There once was a boy named Peter who left our school when his mom moved his family to Maine. Here only a short time, he impacted our staff and school community in ways he will never be able to understand even if we could explain it to him in person. I’ve changed his name along with some other details surrounding his family for legal reasons, but his presence– along with others like him– has changed me forever as an educator, as a mother, and as a contributing member of society. I still wonder about him. Did his mom move again? Is she sober? Is she working? Is the abusive boyfriend out of jail? Did his younger brother ever get the counseling he needed? Did Peter make friends at his new school? Did his teachers embrace all that was Peter White like we did here? Does he participate in adaptive sports still? Does he have job now that he has aged out of public school? Does he lose his glasses every day and still sing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”?
I stopped by the house to pick him up on our way to the mountain like we did every Saturday and Sunday. This helped his mom out because she had no one to watch Peter when she went to work when the live-in boyfriend was arrested on domestic assault charges. But skiing was very good for Peter– both the physical development of his muscles along with the social development of chatting with the many other coaches and students at New England Disabled Sports. Mom had been doing well and even had come to watch Peter ski on the Magic Carpet at Loon Mountain. She was so proud of him, and I was so proud of her for making the time to come watch, despite a freezing cold day. Peter smiled, kept yelling, “Watch me, Mom,” and only wanted to wave at her as he skied between two coaches. At 17, Peter functioned in many ways like a 4 year old, which is why he and my son (actually 4 at the time) would argue over everything. Normally, Peter sat in the front seat of my car, adjusting the radio station, chatting away, super excited to eat the chocolate chip muffin I brought him, sometimes needed to encourage him away from the television set and re-runs of the Waltons.
However, on this morning, he did not come outside right away. I left the car running with my kids buckled safely in their car seats and went to the front door. The inside door glass had been smashed, and Peter was yelling and pacing the living room floor clearly agitated. Mom was a mess, and it was unclear to me who had actually punched the door. No one was bleeding, but Mom said she called the police. Had the boyfriend returned? Was the younger brother, who often provoked Peter, involved? I could not calm him down, and he did not have the tools to manage his emotions. The chocolate chip muffin could not sway him to come out of the house with me. If I could have just persuaded him into the yard, I could have driven him some place safe. He would have quietly eaten his muffin and whatever had frightened him or angered him at the house would have disappeared for the moment. My heart pounded for days after this incident, and Peter was never the same kid again.
When I was able to piece together the information, he had learned that his brother was getting to go to see their grandparents, but they wouldn’t take Peter because of his behavior. This was also shortly after he had witnessed his mom be beat up pretty badly. Peter did not want to leave the house because he worried about being left behind when his grandparents came to get his brother. The police had already been involved with this family for different reasons, between domestic distress, violence, and disturbing the peace. The police officers spoke to Peter in low quiet tones, full of understanding and compassion. He never again got in my car to go skiing, and this made me sad.
Mom was in a tough position without a car. The boyfriend who tracked them from Maine to NH did not work, so he could supervise Peter while mom worked as he could not be left alone. But Peter was afraid of him, and I would have been too. When he went to jail, Mom was safer but harder to employ because of sometimes having to bring Peter to work with her if he didn’t have someone to watch him. There were services available but coordinating the effort was often too much for Mom to manage. I always wished we could have done more for him. When she decided to move back to Maine where she had more family support, she asked us not to say goodbye to Peter because this would be very upsetting to him. His peers and teachers made his last day very special, but he never even knew it was good bye. One of his favorite activities at school was PE where other kids would walk laps with him in the gym, the Peter White Walkabout, and listen to Johnny Cash. I need to believe that our Peter Pan is living in a warm home and doing his Peter White Walkabout whenever possible.
2 thoughts on “Thinking of Peter Pan and Johnny Cash”
Oh, Heather. Such sweet, but heartbreaking, memories. Thinking about Peter and you.
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Thank you, Liz, we all have those kinds of stories as teachers, right? Happy New Year to you and your posse!