“I’m Somebody!!” By Jaye Lewis
He was quick tempered, and often petulant; but there was something about Tommy that touched my heart. I found myself drawn to him. He had the sharpest sense of humor, I’d ever seen, in a child that age. He was eight years old. For once, Jenny, my eight year old, was doing well in school, in spite of her arthritis and the days that she missed. She was cheerful and outgoing, especially where Tommy was concerned.
“This is my friend, Tommy,” she said, as she pulled him toward me for the introduction. He kind of kicked an imaginary clod of dirt, and his eyes would not meet mine.
“Well, well, Tommy, “ I smiled. “That big old clod of dirt you just kicked, sure is attracting your attention. Isn’t it?” I teased. Suddenly, his dark eyes met mine, twinkling, and he kicked the floor again. “Take that, you old clod!” He cried, as he kicked the floor a third time, his face breaking into an irresistible grin.
I kicked the floor, and cried, “Yeah! You old clod!!” Tommy and Jenny cracked up, just as the teacher walked up to introduce herself. She smiled at Jenny, and then gave Tommy a cold look.
“No nonsense today, young man!” She scolded. Tommy’s face fell, and his shoulders drooped, as he walked away. Placing his hands in his pockets, he turned and met my eyes. I’ll never forget that look. It was a look of total hopelessness.
Miss Drummond thanked me, warmly, when I offered to become “room mother” to her class, and I became very involved with the second graders’ welfare. I baked, taught crafts, went on every field trip, and I became attached to Tommy.
If ever there was a prophesy of failure, it was Tommy. He was a marked child, from the day he took his first step into pre-school. He was in second grade, for goodness sake! How can your life be marked for failure, in second grade?! I just didn’t understand. I found him bright, and mischievous, but he completely won my heart over when I saw the pattern of failure written into his life.
I remembered, painfully, what it felt like to be nine years old, and to have my father turn on me one day, and scream in my face.
“You will NEVER amount to anything!” He cried, his face twisting, as if in pain. I could feel shock waves of ice-water streaking through my veins!
Again he shouted, “You are NOTHING but a failure!!! YOU
I believed my father, and I never let him down. I failed at many things, and he was always there to reinforce my “nothingness.” I saw this pattern in Tommy’s life, and I swore I would do everything in my power to make certain, that my early life would not happen to him.
I championed him. I helped him with his lessons every day. I laughed and dreamed with him.
“Oh, I’ll be nothing.” He said. “My Dad’s nothing. My Granddad’s nothing. I’ll be nothing, too. I’d like to keep that in the family,” he joked.
I laughed, but I didn’t think it was funny. I was certain it was real.
The first field trip that I chaperoned, was very illuminating. Before we left the school, and once, on the bus, Tommy was warned by Miss Drummond. “No pranks, now, Tommy. The first time that you step out of line, the field trip will be over, for YOU!” She threatened, as she poked her finger at him.
I heard Tommy mumble, “Well there goes my trip to the planetarium! I’m doomed.”
“No, Tommy, you’re NOT doomed. You’ll see the planetarium! I’ll be right there with you!” I whispered. He turned away, and stared at the fields racing by.
It was a long trip, and when we stopped for lunch, Tommy received his third warning, as he stepped off the bus.
I tried to lighten the mood, by saying, “That’s O.K., Ms. Drummond, I’ll stay with Tommy.” I laughed, and Tommy looked away stone faced. He ate in silence, sitting next to one of the other boys, in the second grade.
I watched my golden haired Jenny, and was gratified to see her with her friends, laughing and talking, and able to move around without much pain. It was charming. Miss Drummond would watch Jenny and smile, and you could tell that she loved her. She was the best teacher that Jenny had ever had, and a good woman, but she just didn’t see what she was doing to Tommy.
Then I saw it. I was right across the table. The boy next to Tommy, wiped ketchup on Tommy’s brand new shirt. Something like lightening flashed in Tommy’s eyes, as he shoved the boy off the bench, and onto the grass.
“TOMMY!” cried Miss Drummond. “I WARNED YOU, YOUNG
MAN! You are BANNED from the planetarium! You will wait IN THE LOBBY, until everyone ELSE
goes through!” A secret smile, slipped
across the perpetrator’s face.
“Wait. WAIT!” I cried. “It wasn’t Tommy’s fault. This other boy wiped ketchup on his shirt! Tommy shouldn’t be punished! This other boy is at fault! Tommy needs to see the planetarium!” I wailed, feeling like a helpless child. Another smile passed over the perpetrator’s face.
Miss Drummond declared, a hard look coming into her eyes, “NO! Tommy knows better. There will be no fighting! He MUST learn!” I felt just awful. What could I do?
As we loaded onto the bus, and began our journey again, I sought Miss Drummond out. I begged. I cajoled. I pleaded. I bargained. Please. Please! PLEASE!! Any kind of punishment but failure. I was after anything else. But nothing worked. Her mind was made up. She explained how Tommy’s bad record went back to pre-school! He was a bad seed. He’d never do anything. Or be anything. My blood ran cold, remembering my own fate. I prayed, like I’d never prayed before, not even when Jenny had been at her sickest.
Lord help me to help this boy! I had no power, except the power of faith and prayer. I had no idea how to remedy this situation.
I volunteered to stay in the lobby of the planetarium. Miss Drummond urged me to join the children, and she would stay with Tommy. No. No, I assured her. I wanted to stay out with Tommy, and after all, the other children would have so many questions to answer. I didn’t tell her, but I needed to stay with Tommy.
Tommy and I sat on a bench, in the lobby, for a long time, not speaking. Then, he began to talk.
“I don’t remember, ever doing anything right, in my whole life, Miss Jaye.” I put my arm around him, and I said, “I know how that feels.”
Tommy looked up at me with adoring eyes, no doubt reading some kind of treasured worth, in what he saw. A new experience for me.
“Tommy, I was just like you, honey. Just like you. I never succeeded at anything. But my life is different, now.” I paused, looking into his eyes, with deep conviction.
“What changed, Miss Jaye?” he asked.
“Well, Tommy,” I began, “it’s pretty simple, really.” He gave me a look that told me he was hanging onto every word.
“I couldn’t change anyone around me, Tommy. Not my teachers. Not my classmates. Not my parents. Not anyone else. So, I changed me.” Tommy’s eyes looked puzzled, and then, suddenly, it was like the dawn burst forth into a cloudy sky! Tommy understood. I’ve never seen such sudden awareness in the eyes of anyone so young.
We continued to talk, and I told Tommy all about that day, when I became nothing, and I told him what a lie it was. I told him that I knew I was somebody, because a wonderful God says I am. I told him that many adults operate from a position of fear, like nothing he had ever known. I told him that this day would be the turning point in his life, because he was a wonderful, somebody with the power to change his own life. Oh, I told Tommy a lot that day, perhaps more than I’ve told anyone, until now, and Tommy believed me. Every word.
The next day, I went to the school counseling office, and I spoke to a wonderful man, the psychiatric social worker attached to the school. No doubt this man was very underpaid, but he turned out to have a powerful influence for Tommy’s future. Tommy was removed from Miss Drummond’s class and put into a “special education” class. She gave me a knowing smile, and told me, she wasn’t surprised. She knew that he just couldn’t last in a normal class.
I never told her what I had done. I heard a few whispers, that Tommy was, remarkably, making “A's.” That he was accepted into the gifted and talented program, and what was our educational system coming to! I’d smile and say I hadn’t a clue. I never saw Tommy again, except once.
I had my own problems. By the time Jenny was in the middle of third grade, I had to flee with my children, from the man I was married to, into a women’s shelter. By the time I was in a position to get Jenny’s transcripts from her first school, she was well established in her new school.
It was in the spring of 1981 that I walked into the halls of the old elementary school, on my way to the Principal’s office. I was, now, a single mother, who had left everything I knew behind me, for the welfare of my children. I was a bit scared of the future, yet knowing full well, that I would fight any dragon, to keep them safe.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps running behind me. Before I could turn around, a pair of little arms encircled me, and I heard Tommy’s voice cry, “Miss Jaye! Miss Jaye!!”
I turned, and he threw himself into my arms. He had grown so tall! His eyes were shining, and he was laughing. He once again met my eyes with the most adoring look!
“Miss Jaye!” he cried. “You were right! I can change myself! And I did! I’m happy, now, and I’m SOMEBODY!!”
Tears sprang to my eyes and fell upon Tommy’s brown hair. I brushed them off, as I squatted down, to study his face.
“Yes, Tommy, you are SOMEBODY! You have always been SOMEBODY!” I hugged him to me, and my eyes locked with the man in the office behind him. That same wonderful counselor, overqualified and underpaid, smiled at me, and gave me a “thumbs up!”
“Gotta go, Miss Jaye! See you soon!” Tommy gave me one last hug, and turned to go. He stopped mid-stride, and he looked back at me. “I love you, Miss Jaye!” He cried.
“I love you, too, Tommy!” I choked, barely pushing the words past the lump in my throat. Then he turned, and he ran out of my life.
As I walked out of the school, carrying Jenny’s records, I stepped into the
sunshine, with a smile. I felt the words
echo in my heart… I’m somebody! I’M
© Jaye Lewis, 2003
This is a true story about a real little boy, whom I knew. He was an abused child, as I was. We survived. I believe that you can too. It doesn't matter if you are an adult who is still haunted, you can survive the memories. You can be or become everything that those who abused you were not. You can be kind. You can love and be loved. You be open, and you can be a hope for others. My hope has been in the God who has shown grace and mercy to me. I cannot and will not turn my back on Him. I hope that you know Him, and if you do not, I hope you will seek Him, because if you do, you will find Him, if you seek Him with all of your heart.
This story, "I'm Somebody!" was originally published, in 2007, in the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Celebrating People Who Make a Difference.
Never think for a moment that I was the one who made the greatest difference in Tommy's life, for it was he who made a difference in mine. God bless you Tommy, wherever you are. I hope you are happy, and I hope that sometimes you remember those who have made a difference in your own life.