Chapter 2Sean hurried down the street, using his umbrella more as a shield against the horizontal onslaught of rain. With the wind and the sudden downpour which decided to occur right after he’d found a parking space, there were more areas of his body getting wet than remaining dry.
Coming to a skidding halt on the polished linoleum floor of his middle school lobby in the Bronx where he worked, Sean closed his umbrella, watching the multiple droplets of water form a small pool on the floor. Better get Chuck to mop that up before the teachers arrive. Last thing I need is someone to slip and hurt themselves. The way his luck had been running since his evening with Jerry two nights earlier, a fall would most likely result in a work-related injury the outcome of which would be a gaping hole in his teaching staff as someone took a long-term disability leave to “recover”.
It wasn’t until he was surrounded by the familiar pictures, books, and his ever present stack of observation reports, letters, and professional development plans which required his feedback that Sean felt any sense of normalcy. His suit coat, placed carefully on a hanger, was nearly soaked through. Small patches of his shirt were also wet. Luckily he wasn’t wearing white otherwise his skin would’ve shown through the material. At least his pants were dry, only the bottom part having been exposed to the rain. Without a change of clothing, he’d just have to deal with it.
As he flipped on his laptop and his email screen appeared, Sean scrolled through the list of new messages, the tension in his shoulders slowly seeping away. Whatever else was going on in Sean’s life, he could always count on work to ground him.
There was nothing of tremendous importance in his inbox and Sean wasn’t ready to tackle the paperwork. Standing, he raised his arms above his head and stretched, allowing even more tension to edge its way out of his body. Strolling casually to his credenza, he ran his hand along the worn spines of his favorite educational books. Dewey, Gardner, Burns, Routman, greats in the educational field.
But it was the collection of quotes which he finally picked up, the one with the lettering nearly completely faded, smudged pages, and hundreds of dog-eared corners. This particular book he’d received as a gift from his grandfather. He’d brought it with him when he served in Korea. “The words in this book reminded me why I was there,” he’d said. Even after his grandfather had passed, the saying helped Sean to feel like the man was always with him; still his guide and mentor.
He flipped the book open and it fell to the page with the quote he read at the beginning of each day. “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.“ - Corrie Ten Boom.
He’d lived the truth of those words day in and day out, year after year, as students came and went from his school.
Middle school was a hard enough time in a person’s life, but to experience adolescence in an environment filled with drugs, abuse, and gangs, his work took on new levels of importance. He could worry about each student every day, but then he’d become paralyzed, incapable of making any choices, let alone the right ones. Something in him, nothing he could point to or name, just a natural talent genetically imprinted in his core, gave him the ability to strike the balance with his kids so he could maintain objectivity; could make a real difference.
Sean ran his finger over the quote on the page, worn from frequent touches, yet the words could vanish completely and he’d know each one. Maybe his ability to think objectively, to remain rational in the face of chaos, was more than a professional calling. He’d reacted the same way when he’d tested positive for HIV.
He replaced the book, pushing such thoughts from his mind. There were far too many things requiring his immediate attention. There was no room to harp on mistakes he’d made in the past even though they continued to impact his present and future.
About to tackle the pile on his desk, Sean was saved by the phone. A double ring. Hmmm. It’s an external call. He glanced at his watch. It was only six forty-five. Teacher and student absences were routed to the outside office phones, not his personal line. A call at this time of the morning equaled something bad.
With a heavy sigh, Sean skidded across the room to the phone. Picking up on the fourth or fifth ring, he made a mental note to ask his secretary to have his calls forwarded to message after two rings. “Hello. This is Principal Sullivan.”
“Good morning, Sean. It’s Margo Brown.” Her voice, normally bubbly, was clipped and formal. “How are you this morning?”
What the hell is the Superintendent calling me at this hour? “I’m fine Margo. What can I do for you?”
“My office received a call from precinct thirty-seven, domestic violence case, it involves one of your students.”
Sean heard Corrie Ten Boom telling him to fill today with strength. He’d received numerous calls such as the current one, but something about this call felt off. Bracing himself, he ventured the one question he needed answered.
“Lamar.” The gravity in her suggested she understood the internal reaction Sean was currently experiencing. His heart leapt to his throat and he fell back, gripping the chair just before he fell to the floor.
Lamar. His favorite. The diamond in a mountain of rough.
“Was he arrested?” In a community where arrests were the norm, a student spending time behind bars served more as a badge than an embarrassment.
“No, no. The father was arrested.” A silence filled him as he waited for the superintendent to continue. So far this sounds pretty standard, so why the early call and the urgency of the voice? “The boy was hospitalized. He won’t be in today, but you’ll need a plan for when he returns.”
Shit! Counseling kids off drugs, away from drinking, helping them to resolve conflicts without violence, even talking to them about the pressures of joining gangs; these were things he could handle.
Having a kid hospitalized, on the other hand, stole from Sean’s resilience, chipping at his sense of control from the outside in. The fact it was Lamar, a soft spoken, smart, beautiful young man ripped at Sean’s guts and for a moment he thought he might puke, but the sensation passed after a few deep breaths. The kid was thirteen-going-on-twenty. He exuded kindness. He had skin the color of coffee and cream, round brown eyes, and a lanky body which was somehow sturdy at the same time. Lamar was someone who could go far if given the right supports along the way.
And, Sean suspected, Lamar was probably gay. Lamar wasn’t overly social, having a small group of friends, most of whom were girls. He’d often take his lunch back to his classroom, helping his teachers organize their rooms or prepare for their next class.
There’d been a rumor a few months earlier that he’d kissed a boy, but rumors weren’t worth attention unless students began to talk and ridicule. Still, Sean kept an eye on the kid. Made a point of greeting him in the hallway, checking in on how he was doing in his classes and how things were going at home.
To picture this child, the sweet, unassuming student, in a hospital as a result of domestic violence was not something Sean was prepared to handle. Yet prepared or not, he had never let a student down and wouldn’t start today.
“Tell me what you know.”
Margo continued with an even and understanding tone despite the fact she’d just waited through several seconds of silence. “I don’t know anything other than what I’ve told you. Like I said, it was a message. We haven’t reached the mother yet. But I think you might have an idea why your eighth grade student may have received a beating from his father.”
Ice shot through Sean’s system, starting in his heart and radiating outwards, like little shards were bounding inside his veins. “Because he’s gay.”
“I don’t know. But I’ve contacted Child Services and a case worker will meet with you today. If your suspicions about this student are correct and this domestic dispute is related to sexuality, you’ll need the extra support.”
A hint of defensiveness flashed in Sean’s mind. He was perfectly capable of handling the situation. But the thought vanished as quickly as it’d come. This isn’t about you. It’s about a scared, hurt boy.
“I think that’s a great idea, Marge. Do you know when I should expect a visit?”
“First thing.” Sean looked at his watch once again, as if it held the answers to all of his questions. “He’s a great guy and really good. I know this boy is special to you, and Emery Benton will help you help Lamar.”
That one comment was why Sean loved what he did. He worked with a woman who supervised about a hundred and thirty schools in the geographically poorest urban district in the country and still knew a specific student was special to him. “Thanks Marge, I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
“Good luck.” Her voice had returned to its normal tone. “Keep me posted on this one.”
“Will do.” Sean hung up the phone then lifted his hands to his face and rubbed vigorously. “Shit.” He’d kept his voice quiet, measured, but his mind was racing. A picture of Lamar, unconscious, in a hospital bed, ripped at his nerves. As much as he helped his kids make the right choices, he had no control over the choices other people made. This came close to his worst nightmare coming true.
Sean closed his eyes and took several deep breaths through his nose, releasing them evenly through an open mouth. With each breath, Sean focused inward, gently urging his body to relax and release. After ten breaths he was able to regain some measure of balance.
There was no use overthinking the situation until he had information. All he knew was Lamar’s father was arrested, Lamar was in the hospital, and whatever happened was being labeled domestic violence. That didn’t mean Lamar was the victim of a homophobic hate crime.
Turning to the stack of papers, Sean took the first one into his hands. An unsatisfactory rating for a senior teacher. The union’s gonna have a field day with this. He skimmed through the report, attempting to convince himself he’d actually pushed Lamar from his mind and moved on to other responsibilities.
After reading the first sentence for the third time, he had to submit to the truth. He wasn’t going to be able to focus until he found out what happened and formed a plan. Evaluations, letters and professional development took a back seat to his students, and right now Lamar needed his full attention.
Fill today with strength. From your mouth to God’s ears Corrie.