i tutored ms. black every saturday for two years when i lived in DC.
ms. black was a 78 year-old woman whose greatest desire in life was to be able to read her own bible. i was her literacy tutor. i was appointed the person to usher a woman closer to her lifelong pursuit of literacy.
most weekends i wondered who was really learning from whom. ms. black was truly an inspiration and i looked up to her more than i think she ever knew. more than i ever communicated. funny how i was supposed to be teaching her the building blocks of communication.
she had been “passed” through the DC school systems without ever really learning to read due to severe dyslexia. she raised her family on her own, put them through school, discreetly found teachers to tutor her children so she would never have to reveal to them that she couldn’t read their homework problems. she put them all through college and at 78 years-old she still worked 6 days a week, volunteered at her church and found time to come see me every saturday to try and grapple with the letters that jumbled together in her mind. she had been in the literacy program for 6 years when she and i started meeting.
i became pregnant with darla while tutoring ms. black. while i found no shame telling everyone else in my life that i was with child before marriage, for some reason i couldn’t bring myself to tell ms. black until i was almost 7 months. when i finally told her that i would be having a baby and we’d have to take a break for our sessions she just looked at me funny and said “i was wondering when you was finally gonna tell me.” then i cried in front of her. during her time, when she took an extra hour to drive into the city and learn from me, i cried. and she let me. she didn’t interrupt me or look at her watch. she understood what i was feeling. “oh baby, you gonna be ok.” i felt incredibly stupid crying in front of a woman who had the right to slap me and say “you have had all the breaks in life. what are you crying about?” but she didn’t. she just said “baby, you gonna be ok” and i knew i could believe her.
at our last meeting before i had darla, she gave me a card and target gift card for an amount that i knew was no small sum to her. my hand was guilt-laden taking that gift but i knew how much it meant to her to give it to me. i hugged her very hard that day as we parted.
we took a break for about 3 months postpartum but then we started our meetings again. we got back in the swing of things. then mike left to go back to work around 4 months postpartum so darla was toted along to our sessions. ms. black loved darla. she would hold darla and was very understanding when i needed to nurse darla during our sessions. secretly, i think ms. black liked having the distraction from our repetitions and reading aloud.
then i did a bad thing.
sometime after mike being gone a month, it all became a little to much for me to handle: working, full-time single parenting, keeping up with friends, family, household chores. strapping darla to me and toting her diaper bag and my tutoring materials through the metro seemed like such a daunting task then. so i decided to give up the tutoring.
but i didn’t call ms. black.
i didn’t call to tell her i couldn’t do it anymore. i felt so ashamed and instead of fessing up i ran away from accountability like a coward. a few weeks went by and i got a message on my phone from ms. black saying she figured i was too overwhelmed and she told the literacy council that i would be on break until further notice. SHE told them for ME.
i never spoke to her again.
i’m crying now as i type this. darla, how do i raise you to be a person who won’t do this? how do i raise you to be the person who calls instead of leaving someone stray like a paper bag in the wind? obviously, i still think about this bad decision. mostly at times like this: late, when i should be sleeping.
darla, i want you to know that this act was wrong of me. i should have called. i should have done many things but at the least i should have told that wonderful woman that i was honored to have been a part of her life for two years and that I learned more from her than i’m sure i ever taught her from ten to noon on saturday mornings. i should have told her that i couldn’t carry on. I should have told her a simple thank you.
thank you, ms. black.