From time to time I Google former students. I admit it, I do. My first students are now in their early twenties- adults. Some of them are my Facebook friends and I love watching their lives continue from afar.
Jasmine was in seventh grade when she was my student. She would now be seventeen. Recently, I Googled her, hoping to see her infectious smile and a life she had miraculously turned around.
Instead, I found a missing person report.
Jasmine had beautiful blue eyes and layered blond hair. She wore heavy pink lip gloss and smelled like cherry bubble gum. Jasmine lived with her dad, a drummer in a small-town, local-band who hung out in bars and often did not come home at night. She told me she wanted to go live with her mom, but last she knew her mom was living in a hotel in Oklahoma. It had been years since she had seen her.
One morning, Jasmine came into my classroom with bloodshot eyes and mascara stained tears dried on her cheeks. She told me she had been up all night helping her fifteen-year-old boyfriend puke. He had drank too much and was really sick. She nursed him till he passed out. Then she came to school.
Seventh grade was the last year Jasmine attended school. Living with little adult supervision, Jasmine made bad choices. She lived recklessly and found trouble. Once she was a passenger in a car that rolled on the highway and ejected her into a ditch. When she was released from the hospital, she returned to school for a few days. Her hair was now jet-black, but her smile was the same. I helped her apply lotion to the road burns on her back.
Boys used Jasmine’s body. They took advantage of the fact she was often alone and didn’t tell them to stop. Surely Jasmine’s heart had gaping holes and attention from boys temporarily filled them.
I last saw Jasmine at a Holiday gas station. She was fifteen then, her hair was back to blond and her tiny body was drowning in an oversize men’s sweatshirt. Her smile was more tired, but still radiant. She was carrying her 3-month-old son.
Jasmine told me about her scary, emergency C-section and awkwardly we shared stories of breastfeeding. I looked over at the old, white Chevy where two boys waited for her to buy baby formula. Their windows were wide open and the bass from their music was vibrating things inside the store. I wondered if she had a base for her car seat in there.
There are so many things I wish I had told Jasmine. So many things I am sure she never heard. Jasmine, if there is any chance you read this someday, there are some things I want you to know.
I am sorry life was so unfair to you. You did not deserve that. It was not your fault. You deserved someone to tuck you in at night and tell you how special you are. You deserved to be told you are beautiful and resilient. You are strong and tough and sweet and kind. I hope you know the world is better because of your smile. You are important and you matter. I am sorry no one ever told you that, Jasmine. I am sorry I never told you. I remember you Jasmine and I think of you often. Wherever you are, I pray that you are ok.