So that I won't bore you with another long story, I'm just going to list as many of the things that I have experienced and learned during the time after "the incident." (not necessarily in chronological order or order of importance... I'm just writing as I remember them.)
But before I get going with the list, I have to highlight the most unlikely and incredible event:
On the way home from our honeymoon, Travis and I stopped at a rest stop in the northern part of Alabama. As I walked into the building, I saw a dad talking to his son about Fahrenheit vs Celcius while looking at a thermometer on the porch. This wasn't anything amazing, except that the son was a teenager and had Down Syndrome.
I remember thinking - boy, that kid must have some great parents and have had some amazing teachers. (Not that I don't believe those with Down Syndrome can't learn - in fact, I feel totally the opposite - but because of stigmas and fewer opportunities than others, many can't reach their personal potential.)
It was a passing thought and I quickly went inside the building to the restroom so we could get back on the road.
As I walked in, I saw a woman who looked familiar. In fact, we each did a double-take. But I'm HORRIBLE with faces and I assumed she simply looked like someone I knew.
I mean, what are the chances of running into someone I actually know at a rest stop in northern AL? I've lived in the Birmingham area and the Knoxville area, so if I was in one of those places, it would be a definite possibility, but a random rest stop?
I kept trying to place the face with a name while, um, actually using the restroom, and couldn't come up with anything.
Imagine my surprise when I walked out to see all three standing together... and at that moment it hit me.
This was the student who I advocated for, taking the side of the parents and against what my school system proposed - the student who I was told that I couldn't talk to the parents outside of class (I snuck them notes) - the student who was much smarter than the school system would give him credit for.
The student who my school system wanted to put in a CDC class (one for students who have a really, really hard time learning) instead of getting special help in order for him to be in regular classes.
(Excuse me while I take a minute to bask in this amazing memory...)
Looking back, I feel this was the major situation that led to my being micromanaged, stressed further in an already stressful job, and eventually losing my career.
So, in a way, it was because I believed in this student so much that led to so much heartache, pain, and loss - but then became the best thing that ever could have happened to me.
(Back to the story...)
I couldn't pick my jaw up off the floor. I stood there, staring, wondering if I was dreaming. I could barely form words.
My new husband, Travis, stepped in and worded for me. The mom (I'm keeping their names anonymous) told me how he was doing.
HE WAS IN REGULAR CLASSES!
He had lots of modifications, of course, but if I hadn't gone to bat for him, his life could literally be completely different. He could have been put in that CDC class and wouldn't have even been exposed to the vast majority of information typical students get.
Even though he's smart, he would have gotten further and further behind as the years went on and would have probably graduated with a special education diploma instead of a regular one.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that those things are bad. There are many students for whom that is a wonderful plan. But not for this little guy. I knew he had more in him.
Even with everything that happened with "the incident" (and I still don't know how much they know of the entire story), this mom had reached out to me a few times through the years to ask about how to handle certain situations. Those boosts helped me tamp down the shame I felt about what happened and it seems they helped her keep advocating for him.
She told me she is still tired of fighting, but she's done really well getting him the services he needed to get him to this point. As he ages, he'll probably need more and more support and may not be in regular classes at all by the end of high school (I doubt it, but it's possible) but my school system had wanted to give up on him in KINDERGARTEN.
I'm so proud of her and his dad.
I'm not bragging, but I'm also so proud of the fact that I pushed the school system to give him what he needed instead of what they wanted to give and that I continued to encourage her to advocate for him.
My life is wonderful now (not perfect, mind you, in fact far from it) but you know what?
Even if it wasn't wonderful, it would have been so worth it anyway. He was worth it. That family was worth it.
And God used it all.