In the waning hours of tutoring yesterday afternoon, Ms. Kamath beckoned me into the hallway, her face cloudy with rage. “I’m calling Denisha’s mother tonight,” she hissed. I nodded. “She’s insane. She’s being totally disruptive.” I nodded again, and she looked at me expectantly. “Look at her. She’s DANCING AROUND YOUR ROOM IN HER SOCKS.” I turned around, and Denisha was, indeed, twirling around the room in her socks as Ryan and Ashantay tried to write the essays that were due four days ago. “Um, I think you should call her mother, too,” Ms. Kamath added. Right-o.
I felt like tissue paper: transparent and prone to shredding. I’d spent the last two hours trying to wring proper five-paragraph essays from stubborn freshmen who swore they didn’t know how to write a sentence. I’d blown up at Jackson (diagnosis: emotionally disturbed), who had banged a chair on a desk several times to get my attention as I tutored his classmate. I’d shooed Ashantay and Tyanna and Denisha out of the room to eat their fried chicken in the hallway, because the smell was making me gag. I observed that the classroom was at least as loud when this particular squad of four is present as when there are 35 kids in it. The cacophony was making my ears bleed. When a fourteen-year-old feels like she can’t do something, she’ll fight you to the death to prove it.
I walked back into the class and made a grave announcement. “You know,” I began, surveying the room, “I’ve had to quiet you guys down way too many times this afternoon. I’m gonna have to…call your parents,” I sighed. Denisha looked stricken. “Ms. Magnolia, you CAN’T call my mother. I’m gonna have to run away, and she’ll be on the news for murdering me. I am so serious. You CANNOT call my mother.” I looked at her, like, Seriously? “I’m mandated in my contract to call a hotline that goes to Albany if I believe any of my students is being abused,” I explained. “No, no, you don’t have to call a hotline,” she said quickly. “Then what? What do you want? A second chance?” I asked, impatience mounting. “It’s NOVEMBER. You’ve had your second, and your third, and your 27th chance. This is nonsense. You wrote the check, Denisha; now you’ve gotta cash it. This is on you. End of story.” Ashantay groaned, “Oh, I’m gonna get a beatin’.” “Ms. MAGNOLIA!” Denisha pleaded.
“I swear to God, I am gonna shut up for the rest of my life in your class,” Ashantay announced. (If anyone is a longtime reader, Ashantay is the ninth grade, raw-state version of TJ, my favorite sahsaying 12th grader). I stared at him. “Can I have that in writing?” I said, pushing a piece of loose leaf toward him.
“Are you serious?”
“I PROMISE TO NOT TALK IN MS. MAGNOLIA’S CLASS UNLESS I AM CALLED ON,” it read, signed, “Ashantay Davis-Hartford. 11/01/06.” Denisha eagerly penned hers, including permission to call her mother immediately upon violation of the contract. (Like I need permission.)
“I have short-term memory,” Ashantay said as he packed his things. I stifled a laugh at my desk. “I’m not gonna remember that tomorrow,” he said. Which I figured. As they prepared to leave, they traded stories of the epic beatings they got from their mothers over various indiscretions over the years, usually for cursing out an elementary teacher.
“Fathers should not beat their children, because then they would die,” Ashantay observed. Once, he claims, he ran away for an afternoon to avoid his mother’s war path, eventually finding a police officer and insisting he’d been kidnapped. I listened, fascinated, horrified.
“Do you think you’ll beat your children?” I asked them. “No,” said Denisha firmly.
“I’m gonna slap my kids,” said Ryan, demonstrating, “but that’s not beatin’ ’em.”
“I’m not havin’ kids,” declared Ashantay, which was oddly reassuring, because I have never met a child who seemed so dead set against empathy or sincerity. (Think Joan Crawford meets Truman Capote. Everything is a performance.)
Worried for the future, I remain,
Ms. Magnolia Avenue
PS: Update: Ashantay was silent and intent as a coroner today. He seemed serious, which I liked, but unlike himself, which I didn’t. Denisha put a piece of Scotch tape over her mouth, which was creepy and thankfully didn’t last.