One school year, I taught MM.
He was 5 foot nothin’ and soft around the edges. He had been in a sort of alternative placement situation at the school and was being tested out to be in general classes by being placed in my class and a couple others.
I would be lying if I said I was excited. He had a discipline record a mile long. He was from a low income family. His grades were a mess, and he ran with a “tough” crowd. And I let all this impact my perception of him.
Man, did he prove me wrong. He might have been a bit of a “mess,” but he had a smile that lit up the room. And he was so insanely funny. Every student liked him, and the teachers I was cool with all liked him, too.
And if he ever acted out or cussed in my direction, he always apologized. Maybe not in front of the class, but eventually he would make amends somehow.
I remember during a real life tornado warning when we were all in the hallway ducking for cover (not that far from glass doors that totally could still bust and let in crazy winds). It was not a drill; it was real, and MM was freaaaaaaaking out. He started to confess all kinds of things (“I still haven’t hunched. I wanna hunch someone before I die.” and “Ms. S fine. She got a good booty for a white lady.”) and wish for things and dreams (“Can we go to McDonalds? I want some before I die!” and “Man, I wanted to play football or basketball or something before I die.”). It was so funny at the time, a nice distraction from a scary situation. He entertained us for over an hour with the stream of consciousness of his beautiful, carefree youth.
After he moved on to high school, I only saw him once a few years ago. It was on a day when I was taking a walk through the cemetery. I often walk along the cemetery’s paved, quiet paths. When I was on the side of the cemetery that runs parallel to a side street, I saw him riding down that street on a bike, cruising along with some friends. He called out, “Ms. V!” And we chatted a little as we passed each other by.
I didn’t think about it being the last time I would ever see that grin. I didn’t think about the fact that the universe made my most memorable moment as a teacher one in which this kid, this light told us what he wanted, however funny it might have been at the time, before he died. Even passing him in the cemetery, I didn’t think that there might be significance to that last interaction being there.
I wish I had stopped and had a longer conversation with him to see what life had become for the student who had been such an interesting, frustrating, magnetic, hilarious, and kind presence in my class.
I can’t imagine who could have such a tarnished soul to have extinguished his beautiful light from our world.
Rest in power, MM.