I have met few people who thrive on drama more than Gabriella. She is her own personal episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Jersey Shore. I honestly think that if she were stranded on a deserted island without any food or water, but still had drama, then she would somehow find a way to survive.
But every now and then, she quits jawing and slinging her hair and performing her finger-pointing-head-tilting mannerisms and actually grows sober. It might have been because Davion and Khianna were added to the class so she feels like she had an audience, or maybe she just felt like getting a few things off of her chest, I’m not sure. All I do know is that things got very real very quickly.
It was lunch time, and Gabriella randomly shouts, “Story time!” and sets her chair in front of my desk. I wasn’t amused and continued eating until, like buzzards drawn to a dead carcass, each student picked up their chair one-by-one and sat in a semi-circle in front of me. Then, Gabriella says, “I’ll go first…want to hear about when I was kidnapped?” This made me stop eating, because her mom told me that this had happened, and my principals told me that this had happened, and Gabriella had never once shown any vulnerability towards the subject. I expected her to laugh, or maybe look around the room to see whose attention she had grabbed, but instead she simply stared back at me with a solemn look on her face. I nodded in approval, and she began talking.
Something amazing happened then. No one said a word. No one disrupted or caused a scene or got bored or tried to sleep. It was the first time this entire school year where I did not have to call on someone to be quiet or quit acting like a fool. They sat quietly and listened as Gabriella’s voice filled the room. And oh, what a story it was…
Roughly three years ago, when Gabriella was eight or nine, their family was in Mexico visiting her mom’s boyfriend. One night, he told Gabriella’s mom how he wanted to touch Gabriella and some of the things that he wanted to do to her sisters. Their mom gathered them together and said that they were headed back to Tennessee. At the Mexican border, a man dressed in a border patrol uniform stepped onto the bus and tried to get Gabriella’s mom to leave, but she wouldn’t go anywhere without her family. So, Gabriella and her five siblings were shoved into a car and taken to another house.
They were held ransom at the house for 18 days, and it was in those 18 days that Gabriella would see more than most adults will see in their lifetime. Every room was filled with people. Some were chained hand-to-hand or hand-to-foot or foot-to-foot, so that when one of them was tased, it echoed through the line and all of them received the shock. Gabriella said that each member of her family was tortured in some way, whether it was her brother being blindfolded and locked in a closet or her sisters being physically beaten or her mother being forced to sleep with one of the kidnappers. At one point, another one of her brothers found an escape hole, but no one would go through it because they were afraid of getting shot.
Finally, the kidnappers called Gabriella’s uncle to demand the ransom money—$6,000 per person. Her uncle went to the cops, and through a chain of events, the cops were able to track the phone number and find the house where Gabriella’s family was being held captive. Everyone in the house was rescued, the kidnappers were thrown in jail, and to this day, Gabriella is still in counseling over the whole mess.
Even after the students had left for the day, Gabriella’s voice seemed to linger in the silence.