I do some of my best crying in the car. Some of my best writing is squirreled away in notebooks, boxes, and dumpsters. In other words, I’m fine with laughing in front of people, my other emotions…not so much. Lately, though, that’s kind of being picked away at. It’s impossible to be human, you know, without being…human.
Sometimes often I face way the hell too much of the human condition in my job. I don’t write about work here, at least, not in many specific terms. I need my job, you know? And anything that I’d write would probably fall into the “let’s make fun of this insane situation” column, and while it makes for tremendously entertaining conversation over drinks with a captive audience that thinks I’m making up crazy stuff…well…I just don’t do it because no one believes me anyway.
Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.
Except when it’s so raw that there’s nothing to be done but face it down and tell the story. Because it needs to be told. It begs to be told.
Because there are millions of untold stories in our society, and this one deserves a voice.
I was sitting in my office filing and shredding some very old files and listening to my mp3 player when I noticed a student standing at my door. I guess she had knocked and I didn’t hear her, and she was feeling somewhat awkward — her body language was all balled up and cagey at the same time. I invited her in but she just kind of paced at the entrance to my office. I hate to say that in today’s climate, I kind of sat back a little, looking for something to use for protection. Who knows, right?
I asked her what was on her mind, and she said didn’t know if she should drop my class because her daughter was hospitalized. I didn’t press for information, but explained that she can drop easily and if she’s worried about financial aid, that she can always request an emergency hearing. She’s very upset about losing her aid, and I look her up and see she has a 4.o GPA and she graduates this term. I thought, well, she’s upset that she won’t graduate this term, but whatever, she looks a little older than most students — I always tell my non-traditional students that they’ve taken this long to get their degrees, there’s no shame in waiting another semester to finish right, bla bla bla.
Empty words today. I wish I could take them back.
I don’t know what I said or how I must have looked at her, but she suddenly sat down across from me and told me that she had started to write all of this down in an essay because I had taught her that literature is about expressing the human condition and then she couldn’t because it was too much and she had too many things to say and they were too much for her, and she’s clutching a stack of notebook paper that looks like pages and pages of writing.
I was stunned.
Look, I’ll sit around all day and pick apart literary characters. I’m not a shrink. And she’s sobbing. That means I’m going to start crying, too.
And then she tells me her 21-month-old little girl is dying from irreparable damage to her lungs because she has a severe case of sickle cell anemia. She slipped out of ICU to come see me for advice because she wants to graduate this term. Everything comes spilling out of her like a giant stream of consciousness explosion. She can’t stop and I am riveted, to her story. To the pathos. And I am horrified that I have lost my humanity and am looking at this like it’s an epic story. Because of course, it is.
She came to the United States to get an education. She didn’t want children — her brother and sister had both died from sickle cell anemia and she had seen her mother suffer so much that she knew she would never have children.
Then she got pregnant and the tests revealed that the baby had sickle cell. The doctor recommended an abortion. She agreed it was her only option and set up the appointment.
Except, that on the day of the scheduled abortion she felt the baby kick. “Vigorously,” she said. “My baby said, ‘I want to live Mommy’ “. And then she went on and told me about the birth and the first time she held her little girl, and she just knew in her heart that the baby’s smile was in thanksgiving for being allowed to live.
Now what my student wants is to finish her degree to show her daughter that their sacrifices, the time she’s spent away from her, has been for something — to make a better life for her.
Now I’m a mess. She’s a mess. This is a mess. I didn’t sign up for this when I was sitting in a lecture hall while some old guy in a tweed jacket explicated “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
I told her to go back to the hospital and hold her baby and kiss her and smile back at her. Everything else would be finished in due time. God’s time, I thought.
This poor grieving woman shared how every day with this ill child has been a beautiful blessing to her. I don’t know why she came to see me; maybe she just wanted to tell her story to someone who would listen.
There are 49,551,703 stories that will never be told. Please pray for an end to abortion, and for this little girl and her mother.