A boy, again in a red t-shirt. Taller now, thin but without provoking the worry I shrouded him with last year. Eager, an unhesitating and wide smile.
It’s homecoming. On the track sits a platform with nine chairs, the middle being a white thrown. The girls sitting in four, spaced out, the others vacant for the entire game, the gowns that fan well beyond the boundaries of the chairs are Disney in real life. There’s Belle, there’s Ariel, there’s a white hoop-skirt that has enough sparkle to match the tiara for the queen. Our team is tied at nothing, like the game hasn’t started, when I arrive with Erin at halftime.
The boys I taught two years ago have grown what feels like 18 inches. Their teeth gleam when they call my name across crowds. I don’t give side-hugs to them anymore, I pull them straight in, two arms around two shoulders, and say, “How is it? How’s eighth grade? When did you change into a giant?”
This miracle of watching children grow– I can’t imagine teaching or living long enough to see the children I taught become adults. I cannot fathom these eighth graders walking in high school graduation. But it will happen.
Concessions beckon Erin and I with promises of Diet Coke and a cheeseburger (for her). I am perpetually blindsided at football games, either with my last name shrieked over crowds, hugs from behind or the side, or hands stroking the patch of my hair from my temple to my bun. With girls whispering gossip or boys popping their chins up, snap-backs propped on braids, their “hey”s inaudible but read on lips.
Not this boy in red. He is shining, beaming. In a group of peers he competes for attention. He commands control and hollers in apparent glee – reminiscent of the “oh-eighteen” chant from last year’s promotion – while his arms wave back his classmates. He physically holds them back like a policeman at a riot, calls out, “She’s my teacher! She’s my teacher!”
He breaks his chant only to lunge forward himself. He hugs me around the neck, backs out to again call out, “She’s my teacher!”
Already my heart is growing, bursting. Already I am looking at him in disbelief. Already all discouragement, disappointment, frustration and lethargy from the past four days have evaporated. Have been sucked into this boy’s being and churned out like glowing embers. Jewels. Something ready to be dug out from whatever substance is just barely coating a presence that steals breath. Something that provokes tears. Something that silences response.
“She’s my teacher!” he’s calling, he’s bragging to the others.
“This is my teacher! She got me to junior high.”
Something cracks my ribs. Something is satiated. Something is reaching out and holding this boy, is cradling him and adhering to him and covering him entirely, eternally, unforgivingly, unforgettingly, with love.
Love that will be bound, even when the pre-teen hand releases from around my waist in a boastful teacher hug, even when the hand turns to that of a high schooler, an adult with a career; love will remain bound to this classic student-entrances-teacher story, this case study documented through ten blog entries across almost a year of teaching.
This seventh grader who has made it to junior high gloating, gleaming, grinning, getting grades his friends brag about for him to me as they crowd around and fight for their own hug or shout or shy eye contact– this boy in a red shirt is Brax.
(In writing this, I dug out the chronicles of Brax: Unmarking what’s in stone; Brax writing/teacher perplexity; So level-headed; “I don’t know how to use a thesaurus.” (part 1); “I don’t know how to use a thesaurus.” (part 2); Why I’m staying; Tiny things; Tiny things, second installment; Choose your own conclusion; and finally Last, not last.)