day 21


in october, one of my students was murdered.

i have never been able to write about him, not really. i have barely been able to talk about him. people wanted to ask me how i was doing & tell me that they thought it was gang-related. i wanted to scream until i couldn’t hear anything, until the sound was a live & angry thing.

his brother didn’t come to school for months. for so long, there were these two empty spaces (the same seat in different classes, i didn’t realize until they were both gone). & then one day, after february break, he was back. quiet, smiley, himself. he came to my room after school that week to talk about books. we were laughing about something & i said, “i missed you.” & he smiled. when he left, half-an-hour later, he said, “thanks, ms.”

i want to tell him he can talk to me, that i’m here.

this week, in the middle of class, he got up & moved back to his old seat. for just a second, my breath caught, my lungs squeezed in the fist of my stopped heart. it looked so familiar, so strange.

during a team meeting, one of his teachers told us there had been an arrest made in the case of the murder. a students who had been on the roster last year but never showed up, discharged after a month. lived in the neighborhood. gang-related, “must have been.”

“that’s b—‘s brother.”

heart stopped, lungs squeezed.

“our b—?”

the vibrant, bubbly, quirky senior with the skunk rock hair-do, the social butterfly of her class, one of our talent show stars. b— is like a flame dancing through the hallways; everyone is drawn to her, her enthusiasm catches & spreads. & she carries all of this.

i won’t make her me. i have been wary of this, of projecting my own childhood onto my students. but i can’t pretend i don’t know what it’s like to be bright & shiny & always, always on in the hopes that all that dazzle casts everything else into shadow. i can’t pretend i don’t know what it’s like to carry secrets all day: how tired it makes you, how numb, how lonely.

i want to tell her she can talk to me, that i’m here. today, as she left the talent show “after party,” i called out to her & came over with arms outstretched.

“aww!” she squealed, shimmying into my embrace.

“i’m so proud of you,” i said. “don’t be a stranger.”

& my heart beat slowly, cautiously, but did not stop.


4 thoughts on “day 21

  1. I cannot begin to imagine the grief that swells each day as the living go on living. That is the hard part….thankfully they have a safe haven and someone who is there for them. Thinking of you……big big hugs to you……

  2. You have packed so much into this post. Stories, perspectives, grief, secrets, connections. You are a beautiful writer, I have said this before. Maybe someday this post will grow into someone’s bigger story. Good luck with both of these young people–they are lucky to have an adult like you in their lives.

  3. Jaana says:

    In the midst of hurt and suffering, your students have you. They can count on you. You care. You show that to them. Wishing/praying for strength for you.

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