Stephanie managed to hold it together most of the way out of the hospital. Opening the door to her car the floodgates again opened. She sat in her car for ten minutes and cried again. In all honesty, Stephanie didn’t remember the last time she had cried before tonight. She was one of those people who pushed emotions down to get them out of the way. Tonight though they came rushing up with a vengeance.
Before she left she needed more information. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the piece of paper that Mr. Case had given her. It was the name of the Price Elementary principal and the school phone number. That wasn’t going to get her any information tonight so she decided to call in a favor.
Local coaches were a tight bunch, for the most part. Occasionally you got one that was in it to win it at all costs, but for the most part they were there for the kids and that meant that they were a reasonable, if not friendly group.
“Hey Cyndi, this is Stephanie from Lincoln.”
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m good, but I need to see if I can get a big favor.”
“You used to teach at Price right?”
“Was Mrs. Ellis the principal then?”
“Yes she’s been there like twenty years. Why do you ask?”
“I need to get a hold of her tonight.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Yes and no I need to talk to her about a student from a few years ago and its kind of an emergency that can’t really wait until tomorrow.”
The other coach understood the urgency in her voice. “I don’t think I have it, but let me make a call and I’ll get it for you.”
“I appreciate this so much.”
“Is it a player?”
She hesitated, “Yes, Cyndi some of these kids have been through so much…” She had to stop because she was about to lose it again.
“I know. Let me work on it and I’ll text you the number.”
“Thanks so much.”
Stephanie didn’t know what to do. She need to get home, but she really wanted to talk to Mrs. Ellis to see how Emmy had gotten into the system.
Thankfully she didn’t have to wait long. Her phone buzzed. “Here is the number and she’s waiting on your call.”
Breathing deep she dialed. “Is this Stephanie?”
“Yes, Mrs. Ellis.”
“Are you calling about Emmy Taylor?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“Cyndi called my house to make sure it was OK to give out the number. When she told me were you were from I knew who it was about. Emmy Taylor was one of those kids that always smiled. She was a good student a happy kid. But we all knew that poverty was lurking below that smile.”
“The Sunday night before Christmas break was over Mr. Rogers our custodian came in to turn the heat back up and check everything over before the kids came back in the morning. He did all his checks and left. Realizing he forgot his phone he came back inside and heard something in the gym. Opening the door there was a basketball rolling across the floor and the back door out of the gym slammed. He called the cops, concerned that there was more than one person in the school.”
“The cops came checked out the school and noticed a light on in the girl’s locker room.” She stopped and took a deep breath. “Inside they found a little coat and a backpack along with a plastic bag of clothes. One of the gymnastic mats was laid out and it was obvious that someone had been staying there over the break. They called me and we went through the backpack.”
“It was Emmy’s. We started calling all the numbers we had on file and they were all disconnected. I found the manager of the trailer park where they had been living. Apparently they’d been evicted in July. We had no cell phone number or work number for Mom and there were no other emergency contacts listed for Emmy.”
“This was the year that it was like zero all of Christmas week and there were several inches of snow on the ground. So the police and people from school started searching for her. She wasn’t wearing a coat and it was 3 degrees that night.”
“At 4:22 in the morning one of the officers radioed that he’d found her. She was three blocks from school in an alley. By the time I go there the ambulance was there and the EMT’s were working on her. She’d been unconscious when they found her but she was beginning to come around. They let me ride in the ambulance with her to the hospital.” She had to stop again. “As it started I took her hand and she climbed in my lap and held on so tight.”
“At the hospital they said that she had mild frostbite to her fingers and ears, but that it would heal. She was suffering from hypothermia but they were most concerned by the malnutrition. Afraid she couldn’t get back in she had just stayed in the school, alone, through the Christmas break. Which meant that she hadn’t eaten a real meal in almost two weeks. The lunchroom was locked up so she’d gone through classrooms and found some candy and a couple packs of crackers but that was it.”
“We almost came back from break to find a dead child in the school.”
Stephanie felt for Mrs. Ellis. These were the same feelings of guilt that she’d felt all night. “Do you know what happened to her mother?”
“No she left for work on Christmas Eve of the year before and never came home. Emmy just went on coming to school like nothing was wrong. The trailer park manager said that Mrs. Taylor had gotten a Christmas bonus at one of her jobs and had paid the rent on their trailer ahead for six months. He said it wasn’t that weird she always paid that first. Said that she’d rather not have electricity or water than no roof over their heads.”
“In June he hadn’t gotten a payment and he’d given her an extra month. He saw the kid around but hadn’t been able to make contact with the mom, so in July he evicted them. No one had ever come to get the stuff and after that day he didn’t see the kid around anymore.”
“So where was Emmy from July until Christmas?” Stephanie couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Living on the streets.”
“An 8 year old?”
“That’s what I said. She and her mom had often not had food and had relied on soup kitchens so she just fit in. She told me that there was a lady named Jane that gave her a sleeping bag and that they hung out and went to the kitchens together until the weather turned and Emmy had hidden in the school.”
“Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better once she entered the system.” Stephanie squeezed her eyes shut and braced for what was about to come. “I tried to keep an eye on her and found that was hard. She was withdrawn, rarely spoke, and never smiled so families weren’t jumping at the chance to adopt her. Without adoption the foster system was her only option. She went from home to home unable to make attachments. After the first two, she was placed outside of our district and she moved to another school. I lost touch and was unable to find out anything more than that she was still bouncing around the system. How is she now?”
“Still fighting.” It was all Stephanie could say. “Thank you so much for the information.”