Mr Gilbert, the school principal at a busy little elementary school stood watching the students at lunch. There were groups laughing and talking. Some going back for seconds, and others concentrating on their lunches. It was a whir of activity, as it was everyday. But there, sitting by herself was a little 4th grade girl. Who just a couple weeks ago was an average awkward 9 year old girl with a sparkle in her eye. Recently though, she seemed morose. She sat alone, she looked very sad and heavy like she had the weight of the world on her tiny little shoulders. He'd been noticing her this last week, and each day she was a little more withdrawn. She just picked at her food, and didn't seem to notice the activity around her. Lost in some deep disturbing thoughts.
He had no idea that just yesterday at home, her parents had the radio on while they went about their normal routine, and the little girl had heard a commercial for "First Call for Help" (A suicide hotline) and then sat in her room to compose a letter to that advertiser . . . though she didn't know what to say and couldn't put into words what she was on her mind or even where to send it. So she left the unfinished letter crumpled in the corner of her room and went to do her chores. The letter read:
"Dear First call for help,
I need help. I don't know what to do. I . . . "
No, Mr. Gilbert didn't know about that letter.
He also didn't know that recently, when she was alone. She sat on the on the floor and would bang her head on the wall. Hard. She'd bang her head, and it would hurt. Then she'd bang it harder, and it would hurt more. Then harder . . . and more. Nobody saw, nobody knew . . . she was alone and her heart was heavy, and somehow hurting herself made her feel better.
When the little girls parents would go out, or had to run errands, they would send the little girl and her 10 year old brother to the neighbors house to play with the little girl's best friend. They'd build tree houses, run races, play pretend store and some times they'd play hide and seek, and some times her best friends adult brother would play hide and seek with them. Suddenly, the little girl didn't want to play hide and seek anymore.
Sometimes she would stay overnight at her best friends house, and since there was an adult child there, her best friends parents would leave. And her best friends adult brother was there. . . and in charge. Sometimes he would drive her home, and make her sit real close to him and quietly whisper . . . "If you tell anyone, I will kill you AND your brother." Sometimes there are things too big, too shameful and to heavy for the little girl to think about. Sometimes, just for a moment, when she'd hurt herself, she almost couldn't feel the other pain . . . the one in her heart, her mind and her soul.
Back in the lunch room, Mr. Gilbert approached the little girl. He knelt down next to her, and looked her in the eyes. She averted his stare. He asked her "How are you?" in a concerned voice. She glanced at him, and said "Fine" as she quickly looked away.
He responded with "You've been looking so sad lately, can you tell me what's wrong?"
The little girls chin began to quiver, her eyes brimmed with tears that spilled down her cheeks as she looked down at her lunch tray. Mr. Gilbert felt her pain as he waited for her to speak . . . but her words weren't coming.
He added, "Has somebody been hurting you?"
The little girl, was so close to sobbing, and did everything she could to hold back the tears, her hands were shaking and palms were sweating and she finally answered with a slow nod, never looking away from her plate.
He knew he was getting somewhere and he gently prodded, "Who's been hurting you, and how have they hurt you?"
The little girl thought about how she would answer this question, and then she said
"My brother has been teasing me and calling me names." She held her breath for what seemed to be a lifetime.
Mr. Gilbert was surprised that a brother's teasing would cause this much sadness, but was satisfied that he had gotten to the bottom of her sadness. He gently counceled her on dealing with her brother and walked off to resume overseeing the rest of the lunch room.
The little girl got up and went to the bathroom, sat in a stall, and banged her head, hard. And again . . . harder, and again, until her head throbbed. She went back to class. She went home that day and for the rest of that year, sometimes her parents would send her to her best friends house, and sometimes her best friends adult brother was there . . . and in charge. And sometimes he would drive her home and make her sit real close . . .
To Mr. Gilbert, my elementary school principal,
You were SO close.