Monday, November 5, 2012

In Memoriam 2

In the month and a half after the coat I decided to take Paul with me on a field trip I organize every year, a local university's event called The English Festival. Students read seven assigned books over the winter months and attend a one day event at the college to participate in writing, games, and meet authors. I signed Paul up at the last minute...our school knew he was going, but he was not registered with the college. That registration had been done five months prior. I had my own plans for his presence on this trip.

During the festival students are given a schedule to follow to various activities throughout the day. It is very well organized and students get to experience the freedom of a college campus a little bit. Once all of my participants were on their way, Paul and I, not held to any schedule, made our way down to the library to hear author Chris Crutcher speak. Although some of his books are iffy to me, the man had amazing stories of his work with troubled kids and the library setting was small and intimate. I stole a glance at Paul and he was looking around and doodling randomly. I wished he was paying attention, this would hit home for him I thought.

Afterward we went to a museum that is on campus, although it does not belong to the college. I had been to this museum numerous times growing up, much of the art work remained from my childhood with the exception of a few new sections. Coming across a room of what looked like pencil scribbles on paper, Paul and I both laughed that even we could do that! Upstairs was a series of 3D, hands-on displays. We made our way through the displays and found ourselves in a darkened sound booth, where the art was a matter of what you heard and saw in tandem. It was strange and we were laughing harder as we left.

Winding down the sidewalk outside the museum Paul said, "That's the first museum I been to." As we talked I found out it was his first time to see a college too. And as we talked about school, no matter how much I assured him that there were so many ways to get through school, he refused to believe this could be a possibility for him, as much as he wished it. His poverty was beyond physical, it was a mind set. Money in his hand at that moment would not have convinced him otherwise.

I bought him lunch and a copy of Ironman, hoping we could see Chris Crutcher again and get it signed. We wandered our way down to another building, passing a cop, who Paul walked way around, informing me that he doesn't trust cops. For the rest of our walk I learned what it had been like for a much younger, confused Paul to watch his father and brother toted to jail and his sister to juvenile hall.

We did find Chris Crutcher again, listened to a slightly different speech this time. At one point Crutcher skipped over part of a story we'd heard earlier that morning and Paul leaned over to me and said, "He left out the good part from earlier." He HAD been listening that morning. I should've known. When the speech was done I took Paul up front and shoved him into the mass of kids waiting to get their books signed. Crutcher signed it "To Paul" and Paul seemed happy with it. I would give anything to have that book now.

The day had gone well. Fellow teachers who knew I volunteered to take him had shaken their heads in disbelief...why bring trouble with you if you don't have to? But Paul was nothing but polite, respectful, and on his best behavior the entire day. He was not the same kid any of us knew from school and not even I had expected that. I was winging it.

Part of my goal was to expose Paul to things in life that he didn't know were options for him. I wanted to show him that there was a whole world (not even just college, but life) outside of the hell he was living in and that he had access to it. I wanted to take him out of his little bubble for a day. Maybe this was naive of replace even a piece of a lifetime of hurt with hope in a day is impossible. Looking back I'm not sure what I expected. I was working on autopilot...thinking of ways to draw him in to the life around him. Another part of me just wanted him to have fun for a day. No school and no worries for a day.  But exposure to life outside of your own is a two-way street. You can't give it without receiving it in return. And what happens when what you receive begins to change you?


  1. Of you know what you are are changing a life my dear.
    My mother did what you are doing, her young man was John. She was not a teacher but she worked in a school for young men whose life-difficulties were profound. I won’t go into the whole story, it really is quite amazing, but eventually, because of my mother and father and our family, John went to college, became an accountant and moved from New Jersey to California. There were difficult times, moments when we thought a future for John was lost, (he had to sleep under his sister’s bed so his stepfather would not rape her), but with our family he saw a side of life he never knew existed. He didn’t dream because he didn’t know what to dream. Our family showed him the way, it was his choice and he took it.
    You are making a difference, a big difference. Paul is smart but he is a kid and as you know, better than most, kids screw up. I wish you and him well.
    One of my daughter’s is a teacher and the other is changing her whole future, (she has a masters in something else), to become a teacher. I hope my girls have one tenth the sense you have to make a difference.

  2. Thank you Wry. I've long thought teaching is only partially academics. This is the second of my four part post about two by Friday. I recall him often for what he taught me, without knowing he had...more to come.

  3. OMG I am so dense. In memoriam, the candle, the 'was' words, he's gone. Jesus Jennine I didn't get it. I am so sorry, so very very sorry.

  4. It's ok. I really appreciate your mom's story because it shows that it is worth it to put yourself out there for other people. And that's what I've learned from my experience with Paul too. Even knowing that things don't always work out, it makes a person want to try harder next time. I was just winging it with him, imagine if I had been more intentional. And then again, his story also reminds me that there is only so much a person can do. As you said, each person has to make their choice.