I've written about D on here before. He's one of those students that you look at and know - there's something good in there. Maybe others can't see it, but it's there, and you may be the only one who can keep him from falling through the cracks that appear to be getting wider and wider the older he gets...
D came to me as a seventh grader the year that I missed the entire first week of school with a hateful kidney stone. By the time I started, the second week, the substitute gave me quite an earful about D. He had certainly made himself known that early in the year. As I got to know my students, I grew very attached to D. His big, goofy grin made me smile no matter how much trouble he could get himself into in other places. And he was in trouble OFTEN! Most of the time it would be something silly, like talking and not staying in his seat, but occasionally he would be kicked off the bus for mouthing off at the driver. When that would happen, D couldn't come to school. Although he was an inner city kid, the school sits out in a rural tobacco field. He didn't have a ride. Several times he missed school for ten consecutive days.
When I asked about his mother, he told me that she had just had a baby (that made five) and that she sometimes stole money from him for drugs. I asked if he could live with a grandparent. He told me that his grandmother stole money from his mother for drugs. Once he was suspended from the bus, and we were to go on a field trip to the zoo. I called D's mother and told her that I would pick him up and take him to school so he wouldn't miss the trip. When I got my breakfast that morning, I picked up one extra biscuit just in case he hadn't eaten. D got in the car, and I asked, "Did you eat breakfast?" He said he didn't because his mother was asleep and he didn't want to wake her. I gave him the biscuit and asked if he brought his lunch for the field trip, and he replied that "there was no food in the house." I gave him $10 to buy lunch and off we went. I've written about my problems with this type of parenting before. But it never gets any easier to understand.
After that year, I left that school but D kept in touch. One day back when I was teaching him, he grabbed my cell phone off of my desk and called his friend JoJo's number. When he got to JoJo's phone, he had my number on the caller ID. He wrote it down and has now had it for three years. Periodically he'll call me. This year he called me to tell me "Happy Mother's Day." Once he called to tell me that "they" had sent him to a group home. His reasons were vague, but one thing was clear - he was miserable.
Today I passed by the high school that D attends. I walked right in there and asked if they would let me see him. At the mention of his name, the four adults standing in the office turned and looked at me. The receptionist smiled, "Well, he's already been in the office today. I think he's in In School Suspension." I couldn't believe it - the sixth day of school! I was led out to the ISS trailer. I haven't seen D since June of 2006, but I'd know that boy anywhere! And when we walked in that trailer...well...I cannot even explain the way he looked when he saw me. It was a mixture of Christmas morning and Happy Birthday all rolled into one. And by the time he got to me, his eyes were moist and so were mine.
We sat a minute to talk (he was to be released to class in six minutes) and in that time he told me that he has "anger issues." I explained that in seventh grade he was only silly, not mad, and that I was concerned about that. I asked him what he's mad about. He told me he hates the group home, his mother went to jail but is now in a halfway house because she just had baby #7, his brother is in prison, and there's the issue about "T." There was a scuffle at the group home between D and T and when it was over, T complained that he couldn't breathe. D said he asked, "You alright, man?" and T said he was. A while later, he collapsed in the yard and never regained consciousness. A senior in college, ready to graduate in three weeks, T was working at the group home when he died. D told me that the invesigation is still continuing and that he hasn't been charged. "But they think I killed him," he said. There has been some discussion of meningitis, but the autopsy was inconclusive. Regardless, it's a big burden for D to bear.
The bell rang at this point, and I had to walk D to class (although it was a struggle to move after that news.) He hugged me at the classroom door and told me he loved me, and I fought tears all the way to the car. Once there, I drove in a crazy circle, losing my way home because I was so upset. Then the tears came. And I thought How are we letting this kid fail? What can I do to stop this madness so that D can make something of himself? Of course, I've said all the things to him that need to be said. And he's heard them all before. He hears them every day from someone.
The Fray has a song entitled "How to Save a Life." I'm listening carefully to these lyrics:
Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you
And pray to God he hears you
There's another line - "drive until you lose the road" - I believe I did that. Now I need to get back on track...doing what has to be done to save D. If I don't do it, who will?
Words of Farewell
9 years ago