East Harlem, New York

Celise had been shot on the outdoor basketball court in front of the public housing unit in Harlem where she lived with her mother. The bullet, intended for someone else, entered her upper back and traveled to her jaw, where it had lodged. She was in seventh grade but had not returned to school since the shooting. As a reading specialist at her school in central Harlem, I was assigned the task of homeschooling Celise for a month or so, until summer.

I had been warned that Celise’s jaw had been wired shut and that she wore a neck brace. She had no memory of the shooting, and I was most emphatically reassured that Celise was fine. No one mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to understand most of what she was saying, or that her right arm, severely weakened, would make writing nearly impossible. She was still sleeping in her mother’s bed, and because she was so scared, she wanted her family to move away. But, I was told, she was fine. She was alive.

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