48: Mary

48: Mary

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales


Even hundredfold grief is divisible by love.

~Jareb Teague

I live in a border town. We are right next to Juarez, Mexico. Right now, drug cartels are trying to take control of Juarez, a city with roughly two million people. In 2008, more people were murdered in Juarez than were killed in Iraq. To put it in perspective, the drug cartels do not discriminate. If you happen to be in Mexico and you happen to be with someone the cartel doesn’t want around anymore, you will be executed. Because of this, more than half the kids that attend my school know someone who has been murdered in the drug wars. One of my kids in particular, Mary, has been hit particularly hard and I would like to share her story.

November 2008—Mary was sleeping peacefully in her bed in her family’s house in Mexico. The silence was broken by armed men breaking into their home looking for her father because he owed someone money. They found him in his bed and amidst the chaos, Mary and her mother pleaded with the gunmen not to take him. Her father was forced out of the house, without a shirt, hands tied behind his back, and a gun to his head. They found him the next day, decapitated.

Overnight, this beautiful, vibrant, tenacious seventeen-year-old on the cusp of graduation, shut down. She no longer smiled. She no longer spoke. Her zest for life was gone. She barely moved in class when she walked down the hall, she hung her head low. Eye contact was non-existent and she kept her hands in her sweatshirt pockets. She simply existed. She was barely hanging on to any grip of reality she had left.

In January of 2009, she sat in my class and read an essay she wrote about that night. She wrote about her dad and the gunmen, about how she was alone now, and about how her every breath was a morose tribute to the joy she once felt. She told us that she wished she was dead too. Every kid in that class cried with her.

On February 25, 2009, she gave me a card she made on a computer in another teacher’s class. It said she really appreciated me and everything I did for her during “that time.” As I sit here crying, and remembering this precious girl, I am perplexed why Mary thought of me during the worst time in her life. She will never go through anything more difficult than what she is dealing with now… and she thought of me.

Slowly, after that day when Mary read her essay, she started to heal. Little by little, she started to make eye contact with people around her again. At first it was just a glance. By March, I heard her beautiful laugh echo off the walls of my classroom again. Granted, the underlying innocence that was once there was gone, but this is a time to celebrate the small victories. She reluctantly went to prom, and proudly walked across the stage at graduation, but last I heard she had not returned to the house in Mexico where they once lived. A few weeks before graduation, Mary gave me another letter. She again thanked me for everything I had done, said she was still a mess on the inside and was only being strong for her mom, and said she would never forget me. What a coincidence—I will never forget her.

~Christine Gleason
2009 Texas State Teacher of the Year
English teacher, grade 12

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