Not talking quite as fast, he explained, “She has a few questions about our school and wants to get some student perspectives. As I understand, this is a fairly comprehensive study and not only about classes and teachers. You are the first student we are recommending. Can I count on you to help us out?” Pammy nodded, so he continued, “I’d like you to answer all her questions as honestly as you can.”
Wow, Pammy thought, but only said, “Sure.” Everything was happening so fast she had no chance to ask Doc Winston if this was going to take long.
Dr. Winston led her into the conference room. “Pammy, this is Mrs. Patterson, Assistant Liaison for school-administration conferences. Mrs. Patterson, Ms. Thomas said she’d be glad to help you and promises to give her honest opinions. If there is anything I can do to help either of you, please let me know. Oh,” he reminded as he was half way out the door, “we’ve only about 35 minutes before the last bell.” And with that he left.
Pammy thought Mrs. Patterson was a dead ringer for Claire on Modern Family -- really pretty and a nice smile.
Mrs. Patterson motioned Pammy to a nearby chair and said, “Hi Pammy. Please, have a seat and thank you so much for giving me some of your time. I really appreciate it.”
Pammy figured she’d never get back to class in time and there was nothing she could do about it, so she sat down and waited while Mrs. Patterson shuffled a few papers and read something from one of them.
When Mrs. Patterson looked up she seemed genuinely interested when she asked, “How are your classes going?”
Pammy replied, “Pretty good. I had to bail out of advanced algebra earlier in the year, but I’m really doing great in office practice.”
Mrs. Patterson looked quickly at the sheet in front of her and said, “My info sheet says you are a good student but it does show you dropped out of college prep and have no plans to go to college.”
Pammy shifted in her seat and said, “No. After graduation my boyfriend and I plan to move to Florida and work for a while.”
She figured Mrs. Patterson was going to make a case for her to change her mind, but Pammy knew college wasn’t for her anymore. Not now.
Mrs. Patterson then asked, “Are many of your friends going to college?”
Pammy thought for a second and said, “Not many. I know my friend Meadow already knows she’ll be working full time for a local photographer, and Tim Barton is going to work in his dad’s machine shop. I guess I don’t know too many who can afford college.”
Mrs. Patterson made a few notes. When she looked up again it was right into Pammy’s eyes, “Has anyone in the guidance office talked to you about college or higher ed?”
Pammy said, “No one spoke to me personally. All we had was an 11th grade assembly about it. We got some handouts and they told us that we could get excused from classes for college visits with proof of being there.”
“I see.” Mrs. Patterson nodded. “Because the county is concerned that more students are choosing not to go to college, I’ve been asked to find out why. Your name is on the list of students whom the teachers think would be successful in higher ed but are choosing not to go. I’m going to ask all of you about that,” she said, holding up a sheet with a list of names on it.
“Pammy, off the record.” Mrs. Patterson leaned forward and asked, “do you really not want to go or is something else holding you back?”
Not knowing exactly how to answer her, Pammy hesitated.
Mrs. Patterson continued, “Are you afraid of the classes? Or getting enrolled? Or no encouragement from home? In your heart of hearts, what would you really like to do for a career? With the classes you are taking, you seem to be preparing for office work. Is that what you want?”
“Well, when I was a little kid, I wanted to do something in the medical field – nursing or something -- but I don’t want to do that anymore,” Pammy offered. She wasn’t sure why she was telling this woman anything because no one could understand.
Mrs. Patterson sounded surprised. “Really? Why not?”
“Well, Jake and I have plans,” Pammy said as she looked toward the windows.
“Well, that’s a big step.” There was an awkward silence, then, “Wait a minute,” Mrs. Patterson said as she started searching through another folder and finally came up with a half sheet of paper. Speaking quietly, she asked, “This may seem silly, but would you mind reading this aloud for me?” She handed Pammy the half-sheet, which besides Mrs. Patterson’s name and phone number, only had one sentence on it.
It is extremely important that people do not lie, cheat, or lose themselves in exchange for anyone else’s approval or wishes.
Pammy, ever obedient, took the paper and began reading aloud. The words came out quickly and efficiently, but they never got past her eyes – she couldn’t have explained what she’d read if her life depended on it. Just like her life, she was going through the motions.
When Pammy looked up, Mrs. Patterson asked in the same calm voice, “What does that sentence mean to you?”
“Well,” Pammy started and then looked again at the words, this time with more interest. “It means that . . . I guess I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense to me. If a person was worried about what other people thought of them, why would they lie or cheat?”
“Good,” Mrs. Patterson said, “very good. I like the way you thought that through. However, what do you think about someone who doesn’t tell the truth so others won’t know what they really think? I believe you could see how that could happen.”
“Oh, you mean when a friend asks if she looks nice and I say she does when she doesn’t?” Pammy asked.
“Yes.” Mrs. Patterson nodded and then asked, “Do you think it’s possible to lie to yourself?”
“Not really,” Pammy answered. “I mean, deep in your heart you know that you don’t look good, or look the way you want to. I mean my hair. If it looks bad, I know it and no amount of anyone else telling me it looks good will change my mind.”
Mrs. Patterson: “What about something more serious than that?”
Pammy twisted in her chair a bit and pretended to be examining the scar on her hand, then offered, “I guess if you mean like your boyfriend lying to you about what he did or where he was? That’s worse.”
Mrs. Patterson: “What do you think of them, I mean guys who lie?”
Pammy’s reply shot out, “They’re jerks!”
Mrs. Patterson: “I can tell that you think that isn’t acceptable behavior and, of course, it isn’t. But what if a guy really doesn’t know how to tell his girlfriend it’s over because she really likes him?”
“Part of me says that he should tell her straight out anyways. I can sort of understand why he wouldn’t, but no one wants to be cheated on,” was Pammy’s conclusion. She was thinking of her friend, Jill, who had broken up with Tony. It was a mess.
Mrs. Patterson: “What would happen if he never tells her? If he just goes along and stays with her because he hates to fight or his pride gets in the way and he’s afraid of the mean things she’d probably say about him? Which could actually be called self-inflicted blackmail, I suppose.”
Pammy had to process that for a second. Her voice raised an octave as she asked, “You mean he quit liking her but stays anyways? That’s not right no matter what anyone thinks. It probably won’t work down the road anyhow.”
Mrs. Patterson: “Who would you say he was cheating more – himself or his girlfriend?”
Pammy was getting a little restless, wondering where all this was going. She hadn’t done anything wrong, was doing well in class, even got a 100 on a semi-final exam. She was mildly tense because she was missing biology. She was about to ask when she’d be done and able to go back to class when Mrs. Patterson interrupted her thinking.
“Pammy, I’ll be honest with you because I want you to be honest with me. I believe . . . .” She started again, “Outside of school, is everything going ok?”
“Yes. Going ok.” Pammy answered brightly but could feel her stomach tighten up. However, she knew she hadn’t said anything to anyone so it couldn’t be that.
By just a tiny flinch, Mrs. Patterson could sense Pammy wasn’t telling the truth and it wouldn’t be easy to get her to say anything was wrong. She could probably ask Pammy outright, “Does Jake hit you?” And she’d say no. These girls are stubborn. She decided to try another way.
“Pammy, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything – you know, have things different, what would you wish for?”
“I’d like to have longer legs and naturally blond hair,” Pammy laughed.
“Me, too,” Mrs. Patterson laughed back. She paused for a few seconds and then said, “Well, now that we got the important things out of the way, is there anything else? Any people you’d ship to someplace else – out of your life?”
Pammy knew then, just as she had begun to suspect, this was about her and Jake. He had a temper and was very jealous. Last year before he graduated, he had beat up a guy who had talked to her in the hall. Jake knew where he lived and waited until it was dark. The kid was too scared to say anything, so nothing came of it, but Jake had bragged about it to a couple guys. Unless one of them had squealed, this woman knew nothing.
Jake had threatened her if she dared smile at another guy. One time he grabbed her arm and it felt like he was about to break it. She had to wear long sleeves for a couple weeks until the bruises went away. Once he had grabbed for her and she hit her head hard on the car window. The truth was, she was afraid of him, but no one could help her – not this woman, not anyone.
Pammy tried to break it off early in their relationship but Jake wouldn’t hear of it. Her parents were no help. They had problems of their own as low level, high functioning addicts -- health class terms she was all too familiar with. God forbid anyone would get wind of that. She’d just deal with this on her own.
Suddenly the bell rang and Pammy had to stop herself from jumping up. Mrs. Patterson thanked her for visiting with her, and Pammy possibly lied when she said she was glad to have met her. She then hurried out to look for Sheryl so she could find out how bad the test was.
In the crowded hall, Pammy was so stressed she almost ran past Sheryl who was in a hurry, too, but she did yell on her way by, “Pammy, call me tonight. Got to get to band practice. Bio was easy. Don’t worry.” And she was gone, which was good, because Pammy didn’t want to talk about being called to the office. Plus, on the phone she could ask Sheryl what some of the test questions were.
Back in the conference room, Ginny Patterson opened her laptop and found the file on Pammy, which – besides Pammy’s name, address, age 16, grade 11 – showed a box checked for Suspected abuse. Only one other box was checked: No response from parents.
Ginny began making a few notes under the personal interview section: “Pammy is as sweet as reported. After several attempts of prompting her, I could not get her to admit she is being abused. My hope is she will think about our conversation later and call me, but not likely. If I call Child Protective Services, that might just drive her to take off with Jake before she graduates. Short of asking directly, I couldn’t get her to budge. I quizzed her on what she’d change in her life and she just joked about it. She is emotionally silent. It’s reported that Jake B. has a controlling personality and I believe Pammy is in physical and emotional danger. Not sure there is anything I can do. Impossible to help someone who won’t admit they need help.”
Exasperated, Ginny shouted to the walls, “When will these kids stop letting other people do their thinking for them!?”
With an overwhelming sense of sadness and frustration, Ginny Patterson closed her laptop, sat for a few minutes staring out the window and then left the school – not even stopping to report to Dr. Winston what little she had discovered.
Meanwhile, Pammy, heading for her locker, decided if Jake got wind of her not being in class, she’d tell him that the office wanted to see her about some ideas they had for the next National Honor Society meeting. He’d go ballistic if he knew the truth – that someone was trying to interfere with them.
She was feeling extra tired because she didn’t like people prying into her life and examining her decisions. She was barely holding it together as it was.
She kept making her way down the hall, mostly in a daze. When she realized she was standing in front of her locker, she looked down and saw she was still clutching the half-sheet. She studied it for a couple seconds, neatly folded it up -- and threw it away.