A Matter of Honor

A Matter of Honor

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A Matter of Honor

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary new material, but the warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

Carl Jung

Since kindergarten, the staff at Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison elementary schools in Daly City, California, had seen the results of my mother’s alcoholic outrage.

In the beginning, my teachers gently probed me about my paper-thin, shredded clothes, my offensive body odor, the countless bruises and burns on my arms, as well as why I hunted for food from garbage cans. One day my second-grade teacher, Ms. Moss, demanded a meeting with the school principal and pleaded with him to do something to help me. The principal reluctantly agreed to intervene. The next morning Mother and the principal had a private meeting. I never saw Ms. Moss again.

Immediately after that, things went from bad to worse. I was forced to live and sleep in the downstairs garage, ordered to perform slave-like chores, and received no food unless I met my mother’s stringent time requirements for her demands. Mother had even changed my name from “David” to “It,” and threatened to punish my brothers if they tried to sneak me food, use my real name or even look at me.

The only safe haven in my life were my teachers. They seemed to always go out of their way to make me feel like a normal child. Whenever one of them showered me with praise, I cherished every word. If one of my teachers brushed up against me as he or she bent over to check on my assignments, I absorbed the scent of their perfume or cologne. During the weekends, as I sat on top of my hands in the garage and shivered from the cold, I employed my secret weapon. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to picture my teacher’s face. Only when I visualized my teacher’s smile did I begin to feel warm inside.

But years later, one Friday afternoon, I lost control and stormed out of my fifth-grade homeroom class. I ran to the bathroom, pounded my tiny red fists against the tiles and broke down into a waterfall of tears. I was so frustrated because for months I could no longer see my saviors in my dreams. I desperately believed their life force had somehow kept me alive. But now, with no inner strength to draw upon, I felt so hollow and alone inside. Later that afternoon, once my peers scurried from the classroom to their homes or the playgrounds at hypersonic speeds, I dared myself and locked my eyes onto my homeroom teacher, Mr. Ziegler. For a fragment of time I knew he felt the immensity of my pain. A moment later I broke our stare, bowed my head in respect and turned away, somehow hoping for a miracle.

Months later my prayers were answered. On March 5, 1973, for some unknown reason, four teachers, the school nurse and the principal collectively decided to notify the authorities. Because of my condition, I was immediately placed into protective custody. But before I left, the entire staff, one by one, knelt down and held me. I knew by the look on everyone’s faces that they were scared. My mind flashed back to the fate of Ms. Moss. I wanted to run away and dissolve. As a child called “It,” I felt I was not worth their trouble.

As always my saviors sensed my anxiety and gave me a strong hug, as if to form an invisible shield to protect me from all harm. With each warm body I closed my eyes and tried to capture the moment for all eternity. With my eyes clamped shut, I heard one of my teachers gently whisper, “No matter the outcome, no matter what happens to us, this is something we had to do. As teachers. .. if we can have an effect on one child’s life. .. This is the true meaning of our profession.”

After a round of good-byes, I stood paralyzed—I had never in all my life felt such an outpouring of emotion for me. And with tears streaming down my cheeks, I promised the staff at Thomas Edison Elementary that I would never forget them and I would do my best to someday make them proud.

Since my rescue, not a single day has passed that I have not thought about my saviors. Almost 20 years to the day, I returned to Thomas Edison Elementary and presented my teachers with the very first copies of my first book, A Child Called “It,” which was dedicated to them, and was published on the 20-year anniversary of my rescue— March 5, 1993. That evening my teachers sat in the front row of a capacity-filled auditorium, as I fulfilled my lifetime dream of making my teachers feel special. I looked at them, with tears now running down their faces, and said, “As a child I learned that teachers have but one goal: to somehow make a difference in the life of a child. In my case it was four teachers, my school nurse and my principal who fought and risked their careers to save the life of a child called ‘It.’ I cannot, nor will not, ever forget their courage and their conviction. Twenty years ago I made a promise to my teachers. And tonight I renew my vow. For me it is not a matter of maintaining a pledge to those who had an effect on my life. For me, it is simply a matter of honor.”

Dave Pelzer

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners