At the tender age of 12, I lost my mother to Lithium poisoning from a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Five months later, my father was taken from a massive heart attack. It was here that the nightmare, the transformation, and the miracles began.
I vividly recall my own screams after hearing the harsh words from my Aunt, “God took her with him, God took your mother”. How did this happen? Two hours before, I was watching the movie “Tootsie” with my cousins. I knew my mother was in the hospital, but this was an ongoing occurrence throughout my life. Every few months, my mother ended up in the hospital. The medicine made her sick, she was starving herself again, or her depression got the better of her. It was all I knew. But, she always came home. Always!! How was this time different? What would I do? Where would I go? Who will take care of me? Who will love me? Little did I know that these would be the questions I would ask myself over and over for many years to come. And if this wasn’t enough of a tragedy, I remember my sister pulling me into the bathroom to tell me news that would certainly break me. “Daddy is really our step father. We have a real father. And he is waiting to meet you in the other room!” My life was a lie. I was shocked, heartbroken, and lost. I met this man they claimed was my father. He was nice enough. But, he was not my Daddy. I was a Daddy’s girl, and this man would never be my hero. I begged and begged to go back to Brooklyn to be with my father, or step father as some would call him. But, when I got home, everything was different. He was not the same man. He was with another woman. She was nothing like my mother. The resentment I felt drove a wedge between us. On the eve before his death, he asked me to kiss him goodnight. It was the one and only time I refused to kiss my daddy goodnight. The next morning, he was gone.
The guilt, the absence, the loneliness is a difficult thing to express. Words cannot justify such a dark place. With the chip on my shoulder that I protected for years, and the anger and disgust I felt for life, people, and myself, I chose to stay in Brooklyn rather than go back to Florida with the rest of my family. Sad, isn’t it? A 12 year old had a choice as to where to live. But, yes…I did! It was proof that I was no longer loved in this world. I was abandoned. Oh my GOD, I was an orphan!
I continued to go through the motions of life, living from house to house experiencing all sorts of abuse I don’t care to revisit right now. I was unhappy. I was stripped of my childhood in the blink of an eye. Still, I found one sanctuary for myself, one release from all the horror…school. I know so many people claim to dislike school, but for me, I pretended my teachers were my parents, my classmates were siblings, and the school itself was home. I distinctly remember this one particular day that I received my report card. It was like no there. I earned straight As and the most complimentary comments from my high school professors. I silently cried. Who can I share this with? Who will care? No one. So, I shoved my report card in my backpack, and was walking out the door, when I was approached by my biology teacher. He noticed my silent tears and inquired. I broke down. I disclosed all the horrible abuse I was facing, and simply sobbed in this man’s arms for what felt like an eternity. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t rush me. He simply hugged me right back. After that day, I was called to his office, where I was instructed to report to each and every day after school to complete my homework and studies. My name was then called on the loudspeaker to report to the school social worker’s office, where my biology teacher was waiting with some administrators. Together, they helped me file to become an Emancipated Minor. I was now fully responsible for myself. At this point, I was 15 years old. I was given a phone number and instructed to call at any hour if necessary. On many occasions, my teacher came to my assistance at 3a.m. He soon introduced me to his wife and children, and I established a wonderfully close relationship with them. My teacher was slowly becoming my father. It was as though he was dropped into my life from the heavens and was saving me.
Years later, I found out that my biology teacher was offered a position at a local high school nearer to his home. I had not yet graduated, so he declined. He explained that he would not ever abandon me. And he didn’t! After helping me decide on which college I would attend, he brought me to Wagner College which was my first choice. He lived nearby, and would check in on me often. When I graduated college, I needed a place to stay. I lived with my teacher and his family until I was able to get my own apartment. When I needed a car, he loaned me the money for my very first car. I paid him back every dime. I was so grateful. When my husband proposed to me, my teacher approved of him…unlike the boyfriends in the past. Who better to give me away at my wedding? I asked my teacher and it was a proud moment for him. When my children were born, he was one the first people to hold my babies in his arms. And for a moment, when I was feeling lost again, not too long ago, my teacher reminded me of who I am. He reminded me of all the lessons he taught me throughout the years. He reminded me to love myself. He reminded me to have fun because life was wonderful. And I listened to him. I listened to all his instructions because he was my teacher. He taught me biology, but more importantly, he taught me about life. He taught me how to love myself, and he taught me that I am capable of greatness.
When he was sick, I stayed by his side until the very end. Even in his last days, he looked at me, and in his silence, he spoke a thousand words. He told me everything was going to be just fine. I will be OK. I know he knows I was there. There was nowhere else I would have rather been. My teacher saved my life. He gave me a family, and he gave me back myself. I love Mr. Shulman. He came down from the heavens and was my angel here on Earth. And now he went up to heaven and is an angel I now can call by name. I was “his ticket to heaven” and I am honored, privileged, and grateful. I will miss you with every fiber of my being. And I love you even more than that. Thank you Mr. Shulman, thank you!