Monday, October 10, 2011

A Sad Story

For some reason today, as I drove to school, I kept thinking about a little girl I once worked with while I was in AmeriCorps back in 2001. After a while, I realized it was the fall air, and the colorful leaves, that reminded me of Brandie. Although I was in AmeriCorps for all of 2001, October of 2001 was the last time I saw her.
At the time, I was a full-time volunteer at a therapeutic learning center for preschoolers with special needs. Most of the children there had behavioral disorders, and a few had autism. But that spring we got a new girl who had a very severe and life-threatening form of scoliosis. She had been in and out of the hospital since she was a toddler, including having spent most of the past year in the hospital. She wore a serious-looking brace that forced her to hold her chin straight up, and she walked stiffly, like a robot. We were told that Breann had to be careful all the time, to be kept from playing too roughly, because if she fell she could be seriously injured. But trying to keep track of ten preschoolers with severe behavioral disorders (we had children who were placed there for things like attacking teachers at their former day care centers with scissors, acting out sexually with other children, starting fires, attempting suicide, etc) it was hard to monitor Brandi all the time. That was probably a good thing, for her. Within a few weeks she was running around and playing like all the other children. She knew her own limitations and was reasonably careful, but we also didn't stop her from doing things like going down the slide on the playground.
Brandi's mother was a single parent with two other children. The father of Brandii and one of her siblings lived in another state and struggled with alcoholism. The mother worked full time and also went to school, and whenever we saw her she was in a huge hurry, trying to get from one place to the next. There was one time that, as her mother rushed Brandi and her sister (who also went to our center, although she had no special needs at all) out of the classroom, Brandi tripped. Her mother and sister didn't notice and hurried outside, and Brandi burst into tears. "Now she really forgot me!" the four-year-old wailed. I picked her up and carried her (very awkwardly because she couldn't bend at the waist) out to her mom's car, assuring her that mommies never forgot their children.
One weekend towards the end of October, Brandi's mother went to spend a weekend with a friend in the city. It was a rare vacation for her. She and her friend went out for drinks that evening. The friend had too many drinks, and attempted to drive anyway. On the way home, they got into a car wreck. The friend survived. Brandi's mother didn't.
We learned of Brandi's mother's death the next morning, when her grandmother called to say she'd be coming in to pick up the girls' things. They would be going to live with their grandparents, and would not return to our center. I never saw them again. Throughout my life the memory has always haunted me, of the little girl crying for her mother not to forget her.
When I came home today, I did a Google search. I couldn't remember her last name, but just searching for her first name plus "scoliosis" turned up a few results. Since her form of scoliosis was so rare and dangerous, she has been in the news a few times, and her grandmother has also written about her on a few scoliosis websites. As of the age of seven, she was still living with her grandparents, attending various kinds of therapies, participating in Girl Scouts, and describing herself as "trickster who likes to play pranks on people." She got to go to Disney Land, where her grandmother used a towel to hide her brace, believing that Brandi should experience the rides and have some fun. Tragically, her father committed suicide that year, leaving Brandi and her sister orphaned.
There was no more information about Brandi beyond the age of seven, except for the news that she recently won second place in a statewide essay contest. Unfortunately I couldn't find any links to the essay... but it shows how smart she turned out to be!
I doubt I'll ever forget about Brandi. She had so much going against her, from the beginning, but she always had tons of spirit. In many ways her story reminds me to never take life for granted.
What about you? Are there students you've worked with that you will never forget?

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