In 2007, when two Teachers/Substitutes were murdered while managing my DC Jail Classroom, I was devastated and sought professional help. At the end of my second visit with the psycho-therapist in
Alexandria, Virginia, I received a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Recognizing my complicated history, the psycho-therapist asked that, for our next session, I write a letter to the “little girl in me.”
Dear Little Girl,
Thank you for
never leaving me. Thank you for comforting me through all the hurts while encouraging me to dream. You are my best friend and I love you. Make-believe and Pretend continue to shield you from a hurt-filled life. As a child, living on Pine Bluff’s East
6th street, you didn’t have friends. Alone, at the age of three, you walked four blocks to study piano lessons with Miss Hilda. When you were only four years old, you rode across town by yourself with strange taxi cab drivers to take tap dancing lessons.
Every Saturday morning, all by yourself, you rode the city bus to your favorite place—the Public Library. Books were everywhere, rows and
rows of multi-colored, multi-sized books, each beckoning you to step inside their pages. Once inside, the pages took you to other worlds, to adventures far from your hometown.
On Saturdays, after leaving the library, you walked west-one block to stand in front of the town’s finest home, the Simmons Mansion. Beautifully manicured evergreens edged the wide brick walkway leading
to a carved walnut door highlighted with leaded glass. Four white, fluted columns, more than three-stories tall, framed the doorway.
After years of looking, you decided to activate the adventure. Marching up the long brick walkway, you stood on tiptoes to grasp the ornate brass knocker. “Boom, boom, boom”, the knocker sounded surprisingly loud as you waited for
the door to open. Standing there, anticipating the adventure, not once did you consider the possibility of being turned away.
The mansion’s matriarch, Ms. Simmons, opened the door, welcoming you inside as though she had been expecting you. I remember every detail—how beautiful Ms. Simmons looked in a navy velvet dress with a strand of white pearls at her
neck. Except for a few wisps of curious curls peeking around her pearl-studded ears, Ms. Simmons’ cotton-white hair stayed securely tucked in a classic bun. I remember the sound her sensible shoes made as they clicked rhythmically on the polished hardwood
floor. Straight out of a fairy tale, the elegant structure was more opulent than you imagined.... with uniformed servants, seven bedrooms with seven private baths, crystal chandeliers, even an elevator.
But, the hand-carved staircase was the most awesome sight. The majestic staircase flowed upward to a landing with a massive stained glass window then split—one side going
left, the other going right until the staircases merged at the third floor. The entire top floor featured a ballroom with balconies, a full stage, even an orchestra pit.
After touring the Mansion you glided to the bus stop like a queen. It didn’t matter you had missed four buses. Minutes before, you’d experienced a beautiful world with elegant people; a world far
beyond the wood-frame rental house at 1707 East 6th Street.
Little Girl, you and I know each other well. We know that
love comes and goes and sometimes those we love don’t love us back. But you are strong; you continue to live beyond the ugliness and unpleasantness. When you were young, even after you started school, you played dress-up for hours. Posing, pretending,
and make believe, were your favorite pastimes. The image looking back at you in the bedroom mirror was always me, your best friend.
In a crazy-sort-of-way, you made another friend. Wearing the traditional black habit, Sister Steven Maria was your first grade teacher at Annunciation Academy, a private Catholic school in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. You were one of six protestant children
in the Academy’s first grade and you made certain you weren’t overlooked. I smile when I recall the day Mother Superior telephoned your parents.
The Catholic community had been horrified to learn of a recess incident involving Sister Stephen Maria and a non-Catholic student. YOU were that student, the one who— during morning recess—innocently asked Sister
Stephen Maria if she wore black underwear.
Scholastically, you were graded as the smartest student in the first grade
but your curiosity and endless questions kept you in constant “hot water.”
Without a doubt, your most
challenging question for Sister Stephen Maria was: “Sister, why is Jesus’s mother called the Virgin Mary? Why can’t we call her Sister Mary, or Mother Mary, or simply, Mary? What does the word Virgin mean?” Now you understand why Sister
didn’t answer but instead, began choking and ran from the classroom.
Decades later, long after Sister Stephen Maria’s
death, you learned about a scrapbook containing newspaper photos/ articles found among her few possessions. The scrapbook was titled: The Beauty Queen Life of Sally Miller.