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+