Saturday, June 14, 2014

Have you saved someone's life and didn't even know it?

I had an experience today - I need to share.

I was at an event today.  Weather perfect.  Sun shining.  People happy and having fun.  I was a vendor.  I was having fun introducing people to my "Grammy Pags Stories."

A young woman came to my tent. My thoughts were: Does she have any young kids?  Do you think she might be interested in my books?

The woman looked familiar to me.  I said, "Hi, thanks for stopping at my booth."  Then I said, "You look really  familiar to me."  She said, "You look familiar too."  I introduced myself and said, "I'm Rhonda Paglia and I'm a children's author."  She asked, "Mrs. Paglia?"  I said,  "Yes."  She asked, "Did you teach school?"  I said, "Yes," and told her where and when.  She said, "Mrs. Paglia, you were my teacher."  Then she said, "You saved my life!"  I couldn't catch my breath.  Tears, that I couldn't control, started to roll down my cheeks.  "What are you talking about?" I asked.  Then she shared her story.

She was my student - almost 30 years ago.  I couldn't remember her name until she told me, but I sure remembered the child - and I always wondered what happened to her.

I remember her as a sweet, shy, little girl in my class.  I remember that she was smart. But I also remember that she came to school unkempt, dirty, sad, and scared.  She was 8 or 9 years old at the time.  As her teacher, I remember worrying about her.  I remember that my heart reached out and ached for her.

Today she told me, "Mrs. Paglia, you were the only one who listened to me."

I remember this child telling me about her life at home.  I remember that she told me about the abuse she was going through - emotional, physical, psychological, and sexual. I could see it in her face and in her demeaner. I went to the school nurse and the principal.  "Where's the proof?" they asked.   But I believed this child.

One day she showed me the bruises on her body.  I remember going straight to the school nurse and the principal.  I remember standing in the nurse's office. I was nauseated - sick to my stomach.  My heart hurt. Then I made the call to CYS - Children and Youth Services.   I also remember that she left school that day, and I never saw her again.  I always wondered what happened to her and if she was okay.

Today, that girl is now a grown woman, a mother, and a grandmother.  She showed up at my booth and said,  "You saved my life."  She said, "If you hadn't called CYS, I don't know what would have happened to me."  Can you imagine the burden on a child of 8 or 9 wondering IF they were going to survive?

She said, "I'm here, I survived, and I'm okay."  I had no words.  Tears continued to roll down my cheeks.  I gave her the biggest hug I could give her.  Today she stood before me as an adult, but I hugged that little girl I never thought I would ever see again.

She shared the sequence of events that happened after she went home the day I called CYS. And she brought me up to date - foster care, living with grandparents.  I asked about her dad, the abuser.  "He's dead," she said, "but I've forgiven him.  I'm not going to be a victim anymore."  Though pregnant as a sophomore in high school, she kept the child, graduated from high school, earned an associate degree, and now, as an adult, has been accepted into college as a non-traditional student.  She's looking forward - not back - to the future - not to the past.  And her goal?  "I want to help kids who have been abused."

I can't tell you how humbled I was to be in this young woman's presence today.  To me, she's more than a survivor - she's a role model and a hero!

And for me - I'm still trying to process the conversation and the rollercoaster of emotions I felt today.  What would you have done?  All I did was listen to a little child with my heart, then make a phone call.  "You saved my life," she said.

Rhonda Paglia is a children's author, a retired elementary teacher, and a "not so retired" grandmother from Pennsylvania.  "Grammy Pags" as she is called, is the author of 4 children's books:  "The Little Lambs and the Very Special Mission" dedicated to the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School; "Doonsey's Beach Adventure, the Great Rescue" and "Doonsey's Beach Adventure, the Great Rescue, Coloring and Activity Book."  Doonsey is a little ocean crab that loves to explore.  Her newest books is, "Three Little Gnomes and a Boy Named Orion."  Three little gnomes discover that they have a big problem.  They look for the solution and make a new friend in the process. Reading level: grades 2 & 3, interest level: ages 2+