The Long Goodbye

I heard the door close in the outer office with its usual jingle from the dollar store Christmas bells tied above the window. A little chat followed and then Maria was in my office doorway telling me I had a visitor.

“Who is it?” I asked her as if screening a call.

“Don’t know,” she said. “Tall, dark hair and long legs.”

 “Sure send her on back; keeps me off the phone for a while.”

“Her name is Velma I think,” Maria confirmed.

As she walked into my office, opened toed shoes leading the way, she had a serious look on her face as I asked her to take a seat. She floated into an old blue chair and crossed her legs like someone who had been taught how to be a lady.

“What can I do for you, is it Velma?”

“That’s right, an old name, was my grandmothers; She passed a couple of years ago. I lost my best sitter and my kids’ favorite granny.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said with the sincerity you have for the person, not for the dead.

“Listen,” she said. “I’ll get right to the point. I’m worried about my kids.”

“Well, is your husband helping you keep an eye on them?”

“Sure, he’s a wonderful father; does all the things a father should do.”

“More worry is that when my two kids reach school age, the school system will be so messed up and broke that they will be in packed classrooms, with teachers that are worn out and the schools’ money will be lining some developer’s pockets. It seems to me that no one is looking out for the kids. At least the one that should be,” she said tearing up like she had lost her first high school boy friend.

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said, my forehead wrinkling in a puzzled look. That’s because I was puzzled. Why would she worry about her kids, who one, have not started school yet and two, will be attending one of the best school systems in the state.

She pulled back her brunette mane into a tight bunch with a hair tie that melted into her locks like a guitar lick into a jazz tune.  

“Tell me again why you’re so worried. How old are your kids?” I pried.

“They’re three and four and my oldest will be in kindergarten next year.”

“Seems to me like you have nothing to worry about. Why are you here, exactly? You must have an ulterior motive,” I said, knowing everyone has some sort of agenda.

“I’ve been watching this schools’ nonsense,” she said, composing herself. “If these characters keep taking money from the school system, what is going to be left for us?”

“Well,” I admitted, “I think we are…,” she cut me off.

She explained that she had done her homework, and that the elementary schools that are at the bottom of the list are Newport News schools. She said she really didn’t have an axe to grind, but it was her intention to give her children the best opportunity out there. She and her husband couldn’t afford to move to the Salisbury community, whose children attend Bettie Weaver Elementary, that gets such high marks on schooldigger.com, especially now that property assessments have dropped so much and they can’t get enough out of their house for a down payment.

“Here come the tears again,” I thought.

“What do I do?” I said to myself. You’re no gumshoe and if you were, what good would that do? I sure don’t have the wherewithal to make it happen.

“I don’t know what I can do to help.”

“I’ve seen what you’ve written about parity and how you would like to raise the boat in the eastern part of the county,” she said.

“These things do take time,” I said, my voice beginning to sound whiny.

“Well, it’s not going to get better if our schools continue to be robbed by the very people who are supposed to advocate for our children.”

“I’ve been watching the story Velma,” I said, not knowing how to give her much solice. She was like a wounded bird who you wanted to take back to her mother who flew off months earlier.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“All I can do is watch from the sidelines, just like you do, but I guess I have just a small advantage..”

“What’s that?”

“I can continue to tell people what’s going on until people stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’”

“That wasn’t exactly what I was looking for,” Velma responded. “But in this world, those who represent us just think they can do what they please and no one will notice.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

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