Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

Darby’s Grave

I was disappointed when I learned from Darby’s teacher that she was pregnant. Our work, after all, involved turning around previously unsuccessful students and giving them the tools to succeed in life.  As the result of hearing this news, we felt abruptly cut off at the knees.

            Darby, 18, was not unlike most of the students we served at Sunnydale High School. She came to us as an unmotivated student with unhealthy habits and grossly behind in credits. Darby related to the Goth subculture, sporting facial piercings, dark clothing and the occasional unnatural hair color. As the result of Miss C’s involved, supportive approach to teaching, Darby began to make progress.

            But now she was pregnant.

 

            As the result of my ten years experience working with at-risk teens of limited means, I have come to believe that the number one perpetuating agent of poverty is teen parenthood.

            Teens in general lack the skills, discipline and stability to be effective parents. Our students have trouble simply getting through school. Scant resources and insufficient supports compound these difficulties. Due to the strains of parenthood, young parents struggle more than most to finish a college education, thereby limiting their options and diminishing any chances of upward mobility even more.

            Unfortunately, it’s the children who pay the ultimate price, growing up in unstable, often dysfunctional, homes; doing without adequate food, clothing and shelter; existing in a understimulating environment that neglects their educational needs and fails to produce appropriate role models. As a result, these children are behind the pack before they even get out of the gate.

            And then the cycle continues. . . .    

            The district where Darby lived consisted of about 70-percent immigrants and 30 percent working-class whites. Most of the students in the latter group had attended school together since Kindergarten. Though the socioeconomic conditions were somewhat better than those of the neighboring urban district that I also served as “traveling principal,” I have seen teen pregnancy eradicate the options available to these students as well.

            A notable example would be Sunnydale’s star female soccer player. After losing eligibility due to low grades, the athletic director referred the forward to our program. She was able to rejoin the team after making academic progress, and a local university would even offer her an athletic scholarship when she was a senior.

            Unfortunately, her opportunities unraveled when she became pregnant a few months prior to graduating. Rather than attending college and playing the sport she loves, the young mother is now working in fast food to support her child.

 

            Early in the following school year, Darby gave birth to a little boy, whom she named Taylor. While immersed in her new role of motherhood, she was still able to graduate by the end of the semester. She expressed hopes to attend some sort of post-secondary program eventually.

            As with many of our graduates, I figured that it would be unlikely I would ever see or hear from Darby again. Instead, Darby Thresher would ignite nation-wide outrage.

            I was in my doctor’s office waiting room a year later on a Tuesday afternoon – nothing good ever happens on Tuesdays – and noticed there was a missing child alert airing on the TV in the corner. The mother had reported the one-year old boy missing from his Sunnydale home a few hours earlier. A thorough description was given of the toddler, Taylor Thresher, as pictures of the child and his clothing were flashed on the screen. I was taking mental notes in the event I would happen to spot the child in my travels.

            When they mentioned the mother’s name, I about jumped out of my seat. I immediately called Miss C, who had since transferred to a different location: “You had Darby Thresher, right? Her son is missing! It’s all over the news!”

            After returning home from my appointment, I recounted the events to Bernadette, my teenage daughter, as I switched on the tube. There was talk about the child’s absentee father, who had mental health issues, and a mysterious man sighted carrying a child in a blanket by a school a few miles away.

            Reporters were interviewing friends and neighbors who had gathered in the street to support the family. I recognized about half of them as former students and their parents. Darby and her mother were elsewhere with police.

            Then came the horrendous announcement: The body of a child had been found nearby.

            I was immediately overcome with tears. My daughter stood by quietly, possibly taken aback at seeing her father all-out bawling for the first time.

            “Do you feel certain it was the body of Taylor that was found?” a reporter asked Polly Martin, a Sunnydale grad.

            “How many missing babies do you think are out there lying around in the woods?” she retorted.

            The community was aghast with the prospect that somebody was breaking into houses and killing children. Young mothers congregated in the vicinity of the taped-off crime scene, clutching their babies and talking to reporters, expressing fear, outrage and sympathy for the family. The vigil continued into the night, Polly Martin emerging as the community spokesperson.

            Talk continued about the boy’s father and his mental condition. News emerged that Darby once had a restraining order against him.

            Meanwhile, helicopter camaras showed forensic crews working behind a barrier in the woods a half mile away by the river – a drainage ditch, really – that served as the unofficial border between the city and the suburbs.

 

            The next morning, as I was about to leave for work, reporters broke in on the television to announce that the police had a suspect in custody. Blurry footage, obviously filmed from behind barricades a great distance away, showed a young woman being escorted through the now-familiar woods with police, an officer following her with a camcorder. They appeared to be doing the “show us where you dumped the body” thing.

            A reporter was on the phone with a family member attempting to establish the identity of the woman in the woods. “I know who that is. But I’m not going to say,” the relative replied in horror.

            A few hours later, Miss C informed me that Darby was being charged with Murder 2 for beating her son to death.

            The tight-knit Sunnydale community was in shock. In less than 24 hours time, they had gone from a state of hopeful fellowship to one of outraged mourning to that of absolute disbelief. Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil near the woods where Taylor’s body was discarded.

            “Darby loved Taylor and he was the joy of her life,” Polly Martin said. “I won’t believe she did this until I hear her say it herself.”

            “Even though we hate what she did, we are still here for her,” another young woman said.

            “If she really did this thing, I hope she rots in jail!” 

            An anonymous caller on a radio show probably summed it up the best: “It’s not that the mother didn’t love her son. She just wasn’t ready for motherhood and snapped”

            Darby was arraigned in court. The media reported that she appeared unemotional. Perhaps she simply died with Taylor a few days earlier.

 

            Miss C attended Taylor’s funeral, and I stopped in to check on her later in the day.

            “As much of an abominable act this was, as absolutely disappointed I am with Darby, I am having trouble stomaching all the hate being directed at her on the radio and in the social media,” I explained. Miss C concurred.

            She discussed the funeral, whom she saw and the little, closed casket. There is nothing more heart wrenching than a funeral for a child.

           

            Eventually, my family and I would make our way to the make-shift memorial created by the community near the woods where Taylor was found. Balloons waggled and candles flickered vigorously in the windy darkness, ominously illuminating hundreds of stuffed animals, letters, toys and signs. Pictures had been hung in the tree that served as the centerpiece. Two women were there as well, yet nobody spoke. Words would be rather . . . meaningless . . . under the circumstances.

            As I took in the somber environs, I came to regard the site as Darby’s grave as much as Taylor’s memorial, and said goodbye to my student forever.

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One Response to “Darby’s Grave”

  1. Very touching and what an emotional week! :(…


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