Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Slice #7- He didn't used to be this way.

Have you seen K?" my principal asks, as he passes me in the hall.

"Upstairs, about ten minutes ago," I say. "He has a gash on his hand. He told me it was from fighting yesterday at (insert neighboring school)."

"Well he's gone now, he's left the building."

"Left the building?" I reply dumbly. "Do you want me to go outside and look for him?"

"No, I already walked all the way around the outside. I don't go hunting for eighth graders. I'm just going to call Security."

Thirty minutes later, I see K come back, accompanied by two policemen. Shortly after that, his mother arrives. I wonder where she has left her twins, born just before Christmas. K and his mom are in the office for a long time.

I see him again in the cafeteria. "I f**ing hate (insert T's name)!" he says to me. I rebuke him for his language, but stop to talk. "All I did was ask for a bandaid," he says, waving around the hand with the gash. "And she kicked me out of class." Evidently, that incident preceded his leaving the building. I know there is probably a lot more to the story, but K and the group of friends our gym teacher calls The Posse stand up simultaneously and head for the playground.

I watch as he leaves and wonder how we got to this point. I have known K for years. He's never been an easy kid, but he's always been a kid you could work with. Very bright, not super hard working, but still a decent student. Terrific sense of humor. Lots of friends, probably one of the best-liked kids in his grades. A protective older brother. A talented athlete.

This year, I've seen changes.  Despite the best efforts of a really talented, really caring middle school team, he has totally disengaged, and is no longer even pretending to have any interest in school. His ongoing banter and jokes, once light and silly, have become mean and aggressive. He misses school one or two days a week. When we call, his mom doesn't have any idea where he is.He didn't play on the soccer or basketball teams. Last week, he used a sharpie to write gang initials all over his hand two days in a row.

Scariest of all, are his eyes. There is no longer light or sparkly or caring. Instead, they are hard and dark and black. He is somewhere far away.

After school, I see K again. "Let me see that cut," I ask. He shows me. It doesn't look like a cut from fighting, and I suspect he might have cut it in a kitchen accident, or maybe horsing around with a knife. The cut is deep and looks like it could have used a few stitches.

"I'm going to get you some bandaids," I say, and head to the nurse's office. I return a few minutes later, wondering if he will have left, but he is still there. "Do you want me to help you put them on?" I ask.

"Nah, miss," I can do it.

I watch and remember.

He didn't used to be this way.


Tamara said...

Wow, Carol. You captured so much in this brief piece. The title is perfect and heartbreaking.

Sally said...

Keep caring and connecting to K. You see him. Sadly, others aren't.
He, and all of us, just want to be seen.

Ramona said...

You made me cry with this one, Carol. Don't ever stop writing and caring.

elsie said...

So heartbreaking! So many kids needing so much from you. Take care of yourself because these kids need you in their corner not judging but caring.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

My heart breaks for the Ks of the world. So many of them in our schools--and honestly, so few adults who keep trying to connect no matter what. It takes a thick skin and a very clear sense of your mission to keep giving when a child keeps rejecting. But he was still there waiting for the bandaids, and that is huge. Another beautiful piece, Carol. You write so movingly about the ones who hurt and invite us to see "those kids" through very different lenses.

Karen said...

This is heartbreaking, but I'm so glad K, and others like him, have you in their lives to care and see past their surface behaviors. But how sad I felt when you talked about how K's eyes have changed...

Alex said...

You really see this child and have an amazing way of recording it that is at once empathetic and free of judgement. It is a really painfully beautiful story that captures the heartbreak of being a teacher. I hope with all my might that someone can remind K who he really is, but I also know how hard and hopeless such a task is. Keep fighting the good fight.

Michelle said...

You are an amazing storyteller - the flow of your words and dialogue bring me right into your story. I feel for these kids. We must be brave and let them know that we see you, we hear you, your voice matters. I like what Alex said: Keep fighting the good fight.