I heard the shouting even before I turned the corner. When I did make the turn, the ring of students tightly clustered around a moving mass on the ground parted slightly, just enough for me to squeeze through. My stomach did a little lurch.
Two girls writhed on the ground as they scratched, punched, and kicked. One, a long haired girl named Sandra, was on top of the other, pounding her face. The other girl had obviously gotten some licks in herself as Sandra's face was bleeding and some chunks of long, dark hair cluttered the ground.
I yelled at one of the other students to get help and worked to get them separated. The recipient of most of the punishment was crumpled in a ball on the sidewalk by the time I was able to wrest Sandra away. I had to physically place myself in between her and the sobbing girl to keep Sandra from jumping on her again. I bear-hugged Sandra to keep her arms pinned and talked a de-escalating, soothing patter while my heart beat a hysterical tempo inside me.
Sandra spat blood on the ground at my feet and yelled at her opponent, "You f****** b****! Don't you ever talk about me that way again! I'll cut your throat!"
Sandra had transferred into our district to live with grandparents after her mom couldn't handle her anymore in the projects of the big city.There were other incidents with her that year, mostly starting with her taking offense at even the smallest of slights. Outside of school, she took delight in spraying her bangs in the vertical style of a known gang and in wearing the extreme makeup and colors of the girls of that group.
In class, though, if she liked the topic, she was fully engaged and showed a high functioning intellect and an out-of-the-box imagination. If she thought the topic boring, she stared sullenly ahead, chin on her fist.
We thought we'd made progress with Sandra, but then she became pregnant in 8th grade and moved to live with her boyfriend and his family. They eventually married and had another baby girl in addition to their first born son.
I saw her several times in the ensuing years. She seemed to have mellowed, to have dropped some of the anger she cloaked herself in, but was still caught in poverty and abuse according to what she confided to me one time when she visited me after school.
"I never thought, I just never thought I'd end up like my mom," she shook her head. "You'd think I'd know better. I have to get myself out of this. I just don't know how." Of her rage and speed to fight, she added, "I need to learn to take my fight to the right places. All my life I've been fighting against the wrong things."
We talked of the options she had, and she always asked me to pray with her, which I did. I wasn't the only one she was talking with. Others also built her confidence; fed her dreams.
Honestly, I didn't have much hope for her ever realizing the fullness of the gifts that lay within her. I lost track of her until a year or so ago when she found me on Facebook. I was thrilled that she'd gotten her GED, was almost finished with college, and had gotten out of her abusive marriage. She was planning big things for the future.
Then, last night, I received this email from her.
Dear Mrs. M.,
I'm so thankful to have had you and the others in my life who have believed in me, even when there wasn't anything to believe in but a hope. I have a favor to ask. I'm applying to several graduate schools for my master's degree. I would be so grateful if you could write me a letter of recommendation...
Sandra is one who found the right arena for her fight.