Thank you for driving me home.
Even though you weren’t supposed to.
Dear Ms. H,
Don’t worry, I’ve changed your name. Though I didn’t have the heart to change it completely.
I was the new student in your seventh grade science class and, as you could probably guess, I was bullied.
Not just at this school, but at my old one too. My accent was a little to hick for the city, my clothes always smelled like Goodwill, and I had the social graces of a moth in the company of butterflies. On a good day, I could fade into the wall and get through my work without speaking.
It seemed like every time I opened my mouth I’d say something that further proved I was out of place.
But believe it or not, I didn’t mind it too much.
I loved what little drawl I had left in my voice, it reminded me of my dad.
Wearing second hand, I was free to explore fashion. I could mix patterns, afford fancy ties, even alter, sew, and draw all over an entire garment in an attempt to bring my designs to life.
And as for social graces, or my painful lack thereof, I was content being different. It was all I’d ever known.
But the day you drove me home was exceptionally difficult. I wasn’t just avoiding the mile walk, and I wasn’t just avoiding the classmates that made that walk difficult, I was avoiding my home. Because I didn’t know who was going to be there.
You see, it was around this time that Child Protective Services got involved in my family life. Mom was a recovering addict and — to my knowledge — had been clean since rehab. But social workers had to visit us weekly as a part of their investigation to make sure we (my sister and I) were safe.
This shouldn’t have been such a problem. Even as as preteen girl I knew they were doing a very important job. But it made me on edge. It made me feel like my mom was on edge, and it made me worry that she was going to have a relapse from the stress.
So to distract myself, I joined your “Lab Aid” after school program. Instead of walking home with kids that made fun of my — well — everything, I learned how to take inventory of the various chemicals used in class.
I learned the proper way to wash, sanitize, and put away beakers, test tubes, and flasks.
I broke down set ups from that day’s experiment, and prepared Bunsen burners and checked gas lines for the next.
On slow days, I even helped grade the other teachers’ pop quizzes. (By the way, I didn’t take off 10 points for the kid that forgot to write in his name. I’m sure Mr. P. sorted it all out, but really? 10 points? That’s a steep price for a 5 question quiz.)
But back to the point of this letter.
The day you took me home, a councilor had pulled me out of class to question me. I didn’t recognize him as a part of the school staff, but I still remember the uneasy feeling as I followed him to a private room.
It was the same feeling I have as I write this.
He asked me basic questions. “Do you feel safe at school?”
“Do you feel safe at home?”
On and on we went until one question gave me pause.
“Has anyone ever touched you in a way that was inappropriate?”
And that’s when I realized that maybe CPS wasn’t there for my mother.
It was the first time I had ever told anyone, but it was also the first time anyone had ever thought to ask. Alone in that private room, I told a complete stranger everything.
Why it happened, where it happened, and how angry I was with myself for being too young when it happened to even comprehend what had happened.
Then as I was crying, I tried to comfort him. I assured him that my abuser was far way, across the country. That even though he was a relative and even though no one else knew about the abuse, I would probably never have to see him again. And even if I did have to see him again, I’d never have to be alone with him.
I’d never have to be alone with him.
I don’t remember much of our conversation after that, but as I walked back to class I was more terrified than relieved. I was ready to tell a stranger about my experience, but that didn’t mean I was ready for him to tell my family and friends.
That afternoon, I stayed until there were no bottles left to count.
No glassware left to wash.
No papers left to grade.
And then I just sat there. Staring.
I wanted to stay in that moment forever. To never have to go back home. To never have to face my family as “a victim.”
I had gone so long not talking about it, distracting myself with other things, other people, other problems, that I didn’t know how to face the world being that different from everyone else.
You looked up at the clock. Said something about it being dinner time, and offered me a ride home.
And something about just getting up and moving made me feel better.
We talked in the car about teaching, and how you were technically not allowed to do this (to drive me home). But I’m so glad you did. I was feeling broken, at least with you I wasn’t feeling alone.
Despite my fears, the councilor wasn’t at my front door, ready to tell my parents about our conversation. I guess I was still too young to understand confidentiality. Or maybe a piece of me had wanted him to break the news for me.
And though I would go on for another decade before talking openly about my abuse, that drive home helped me realize that I didn’t have to talk about it unless and until I was ready.
I could take as much time to process and heal as I needed to.
You treated me as person when I felt like a stigma. In that small way, you helped me gain the confidence to reclaim my own agency.
For that, and everything else you did for me and your other students, I can never thank you enough,
Thank you for reading. In case you were wondering my mom, sister, and I are all doing quite well. Mom’s been clean ever since, a feat which always inspires and amazes me. My sister married a wonderful man, and they live happily with their two dogs and counting. I myself married my best friend. Coincidentally, he sat next to me in seventh grade history class. No, he wasn’t a bully, and no, we weren’t dating at that time. But he is and always has been the kindest person I’ve ever known.