I got up and did what had to be done. I talked to my invisible boy on Tuesday. He was talking right back to me with his posture, with his hands in fists tight to his side. I didn't even ask any hard questions. Couldn't. He was terrified from the moment I called his name and asked him to stay behind just a second. I asked how things were going. I told him I was thinking about him and wanted to check in because it seemed like things weren't going so well. If he wanted to talk, anytime, he was welcome to. Eighth grade boys come see me and unpack their day sometimes, I told him.
"I'm good," was his only response. He said it 4 or 5 times. Panicked. Looking at me, trying to be brave and then not being able to sustain that, looking down at my feet, at the chalk tray, at the desk. Shifting away from me until there was about 4 feet between the two of us, standing at the board.
I'm good. Oh but baby you are not good. You are telling me that story with your hands.
The rest of the day--I saw him in the hall a couple of times, at lunch, and then at math in the afternoon, whenever I looked over at him, he was looking at me, but quickly looked away.
Those wheels were turning. His world might have actually been spinning.
On Wednesday, third period of the day, I had my class sit and listen to me tell a story from my own life. About loneliness. Because the Jews must have been lonely during the Exile. Taken from their homes and routines and set up against their will in a foreign land. Lots of negative emotions but loneliness had to be one. I talked about moving all the damned time growing up. Getting set up in a life just to be uprooted and taken somewhere else. I told them to write about a time when they were lonely. Or disconnected from friends or family. Or if that was too hard, talk about helping someone who was new or lonely. And at the very least, write me a what-if story about being a refugee or immigrant in a foreign land.
Let me tell ya, I don't think anyone has asked these kids questions like these. Some refused to engage at all, telling me boring stories about what if they moved to Tokyo. Of those who wrote about their lives, about half were about helping a specific new person in their lives--either this year or in 4th grade or kindergarten. Kids who felt for others and reached out. The other half talked about being alone. Some of these kids experience normal loneliness, more akin to boredom, really. And some of them are isolated.
My invisible boy wrote to me about loneliness. Frankly, about being invisible.
And I had to go out for a drink with a friend to try to hash out what to say in response. I wrote him back on Thursday, but we don't have religion on Thursday so all of those books with their heavy words and feeling fermented in my bag another day.
Friday, last class of the day, my topic was betrayal. Talking about Hosea a little bit and his wife who wouldn't stay true to him. But before I talked to them about a teacher who betrayed me and my friends when we went to him with something important, I passed back the booklets.
Invisible boy opened his up to the page. God, he'd been waiting for me to reply for two days. I watched him as he saw that I'd written something, a lot of something, and he held the book almost all the way closed, reading it, so no one else could. He must have felt so exposed and I wanted to help him but I couldn't. He read it, every word, and then shut it, putting it on the desk in front him. I started to read my story.
Sixth grade me and my friends. I'm setting it up, talking about a friend's revelation of abuse and how I went to a teacher, with another friend, to tell him what she'd disclosed. And how he'd responded in the worst way possible: by going to her parents. Suddenly we couldn't be friends anymore and she went to a different school and that was the end of that. Smack. Adults suck. I didn't say that, but sometimes? Wow.
In the middle of the story, when I'm about to start talking about what this did to me, the intercom beeps and I hear the secretary's voice.
I know before she says it. I KNEW BEFORE SHE EVEN SAID HIS NAME THAT SHE WAS GOING TO TAKE HIM AWAY BEFORE HE COULD WRITE BACK. And of course, that's how it goes. I have him drop the little journal into the crate. I keep reading, trying to get the story done. Part of me wants to throw the papers in the air, but I don't because he's not the only person who needs this. He's not.
"Have a good break," I call him by name. He nods without looking at me and tells me bye. And he leaves for ten days. Like some hideous end of a novel with no sequel written yet.
I finished class up and everything was fine and the booklets go in the crate, go in my bag, go home with me to read and respond to.
In the car with Bix that evening, heading out to a pub crawl, which, come on, aren't I too old for a pub crawl? In the car, I say to him:
"There must be some kind of cosmic plan there, you know? Twenty-five students sitting in my room and she calls his name? That's a 4% chance. That's ridiculous. There has to be something to that sort of cliff-hanger. I have to be comfortable with the fact that at least he'd read what I wrote to him and left with that in his head. I have him on the hook now, Bix, and I need to reel him in so carefully."
I pull onto the highway.
"I just made a fishing reference when speaking about teaching," I say out loud as I think it.
"Because this is your year of fishing," he reminds me even though I don't need the reminder.
And that's when I was at peace with it. Fishing:Peter as Teaching:Sally this year. It's the only thing I know to do. And I'm going to go do it.
Cast those damned nets into deep water and you see?
It's never what you think it's going to be.