On Violence

I was running errands after work today, nodding off as I stood in line. At the register, the cashier slid my receipt across the counter to be signed. Smoothly, I scribbled my signature in a blank space in the middle of the receipt, probably six inches above the clearly labeled “SIGN HERE” dotted line. We both laughed.
“It’s been a long day,” I sighed.
“Girl, mine’s not even half-started. I’m here until 10!”
And I let her win, because there are things I just can’t say, horrors that become the realities of the job. You don’t get to say, Well, I did see a kid get stabbed today, so I’m pretty beat.

Sometimes, I think there might be something in the air in October. It’s a morbid thought, but most of my Octobers as a teacher have brought moments of disturbing violence. Last year was the worst, the one that keeps me up odd nights and catches me tearing up during The Mindy Project. But, no, not the worst, because I don’t know that I can scale any of it. They are all the worst; they all haunt me.

The noise on the street this afternoon, it was the sound that crowds of kids make in movies when the main character gets to sing onstage with her pop star heroes and everyone loves her. Like that, but all wrong. The screaming and surging, laughter like breaking glass – Fight! Fight! Oh, shit – he’s bleeding! We came out of the building into an afternoon that felt like summer, blotting out the early morning’s bite of winter. I was standing in a square of sunlight, smiling as I chatted with a colleague, and the sidewalk exploded.

After security directed me away from the crowds, I sat on the train feeling hollow and let the urge to detach -check Facebook, double-tap things on Instagram, reread Harry Potter on Kindle – wash over me. Every time it faded, the memory of the boy’s shoulder, smeared in thick, bright red, came back sharply. And I just got so tired.

I’ve never wanted to teach somewhere else. I don’t think longingly of the suburban schools I attended; I don’t want to experience the education systems in other countries. Since I started teaching in the Bronx, it has been the Bronx. But every now and then, I wonder what it would be like to teach far away from this kind of violence. Thinking of my own high school experience, the violence was different – quiet and familial, behind closed doors. There is an impulse to push these current events into the silence, old habits and such.

Teaching about violence when incidences of violence in the community are immediate and real, is hard. And scary, and daunting. Everything is too big and too close. It is the difference between dangerous things happening somewhere, and dangerous things happening in front of you, to people you know, to you. There is a healing that comes with the planning, reading, writing, and sharing, but it’s that resetting-the-bone kind of healing. Only slower. And harder, and scarier. I want to be brave. I want to help my students interrogate the world they live in, help them process tragedies instead of brushing them off or accepting them as the way of things.

But if I’m honest, despite everything I want to be, I am. I am tired, my limbs are leaden; just keeping my head up is the greatest effort. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about today, and if I hadn’t survived this many Octobers so far, I would wonder how I will have the strength.


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