I don’t have a degree in psychology, psychiatry, or a show on network television telling folks how to handle the Ford tough terrain known as Everyday Life. But today I found myself in the middle of a counseling session with one of my students. This is not uncommon in the composition classroom;so much of one’s self is revealed in writing especially when you’re instructed to write about things that matter to you as my students are instructed.
So the boy has been telling me his stuff since a face-numbing day in late January. And I listen as carefully and yet carelessly as possible.
He tells me of his meds; his loves and lost loves; what the counselor suggests he should do to calm his emotionally charged responses to it all.
I used to be accused of having an old soul. Now, I’m just getting older. I was a precocious kid who worried about Black on Black crime in middle school when everybody else was trying to get a date to the eighth grade prom. With my glasses and hair—no description of either necessary—those worries were pretty irrelevant.
And I can see around corners.
Sometimes I see the slashed faces coming on home and figure Jack the Ripper needs no new victims—at least not me. So I head in the other direction. My face is not my paycheck but I like it okay.
I decided to guard far more than my grill very early in life. I gave this decision names: boyfriends and stress and the roundness of my belly.
The decision would probably be cloning itself with new names except that I fessed up. To myself anyway.
One rainy evening a May or two ago I gave up and admitted that I know what the edge of the ledge looks like; how bad a body has to feel to want to break. And I have known since the days of watching the news and nail-biting over dead black boys in DC and Philly. Considering someone else’s ledge made mine seem less high, less perilous.
I know how many straws it takes for that same body to break and have been broken more times than I care to recount. Jack the Ripper was not capable of making me miserable enough to forget I was miserable already. Mostly, I know that the straws do not have names.
So the boy tells me that She is the Event. There are scars on his arms to prove this. He has medication to prove this. Or could it be when his mother left? Or maybe PTSD from two tours of duty. I tell him as gently as I can, uneducated and all as I am, that the straws do not have names. There is no Big Event.
When the back cracks, and I have already been warned that it will eventually crack beyond repair unless I find my way back to that May; that it will not be as he waits for, a Big Event. It will be a face numbing day in January, maybe some Saturday afternoon in August, maybe today. I hope he finds his way to May soon. Maybe we should walk together.