We’re at her condo. By the pool. She wears tropical-print and big sunglasses. I don’t know what it is about elderly women and oversized sunglasses, but they go together like ham and swiss.
“I’m an old lady,” she says. “I hope you don’t mind if I wear these while we talk.”
Not at all, ma’am.
She talks about a boy. Black hair. Freckles. Long ago, he sat by himself at recess. Which for a third-grader, is as bad as it gets.
She’d ask, “You okay, sweetie?”
He was uneasy around her. Skittish. She was a teacher. He was a foster kid.
She arranged to meet his foster parents. They were folks with big-hearts and a house full of kids rolling through the American Foster Pinball Machine.
The boy’s biological parents were drug abusers who’d neglected him. He’d lived off whatever he found in a pantry. He was malnourished and underweight.
When she heard this, it cut her.
“I knew he was my responsibility,” she says. “I just thought: ‘The best thing I can do is give him love.’”
So, she gave it by the metric ton. During class period, he sat beneath her desk. He told her small spaces made him feel safe.
“I had to get him outta that hole,” she says. “If I had one mission in life, that was it.”
For recess, she organized T-ball games. She made him shortstop. He didn’t want to play unless she played second base.
So, she bought two gloves.
When the year ended, the new one began, she visited him in his fourth-grade classroom—often.
“We were joined at the hip,” she says, laughing. “Got to the point where if I had to go tee-tee, he waited outside.”
They sent him to middle school. She quit her job as elementary teacher and applied for a job at the middle school.
By high school, he was on his own. He was on the baseball team, in band, Spanish club.
He was a genuine part of her family—as genuine as her husband and two girls.
And I’ll be honest, the story takes a nosedive into the ordinary. He lived a mostly average life. So did she.
She’s old now. She lives in a condo, and has the big sunglasses to prove it.
She has photos. They show a boy—with freckles.
“He’s an engineer,” she says. “We’re all so proud of him.”
He still visits. She has a guest room ready for him. And even though they are not blood-related, he calls her nearly every day.
“We talk about everything,” she says. “Right now, mostly about his wedding. He’s getting married in a few months.”
She has to remove her sunglasses to say it.
“I dunno,” she goes on. “When I first started teaching, used’a think I was meant to help all kids. But I think I was put here just for him.”