Elizabeth (Liz) Murray
A couple of years ago, a story aired on television that left such an impression on me that I felt compelled to write to the young lady the story was about. Her name is Elizabeth "Liz" Murray, a young girl living in New York, who at the age of 16, was not only homeless, but her mother had died, and her father was a drug addict. The difference in Liz was that in spite of the circumstances she had to deal with, she fought the odds and she won. I donít know if she got my letter, but after seeing her story, I wanted very much to be able to tell her how much I admire her. Not long after her story was televised, a movie about her life was made. Lizís parents were both drug addicts, and her mother, in addition to being a drug addict, was also an alcoholic. In the interview that I watched, Liz told how there was never any food in the filthy house she, her sister, and their parents lived in. She described how she would have to step over piles of feces crawling with maggots to get to her room. Her mother would often sell things out of the house when she was desperate for drug money, and once, she even sold Lizís sisterís winter coat. Liz was teased a lot at school because her clothes smelled bad and she was dirty. Her parents eventually separated, and Liz stayed with her father until they lost the apartment when child welfare authorities found out she wasnít attending school. She was put in a youth facility for a while, and after learning her mother had developed aids as well as tuberculosis, she put everything she could squeeze into a backpack, and at age 15, headed out on her own. Liz sometimes slept at friendsí homes, but not without asking to clean the house so she might earn the right to be there. But in spite of that, she felt as she was constantly inconveniencing everyone. At times she slept on park benches or in the subway. If it was cold, she rode the trains all night or would sleep in apartment hallways. Sometimes a couple of weeks would go by between baths, and there was the endless walking, walking, walking.
After Lizís mother died, she decided she wanted to go back to high school. Her father, who also had aids, was living in a menís shelter by then. She brought him to school to help her convince school authorities by lying to them, saying that they had a home together because Liz didnít want to back to a youth facility. After getting back into school, she poured herself into her studies. She studied everywhere ... in school hallways, libraries, stairwells in apartment building, and even though she was still homeless, she finished high school in just two years, acing many of her classes. Her senior year, she got a part-time job and was able to save enough to share an apartment. She won a college scholarship and decided not only that she wanted to go to college, but it was prestigious Harvard she would attend. The day the letter came telling her she had been accepted to Harvard, she made phone call after phone call screaming to the person on the other end of the line, "Iím going to Harvard! Iím going to Harvard!" At 19, she landed a job with The New York Times. And while some good things were happening in Lizís life, the lives of her sister and father by this time had improved too. Her sister found a place to live nearby, and her father kicked drugs and has his own apartment. In spite of everything she went through growing up, Liz had this to say: "Iím not angry with my parents. They cared very much about me, and I loved them back. They were addicts since before both my sister and I were born, and probably should have never had kids. Iím grateful to them. They taught me things - they showed me which way not to go. But I also have good memories. I remember my mother coming into my bedroom at night, tucking me into bed. I remember her singing. If I could tell her anything today, Iíd say, "Donít worry about me anymore. Iím gonna be fine, and thank you for everything. And, I love you."
I remember thinking as I watched the interview with Liz that if ever there were two people who had an excuse to sink in despair, and to follow in the footsteps of their drug addicts parents, it was Liz and her sister. But that amazing spirit Liz possesses prevailed, making me want to stand on the sidelines and cheer "Go Elizabeth!" If only everyone faced with even slightly similar problems could be as strong as she is to overcome such hardships and difficulties, the problems created because of drug use might not be on almost everyoneís doorstep. Even in a small rural town like Livingston, just about everywhere you look, a family is suffering with problems that drug use brings about. There probably isnít a family here that doesnít have a member, or at least is aware of someone who is plagued because of drug abuse. It seems to me that the solutions society offers are not working with this overwhelming problem, and itís so discouraging to know that our world has come to this. Watching the many lives drug abuse is destroying right here in our little town, itís easy to think that it can do nothing but get worse. But the story about Liz gave me hope simply because as a small child growing up in a home where drug use was an everyday occurrence by her own parents, she never participated herself. I find that so amazing! She is a very rare and precious person. A phrase she used when she described her parents "they showed me which way not to go" is one of the reasons she succeeded in achieving what she set out to do. I believe she has a great future ahead, and the accomplishments she has already made are more than most people many years older have ever been able to do.
|The reason Liz came to my mind
recently was because of a story written by a sixth grade student at Wilson
Elementary that was passed along to me. The studentís name is Rebekkah
Hegdecoth, and I want to stress the similarities I see between Liz and
Rebekkah are not at all because Rebekkah has grown up with parents who are
drug addicts, or that she is homeless. Quite the opposite is true.
Rebekkah describes her family as "wonderful". But what I believe both
Rebekkah and Liz share, and what makes them alike in my eyes is that
spirit and determination to reach out and accomplish their fullest
potential, and to do well with their lives. Liz has proven there have been
no obstacles in her life so far that she hasnít been able to overcome.
Only time will tell for Rebekkah, but in the meantime, her story written
in her own words is as follows: "My story begins as a young, carefree
child. I was lucky to have a wonderful family. I had a hard working dad, a
gentle mom, two noble brothers, and one kind sister. We were poor and
lived in a small, worn out trailer in Pleasant Hill in Crossville. We went
to visit my grandparents a lot, and I normally begged to spend the night.
All the time I spent there, I enjoyed very much. My great-grandparents
would come over sometimes. Not long after my second birthday, my
great-grandmother died. I remember it as it if were yesterday. I was
sitting in the cold waiting room with my brothers and sister. We all knew
that Grannie was upstairs, deathly ill. I glanced over at the elevator and
saw Dad come out. He had a mournful look on his face. I hoped it wasnít
what I was thinking. He came over to us and said, "Guys, Grannie just
died, and weíre gonna go upstairs and see her." The news hit me like a
bullet. I felt tears of sorrow come into my eyes. I couldnít believe that
one of my wise grandmothers was dead. While we went up in the elevator,
the tears had began to run down by cheeks. Over my dadís shoulder, I could
see my brothers and sister, a look of great sadness on their faces. As we
entered the room I could hear the weeping of my many relatives. When Dad
turned around, I saw Grannie lying on the bed. She looked as if she was
just sleeping. At least thatís what I had hoped, but I knew she had really
passed away. Not long after that, one of my favorite great-uncles died. As
time went by, the pain decreased. Then I realized it was time to start
thinking about the present instead of keeping my head in the past. I still
spent nights with Nannie, even though I knew Grannie wouldnít be there.
At age three, I started Headstart. On my first day, I was a little nervous, and didnít know how to make friends. Once I got to know everyone, I had a lot of fun. I looked forward to playtime everyday and I still do.
During the one year I was there, I enjoyed myself, but the time soon came I had to leave Headstart to go to kindergarten. That time I was REALLY nervous. The school was so huge and I was so small. Luckily, I had my sister there to help me through breakfast. When I left, I somehow ended up in the wrong classroom. The teacher took me to Mrs. Lauraís class where she showed me where to sit. This is where I learned to pay attention to what youíre doing.
Sometime during that year, my brother and sister were born. Rachel fine and healthy, but a week after Seth was born, Mom and Dad took a trip to the hospital. Seth was really sick. The doctors said he might not survive, but if he did, he wouldnít act like a normal kid. Luckily, Seth survived. Soon after that, my parents had to go back. Rachel hit her head on the coffee table pretending she was bull riding. She stopped breathing and her eyes started to roll back into her head. Iíll never forget seeing my little sister just lying there, helpless. Damien, my oldest brother, ran to Grandmaís house to call 911.
Mom and Dad went with Rachel while the rest of us stayed at Grandmaís house. There must have been many angels with us those two emergencies, because Rachel and Seth survived.
Soon after that, I had my first case of the chicken pox. I recall lying on the floor with a teddy bear blanket over me. I donít remember much else because I was too busy scratching. A few months later, I had my first loose tooth. I was alarmed at this and I asked my mom about it. "Oh, donít worry," she said, "itís supposed to do that so it will fall out." At this, I covered my mouth with my hands. When my tooth was ready to come out, my parents tried to persuade me every day that it didnít hurt. Some older kids in my class said it did. Then one night, my Dad pulled it. When it came out, it didnít hurt one bit. I then learned, some people you can trust and some you canít.
Soon, my parents got in a fight and divorced. I had to choose ... Mom or Dad. I chose Mom. We started spending weeks with relatives near Monterey. We decided to get a trailer near Nannieís house. After weeks of staying with many relatives, our trailer was opened up. We had a few blankets, but no beds, so we had to sleep on the floor. That first morning, we didnít have any tables either, so I suggested using boxes. We did, and had our first breakfast in the trailer I now call home. I learned then to make do with what youíve got.
Then comes my first day at Wilson Elementary. I was still in kindergarten. I didnít know any of the kids, but I soon learned the names of every kid in the class. As I graduated kindergarten, I learned the way I spelled my name is kind of unique and should make sure people spell it right. The reason is that on my kindergarten diploma, my name was not spelled the way I spell it.
In second grade, I was given a special test. It was in a small room, like a storage room. The test was really long. When I finished, I simply went back to my room. When the results arrived, they said my I.Q. was 133 and asked me if I wanted to go to high school. Most kids would have said yes, but I said no. I wanted to stay with my friends. I knew there were many more things I would need to learn in the years to come, so instead of high school, they put me in a gifted program where every Monday, I would get together with other kids and do special things that to me were fun.
Then I moved on to fourth grade. I had my old first grade teacher, Mrs. Wanda Phillips, and in the fifth grade, I had the same teacher. Mrs. Wanda gave us a lot of essays and reports to do. One of them I did was on litter. Mine was chosen to go to the county. I won third place and $150.00. I learned then that if you work hard, you will be rewarded.
Iím in the sixth grade now, and I am doing very well. Now that Iíve told you about some of the past events of my life, I start to think about the future and all it might hold in store for me. Yet I know that with family and friends, I can overcome anything."
After reading Rebekkahís story, I find myself again at the sidelines cheering "Go Rebekkah! You can do it! Whatever you want out of life can be yours! Just hang in there, and donít let anything stand in your way. Donít let the ways of the world cause you to stray from whatever goals you have for your life, even if those goals seem impossible for you to reach. If you should become discouraged, just remember Liz and all she overcame. And someday weíll be reading another story about you and what wonderful things you too have done with your life." And I hope to be able to do a follow up story to let everyone know all the accomplishments youíve made in your life. And, you know what, something tells me Iíll be doing just that!