The hospital staff knew me by name, as I was the substitute mother for those students who lived far from home. At the university, I was in charge of student services, and as such was brought into the after-classroom life of students. Many nights I had left the comfort of home to sit bedside with a barely conscious scholar—someone who had drunk too much, fought too fiercely, or had done something else foolish.
Mary knew who I was when I walked into her room, but I had never met her. With tubes of medications flowing into her veins, she whispered she was sorry that I was awakened. Struggling to speak, she explained her story.
She thought the baby was due the end of December, and had it been born then, only her boyfriend and his family would have known. He wanted the baby, she explained. He beat her, she added. She was afraid of him and was terrified that he would soon be at the hospital.
Mary had told no one of the pregnancy—not her parents, not her friends, not medical personnel, not anyone at the university. For eight months, she hid her condition under layers of clothes. Everyone thought she was just overweight.
Suddenly there was shouting outside the door. Three women rushed into Mary’s room and demanded the baby; nurses were in pursuit and tried to get them out—explaining that the infant was in the morgue. They would not accept that this was the case. They threatened Mary; they threatened the nurses; they threatened me. And, then the police arrived and removed them.
I always think of Mary at this time of the year and wonder how she is doing. After she recovered, she sought counseling, left her abusive boyfriend and graduated from the university. Maybe she is an attorney now—or a doctor, a teacher, a social worker. Whatever her profession, she is a remarkable human being, a survivor who surmounted difficulties that most of us only read about in the papers.
Mary was not the only student I met covered with bruises, though she was the first student I knew who carried a baby through her secret travails. Sadly, one-third of adolescents in America are victims of dating abuse. One-third. And though schools have a role in educating students about healthy relationships, it is we—the public—who shoulder the primary responsibility.
It is we who teach our youth about love.