Friday, April 26, 2013

Restraint and Power

Lucy always came to class quiet and withdrawn. She was not sulky or dull. There was something shimmering there just out of touch. Something she kept tightly held in her soul wrapped up tight like a fist. She was 16, pregnant, and a ward of the state. Like of most of  my kids, I didn't know much about how she arrived at our school. Unless the kids themselves told us we were often left to fill in the blanks ourselves. Some of them learned to trust me and would open up. Most of them came, and drifted away as mysterious when they disappeared as when they arrived.

Lucy won me over. I had a hard time trying to maintain emotional distance with my kids. Not that they were an easy bunch to love. They called me a fucking bitch.They made fun of me to my face. They threw their stuff on their floor. They pushed me until I felt like I was going to explode. I remember on time yelling at a student who kept mumbling that I hated him "If I hated you so much why the hell would I be fighting so hard to get you to write a damn paragraph?" And I did like my kids. Loved some of them. I knew from their stories, from the rare moments when they would tentatively open up their lives to be examined that there were reasons they didn't trust me. Good reasons. It wasn't personal. Adults had been screwing them over for years. 

But Lucy. She was heart breaking. I was pregnant myself, and perhaps that drew me to her. She was like a dying animal on the side of the road. So damaged yet terrified to let anyone help her. She was never rude, and always did her work. She was just a shadow though flitting in and out of my room with the ringing of a bell. I could never tell if she appreciated my small quiet gestures. A new notebook to write in. A pen. A hand on the shoulder. I hope it meant something to her...that maybe she took that small bit of light and held it in her hand.

One day  as the students were shuffling into my class, she came barging in. A tiny girl, one who caused endless amounts of trouble and whom I found really unlikable started to laugh. Lucy headed right for her, and at first I thought they were playing because Brianna, the smaller girl acted like there was a great joke happening. But it was clear when Lucy threw her books across the room that things were not funny. I yelled at the rest of the class to get to the back of the room out of the action. They did, surprisingly, high school kids seem to love nothing more than a fight. They hooted and taunted until I gave them "the" look. All three of us at the front were pregnant. The two girls were pushing and pulling each other's hair. I carefully moved around their flailing bodies to get to the intercom and called for the office.

"What do you need?" the secretary demanded.

"Really?" I thought in my head as the two girls screamed obscenities at each other. "Security! Fight!" I yelled over the insults.

I turned to my class and gestured for them to stay where they were. The girls were circling each other and panting. It was apparently bad enough that the other kids took it pretty seriously and didn't taunt them. Brianna came running towards me and hid, holding my arms so that I was shielding her. Lucy came over and shoved me in the stomach hard as Brianna let go and scurried away and I hit the desk behind me. For a moment, a blinding flash of anger flooded me. All I could think of was Piper in my stomach vulnerable and I wanted to punch that student in the face. I knew I could and I knew she'd go down. I knew I could lie about it and get away with it. No one was going to believe her over me. And I did think all those things in those moment. It is the only time I ever considered hitting a student. I turned my back to her and held onto the desk, riding that emotion until it was gone. Until the compassionate side of me whispered "She didn't do it to you. She did it to get to Brianna." 

It took security 30 minutes to get to my room. At one point, one of my male students managed to grab Lucy gently and get her into the hallway but the assistant principal who waiting outside where it was safe insisted he let her go. Lucy, of course, came right back in, snatched a bottle of overhead cleaner and tried to spray it into Brianna's eyes. I managed to wrestle it out of her hands. When security finally carried her out kicking and screaming, my room was trashed. Desks were lying on the floor, papers were flung about everywhere. The other students came out quietly and began to clean, a few asked me if I was okay. One said "Whoa Ms. Stickney, I thought you were going to hit her for real. I've never seen you so mad!" 

But the thing is I didn't hit her. In that moment, even then, with all the mama bear instinct rising up, I was the one in power, and I knew it. I knew she hadn't meant to hurt me. I knew she wasn't going to hurt me again. Just like all those moments when students swore at me. Stalked out of the room. Threatened me. I managed to hold onto the fact that I was the power wielder in those moments. I didn't need to throw them down. Hurt them. Beat them. Kill them. Grace only comes through restraint.

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