I had the honor of connecting with one of my former students earlier this week. Eddie is a Junior now. I was his teacher for 1st-4th grades. Eddie was my favorite. Always will be. Oh, I love all my students. I really do. But Eddie reached in and grabbed my heart in a powerful way.
As a first grader, Eddie was a curly headed scrapper. He was hyper-vigilant, always ready to fight or fly, always ready to come to the aid of his younger sister. Eddie trusted no one. Life had given him no reason to. Eddie had endured years of abuse and neglect. The kind that makes your flesh crawl and wonder if God exists. But there he was. Every day daring life to cross him yet again.
Eddie had reactive attachment disorder, was on heavy duty medications and couldn’t seem to get the hang of reading or writing. I think when one is all about surviving, there really is nothing left to work out letters and numbers. Eddie lived with his mother and younger sister. His mother had mental health challenges as well as intellectual deficits. I would guess her IQ at about 70-75. They lived in poverty and chaos. They still do.
As you can imagine, Eddie spent much time with me. He had trouble attending in his 1st grade class. He liked to hide in lockers. He was not shy about telling the teacher off or using physical aggression towards those he perceived as real threats.
As you all know by now, I did not use any behaviorist methods with Eddie and when classroom teachers tried, they paid dearly for it. Eddie frustrated his teachers to no end. He was a bright kiddo and the assumption was he was choosing not to learn and comply. Oh if it were that simple.
Eddie worked on Aunt Sally and I gave him plenty of time to play. He never had the luxury of many toys or time to pretend play. He was the man of the house and real men don’t have time to play. I believe that play time critical to Eddie’s development. He loved building, so I stocked my room full of junk to build things with, Lego, string, tubes, tape and glue. He loved running booby traps with the string all over the room, weaving the string in and out of chairs, around tables and always the doorknob. I often thought he was working something out, some past incident where ugly adults got to him. He was trying to rewrite some bit of his history where he had the power to keep the bad guys away.
I caught a lot of flack for the way I supported Eddie in school. There were many that wanted me to extract a pound of flesh each time he was aggressive or disrespectful, noncompliant. I let Eddie weave whenever he wanted and Aunt Sally gave him some escape from the harshness of the world.
When I left that teaching position, my replacement removed all toys and building supplies. She removed the community tables and put in individual desks and hung up the dreaded behavior chart and set up a token economy. Eddie escalated and eventually ended up in self contained programs within the district. He has finally landed in a good place with a teacher whose heart he owns.
Meeting with Eddie was a gift and a heartbreak. We sat and talked about his life, and while he did not disclose too much personal information, he told me enough. Plus I hear things in our community. None of it is good and now that Eddie is a grown ass junior in high school, he has very difficult choices to make. He is surrounded at home by drug dealers and users. He sees certain others making big money easily as they sell their drugs while he washes dishes in a restaurant for minimum wage. He worries about his sister a lot. That kid would die for his baby sister.
I don’t see a way out for Eddie. Try as I might, I don’t know how one overcomes what he has been handed as a life. It’s all on him. Just one wrong turn puts him on the same path as those he calls family. Eddie has a heart. He knows right from wrong and would never ever bring children into the world he has to survive in. He is a gentleman, a hard worker. That dishwashing job isn’t going to last too long. And while Eddie says if he does well they will move him to fry cook, before that has a chance to happen, Eddie will tell them what for one too many times and that will be it. We talked about how important a good reference was to have for future jobs. We talked about his interest in construction and classes at the community college. We talked about the road ahead and reminisced a bit. We were careful around each other. We had not connected in 5 years which made for some awkwardness between us. I regret that.
The overcoming and getting through this seems impossible from my perspective, but I will root Eddie on, do what I can, answer when he calls. I made him promise one thing. Call me for help when he needed it. I didn’t ask him not to drink or smoke weed. I didn’t ask him to make good choices and do his school work. That would have been disrespectful.
I cried all the way home.
And then a message from Eddie came. When was I coming back.