Even in the final scene, I am not at home.
I am alone in a friend’s Kelso basement, pulling my Bulldog-blue graduation gown over my head, and their game room is bright with lights. I stare into a wall of beer-themed mirrors, the contents of my makeup bag rolling across their pool table as I line my eyes with a kohl pencil.
My friend’s dad, AJ Schott, walks in and jokes, “Hey there, kiddo. You moving in or just riding to town?”
That was May 1983. After Notre Dame High School saved my life.
Four years earlier, I’d been just one lost girl in a sea of lost boys and girls. And for good reason. My single mother and I had a habit of circling Cape Girardeau like nomads, forever looking to save a few bucks on rent. Who knew where I might end up for high school, or for how long, when by eighth grade I’d already been the new girl at 5 schools: Jackson, May Greene, back to Jackson, to Nell Holcomb, and finally to St. Mary’s.
You never know where you will meet your angel. St. Mary’s is where I met mine. Monsignor Huels made note of one lost girl, and set to work.
The Monsignor found me in the lunch room one day and made an offer. He’d found a family, he said, a family willing to pay 100% of my Notre Dame tuition. For 4 years. Plus books. Anonymously. With no terms for payback and no criteria for keeping up my grades or writing essays or playing sports or even showing up.
If this sounds too good to be true, it was.
And it seems I did everything I could to screw it up.
My grades were, in a word, dismal. I had no math skills and even less interest. Science may as well have been study hall. I read a lot of books, but tossed aside the assigned, classic titles for fat paperbacks by John Saul and Danielle Steele and VC Andrews. I took Spanish because they said I had to, and it showed. I secretly worshipped Ms. King and the casts of her musicals, but I could not carry a tune nor build a set, so what value could I be?
Outside school, my mother and I remained on the move. A few more apartments around Cape, then Kelso.
Yet, without concern for school districts, I could stay at Notre Dame, and the moves mattered less as school mattered more. I began to like my shorthand teacher, Mrs. Glueck, and learned I was not bad at making coded shapes for words. I started reading the books assigned in English class. I even tried math.
As Notre Dame stayed put, so did I. And my first deep roots, invisible as they must have been to my frustrated teachers, stubbornly began to take hold.
Turns out lost girls can take time, test patience. We can wear out the best of you, make you throw up your hands, surrender, move on, give up.
Thank you Notre Dame, for not giving up. For letting me in and for letting me stay. Even when I least deserved it.
As much as I seemed to hate school, school was home. And 4 whole years in one place saved a life and made a difference.
Thank you to my generous, still anonymous, donor family. I eventually went on to finish college and even graduate school. A painfully late bloomer. Your money was not lost, just a slow return on investment.
And thank you AJ Schott who, when you found this lost girl in your Kelso basement in May 1983, make up bag spilling across your pool table, you just made light and loaded her into the family car and drove her to graduation. No questions asked.
You are all, every last one of you, on the side of angels.