I often remember where I was in life by the number of children that I had at that present time. At the time when I had two children, I was young. I had gotten married at 19 and had my first child by 21. The second one came 16 months later.
At that time we had returned to Louisiana (two children and I), I had chosen to return to Eric. We had just been separated for 9 months; the longest up to that point.
Life felt good. Life felt normal. It was a very happy time in my life; in our lives.
We lived in a small two bedroom house located in New Iberia, Louisiana. It wasn’t much, but I liked it. It had a small front porch. It had an old, swinging door between the kitchen and the living room. It was in an old section of the city.
Although, I hated the railroad tracks behind the house. They were so close; and I had toddlers. I remember the day that a horrible smell came from the railroad tracks. Eric investigated. It was a cat. Someone had tied a cat to the railroad tracks. Eric had a weak stomach. I heard him gag. I heard him throw up. He untied the cat and buried it.
There were things that occurred there in that city that I didn’t always understand.
Our little house was behind another house. There was a house across from ours; also behind a house. It was slightly crowded.
Our neighbors across from us were a young couple. They were very young. I remember her son. He couldn’t walk. He crawled; I think with his elbows. He got yelled at a lot. I remember hearing them screaming at him. It always broke my heart.
They had a lot of friends over; often. One of those days that they had friends over, I met one.
She became a friend of mine. She had three children. I remember one day she asked me to babysit her daughter while she visited my neighbor.
We had a blast. She was about six years old.
She looked like Punky Brewster. She had a lively spirit. She was sometimes a little fire cracker.
She made us laugh. We grew to love Punky; Eric, I, and the boys.
We took her for ice cream. We watched Disney movies with the boys and her. She spent the night with us from time to time. She became an extension of our family. We grew to love that little girl.
I remember the night she had a nightmare. When she spent the night, she camped out in the living room; on the couch. My bedroom was off the living room. I heard her screaming. I ran to where she was.
“Run Momma, Run!!”
I will never forget those words.
I remember trying to wake her gently. I wanted to tell her that this time, it was only a dream. I had never seen anyone have nightmares; not like this. It took her a while to wake up. I gave her a hug and a drink. She went back to sleep.
I knew then that there was more to her story. I knew there was more to her Momma’s story. I didn’t judge. I opened my heart.
We didn’t stay in that little house too long. I soon became pregnant for the third time. We had to move to a bigger house. We moved to Jeanerette, Louisiana. She visited us there too. We stayed in Louisiana for baby #3 and baby #4. Soon after the youngest was born; our journey took us back to New York. We said goodbye to Punky and her Mom.
Years passed and life happened within those years.
Around the time she was 15, she went through a lot of struggles. I understood this.
Her mom called me one day. I remember she was crying. I remember her telling me she didn’t know what to do. I respected her honesty. I had no idea what to do either.
She had run away. She was at a hotel. She had a male companion with her.
Her mom asked, “What do I do?”
I thought of Punky.
I remember I told her to go get her.
There was a lot of chaos within that time frame of her life; or what appeared to be chaos.
Punky got kicked out of school. She was made to attend ‘alternative’ school. She hated that school. She hated the way that school made her feel. She never said this; this is only what I believe.
She attempted suicide. I remember that phone call.
That was a cry for help. I remember feeling that very strongly.
I didn’t know why she had been brought into my life. I didn’t know why our paths had crossed, but I loved that little girl.
Not many people understood this. They couldn’t see past the chaos.
The path of my life had many curves and forks in the road, since the last time I had seen Punky. At the time of her attempted suicide, I had returned to New York. I had been married, separated, widowed and remarried.
My current husband did not know Punky. He had strong reservations regarding my proposal. I understood his concerns. I have always loved his honesty.
He was not close-minded though. He voiced his concerns and his reservations, but at the close of our discussion he chose to give Punky a chance. I love that he sees the color that others miss; for not everything is black & white.
I called her mom; my friend. I suggested a change of scenery. I suggested a new school; where nobody knew her name.
A place I hoped would give her a chance.
Her mom agreed to give it a try. She loved her enough to let her come to New York. I can imagine how difficult that was for her.
I spoke to Punky on the phone. I remember asking her what was going on. I remember she broke down crying. I remember asking her if she would like to come visit us and stay with us for a while. A change of scenery. She said yes.
We bought her plane ticket from Louisiana to New York. I remember when I picked her up at the airport.
She had crazy hair.
She didn’t look like Punky.
She looked like she had known a lot of life; the not-so-good parts of life.
She ran to me in the airport that day. She gave me a huge hug.
I saw Punky.
She was more than wild hair, alternative school attendee, and suicide attempts. I quickly learned that not everyone would see past that.
After settling in, she school-shopped. In our district, the adolescents have a choice of high schools. We live in a rural area and our local high school had closed years before.
I gave her this choice. She needed this choice.
After choosing her school, I went to our local school to have her enrolled.
I have to admit that nothing bothers me more than educated idiots. Perhaps that is a little rough, but I’m not sure how else to word it.
It was a man in charge of the rural school. Not that I have anything against men running rural schools; just educated idiots.
I remember going to his office. He thought he held a lot of power. He tried to assert his power; his authority.
I tried being polite at first.
I tried to negotiate.
It finally came down to a battle of belief.
A battle of hope.
A battle of seeing the color.
I won that one, but not without standing up to him.
He didn’t want to let her in. He tried to fight me on this.
He asked a lot of questions; I was okay with that. He was very condescending; I was not okay with that. He saw the world through lenses of black & white. There was not much color in his view.
He called me a dreamer. He called me naïve. He told me I couldn’t save them all. He brought up the statistics.
I got very angry.
“I’m not trying to save them all!! I’m just trying to give her a chance. Who are you to say whether she gets that chance? If you fight me on this, I will hire an attorney. (I couldn’t afford an attorney, but I didn’t tell him this) I will fight you on this one!” I said one more thing as I stood up.
“And one more thing!! She is more than a statistic!! Her name is Brittany!!”
He didn’t really like me. I didn’t really care.
I walked out of that office very irritated and ready to fight for those that needed someone to fight for them. I became her pitch hitter. I went to bat for her.
He made it difficult. He told me he wanted custody papers before he would allow her to go to school. Our school has to pay for each child that attends high school. They have to pay tuition for each child from 9th grade to 12th grade. He didn’t feel that she was worth the tuition.
Getting custody papers would be an uphill battle. I knew this. She was a non-relative adolescent that was sole custody of her mother; who resided in Louisiana. I wasn’t sure how this would go over.
I remember making phone calls to get advice on this. I didn’t know if legally I needed this. I needed to know more.
In the end, I received temporary custody through means of a letter that her mother had written and had gotten signed by a notary. It was enough to get her enrolled.
A lot of people thought I was crazy. I didn’t care.
I did what I felt was right.
I heard a lot of sarcasm. I didn’t care.
I heard a lot of doubt. I didn’t care.
I had no idea what to do with her. I had no idea how to help. I just followed my heart most of the time. I hoped that I was planting seeds.
She wanted to dance. I paid for her to take dance classes.
She wanted to cheerlead. I drove her to practice and bought her cheer shoes.
I loved her like my own. I set rules for her. I tried to wipe the slate clean and make New York a fresh start. But, I also gave her some room to grow. I gave her room to learn.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream. She drove me nuts sometimes. I’m being honest. I hated when she tried to hide things from me. I felt she could be honest. I couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t be honest. It hurt sometimes. I later learned that she didn’t want to disappoint me. That broke my heart. And yet, it told me that she loved me in return.
She stayed with our family about a year and a half. I remember when she left.
It was a very difficult time for me.
She was going back to Louisiana for a visit. I think it was Spring Break. She had brought a friend with her to see Louisiana for the first time.
Her friend returned. She did not.
She never called me. She ignored my phone calls. She had chosen to stay in Louisiana. It took her months before she finally called me to tell me.
I was sad, but I let her go.
I didn’t see her again for years.
She did a lot of growing up in those years. She saw a lot of life. She knew a lot of life.
Years later, when she was older, she called me again. This time she asked me for help.
Circumstances had changed. Life had changed. Our kids were all teenagers at this time. She had three small children now.
I hesitated for a while. I remember this. My husband hesitated too.
In the end, we chose to open our home to her again.
This confused some.
This made some angry.
I remember some said that I didn’t have any business taking care of her when I had my own children to care for.
Some looked at only the money factor.
Some looked at her past choices.
One laughed and asked if I thought I was Mother Theresa. I laughed and mulled.
I’m not Catholic, but she was a wise woman; Mother Theresa. She understood love; perhaps more than most of us.
Some of my family relationships became strained by this choice. I know this. I am sorry that this happened. This was never my intention.
But, I believed in this one. I believed in her. I saw something in her that often she didn’t see herself; that many did not see.
We held a family meeting before we moved forward. It was important that the children understood all that this would entail.
It would not be like last time. She was older now. With her, now came three small children; three small children that had already seen more in their short life than most. It wasn’t going to be easy. This I knew.
It was much more complicated; second time around. Second chances often are; aren’t they?
I have another story about her second time in New York, but I will save that for another day.
A few weeks ago, she sent me a message. “U saved my life”.
I remember thinking I wasn’t good enough to save her life. And yet, I wasn’t really trying to save her life; I didn’t know how. I just wanted to give her a chance.
There were times when I had no idea what to do or how to handle situations. There was a lot of complexity. I doubted myself a lot and my seed planting. But I also gave it everything I had. I let her go when she needed to go. I listened to her when she needed to talk. And I don’t know.. I just loved her; the best I could….
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