“Put your mask on Carly,” even though she was only seven, Carly knew what that meant. Mommy was telling her to pretend like nothing had happened, like Daddy had not hit Mommy and Mommy hadn’t cried all night. She had been afraid to go to sleep; last night was worse than most nights. She screamed once, she couldn’t stop it. Daddy said if she did it again she would be a concrete angel; she didn’t know what that meant but Mommy had been afraid when he said it. She put on the expressionless face she had learned to wear and wondered how Mommy was going to put on a mask that would cover all the bruises on her face when she took her to school.
Her teacher, Mrs. Abrams was on bus duty that day. She saw the car pull up and noticed the expression on little Carly’s face as she quickly got out of the car and closed the door. She had been concerned about the little girl for a long time; today she was alarmed. Carly’s mother had tried to turn away, but not before she saw the dark bruises and cuts on her face. She saw the look of alarm and even fear cross the woman’s face. Something terrible was going on in Carly’s home, she just knew it.
Just after attendance, she gave the class work to complete and called Carly to her desk. She saw her little legs shaking as she made her way to the desk and knew the reality of ‘shaking in her shoes.’ Her expression was fixed, showing no emotion until you looked into her eyes. She saw the tears welling up; she was frightened and genuinely upset. She decided to be straight forward, hoping Carly would understand she could trust her through her honest approach.
“Carly, I noticed your mother’s face was bruised and cut this morning when she dropped you off. Did something happen at home last night? Did someone hit your mother?”
Carly seemed surprised at her words. She looked at the floor and whispered, “No, nothing.”
“Carly, I have been very concerned about you for quite some time. I know something is happening in your home. I think you and your mother are in danger. Please be honest with me, I intend to get to the bottom of this but I will not hurt you or your mother. Do you understand?” Carly continued looking down; she shook her head indicating she had understood.
“I’m not allowed to talk about it; my Mommy said it will only make things worse if I do.” The tears began falling down her little face. Mrs. Abrams wrapped her arms around the little girl. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed and sobbed, it was heartbreaking. She called the office and asked for someone to come and mind her class while she took Carly to the Nurse’s station. They needed privacy; something was terribly wrong.
Carly seemed comforted by the uniform the nurse was wearing; somehow she seemed to accept that help was there for her. Finally the sobs grew fainter and then stopped. Carly sat on a sofa, her little legs dangling, too short to even reach the floor; her teacher on one side the nurse on the other. Finally she stopped shaking.
“What is a concrete angel?” The words were spoken so quietly that both adults thought they had not heard correctly. They stared at one another; surely they had not heard those words! She asked again, louder this time. “What does it mean if someone is going to be a concrete angel? I don’t want to be a concrete angel!”
The nurse spoke softly, comforting the child. “Carly, did someone say those words to you?” Carly began crying again. She quietly repeated what had happened in their home last night, and how her father had shouted at her; “If you scream again, you’re going to be a concrete angel.” She told them she was not allowed to talk to anyone about what happened in her house, that Daddy would kill Mommy. She began crying loudly again, obviously fearing she had betrayed her mother.
“Carly, it is not safe for you or your mother to be in a home where this is happening. I am going to ask you to trust me. We are going to talk to your mother. If she agrees to leave, a temporary place will be found for both of you. If she will not leave, you will be taken out of the home until other arrangements can be made for you and hopefully your mother. We are not doing this to hurt you; we are trying to save your life. Do you understand?”
The girl’s voice quivered; she shook her head, indicating she understood. The nurse held her until the social worker arrived. Carly left with her while a police officer and another social worker went to talk to her mother. Her injuries were obvious; yet she refused to press charges or leave her husband, even knowing her daughter had been taken away from her. The officer told her the state might very well press charges without her consent.
Carly’s mother and father were dead when the officer arrived the next morning to arrest her father. It was ruled a murder-suicide. They could only surmise that her father had been enraged when he learned that his sick secret was out and that he would probably be arrested. He had turned his rage on his wife; her broken body had been beaten nearly beyond recognition. A single gunshot wound to the head had killed him.
Years later, as Carly visited her mother’s grave she placed flowers and prayed she was safe now; it had never stopped hurting, maybe it never would. If her mother had left that day they would both be alive. She stood to leave and stared at the concrete angel atop the headstone, giving silent thanks to Mrs. Abrams for caring enough to notice and then insisting she tell the truth. It had saved her life and inspired her to become a teacher who would never be afraid to insist on the truth or notice what was happening to the children in her class. Many times teachers are unknowingly the first responders that save fragile, innocent lives of those too weak or small to save themselves.
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