Someone to Help Me Along
by Sheena Koops
It’s the beginning of period three… nobody is here yet, and I am still fighting tears after period two. A young man comes in five minutes late and tosses his books onto a table. “What, it’s just me?”
“Yup,” I say, looking between my computer screen and the day book on my lap. No eye contact.
“So, how is your day?” he says.
“Pretty crappy.” I look up and now he has seen my red eyes. “I hate grade ten boys.”
“Am I one of them?” he says, sitting backwards in his chair, facing my desk.
“Nope. You’re in the adult twelve, right, grade twelve?”
He nods, picks up his black baseball hat from the table, raises it toward his head, catches himself, puts it back onto the table.
“How’s your day?” I say.
“Not bad, not great.” He tells me about some relationship stuff, baby on the way with an old girlfriend. Wants to send money, but she told him to keep his charity.
I tell him a little about a fight with my husband this morning. “Just misunderstanding stuff,” I say.
He says that when he tries to be nice, it gets thrown back in his face because people think it’s weak. I tell him about my “grade ten boys” and how I feel the same thing, trying to be kind and then people see it as weakness. The tears start down my face and he just keeps listening. His body language is open, kind eyes, nods a little. No big deal.
I swivel my chair toward him. “I’m fighting between keeping my heart open, or closing it up. If I stay open, it hurts, if I get cold and angry, I can protect myself, but I don’t want to be that person, so I have to feel the hurt.”
He leans his head to one side, looking more like a counselor than a kid who’s been out of school for three years. “What I’ve learned is that people have to learn things on their own. Guys like that, they’ll have to learn the hard way.”
“But I feel like such a fool, crying in front of my students. Then I start worrying what people think, what they’re saying out there.” I look at the open doorway that leads to the hallway.
He smiles. “I didn’t used to listen. When people used to be kind to me, I still did what I wanted to do.” His tone is not bragging or apologizing, just saying it like it is. “Another thing is when guys act like that, it’s usually because something is bothering them.”
The tears are hot on my eyelids; the lump in my throat hurts like I’ve swallowed a rock. I stare at my desk, not looking up, but I can tell he is looking straight at me when he starts to speak.
“What I’ve learned is that you have to let it go, and the best way to deal with a situation like that is to just cry.”
A silent sob loosens the rock in my throat. I listen and cry.
“One time in jail, I was told that the biggest men are the ones who will cry, talk it out, let it go. I cried a lot when I was in jail.”
“That’s what I believe.” I look straight at him, choking a little, “But I don’t think other people believe that.”
He leans forward. “You know, in our culture, when the elders are trying to teach someone something and then the person acts like that, they just leave them alone to figure it out themselves.”
I nod, wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. I am breathing deeper. “You’re right,” I say.
Two young men come into the classroom. One says, “Mrs. Koops, can I write my exam?” I pull two exams from the filing cabinet, one for each, and they pull up chairs to a table. The young man with the black baseball cap goes back to his Wagamese novel, Keeper’n Me. I’m left thinking that sometimes we have to figure things out on our own; but sometimes, just at the perfect time, we are sent someone to help us along.
I haven't seen this young man since he left the classroom that day, but I will never forget him, his kindness or his wisdom. I will pray for him out on his road until we meet again.