She wasn’t really a bad kid, she just faked having a gun in her backpack and pitched a fit when the school policeman wanted to look inside. So the school staff were in a bit of a twitter. The other teachers rolled their eyes in disgust, “Can you believe her? Well, I’m not surprised a bit…”
“She’s never known how to act right, always goofing off in class.”
“They should expel her. She’s hopeless. Lost, she is.”
Me, I bolted down the hall to find her. I knew she wasn’t what they said she was, that there was really a flower fighting its way to bloom somewhere deep down. But I also knew that the violent storms around her were beating it down. I had seen that flower once, when I had mentored her the year before. She’d been my guide, a kind of 13-year-old window to life as an inner city teen for a first year teacher in the ghetto. Regularly, she would laugh at me as I stumbled my way through a completely new culture. She taught me the slang, the music groups, the values of the street. Now, I figured, it was time to return the favor and offer her some tips on the rules of the educational system.
“Shannon,” I sighed as I shut the door in the empty teacher’s lounge. “What were you thinking?!? You know it’s stupid to play with the cops like that. And you didn’t even have a gun. What’s the point of playing with them when you know it’s gonna get you in trouble?”
“Awww, Teach. You know I was just playin’ around. Don’t got to be no reason for havin’ fun.”
“Today, there does, honey. In this case, when you’re talking about faking a gun in your possession at a school, you’d better have a darn good reason for that kind of fun! Do you know you could get kicked out of school for this?”
“Worse things have happened,” she paused, then grinned. “You could send me back to Miss Reed’s class. Thanks for pullin’ me out by the way. I was bored.”
“Can you take nothing seriously?” I was losing the conversation.
Shannon scowled, looked at the ground, and responded, “Man, Teach. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” I leaned back, folded my arms, and waited.
“You know, when I’m serious, when I behave and pay attention and all that – when I’m quiet -” her eyes met mine for an instant before they renewed their fascination with the coffee stain on the carpet, “there’s just too much space to think.”
“And what’s the problem with thinking, hon?” I challenged her, “You seem to need a little help in that area with the trick you pulled today.”
“Nah. That’s not what I mean. I mean that I don’t wanna start thinkin’ ‘bout what’s goin’ on in my life. My bro’s been sellin’ drugs for years and is always runnin’ from the cops. He show up every so often, but I never know where he is. He already been in jail 3 times – sometimes I don’t even know if he’s alive. My daddy and mama – they fight all the time. They don’t really care about me. They just want me to shut up.
“Out there in the streets – it’s rough, man. Nobody care about me. The boys – they just want me for what I give them. If I’m gonna survive, I gotta look tough. That’s why they call me Ice – ‘cause I’m stone cold. Nothing scares me. It can’t.”
Her blank eyes met my wet ones, “See? That’s why I goof off so much. Bein’ loud and funny is noisy enough to drown out all the hell in my life. If I’m quiet, then I have to think about it all. And, tell me, Teach, how the hell is a 13-year-old supposed to know how to handle this kind of shit?”
Frankly, I didn’t think an 85-year-old would know how to handle that kind of shit, but instead I said something about life being hard for everyone, and what mattered in the end was what they did in the face of that hardness. Then I went back to my classroom and sobbed for the frozen realities of her life.
Sometimes the flowers never bloom. No matter how hard they try, the cold turns them into ice, and their petals fall off before they even get a chance to open.