Last week, in my post You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught to Hate I left you hanging with me being in my classroom alone with an armed and paranoid student (several of you wrote to tell me about the suspense). Let’s go back to that scene.
Henry had re-entered my classroom about fifty minutes after school had dismissed on a Friday afternoon. When I looked up from my work, I noticed immediately that he was wielding a kitchen knife. My first response was to yell and run, but my next response was to get away from my desk since it placed me in a corner against a wall. I almost always wear high-heeled shoes to school, so I slipped them off. I was going to have to go about this very carefully.
I slowly got up from my desk and tried to remain quiet and calm. I guarantee you, this was not easy. My body’s temperature instantly went colder, my tongue instantly went drier. My breath became shallow. I was afraid. I knew I could not let Henry know this, but I truly was feeling the panic rise up inside me. In my mind, I went back to all my training. Nothing had really prepared me for this (since then, I have taken many courses to know what to do in this type of situation). What my training did prepare me for was to keep my voice quiet, to maintain specific stances in relationship to Henry, and let him say what he needed to say. I would nod and give the “I’m listening to you” cues. I told him I appreciated him telling me how he felt. I asked him what his plan was now.
He informed me, “I’m going to Hurt You with this Knife,” and then he was going to take me back to his father’s house. He told me that he and his father knew I was part of the conspiracy to get him taken away from his dad and sent back to his mother’s home (this, in fact, was not true. His mother had sadly realized that she could not let him back into her home for both her safety and the safety of her other children). They also knew I was working with the government to have their guns taken away from them (again, not true). I gave the listening cues and quietly said I appreciated that he was telling me this information. Then, he told me how his father was going to rape me and all the frightening details that would take place. Again, I gave the listening cues and told him I appreciated that he was telling me this information. He continued to tell me how they were then going to cut me up with a chainsaw, piece by piece. The entire time he was sharing his intentions, I was petrified. My mind was racing. Henry would yell and would then use a menacing voice, and then yell again. He was so different from the young man I had been teaching for the past six months.
A few years before, while I was on a camping trip with my husband and friends, at the insistence of my husband, one of our friends who was a highway patrol officer, taught me how to tell if a person had experience with a knife. He also gave me tips on how to disarm someone if necessary. I suddenly remembered those lessons and remembered what he said. I realized that Henry did not have any experience with the knife because he kept lunging at me, instead of keeping the knife close to his own body. I also instinctively knew that his dad was not in on this, or he would have been here too. With this knowledge, I instantly understood that if I was very calculating, I could get out of this without too many injuries.
At that point, I started to focus on getting to the door of the classroom, but watched Henry meticulously. I moved very slowly, and I watched for an opportunity to disarm him. When the chance presented itself, I took it. It wasn’t graceful, pretty or well-done, but I was able to high-kick the knife out of his hand (I’m sure years of ballet training helped). I ran out of the room and got help. Ultimately, Henry was arrested and sent to juvenile detention. While there, he had a nervous breakdown and ended up in in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. If it would have been allowed, I would have invited Henry back into my classroom. Instead, he spent a couple of years in and out of institutions, and eventually, he unfortunately ended up in prison.
As hard as it is for me to say this, it is important to understand that you can’t save every child by yourself. It is just as important to understand that even though some children aren’t as easy to love as others, we still need to be kind, compassionate, and sympathetic to those children. Mental illness is very real and takes on many forms and levels of dysfunction. It is our job to try our best to give what help we can, and to be as mentally healthy with ourselves as possible in order to give that help.
Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and have a peace-filled week,
P.S. The “dialogue” portion of the blog is now available to leave your comments and thoughts about each post. If you have signed up for the email notifications, you will need to sign up again through “register” to participate in the blogging dialogue. I apologize for this inconvenience, but I look forward to hearing from you.