face. I kept asking how she can support them on part time work and then the coin sank into my sometimes naive heart, and I said "You can't tell me how you're living, can you." She said she couldn't, so I know they're getting aid. This girl is proud. Her mother's distraught and hurt because her family in another state hasn't helped, and they get no support from the Dad and her mother's too ill to work. So now what?
Jane wants to go to college and she's a senior this year. Though I'm really in no shape to help with anything substantial, I have offered to help if she's missing out on any senior activities because she can't afford it or would love to have a new dress to wear to a special graduation party or something. It's the least I can do and it's all I can do, sadly. I already spoke to one friend and she said she'd chip in...with enough chipping in $10, we can do anything!
This girl is beautiful, this girl is smart, this girl is wise beyond her years, caring, a girl of faith, and she deserves a future. She deserves a healthy mother who's not so sick and discouraged at all that's happened to her and her two children, she deserves help. I'm not sure her grades qualify for any significant scholarship, by the way...she's very bright but I'd have to look into that and I will. She told me, by the way, that before coming to the private school she's in now, after having graduated from the posh Elementary School, her folks put her in a public junior high school..."Mrs. Z, I knew if I stayed there, I wouldn't get to college." THAT is how bright and mature this girl was, even when was 13 years of age!