Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Down Goes the Teenaged Hoodlum

Five kids were shot at a basketball game at Dunbar High School last Friday. It was a big enough incident that it made the news all across the country -- people called and emailed me to make sure I was okay, and that it hadn't happened at my school.

No, it didn't.

After the first phone call, I spent about a half hour frantically searching the internet to find out first where the shooting had been (AP News is always first, but it's short on important details when your heart is in your throat) and then who Dunbar had been playing in basketball that night (John Hope). I finally found the information I needed by accessing the basketball schedule through the Chicago Public Schools website. We had a basketball game that night, but we weren't playing Dunbar.

No. Not my school, not my kids, but. It could have been.

Earlier last week, I was eating lunch with the Spanish teacher. She's been having a ton of problems with a kid who is one of my particular favorites, a kid who barely ekes by with his grades but he does it with such a sense of good humor that you can't help but love him. Last year we built origami cranes in conjunction with a Japanese book. Every single step was impossible for John to understand and he'd raise his hand for help. Seriously. With the amount of mistakes he made, you'd think he was folding the crane with his feet. But finally he got to the last fold and gave his little paper crane a head. Holding it up, he showed it to me with such pride that you'd think he'd built the Taj Mahal with his bare hands.

He's that kind of kid. He's also the kind of kid who threatens his teachers.

Hey, I said to him a month or so ago. How come your Spanish teacher is telling me stories about you in class?

"What?" John did his best to look shocked. "You know I'm not like that."

I know you're not, but she's telling me you cursed at her over a test.

"That's because she said I was cheating, and I'm not."

John, your answers exactly matched Jose's answers. I hear that you always sit next to the Mexican kids and copy off their papers.

He spread his hands wide. "I wouldn't do that, Miss B. You know that."

I studied him. Perhaps you'd like to have a conversation with your teacher and straighten this out with her, I said.

He grinned. "Sure I will. I promise."

Of course I didn't believe him, but I bugged him so much that he actually did have a half-conversation with her. Of course he ruined it all by copying his next quiz too, and then threatening to hit her with it when she caught him. John is not her favorite student.

So it wasn't that I disbelieved her when she told me at lunch on Monday that John had been shot over the weekend; it was just that I didn't want to believe her.

He wasn't at the Dunbar game, was he?

"Nope," she said. "He was at a party and got shot in the leg. Here's the funny part: he's failing almost all his classes, so his mom made him come to school anyway."

He's at school? I was aghast.

"Yep. You oughta see him, limping up and down the hallway. She wasn't going to let him miss another day of class, not even for a shooting."

I could believe it. John's mom is a force. I'm even a little afraid of her. But good god, if a kid should have an absolute excuse for missing school, getting shot should be it.

I saw him in the hallway a little later in the day and stopped him. Sure enough, he was limping.

I heard about that limp, I said. Please tell me the rumors aren't true.

"What?" he said. "That I got shot? They're true. It wasn't anything, though."

What do you mean it wasn't anything? It was a bullet, wasn't it?

"Yeah, but it went in and right back out again. It doesn't hardly hurt at all." The kid was smiling at me like he always does, as if he hadn't had a bullet in his leg just a few days ago.

I wanted details, of course. Turns out he'd been leaving a party and some guys pulled up and just started shooting. John got caught in the leg. I hadn't heard anything about it in the news. I'm not even sure it made the newspaper. I told him to stay away from these parties, because the next time I heard a bullet caught him, I'd personally kill him. He thought that was hilarious and gave me a big old hug before loping off down the hallway.

I was getting coffee this morning when he came in the school, a woman just behind him. For a second I thought it might be his mother, but no, the face was all wrong. And I remembered his mother taller. Definitely not his mother. He headed off to the cafeteria and I said hello to the newcomer.

"I'm here to get an application for my son," she said.

This wasn't unusual. Tons of eighth graders were applying every day. What was unusual was that her son was already in high school and she wanted an application so she could see if she could transfer him in. "He's a freshman," she said.

Where does he go?

"Dunbar," she sighed. "I've got to get him out of there."

He wasn't at that game ...?

"No. I've just... I've got to get him out of there."

I wished her luck and headed back to my classroom. No, not my kids, but they could have been.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always check to make sure it's not your school when there's any incident in the news. And I always feel so terrible for all the kids all the world over who live where anything terrible can happen--here in Chicagoland, over in Iraq, in various African and Central American hot spots, etc.
Kids SHOULD just be able to BE KIDS!!