Enjoys Being Held

Monday

Kadrick rolls his apple on the filthy checkered floor of the cafeteria, aiming for a cluster of glue sticks he’s set up by the trash cans. Strike. I flash him a wan thumbs-up, walk the victory-dancing bowler back to his seat, and take a massive bite of his scum-covered Red Delicious. Like a castaway, prisoner, or coma patient, I’ve reached the point where any calories will do. My culinary standards are deader than my pedagogical ideals, and those were all kicked into a mass grave some weeks ago.

To say things have fallen apart would imply they were whole to begin with. But this fiasco with Mr. Kade, one of the parents, has been a remarkable new rock bottom.

In its wake, I’ve made a rigorous effort to deny my students affection. But it’s been hard, this hug embargo. At recess today, Willie charged in for a big one—and with nothing but the boy’s best interests at heart I pivoted, to meet his crinkled, hopeful little face with the sharp of my hip bone. He cried for a good half hour, which back in June I would’ve found horribly upsetting.

The sad thing, or one of the multitudes, is how quickly he’s forgiven me. It’s been two hours at most, and the cuddly barbarian’s already reflattened my defenses. “You’re my dad!” he asserts for the umpteenth time, tiny hands tugging at my leg hair. Yes, yes—of course I should’ve shut this down when I had the chance. But I didn’t and now can’t think of a way to say, “No, I’m not, and when the program ends in five days you’ll never see me again,” without adding more emotional trauma to a life that will almost certainly be bursting with it. I open my mouth, close it, and settle for bouncing my palm off the top of his head.

I touch the boy’s buoyant curls as I would a land mine.

I feel for the sorry little barnacle; it won’t be pretty when they have to scrape him off me. But I try to provide my students with a well-rounded education—and as practical life lessons go, I suppose “love hurts” is a good one to get out of the way early.

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