Wednesday, October 13, 2010
She finally did it.
It wasn’t quite sympathy, Evan wasn’t sure what it was at all, frankly. But the 'look' both touched him and hurt him all the like. It was an expression, a look that almost every member of the faculty cast upon him at some point during his journey through his scholastic career. The faculty members were always going back and forth; vacillating between empathy and frustration. Evan understood; he really did. At the tender age of nine, he already knew. He was sure they had no idea how well he understood their frustration. The issue was, that he simply didn’t care how they felt about it unless they were willing to reach out and understand him; and as teachers and counselors, that was beyond their scope; outside of their jurisdiction. All they cared about was that he wasn’t really there.
Evan was absent more than he was present; he was despondent and lazy when he was there; he didn’t pay attention most of the time. All day, his mind wandered, the only things that engaged him were projects that involved drawing, creating, writing, painting. The rest, he would simply tune out. Homework was rarely done, if it was, it was messy and slapdash. His notebooks were full of absentminded doodles. He hid in the library and read for hours, and sometimes he would hide in a bathroom stall, lifting his feet during recess so nobody knew he was there. He absorbed his education in his own way… but he never put any stock in proving it by doing what was required of him. He scraped by, grade to grade… barely. They knew he wasn’t stupid; they'd tested him. He was quite the opposite and was in fact extremely bright; significantly ahead of the others. But his intelligence served little benefit when he was completely disengaged.
The sting about the teacher's remarks on his hygiene still lingered. The teacher had told his mother that she should address his hygiene issues. His chronic state of humiliation flared into a hot reddening of his cheeks and casting down of his eyes. He was well-aware of his greasy hair, his stained jeans, the hand-me-down, out of style shirts he wore, his shabby, worn shoes. In case he forgot on any given day, the other students were always very pleased to remind him with underhanded comments, and the teacher always made a point to mention something about it during parent/teacher conferences. She would point out his lacking to a mother who had other, far direr things occupying her mind. And when mom got up and walked to the snack table after spewing out a litany of blame of which none fell on her, the teacher gave him that 'look'. The one that said; I want to care, but I just don’t have the time. You're not my kid... it's not my responsibility... I don’t want to get attached… it would be too hard. All night, he had to hear how embarrassing it was for his mother to endure questions about his failures, and his mother asked him how he could do this to her; how he could embarrass her so.
Evan had no allies. No true allies.
His counselor, Dr. Ardell, would lean close and look him deep into his eyes; “Evan, you can tell me. You can tell me anything. Nobody will get hurt, nobody will know, all you have to do is just tell me what’s going on,” he would say. Evan looked at the man’s pasty skin, the ugly tie, the pink shirt with the coffee stain on the front; his eyes took in the large pores on the man’s face, filled with dark dots; the receding hairline flecked with pieces of shedding skin; he would shrink back from the rancid coffee-breath and wrinkle his nose at it. Never once did he part his lips. Not once did he give Dr. Ardell what he wanted... the truth. He was provided puzzles to solve, questions to gauge his intelligence, evaluations to determine his aptitude. He breezed through them, all too aware what the man wanted... all too keen on the motivations and finding a bit of power, and a bit of delight in depriving him of it. It was his truth the bear, it belonged to him. Adults have proven over and over again to be detached and unreliable no matter what they sometimes said, so he would trust his secrets only to himself. Dr. Ardell would lean back in his chair, the frustration plain on his brow. Evan would traipse back to class, feeling glad that his counseling session had gotten him out of the scrutiny of his classmates. Dread would fill the pit of his stomach when he returned to class. He was always far too behind, far too daunted to catch up. So he would simply shuffle to his desk, sit down, open up a notebook and pretend to listen while he doodled on the side of his page.
Evan must have looked particularly pathetic this day. His teacher gave him that 'look'. The one that wasn’t sympathy or understanding or curiosity, or resignation or indifference; whatever it was, he didn’t care, as long as it wasn’t the accusing, angry glare he usually got when he didn’t hand in his homework, or had no idea there was a test because he’d been absent for two days. He dragged his feet as the class settled in, and he listened to them fuss and muss about in their desks, whispering to one another; the girls giggling, someone snogging in a noseful of mucus… His eyes were on the fluttering leaves of the poplars outside. He was keenly aware of the ticking clock as it arduously crept through each second, dragged itself into the next minute; crawled irrevocably but laboriously towards the end of the day. He yearned for the end of the day for no reason at all. He had nothing to look forward to.
As he walked home, his book bag, which hadn’t been unloaded or refreshed in a few weeks weighed him down. Another day. Another blank, indifferent day—the heavy dread of home was worse than the weight of books on his shoulder; it slowed his stride even more. As Evan rounded the corner of his street, there was something different. On the overgrown lawn was a gleaming police cruiser. Smack in the center of it, lights flashing. A second one was hunkered underneath the messy tree at the curb, already sporting a light coat of the tree's sheddings. He could hear the scratchy sound of the police radios. His stomach turned icy cold. He broke into a run, letting his book bag fall to the ground as he loped across the cracked asphalt, eyes searching. Then he stopped; in the middle of the street, he just stopped.
An officer was taping the house. A van marked ‘county coroner’ pulled in front of him, momentarily blocking his view of the police officers at the door. Another siren sounded a few streets away, and a third police car was arriving with the van. In the doorway, his mother was crying. She clutched her cardigan closed, her eyes puffy and bleary, and her hands shaking. She looked less mousy than usual; she looked almost radiant in her misery--vibrant in the blossoming of her downfall. Evan watched as the officer took her out of the house, and led her to the car. She didn’t see him as the officer helped her into the back seat of the cruiser, but the officer did. The man was huge; a pillar, scary and reassuring all at once. He closed the door to the car, and turned to Evan, coming to him in only a few large strides.
Evan liked how they walked. He imagined they taught cops how to walk that way in police academy; to swagger so that all the gadgets and weaponry and bludgeons on their hips would be brandished as if to challenge anyone to just give them a reason. He could hear his mother sobbing from the car; over the din of the newly arriving police car with its siren blaring. She never looked up--too wrapped up in her own sorrow. The cop seemed like he was a mile tall. He stooped, the process of lowering to Evan’s eye-level seemed to take forever, like it was slow motion.
The look wasn’t like the others. The eyes weren’t the same. It wasn’t the look. No. It was direct and searching, good and steady.
“She finally did it, didn’t she?” Evan asked. “She finally decided enough was enough, huh?” The cop pursed his lips, and nodded; he reached up and patted Evan’s greasy hair. The kid smirked in a weird, distant sort of way and said: “good.”
“C’mon. A lady from human services will want to talk to you then. ‘S’at your book bag?” Evan looked back at the street, where his book bag had been slightly flattened by the tire of the last police car. He ran to pick it up. It felt weightless. As he moved back to the officer’s side, a gurney was being rolled out of the house, an oily looking, black bag shrouding the body. The police lights coloured it red and blue in lightning flashes. He looked up at the police officer, his eyes alive.