What Lies Beneath

Great-horned Owl close up

Oh, for the wisdom and patience to see, really see what lies beneath.

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She drives me crazy. Most days, she enters my classroom vibrating—a steady stream of energy crackling out in the form of zingers and shallow repartee with her classmates. I gently chide her; remind her that her words break our classroom rules. “Which one?” she asks. Her bewilderment looks genuine.

“Respecting others,” I murmur as I move about the room, trying to settle the other students down by my presence.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ojeda!” she calls from across the room. My attempt to handle the matter discreetly fails.

“What did you do?” a second squirrely sophomore calls out.

“I’m not respecting you guys.” She giggles. I groan inwardly and whisper a prayer for patience as I try to redirect their focus to the projector at the front of the room. Today’s goal, bell work and instructions for their journals shine like a beacon of hope.

I hope they will settle down soon.

Fifteen minutes pass. She has kept her constant stream to a low murmur. Students put their journals away and settle down to read (a routine that has taken months for them to learn). Peace reigns for two minutes until someone silently farts. Students jump up and fan their noses.

“Gross!”

“It stinks in here. Can I go outside?”

I shake my head and move to open the door and let in a blast of icy desert air. Students settle down to read again—they have discovered the power of books to teleport them out of their lives and daily circumstances. Everyone except her. She starts reading her book out loud—loud enough to disturb those nearby. A shell of hardness crackles around my heart. I want to strangle something. Instead I move to the computer to enter a discipline report for my wayward miss. I add another incident and hesitate before hitting the ‘send’ button. I should really handle this myself.

I stand next to her and whisper, “If you need to read out loud, please read quietly enough to not disturb your neighbors.”

She nods and her voice dips to a whisper. I spend the class period close by, reminding her each time her voice fills the room. Despair cloaks me by the time the bell rings. Will they ever learn? Why does it take so long for them to settle down?

***

I stand outside the gymnasium, performing my last duty in a long and stressful day. The wind whips my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, and I’m secretly thankful that it’s too cold for any of the students to linger outside. And then she comes out of the gym and starts chatting. I don’t feel like chatting. I crave peace and silence and time to ponder the beauty of the stars reaching out through the canopy of pink, purple and blue.

“What will you do this summer, Mrs. Ojeda?” she asks. I sigh silently and focus on her. I tell her I might go to school or I might travel. I ask her what she will do.

“I don’t know. Last summer I got in trouble.”

Before I know it, she tells me about her trouble. I don’t understand it all, but I don’t want to interrupt. She and her little brother live with a guardian, a tío. She got tired of living with his family because she felt like a slave there, and so she went to live with other family members. Her tio thought she was living with a boyfriend and got very angry with her.

I ask why she didn’t live with her mom. She explains that her mother had to sell her house because her step-dad passed away. The story unfolds and each layer pokes remorse into my heart.

“My step-dad was a borracho, you know, the town drunk.” Her soft voice holds none of the giddy emotion that usually punctuates her conversation. “He got beat up one night when he was drunk. It hurt his head, and the doctors told him he needed to not drink any more.”

I nod and wait for her to continue. I don’t want to pry, but I want her to know I am listening. I pray for wisdom.

“He and my mom were drunk one night. Pretty drunk.” I think of the irony of her statement. “When my mom woke up next to him, he wasn’t breathing.” A family member heard the step-dad’s name mentioned on a police scanner and texted my student. Despite the frigid temperatures, they woke the tío and ran to the car to drive over to the mom’s house as fast as they could.

They stood outside in their pajamas and flip-flops and watched as the paramedics carried the step dad away in a body bag.

She shivers, and for the first time I notice that her only protection against the wind and cold are jeans and a hoodie. I offer her my coat.

“Naw, I’m fine, Mrs. Ojeda,” she assures me.

I nod and move a little closer, to block the wind with my body. She shares a little more, and then the bell rings to signal the end of recreation. A group of students heads up the stairs to the Bible classroom and yell down at her, “Are you coming to prayer meeting?”

“I don’t go to prayer meeting,” she says.

“All you have to do is check in to the dorm and let them know you’re going,” I assure her. “Anyone can go.”

She shrugs and heads towards the dorm. I walk with her and murmur words of encouragement about her future. Another girl heads out the doors right as we reach them. “I’ll wait for you if you want to go to prayer meeting,” the girl offers.

She rushes in the door to yell to the dean that she’s going to prayer meeting tonight. Our conversation forgotten.

I won’t forget. Compassion and her sister love move in to kick down my petty shell of resentment. Now I know what lies beneath. Patience blossoms. Tomorrow, I will be different.
This week I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant and friends for story time.  If you’d like to join us in crafting a story each week, or even occasionally, click here

I STILL HATE PICKLES

About Anita Ojeda

Anita currently teaches high school English and U.S. History. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

7 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath

  1. Beautiful. When something like this happens I always find myself wondering why I don’t spend every minute just trying to reach out to people, because you never know what they may be going through. Thanks for the reminder.
    Katie recently posted…Dream of a daughterMy Profile

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