My Boy, Charlie
Charlie started missing classes. He missed about one day a week. At that rate he wouldn’t qualify for graduation in May. I spoke with a counselor and she said that the authorities would not make him move back into his mother’s house because he was only a year away from eighteen. I spoke with another guidance counselor and she said that the gossip around town was that Charlie’s mother had started drinking—It wasn’t a good situation, and Charlie was really too old for foster care. I spoke with the vice-principal about getting him placed in the work study program. In this program, his work experience would count as electives and he could leave school early. The program director would not let him enroll because we were already more than three weeks into the semester. I was devastated. I felt there was no way to save this child. I went back to the guidance counselor and she said he could apply for the alternative school. This surprised me because this is usually reserved for pregnant girls, or students with children. Charlie didn’t have these issues. She said that a good recommendation would get him in regardless of the situation.
I brought the form to Charlie, and we filled it out, but since he wasn’t eighteen he had to have his mother’s signature. He refused to go and see her. I told him that I would bring it to her myself if he wouldn’t, but he wouldn’t let me do that either. We’d reached another dead end.
At this point Charlie was missing more and more school. He’d missed three days in one week when I finally reached my breaking point. I asked another student if she knew where he was living. She said, “I don’t know, but I saw him sitting on the porch of a white house on 5th street.” I thanked her and got to work. I went to see a friend of mine who worked in the tourism building. She helped me find 5th street on one of her give-away maps and then warned me, “It’s not a good area.” I drove toward fifth street with determination. I didn’t have an address, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I drove up and down the street and didn’t see anything promising. Just when I was about to give up, I saw a boy with a flop of blond hair sitting on the front stoop of a house.
I pulled up and got out of the car smiling and yelling, “where have you been?”
He replied, “what are you doing here?” I told him, “I want to know why you haven’t been in school—you need to come.” He smiled sheepishly and told me that he was moving. Back in with his mother? Of course not. I told him that he had to start coming to school. We talked about a few other things. Despite everything going on in his life, he was respectful and thoughtful. During the course of our ten minute conversation a police car drove by twice. I asked him, “Why do the police keep driving by?” He pointed across the street and answered, “Oh, ‘cause that’s a crack house over there—don’t you know anything?” I left not sure I’d done any good.
Two days later Charlie arrived at school with his application to alternative school signed by his mother. I don’t know how he did it, and I didn’t ask. I told him to bring it immediately to the counselor. The next day I had a note in my box saying he’d been transferred—that’s the fastest transfer I’ve ever seen. I didn’t hear anything else from Charlie and I had to hope that he was doing OK. At one point another student said they’d seen him at truancy court and my heart sank. I knew I had done everything in my power to help him, but I wished that I could have done more.
Charlie surprised me by dropping by my classroom the first week in May. I asked him what he was doing there, and he replied with a smile, “I’ve finished all my credits at the alternative school; I’m here to fill out my card for graduation.” I could have burst I was so happy. He stayed for a while, chatting about his work at the grocery store, and his plans to become an EMT. He was happy and he joked with his former classmates.
Charlie graduated that May—not with honors—but with more responsibility than I could have handled at that age. Whether I helped him or not, I’ll never know. I’ve moved away from Texas and I may never even see him again. I do know that when he graduated I couldn’t have been prouder if he had been my own child. He had conquered the kinds of things that can break adults, and he had emerged successful. I hope that success follows him through life, and hope he knows how much I cared.
Damn, I always get weepy when I think about my old kids.
Hope your day is as beautiful as mine.