Back when I was in high school, English and creative writing were my favorite classes. Through much of those years I kept ending up with the same English teacher. I couldn’t seem to escape him some how. I didn’t dislike him, but his themes bored me. He was a Jewish Man and focused our curriculum on cultural studies, a lot in the way of Spanish literature. From time to time Mr. B and I would butt heads. I know a lot of my peers didn’t like him, but on some weird level we just clicked.
I think it’s because he noticed and he cared. I was the small kid invisible in the back of the class. Half the time I spent sleeping as he droned on and on. I always got high marks on all my tests and I handed in every assignment without fail. It seemed like I cared about my grades and yet there I was, hidden by tall boys, my head buried in my arm, passed out on my desk. After busting me for the zillionth time he kept me after class to bring it up to me.
“Ianna, why are you always sleeping in my class?” He asked trying not to lose his patience.
I’d look down at my feet and mumble “Just tired… ” My eyes couldn’t meet his.
“Why are you tired all the time?”
I’d just shake my head, refusing to look up.
“Ianna, you are a smart kid, but this business of sleeping in class has got to stop. I’d hate to have to fail you for it.”
Upon hearing that tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. “I can’t,” I mumble. “I’m sorry…”
He knows I’m on the verge of tears. He softens. “What’s going on. You can tell me.”
“Promise you won’t call DSS?” I say.
“That depends,” He admits. “I can’t let you stay in a dangerous situation. “
“It’s not dangerous,” I tell him. Then I realize that relief will come if I just explain it to him. “My parents got divorced just before I started high school. I live with my mom, my 3 brothers, and my sister. My mom goes to school across the state and she leaves the house early in the morning. After school she drives another couple hundred miles or so to work nights at the hospital in the city. She is never home. She works really hard. My older sister and brother are in charge and well… they take advantage of our freedom. They have lots of friends over all the time and they party. It’s loud and it’s noisy and I can never sleep. I have a house, food, and all that. I’m safe. Just no one really watches me. You can’t fail me. My mom wants me to get good grades so I can go to college. I’m sorry I sleep everyday, I’m just always tired.”
Mr. B. listened attentively. Once he was convinced I was safe, he assured me that he would not report it. We both knew my situation would have been a lot worse if I entered the system. He even told me if I had to be late on assignment he’d understand as long as I talked to him about it.
Of all the teachers that I’ve ever had, Mr. B. was one that had the greatest impact on me. I found out he grew up in a similar environment. My friends had parents that were so involved. My mother was practically a stranger. It made me feel like I was indeed that kid from a broken home. Having Mr. B. know my secret and silently cheer me on from the side lines really meant something special to me.