It was the perfect storm. After a huge knock down and drag out between Mom and me, she wiped the blood from her lip and kicked me out. As a result I had been sleeping on a friends couch for about two weeks. I was too young to get a job, had no idea how to get ahold of my Dad (although I heard he was living in Texas) and was starting to feel the pressure from my friend’s parent about staying on their couch. I got pretty good at shoplifting, which took care of some basic needs, and a cashier at the local Dunkin’ Donuts would take pity on me and send me out the door with a small bag of day olds on a regular basis. I was getting good at surviving and still had a roof over my head but knew that I couldn’t maintain a life in such flux and sensed that something would soon give.
It was the beginning of my eighth grade year and although so much was uncertain in my life, I was happy for the start of school as school had always been my sanctuary. It was a warm, safe place that I could go for the day and generally, I was good at school and teachers liked me. I was new to Rockwood Middle School and and among my other classes, transferred into the high math and English lanes. Still, I struggled to get to school on a regular basis and began to experience the wrath of a teacher, a PE teacher no less, who seemed to take my absences personally. She made it a point to harass me on the days that I would come to school and belittle me in front of the well-put together girls in the class. This was so out of sorts as PE was one of my strengths and most PE teachers really liked me, but I was new and it was obvious that this teacher was a bully.
On this particular day we were measuring vertical jumps where one stands sideways next to a tall chalk board with a piece of chalk in hand. The goal is to jump as high as possible and mark the pre-measured increments on the chalkboard wall with the piece of chalk. The teacher had been praising and celebrating the marks of the girls who had gone before me but when my name was called, near the bottom of the list, she spewed it as if it were a piece of gum spat into the garbage can. Her eyes watched me carefully and I either imagined it or a slight smirk gave away her anticipation of my humiliation. What was this teacher’s problem? Why did she care? Why didn’t she care? I grabbed the chalk, approached the board and purposefully made my mark.
There are few scenes in my life that I would have liked to capture on film and the look on the teacher’s face was one of these. The look was a cross between bewilderment, disappointment and complete stupidity. The mark hovered above the next closest by over 6 inches. What I really wanted was to allow her to be the target of all of the darkness and turmoil in my heart, of all the uncertainty and sadness. I was trudging through complete bullshit and she was adding to it for some reason completely beyond me. I considered throwing the chalk at her but instead dropped the chalk to the ground and coolly walked out of the gym. To avoid the imminent consequences of my actions I decided not to return to school and ended up dropping out for nearly two months until I would move to Texas. The power that a teacher has on a kid, both positive and negative has never been lost on me and I still hold it close to my heart today.