I was in a DSS math class thirteen years ago. I took the class at my community college, where I was probably spending too much time. I had a deep fear I was never going to be able to go to a regular college, so I wanted to take all the english classes I could. I was twenty-three and math had been a albatross since I was six years old.
I did like the teacher of the class. That semester we had a new TA. She just recieved her degree from St. Mary's. She was pretty-blonde hair and wore long skirts. I would be working on math and she would say "You need any help?" I looked at her thinking if I needed help, I would ask for it, lady.
She always was asking if I needed help. I didn't want her help. I didn't even want to be in the class. I knew I was learning disabled but I wouldn't admit I was learning disabled. I didn't need anyone's help, thank you very much. This was a waste of my time, of everyone's time. It wasn't the actual math I had problems with. It was the fact that I couldn't line up my numbers, that I couldn't place them correctly. How could she help me with that? I thought she was some do-gooder from St. Mary's who had it made and everything was just cushy for her. She had no idea what it was like to struggle.
Nine years later. After leaving the community college for a while I came back, realizing I needed to transfer, do something in my life than to just drift. A couple of friends of mine were organizing a Women of the Year event sponsored by my community college during International Women's Month. I went to the ceremony, knowing I would get choked up.
A woman stood up and said that she was failing math. Oh, sister. I know that feeling. However, she told the story that she was helped by a math tutor. She brought her grade to a B. Wow! Who is this woman? I look to see it was the same TA I had years before. The woman honoring her explained she found out her tutor had dyslexia, so she knew how it was to struggle with something. Another woman stood up and said how she admired the TA for getting out of a abusive relationship eight years before. I did a quick count in my head. She was in that relationship when she was TA'ing for the class. Suddenly I felt really low.
I tried to make it up to the TA. I smiled at her in the hall and let her use the computer in the lab (I was working at the college's computer lab for the learning/physical disabled) She always smiled back and thanked me. My mother took over the job and then told me that the TA was still there working hard.
Sunday morning my mother got a phone call from a co-worker crying. She just heard the news that Catalina Torres, a woman who worked at a local community college was killed in her cousin's home. Catalina, the woman I had as a TA all those years ago.
I've been so incredibly sad for two days now over this. Mostly because if you can explain to me how a man who had two restraining orders and drug offenses on his record can get a gun in my county, go for it. It doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't make sense that in six minutes one man can kill police officer Rick Starzyk, and Catalina Torres. I know, I know, if Catalina was armed, she could've saved her own life. But guess what? It doesn't bring her back.
I also feel bad because I didn't say to her: "Hey, you probably don't remember me, but years ago you TA'ed for a class I was in and I was really rude to you. That was me. Not you, but me. I'm sorry." I want a do-over.
What I do know is this: we need to enforce the gun laws we have so this doesn't happen again. We need to be kind to each other, which is sometimes easier said than done. We should never accept what our circumstances are and we need to rise above them. We should never assume that someone has it cushy. No one does. If that is the legacy Catalina Torres leaves, then it's a damned good one.
A scholarship has been set in Catalina Torres' name. If you want to make a donation, please send it to this address:
Diablo Valley College Foundation,
321 Golf Club Road,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523.
The memo line of the check should read "Catalina Torres Scholarship Fund."
A memorial fund has been established for Starzyk's wife, a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy, and their three young children. Donations can be made by phone at 925-228-7550, Ext. 855, or mailed to Contra Costa Federal Credit Union, Starzyk Family Memorial Fund, Account #57950-00, 1111 Pine St., Martinez, CA 94553.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries