My life was filled with so many bittersweet events, yet I pray in thanks every day for what I have and for my dear son, Oleshka. My story begins with one of the most tragic times in our lives. My husband, Oleshka, and I were born, grew up and lived in the city of Baku; however, in the very late 80s a bloody conflict between the Armenians and Azerbaijani broke out. The two ethnic groups would constantly clash in streets, burn houses and stores, destroy cars, and even murder many helpless, innocent people. Since we were Russian Jews, I was afraid we would be mistaken for Armenians and that would be the end for us. I was so afraid that I carried my passport everywhere I went and showed it to many passersby. The situation was becoming desperate, the violence continued and food became very scarce. For months we had to live off potatoes and dried bread. I decided that this could simply not go on. We had no dog in his game, our lives were at stake every day, and the end was nowhere in sight. It was time to move on. Fortunately my husband’s sister lived in America, and we could apply for a visa; however, first we needed to go to Moscow to get one. We, my husband, his parents, Oleshka and I, set out with barely any money, and had to leave our home, our possessions, and all our friends. In Moscow, we had a very unfortunate delay. After going through a medical examination, my husband’s father proved to be unfit for immigration. He had many problems with his liver, and until he received treatment, we could not leave. We found a treatment center, and for over a month he received the necessary treatment. We were allowed to leave, but now we were penniless. Everything we had was spent on his treatment, but once again we remained full of hope for greater things ahead; we were going to America after all – the greatest country in the world.
Once we arrived, we settled in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. While my husband worked, I attended college with a major in programming. Since this career had always been my dream, I found studying extremely easy, and graduated soon after. I received a very high-paying position, and accomplished one of my life goals. However, a terrible event occurred: my husband and I divorced. Although I was shaken, our life continued on the same path it began. Oleshka just began elementary school and had to take special programs such as ESL. However, he quickly adapted to his new environment and did well in school. He was just like every other child. I took him to tae-kwon-do lessons and on many trips all over America and to other countries, and he was becoming a well-rounded child. There seemed to be no problems with the financial sphere of our family. We lived in relative peace and happiness for quite a while. We moved to Staten Island, but Oleshka continued going to school in Brooklyn. However, something was changing in him, something horrible. He began cutting school almost very often. I received calls to pick him up at the precinct in Brooklyn. He started hanging out with the wrong kids in his school. I couldn’t believe that’s he could change so rapidly These events occurred so suddenly, I couldn’t even understand what was happening, and more importantly why it was happening. I was in this sate of confusion, until I received a phone call from his high school. Aside from the fact that he was failing his classes, Oleshka had recently written an essay about how he wished to commit suicide by jumping under the train he rode to school every day. I went to the school for a conference with his guidance counselors and teachers who told that something had to be done. He had written about committing suicide; my boy wrote about ending his life at such an age. What was happening to him? I decided to transfer him to New Dorp High School so he could stay closer to home and avoid the train ride, but things started to get worse. He failed freshman year, he got a Mohawk and piercing, and often didn’t even come home. My friends advised me to try a drug test on him – it showed that he was consuming drugs. This was it! I could not stand this anymore. Something had to be done immediately; I was not going to lose my only son! I took him to a psychiatrist who turned out to be a very caring and able physician. He suggested to me a very good school in upstate for children with similar problems to Oleshka. It was a very special program which cost over fifty-thousand dollars a year. The psychiatrist explained that it was a truly miraculous place and was well worth the money. However I hired a lawyer to help me receive support from the Department of Education for Oleshka’s new school. I sent many requests and emails, but did not receive any answers. Meanwhile, at home things were only getting worse. Oleshka continued his ways and was progressing into an abyss from which he would never return. I knew that if I did not send him now I would lose him forever.
I took out a loan for the school, and the day I was going to go to the bank, I received a call from the Department of Education to come for an interview. After explaining the situation and consulting y lawyer, they agreed to provide me with all the money necessary for Oleshka’s education. I could not have been more thankful to them, they weren’t just helping me, they were saving my child. Taking Oleshka to the school would not be easy. If I told him beforehand he would run away from home. The school proposed sending policemen dressed in civilian clothes to pick him up. In order to catch him off guard, they came at five in the morning, picked him up and drove him away before he even realized what happened. Once they arrived at the school, Oleshka was shaved, and his piercing was removed. He was in complete shock. Such an immediate change in surroundings was crazy to him. At first he protested violently, but the program was meant for changing people. The children there had a strict schedule which they had to follow with perfect punctuality, or otherwise suffer the consequences. The children were taught to prepare their own food and do all the cleaning on the campus. The greatest asset of the school was its teachers. They were truly dedicated to changing their students and making them into greater people. They ate and spent most of the day with the students to understand them and help them as best they could. The entire school was divided into “families” which would live together and make decisions as a collective. The punishments for misbehavior were arduous labor such as shoveling snow for hours or fixing roads. Punished students would have to eat their food standing in the corner. For Oleshka this was very tough. He was used to his independent and untamed life back at home. Such stringent and harsh conditions gave him many problems. However as time passed, he began changing, slowly but surely. For three years he lived at the school, and every time he called, I could sense he was returning to his normal self, the kind and smart Oleshka. I suffered greatly also. Living for years without my son was almost impossible. I lived only on the idea that he was becoming a man, a good man.
The school had a policy. Once a student turned eighteen they would not hold him back. He could leave and do whatever he wished. When Oleshka turned eighteen he was only one semester away from getting his high school diploma. He returned home to finally see me, and explained how he did not want to return. I begged him to finish the last term. Out of love for me, he agreed. I knew it ws hard for him, but this was his future, and if he didn’t finish school, he wouldn’t be able to move on. Oleshka finally finished the program and received his Regents high school diploma. It was as though a nightmare was over. When he returned, he was so different. I knew something had changed in him. He had become a man. He applied to the College of Staten Island where he still studies. He is very skilled with his hands. He can fix anything around the house, and works as a maintenance superintendent in a college. He has a girlfriend who he loves. And most importantly, he has a future, which he wants.
As I sit and think of my son’s story, I cannot believe our luck. What if we sill lived in Baku and he went down the wrong path there. Chances are high he would not be who he is. Who would have helped him there? I thank God night and day for saving my boy and giving him a life that he deserves, a life that will make him happy!