On December 12, 1975, at the tender age of ten, I went through one of the most traumatic events of my life. I was in the fifth grade and going to school at East Side Central when my mother had a stroke. As fate would have it, by January, Mom was living in a rehabilitation center in Green Springs, Ohio.
It got worse for me in February. The powers that be determined my mother wasn’t ever going to come home again. My family didn’t want me. My sister and five older brothers all argued about who would take care of me and even considered putting me in an orphanage.
Ultimately, they decided to call my father, who lived in New Orleans at the time, and tell him the situation. He didn’t want me to live with him, either. I later learned my stepmother had threatened to leave him if he took me in. As bad as it sounds, I was more than relieved, but nonetheless, where did it leave me?
Two weeks into March, my mother had her leg amputated further indicating there was no hope of her ever coming home to rescue me.
I was so angry and fighting with my friends, arguing with my family and I didn’t want to listen at school, either. Then, at the age of ten, I did not realize, as I do now, I was actually having an emotional meltdown. Apparently, no one else saw it, either. That’s amazing in itself.
By May, my father had a change of heart and moved back to town. I was very upset when my brother told me, “You’re going to stay here until the end of the school year and then your dad is coming to get you. You’ll be living with them.”
I struggled daily to be on my best behavior mostly, so my brother and sister-in-law would let me stay with them and not ship me off to my father’s house. I backslid a little, I admit, but for what that was worth, I really did give it my best shot to behave.
At the end of the school year, we had parent teacher conference and I had worked so hard at being a good girl. I begged my brother to go talk to Mrs. Rodocy, my fifth grade teacher. She would tell him how good I had been.
I had finally learned my multiplication table, I had learned, after many struggles, to do long division and I was keeping up with all of my book reports. I was so proud. I just knew, she would tell him how hard I had been working. I equally knew he would be so proud of me, too, and would let me stay with him at the end of the school year.
I sat in the hallway waiting for their conference to be over. Finally, my brother walked out of the classroom and motioned that we were going.
“What did she say?” I asked excitedly.
“What is wrong with you?” he scolded.
Again, I asked, this time with confusion, “What did she say?”
“Basically she said you are an asshole,” he answered and walked away.
I was so hurt, so crushed. I had worked very hard. To this day, I become emotional when I think about that moment. As an adult, I know the problem was my home situation that caused the bad behavior and not that I was a bad child.
A week later, I wrote Mrs. Rodocy a heartfelt letter and without giving a reason, I apologized to her for being such a bad girl. I promised her I would try to be better the rest of the school year.
She came to me and apologized to me, as well. “I didn’t know about your Mom. Your brother told me when he came in for parent-teacher conference and I’m so sorry to hear this. I feel as though I might have been a little harsh on you at times without knowing what happened.”
I cried. “No one told you about my Mom?”
She shook her head that no one did. In so many words (laymen terms) she explained to me that there were going to be a lot of rough patches in my life and how I dealt with them would make me the person I would become.
I remember after all of that, I didn’t care what people thought of me anymore. Sure, I care what people think of me to a degree, but I am not one to let their opinion dictate my life’s decisions. They were not there to help me overcome those hurdles so their opinion doesn’t matter.
And, Mrs. Rodocy was right. There were a lot of rough patches in my life that I probably would not have had to face if my situation had been different. On the same token, things could have been worse. It did form me and make me into the person I am today, and I’m happy with that. My life made me stronger and I am happy with that, too.
However, like I tell my husband all the time, “If I could go back in time and change things, I wouldn’t change a thing. If I did change things, I wouldn’t have everything that I have today and today, I have everything.”
Thank you, Mrs. Rodocy. I’m sure glad we met.