AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! I didn’t know the girl. I had never seen her around campus before. She wasn’t one of my students. By the time she and her friend stopped by, I was only trying to make it through the end of the day in the insane asylum known as a middle school. Knowing my penchant for classroom management, the administration had grown wise over my years of service and had given me small classes. Last year, I had 30 students; this year I only had three. The day the girl and her friend stopped by, I had zero. One boy got suspended for misbehaving in my class, and another missed his ride to school and was helping his mother clean the house. A third one did show up, but I sent him home because he was ill. There is such a thing as nirvana. During the last period of the day, after spending several periods of complete and utter freedom, the girl and her friend stopped by asking if we could talk. The teacher they usually talk to had left for the day, so when they saw my door open, they stopped by my room. They were supposed to be in P.E. Knowing how all P.E. teachers feel about physical fitness, I called the department and submitted my carefully worded request. The answer was a conditional yes, provided that they met with their counselor. I reluctantly agreed, knowing that they just wanted someone to talk to. It didn’t have to be a clinically trained professional, just someone who would listen. As we meandered to the counseling office, walking on the sidewalk and under the trees, we talked about love and relationships and just about anything else that came up. One of the girls was distraught because she was in the middle of a breakup. “Maybe this person isn’t ready for a relationship,” I told her. “You can’t change another person, so maybe you can be friends.” “But I don’t want to be alone,” she said. “It’s better to be alone than to be with someone who makes you wish you were,” I said remembering a quote from Ann Landers. “My other teacher said that I am looking for love,” she said. “We all are.” And we talked about our mothers and how sticky the relationship can be. The other girl said she was going to turn 14 the next day, and even though her mom had given gifts and thrown parties for her other children, she always let this birthday pass without any celebration or fanfare. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t see how any mother wouldn’t be proud of a child who talked to her friends until they felt better, who brought home straight A’s and who was smart and beautiful and hip and kind. It was as if by ignoring her child on her birthday and at other times belittling her, she could somehow erase the night of drinking and drugs that led to an unwanted teenage pregnancy. I thought of my own mother and all the birthdays I had had with cakes and parties and candles. Even now, no matter where we are in the relationship, my mother always remembers my birthday. “We’re going to have a party for you tomorrow,” I said after some thought. At her party the next day during lunch, while her friends with the dyed-black hair and metal chains ate chocolate cupcakes and chocolate-chip cookies and drank juice from cartons that my aide bought from the cafeteria, I went outside to get some water and saw the girl standing outside the door. She lowered her eyes, fumbled fingers and said, “Thank you” in a small, soft voice. It was nothing, I told her. In giving to her, I had really given to myself. Gail-Tzipporah Saunders is a San Fernando Valley writer.