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She was praying for help in making it to college, but was anyone listening?
Biology class was over, but I stayed behind until the other tenth graders had left and I was alone with the teacher. “Mrs. Oliver?” I asked timidly. “Could I see my grades for the semester?”
School was important to me, and Mrs. Oliver was the best teacher I’d ever had. Better than any teachers back in Oklahoma, or here in North Carolina. She’d made science–a subject I’d always struggled with–fun.
When I didn’t understand something she stood patiently by my desk until I did. I wanted to make her proud of me.
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“The last time you asked it was an eighty-eight,” she said, checking her grade book. “I said you could do better–and you proved me right. You brought it up to an A.”
I was so happy I could barely speak, but Mrs. Oliver wasn’t finished. “Duke University holds a summer academy,” she said. “I nominated you and just found out you’ve been accepted.”
For a split second I was on top of the world. Then reality crashed back down on top of me.
“Mrs. Oliver, I can’t go to college,” I said, my cheeks heating with shame. “I have two kids.”
Everybody in school knew I wasn’t like them. I got up before dawn every day to take my babies to the day-care center before school. Then I picked them up on the way home. I did my homework in between changing diapers.
There was no way I could make it to college. My mother had sent me to live with my father, and he predicted I’d never finish high school.
“Kim, you’re college material,” said Mrs. Oliver. She sounded almost surprised that I didn’t agree. “I don’t want you to miss this opportunity.”
“I’ll think about it,” I promised, but I already knew it was hopeless.
As I left Mrs. Oliver’s room, I remembered a day last year. It was near the end of ninth grade, while I was pregnant with my second child. I watched a girl in front of me in algebra class pass a note to her friend. Then I scribbled my own note. Not to another student. I had no time for friends.
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My note was to God: Please help, I wrote, just as I had every day. The baby’s father had abandoned me. My father had ordered me to drop out of school. Mom was far away back in Oklahoma. There was nowhere else to turn.
I headed down a quiet street and climbed the well-worn concrete steps of the little church. The same steps I’d climbed every day since learning I was pregnant again.
I fished my note out of my algebra book and slid it through the mail slot in the church door. It was the most logical way I could think of to get my prayer to God.
As I turned to go, I noticed a sign by the door. NO TRESPASSING. Strange. No trespassing at a church? I stepped back and took a good look at the building for the first time: peeling paint, weather damaged door, weeds in the flower beds. This church was abandoned! Just like me.
I ran all the way home, half-blinded by tears. All those desperate prayers I’d slid through the mail slot were just lying in a heap, unread. Unanswered. I’d asked God for help and God wasn’t even home. I was on my own.
I was determined to stay in school as long as I could. With the help of a new public day care near my house, I convinced my father to let me continue after my second baby was born. I got good grades, followed all the rules. I never gave my father an excuse to make me quit.
Mrs. Oliver’s class was the bright spot in my life. And now she wanted me to dream an impossible dream. Of course my father laughed at the prospect of my attending a college summer program. Instead, my children and I went back to Oklahoma to live with my mother.