Yesterday was an unusually chilly Sunday, but we spent it warming ourselves collectively, the four of us as a family, with a touristy walk and a steaming batch of Husband’s homemade egg noodles and chicken.
Later in the evening, I was sitting at my laptop, watching the scroll of the newsfeed on my Facebook. As the screen refreshed, this appeared before my eyes: “How many Tylenol do you think it will take to not wake up tomorrow?” I am stopped cold. My breath catches, my hands shake, the only thing I can hear in my head is NOW! NOW! DO SOMETHING!!
Tonya is 16. She has a baby girl. She is in a ridiculously difficult situation, some of which is unfortunately of her own making. She grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church, surrounded by a stable core of loving families. She attended OWL training, the very comprehensive UU sex ed program, since she was in Kindergarten, and knows probably more about birth control than I do. Her baby was a conscious choice. I can’t begin to assume I understand her reasoning, but I do know that her mother “chose” to be homeless for a year, leaving her to live with her strident, Catholic father. The father of her daughter decided mere weeks after her birth to begin seeing Tonya’s best friend. He also decided to drop out of high school.
My fingers made a decision for me, and I typed my gut reaction, lame as it may be. I typed her name, an ellipsis, a colon and the first half of a parenthesis, my phone number and the phone number of Kay, my best friend.
My spontaneous reaction proved beneficial. Kay is Tonya’s teacher. Tonya has used the safety and privacy of Kay’s office to feed her baby on more than one occasion. Last night, Tonya must have remembered that place, because before I even had a chance to warn her, Kay received a call.
Tonya only let it ring twice before she hung up. One of the reasons I love my best friend is because even though she was frantic with activities in those last few hours before the work week begins, she took the time to call back that unfamiliar number. And to press Tonya as to why she was calling. And to question her on how on earth she got her number. And to realize this was no ordinary call.
As this transpires, I text Kay to let her know that I had posted her cell on the wall of one of her students, and I copy for her the status update. (Being her teacher, Kay is not her Facebook friend.) Other UUs also have begun to comment, and to beg Tonya to ask for help, and students ACTUALLY POST THE REQUIRED DOSAGE. I call my friend Jane, knowing she is a lifelong friend of the family and close to Tonya’s mother. Jane calls another friend, Sue, who is a teen crisis counselor. Within minutes, a coterie is gathered.
It is revealed that Tonya’s mother has moved out of her car and into a tiny ghetto apartment with Tonya’s babydaddy. Even though he brings other girls over to spend the night, she allows it because she “needs the $200 dollars he gives her.” This night, Tonya is staying at her mother’s and she tells Kay she doesn’t plan to kill herself; she is only very stressed about her situation. Kay is an EMT. She instinctively begins to follow protocol, and over the phone uses her stern yet compassionate manner that comes from years of training as both a teacher and a First Responder to settle Tonya down. She convinces Tonya to allow her to speak to her mother. Kay tells her mother not to leave Tonya alone, not even to use the bathroom.
Sue arrived shortly after to stay the rest of the night.
I have mixed feelings about my former UU congregation. I appreciate their swift response to 14 words. But this “Beloved Community” ignored Tonya’s mother’s cry for help by accepting her excuse that “she wanted to go lightly through life” for her homelessness. I remember some heated conversations with Jane and Sue about this. I thought it was just unacceptable how the community turned a blind eye to what I considered a choice reflecting a compromised mental state. They told me I should honor her life choice, unconventional as it may be. I also felt that Tonya’s choice to have a baby at 16 with a shiftless, jobless, uneducated boy was equally disastrous. Tonya had “threatened” to get pregnant so often it almost became a joke.
Kay called a little bit ago to tell me Tonya did come to school and she was with the school psychologist.