Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Fifty Pound Block of Frozen Butter

"What?" I said for the fourth time. "I can't hear you."

"Never mind," she mumbled. I can sense when a student has dug in her heels and won't work with me at all, but I gave it one more shot.

"Look, I'm a little hard of hearing. I don't mean to be this way, but I am. Can you speak up?"

"Well, I'm quiet. I just am." She stared me in the eye, daring me. How is it that a feeling in a small room between two people who have never really met can be such a solid mass? It was like a fifty pound block of butter fresh from the freezer.

"Okay," I said slowly and stridently. I tried to think of another tactic. "Suppose your grandmother was hard of hearing. Would you speak so she could hear you or would you let her sit there by herself not understanding a word you said?" I glared back. One more resistive word and I would be done. I'm hard of hearing and not known for my patience either.

And she began to cry.

Oh crap. Now, I'd done it.

"You need a minute," I said more softly. As I closed doors to the adjacent classrooms, I reviewed what I'd said. Yes, my voice had gotten indignant. Yes, I'd repeated myself and dug in my heels when she seemed destined to sit and accomplish nothing. But nothing I'd said was out of phase with what we had to accomplish.

I pushed the lever for paper towels and tore off three sheets the size of tissues. Stupid, rough, tissues.

When I sat back down and handed them to her, I said, "Did you lose your grandmother?"

She nodded and blew her nose.

"And I can tell by the way you're feeling that she must have loved you very much."

She nodded and blew her nose on the second and third paper towels. I got up and got two more. I didn't dare pat her on the back. I didn't know this girl well enough to pat her. I didn't know her at all. All year, I don't think her face had even registered in my mind even though she sat in the front row when the teacher extracted her to work with me. I wondered if she'd go on crying the whole period and we'd get nothing accomplished. We had a full hour of work to get done and only forty more minutes to do it. I decided not to push her too soon. I sat back down and let her be for a minute more.

I handed her the other two fake tissues. She sniffed and seemed to melt some of that resistance. 

She looked up, her face clearing a bit, got up and levered herself two more ugly tissues, blew the rest of her tears out, and threw them all into the trash. Then she sat down. Suddenly, it seemed that there was melted butter all over the table between us.

"Are you ready now?" I said quietly?

"Yes," she said audibly. "I am."

Thank you for listening, jb

No comments:

Post a Comment