Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Body Language (11/25/10)
TITLE: Teacher's Touch
By Beth Muehlhausen
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With sixty seconds left in class
I crouched to whisper at his desk
Until he rose and stumbled behind me
Into the school’s deathly dark hallway.
I leaned my body against the wall
Appearing unlike authority
But rather an older friend
Who could be trusted behind his wall of fear.
While intentionally striking this non-teacher pose
My eyes compassionately studied
Such a raggedy young man with splintered soul
And slouched body weighted with emotional pain.
He cringed as if awaiting a judge’s sentence
And turned from my querying look
While I fought an urge to reach out
And pull him close to my heart.
Strands of greasy brown hair
Framed a drawn and pinched face that said
Despair lived inside those eyes
Of bleak and empty hopelessness.
And yet I must not merge compassion
With a professional teacher-stance
That demanded distance and artificiality
Or else I might face my own harassment charge.
He twisted a white plastic shopping bag
In dizzy circles until it
Tightened around his wrist
Like a desperate tourniquet.
A few rejected cookies hung in the bag
As leftovers from those he distributed
During our poetry reading
Just minutes before.
He’d passed out an offering
Of cheap oatmeal crème pies
As a last supper with wary disciples
To celebrate his poem about suicide.
Without a single tear his forlorn spirit oozed
With decaying lifeblood and
Retreated before me to wither like the purple hand
Hanging beyond the twisted handle of the bag.
I cowered inwardly and wondered what to say
As he spun the noose-handle
Tighter and tighter and tighter
With deliberate delight in the resulting pain.
“Why did you write that poem and
Was it about someone you know?”
I asked with mercy-laden voice and
Dimmed eyes downcast to match his own.
His words came quickly
Like machine-gun fire rat-a-tatting
A direct and pointed message:
His right shoulder slouched
As if the weight of the crème pies
Might dismember his arm from its socket
And hasten the process of destruction.
The bag kept twisting
As his hand stiffened
And turned a deeper blue
To resemble an icon of death.
I instinctively reached out
To loosen the knotted bag
That choked his stiffened wrist
In a sort-of death-grip.
Instead, my fingers touched his own
With a lingering brush
Of compassion and
Politically incorrect love.
In that elongated second
Something supernatural passed
From my heart to his
As a surge of mercy leapt forth.
Like an electrocuted statue
He stood frozen in place
With baggy jeans hanging from his thin hips
And eyes searching mine.
The bell rang hard and long
And his palsied hand withdrew
As the bag of oatmeal pies unfurled
In dizzy spins until it dropped at our feet.
“Those are for you,” he called over one shoulder
While lurching away
Into the stream of students
Plowing down the hall.
He frantically leapt away
Like a threatened wild animal
To take refuge amidst the familiar camouflage
While the cookies lay in a heap of ruins.
“Thank you,” I called with cupped hands
Even as I knew there was so much more
I should be and say and do
If only there could be a way.
I opened wide the suffocated bag
And invited life-giving air to enter
While staring into its depths
Thinking somehow his presence still lingered.
In the bottom lay only a gathering of
Mechanically wrapped cookies
Left by this disillusioned child
So terrified to become a man.
I stood on tip-toe to peer down the hall
And recognized his bouncing head
As he hurried frantically to escape
Among so many others forming the crowd.
With the bag of cookies in hand
I turned toward my door
And numbly greeted the students
Streaming bug-like out of my classroom.
A shuffling girl with furtive eyes stopped
And scrutinized the bag of cookies wordlessly
While sadly shaking her head
In memory of his death-wish poem.
I entered the room and shut the door
With limp marionette arms
And gratitude for an hour of prep time
Guaranteeing time alone.
The cookies fell with a crash
As my wobbly legs gave out
And I dropped to my knees
Crushing them with my weight.
The refined, lifeless white filling squished out
Of those demolished brown bodies
As a sob-filled prayer poured from my crumpled self
In utter agony for this child in pain.
Helplessly I fought back tears
And cradled my head
In the hand that so recently
Touched despair with a promise of hope.
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