September 8, 2016
NEW TAMPA — Sometimes a raw deal can knock a person off track.
So it was for Crystal Ramroop, who was 16 when her mother’s heart gave out.
“She was my best friend,” said Ramroop, now 18. “Every time something happened in my life, I told her first. It wasn’t real until she knew.”
She had called the ambulance and as a gurney took her mother away, Ramroop watched her mother’s eyes roll back ominously.
Ramroop fell to her knees in the middle of the road and wailed.
Her mother lingered in the hospital for a month in a vegetative state. Ramroop visited every day and stroked her mother’s face and held her hand.
“Mama, I love you so much. I miss you.”
A tear would roll down her face.
Doctors said it was time to decide when to take her off life support but then she slipped away.
• • •
Ramroop’s life became a struggle and she wondered what she had done to deserve this. It would seem she had buried her childhood with her mother.
Midway through her senior year at Wharton High School, everyone — even Ramroop — had given up on her graduating. She had missed too much school: 85 days one year and 75 the next.
And yet, mere months later, she was recognized with the district’s Turnaround Achievement Award, for making the biggest come back in her school.
On Wednesday, she crossed the stage to take her diploma; she wore her mother’s cross around her neck.
“I feel like she’ll be there with me,” Ramroop said before the ceremony.
• • •
Parents play a pivotal role in our lives.
For Ramroop, it was a surreal feeling: knowing the person who gave her life was gone.
“It feels kind of like a string that runs up from the top of your head has been cut,” she said.
She cried an ocean that first week, and then she was dry.
She dreamed her mother was alive but when she would wake, she realized the crushing truth. She replayed the days before her mother died with different outcomes. She wished she had been home more. Wished she had called for help sooner.
Her mother had been the backbone of the family.
She had worked as a security guard and paid the bills and held the family together. Ramroop was the youngest of her 8 children.
When most of the older ones were still at home, they would pile into her van and drive to the beach on weekends. It was their happy place. Her mother would relax and forget about her troubles. On the way home, they’d stop at Golden Corral where Ramroop would skip dinner for a lovely stream of ice cream swirled into a bowl, despite her mother’s scolding.
As Ramroop grew older, she would come in the door to a hug and they would sit for hours at the kitchen table, just talking. She would tell her to not give up when things were hard at school.
It’s those little things she misses most.
• • •
After her mother’s death, she was living with her father in an apartment. He was not coping well. She began to take care of him, stepping into a role her mother had played.
Her father got a girlfriend. His health deteriorated. He was staying out late, Ramroop said. She waited up for him, calling at 3 a.m. to beg him to come home.
Her friends soon fell away. Often, in the mornings, she was too tired to go to school. She couldn’t focus on algebra when she feared a knock on her door would be the news that she had lost her remaining parent.
Ramroop begged rides and borrowed food stamps. But she couldn’t hold things together at home.
One day, she went to school and told a counselor about an eviction notice. She was going to be homeless.
But the counselor had a different plan. She referred Ramroop to a nonprofit called Starting Right, Now.
Ramroop is one of 13 students in the program countywide who are graduating from high school this month. None of them were on track to make it when they signed up. Now, one is joining the Marines, and the others are going to college.
• • •
The program takes homeless kids who have the grit to succeed. It’s intense, and Ramroop wasn’t sure at first. There are rules and structure, all of which felt alien to her. And, she feared her father would die without her. But she is learning that she is responsible only for herself.
In August, she starts classes at Hillsborough Community College. Then she plans to transfer to the University of South Florida and become a therapist.
Her mother’s absence is a constant pain. Like missing part of her heart, she said.
But you learn to live with the void in your heart.
You have no choice.
Ramroop wants to honor her mother’s legacy. She wants to go to college and to find her own happy place.
She recently heard something in a Mindfulness Rational Living course, a requirement of the program, about the joy of giving to others.
It’s true, she said: “The best way to be happy is to help someone else.”
Contact Elisabeth Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org.