Stop, rewind.It’s the news I never wanted to hear – something happened to one of my students.
This something was a gunshot wound to the chest, and the voice on the other end of the phone was telling me, “We’ve set up a crisis center on campus and we need you to cover for one of the teachers.”
“What?” I asked, my mind reeling. And then stupidly, because this should have been obvious at this point, “Who is this?”
“It’s Mary. Can you come in?”
I hesitated. No. I like to keep my tragedies at a distance. But then, “Of course.” No matter that it was ten-forty-five and I was freshly out of the shower, hair a wet tangle, and that getting there in fifteen minutes meant slipping into yesterday’s clothes. I was covering for another teacher, because that’s what I am these days – a substitute teacher. I put in a few days a week doing whatever is needed of me and then I leave it behind and focus on my writing.
I hadn’t asked who the student was and while I was passing cars on the freeway, every worst-case scenario went through my head. A seventeen-year-old boy. It could be any of my former students…
As it turned out, that student was Dillon. As it turned out, the shot was self-inflicted.
Play: Dillon, the happy-go-lucky kid in my second period sophomore Honors class. Not the best student, not the most dedicated – he often sat back with an amused smile and sort of observed everyone else doing their work – but the kind of person you just liked having around. And there were moments of brilliance – he could argue a point with the best of them; give him an opportunity to draw and whatever he produced was something that stayed on your wall for a year or more. Signed, proudly, Dillon.
He liked to write on my chalkboard: “Dillon is Mrs. D’s favorite!”
After sophomore year, he pestered me constantly, “Will you teach junior English? Will you teach senior English?”
Our paths didn’t cross in the classroom again until this year, when as a substitute I ran into him all over the place. “Mrs. D!” he’d yell, seeing me come up the sidewalk.
Little encounters, a few seconds out of the day.
The kind of thing you take for granted.
I’ll probably never know what was going through his mind, how he got to the point where this was the best option.
I wish I could tell him: it gets better, no matter what it is. You’ll be an adult soon. You can make choices for yourself. You have the whole world in front of you.
Paula Treick DeBoard