Author Topic: Hillbilly Views: Remembering Linda  (Read 1348 times)

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Hillbilly Views: Remembering Linda
« on: September 30, 2012, 07:03:33 pm »

Friday, September 28, 2012

Remembering Linda

Sixteen years ago I met a high school freshman who, for the purpose of my story, I will call Linda. She was barely five feet tall and had a quiet little girl voice. Before long I found out that for most of her life, she had lived in a nearby city…until the spring before…when the court had placed her with a family in the neighbor hood surrounding the inner city high school where I worked. Linda was NOT a social student…I don’t ever remember having to ask her to listen quietly or pay attention. As she grew more comfortable with her surroundings, Linda opened up just a little….but, her focus was always on her school work.

School was a challenge for her. As the year progressed, her educational gaps became apparent. I pulled her school file and discovered that she had been to many different schools and that continually her instructors noted the lack of parental involvement. I was to discover that Linda was basically her own parent….not because she lacked a parent….because her mother was and had habitually been a drug user who more often than not ended up on the street. Linda, at 15, was a streetwise child struggling not to end up as her mother had. I don’t know where she lived during the first half of her sophomore year in high school but she was back with our school the second half of the year because I looked up one day as she walked in to my home room as a “transfer” student.

Her grades were not the best, but she rarely missed school. Sure, there were days when she hit my classroom closet at lunch time, but she was not alone. Many of my home room girls did the same. The closet always had “stuff,” stuff like peanut butter cracker packs, cheese cracker packs, microwave popcorn, pre-packaged juice packs, etc. along with paper cups, hot chocolate mix (that I mixed and put in a sealable canister) . There was usually a basket on my desk that many days held fruit…..and other such “illegal, contraband.” The girls knew my rules..if you find it, you can have it, reseal the container you opened, clean up any mess, tell me when you need more cups, keep the coffee pot full of hot water and don’t tell anyone out of this home room what is in the closet.

During my “off” period , if you need a quiet place to do your homework (and you do NOT have a scheduled class) , you are free to come into the room and work and listen to quiet music (I taught a foreign language along with English so my boom box/tape/CD player was part of my standard (personally owned) equipment. Linda was often there…sometimes to finish homework….many times to put her head down and catnap. By that time, I knew she was living out on her own and working at the gas station down the street. By junior year…many kids were out on their own…living in questionable conditions…in rooming houses…in apartments …wherever they could find a “safe” haven. I knew that some children were “push outs,” simply put out by their “parents” or “families.”

Linda, on the other hand, was a foster child caught in the situation where she was 18 by senior year. There was a program where these kids received a stipend for living expenses if they were high school seniors and actively trying to finish school. Combined with a somewhat meager pay check, Linda had rented a small apartment. True, the apartment was in a crime ridden neighborhood….but it was HERS. There had been a boyfriend involved but she had decided to end the relationship. The why and wherefore of the bust-up…I do not know. Graduation was less than two months away.

Linda had the weekend off from work and she decided to contact her mother. I would guess that she wanted to tell her mother about the child she was expecting…but I really do not know. The mother came from the town where she lived (caught the bus) and apparently was excited that Linda had her own place and would soon graduate from high school. The weekend was not to go as expected.

The angry ex-boyfriend showed up to confront Linda. He showed up with a gun and shot Linda on the sidewalk in front of the apartment. Then he ran….while Linda was dying in her junkie mother’s arms.

The news traveled through the school community like a too sharp knife. On Monday morning, the two faculty members who were “class sponsors” called an emergency meeting. The message was this….you are Linda’s family…you are her brothers and sisters…and as her family…there is only one thing you can do for her. The class was told…it is up to us to bury her..that is all we can do. It was spring and the flowering bushes outside the school were in bud. I had broken off a small limb and held it up before the class.

“This large branch represents you as a class. A thief came in the night and stole a budding flower from this branch, “ I snapped off a small branch, “a flower which was Linda.” The students were told what a “proper funeral” would cost. Within two days, by gathering nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars from each other and from the neighborhood…the students had raised the money and dispatched the principal to the funeral home to pay.

On the appointed day and the time, school busses pulled up in front of the school and the entire senior class climbed on the busses to go bid farewell to their classmate and as they marched out of the building, they warned the underclass students, “If you all come, you all better act right…because this is our sister!”
That spring was almost 13 years ago. Linda’s child would have been be nearly 12 years old this fall….the school building has been torn down and replaced…and those of us who were her teachers have retired and/or moved on. I still feel her loss and I often wonder…what could we have done,,,to keep Linda…alive?

Posted by Jane P. at 3:26 PM