Why I Write

I write because it makes me remember

from A Teacher’s Log (2006)

On the way home I ran into one of my former students. Remembered his face, but not his name. He told me life is very hard for him. I asked him how old he was? He told me 22.

“Finish college?”

“No,” he answered. “Quit high school. Got kicked out.”

“Never thought to go back?”

“How? I want to, but I don’t know what to do.”

I told him about the GED and he said he would look into it, but only if I would tutor him. “You’re the only teacher who ever taught me anything,” he said.

It’s interesting how you touch someone and never know it.

Once he told me his name, I remembered him. He struggled as a student, but he tried. Trying isn’t always enough.

“Of course, we’ll help you,” I said using “we” on purpose because I knew it wasn’t just me who would be able to help him, but all of us, all of us teachers at the school he remembered so fondly.

“I work for Avon now,” he said. “In Morton Grove.”

“That’s good,” I told him. “That’s good.”

When I walked away, I saw a penny on the ground heads up. I picked it up. Heads up! That means good luck for the rest of the day.

And oftentimes it helps you remember too much. I taught because I had to, and I wrote because much had to be told.

An Incident With Mace (2006)

The first thing you notice about mace is how pungent it is. Then you notice the taste. Finally, the eyes begin to burn. This was the order it came to for me. For Stanley, the order came differently. The mace hit him full in the eyes. He bent over and vomited. Then the pain came and he could not see. The third person only felt its anger in his nose, and he sneezed, coughed a bit, drank a few glasses of water and it was gone.

The taste remained strong in my mouth. Someone asked me what happened to my forehead, and when I touched it, it felt tender, but I do not remember anyone hitting me in my head. I don’t even remember when the mace was sprayed. One second I was breathing and the next second my entire mouth felt like it had filled itself with a great ugliness.

I need to thank Pamela Lefebvre for her quick assistance with Stanley. She helped make him comfortable until the paramedics arrived to irrigate his eyes. And I’d like to thank Mrs. Wright, the Local School Council Chair, who hung in there even after the police arrived. In force. I’d like to thank one teacher in particular who came out and took the brunt of a lot of the fight, but I need to ask permission before I use her name. I need to thank others, too, and I will once I can sort everything out in my own head.

This is what happened: I walked the special needs child down the street as I do whenever his parents do not come for him. I don’t walk with him. He runs ahead of me, looks back, and keeps walking and then runs and turns around again and then runs. When he makes it to the crossing guard at the corner, I know he’s safe. The gang that was attacking him no longer seems to be interested in him anymore. Perhaps it’s because I walk him down the street. Perhaps they have just lost interest. I don’t know.

When I arrived back to the school, the parents were massing. Not parents to pick up their children. Not even parents who come by to help out. No, these were the parents from Hell—the parents who tell their children to fight, you have to fight, I don’t care what anyone says, fight, fight, fight, kick some—, beat some—

They have been out before and I stopped one fight. The next day I just stood with them until everyone left and since they no longer had an audience, they left too. But this after school massing was not going to let go.

One of my students came out and they moved towards her—parents and students. The assistant principal immediately got another member of my school to walk her across the street. She went with him. But the parents did not leave. They cursed. They made noises. They kept a crowd of other children around them. So I stood with them.

The other children did not want to leave. This could be how a slasher film starts. Everyone smells blood and they can’t wash the smell away, so they stay and wait and wait.

I was able to get most of my students to go home, and I might have succeeded with all of them, but the other family came out from their building and crossed the street like an arrow straight into the mass of parents and adults and students who wanted to fight.

Have you ever knocked on a door to get someone inside to safety and the people inside won’t open the door? That’s what happened at first. Then the surge of bodies reached to the door, the fighting began, and one by one I pushed individuals into the school—even the grandmother who had brought her children across the street—for what?

I heard her scream to follow me. I heard her scream that they should do as I asked. Another teacher was suddenly in the fray. Grandmother broke loose. I grabbed her and pushed her into the school. Then there was a flash of a child and feet and fists and I saw this girl go down and the adults and the students were on her and the teacher and I—Stanley and others—perhaps another adult or two—Mrs. Wright from the LSC—were in the middle of everything.

Someone shot mace. It filled the fight space like a plague. Stanley went down and the fight pressed into him. It took everything we had to push the fighters back and get Stanley into the school for help. He was blinded, my mouth suddenly tasted ugly and everywhere the smell tainted the air.

But it wasn’t over. We got one group into safety, but now the other group was going to the front door. They wanted in. They wanted the fight to spill into the school. So there I was at the front door now, giving orders, keeping everybody out.

The police were already on the scene. Stanley was getting first aide from Ms. Lefabvre and Mrs. Bradley. The other teacher was in a classroom calming individuals down. I was everywhere.

The police let me go home an hour later. They had my statement. I don’t know what happened after that. One of the officers told me someone was going to jail. Does it matter? Are you reading this? Is there anyone out there?

I need to tell you this: The parent who would not let it end is also on the Local School Council.

I’ve had enough.

On the way home the mace dripped into my eye blinding me temporarily.

It’s raining outside. The day after. People are voting in the school’s gymnasium. Everything about the school this morning is quiet.

Did I really have enough? I don’t know.

This is why I write. You have something you need to share and you share it.

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