For three years I had a little boy in my classes by the name of Rusty; my last year teaching kindergarten and then in the first, second and third grades when I taught in a multi-age classroom. Rusty was born way too early to a young woman who never should have conceived a child, at least not then. Too much alcohol, drugs and no support do not make a good combination nor do they make an auspicious beginning for a new life.
As an infant, Rusty was severely developmentally delayed. We take it for granted that children learn to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk on their own and in their own time. Rusty had to be taught to do all of these things. The insides of both of his arms bore the tracings and needle marks of the wires and tubes that were necessary just to keep this little guy alive.
In kindergarten he would often fall out of his chair and need help in getting back to a sitting position as he truly couldn't tell up from down. He struggled with many tasks, but his battles at school were cheerfully and willingly faced with determination and confidence. He grew, he learned, he flourished and he enriched all of our lives. He loved to declare that he was "amiracle" baby. One word, not two:Amiracle.
Each day he came to school joyfully, his face spread in a wide, goofy grin. He made friends, felt the safety of his surroundings and was unstoppably enthusiastic. He never left willingly; he never went home at the end of the day in hight spirits. He never wanted to leave.
On the last day of school, in the last year that I had Rusty, we were coming back from a swim and picnic at the park. I had been given directions to drop him off at the apartments near the school. He was not to take the bus that day. When I went to say goodbye and to leave him, he started crying and pleading. He did not want to go into that apartment. I did not know what to do. I did not want to leave him. Someone came out to get him and I had to let him go. To console him, I gave him my playground whistle, something he had always wanted and admired.
Rusty's mother moved him out of our school district to a much bigger one south of here. I never saw him again. I've thought of him many, many times over the years. I have been afraid for him: afraid for him to make the move, afraid of what junior high and high school may have been like for him. I have been angry; angry at his mother and angry at myself for my inability to protect him.
I gave Rusty my whistle and through the years, pieces of my heart. I am scared that they were not enough. I want to reach out and know that such a brave person was and is o.k. Experience tells me no. Sadness for such a bright and loving soul tell me these things were poor coinage for someone who needed so much more, much more than a whistle and pieces of my heart.