His footsteps sound like a panic attack. He only looks at me occasionally — otherwise, his eyes remain on the floor, unraveling his erratic path in the space between desks. Watching him, I wince. Until now, I have only ever known him to whisper jokes in class so my other students will laugh, or refuse the help I know he needs on assignments. To see him after school, by his choice and alone, I know something is wrong.
When he finally speaks, his words are even more rapid than his feet. He can’t sleep; he wants resolutions; he can’t eat; he wants everyone to give him his space. He can’t understand why some people act the way they do. He just wants to feel calm.
“I only break out when I’m stressed.” Stopping for one second, two, but not three, he points to his face. “And look, it’s like connect-the-dots over here.”
As his shadow paces the emptiness, I try to become for him, in my stillness and silence, a prayer. So often, it is the one answer I know.
It’s only because he says a few times that it’s OK, we can go, that I believe he is ready to return to all that awaits him: the people he loves, but does not understand, who do not understand him, who make him feel like any and every problem he faces, he must conquer on his own — whether he wants to or not.
By now, the late light of afternoon has melted, like bronze, into my room. It will eventually harden into darkness, then quietly crack with daybreak, before I see him again. During these hours apart, light drifts and stirs, but my hope stays steady: slow his feet, words, breath, mind. Please.
The next time I see him, it is moments before the last of the day’s classes begins. He walks not to his desk, but to me, and asks to talk. “So there’s good news and there’s bad news,” he says as we step into the hall. Again, his words come quickly, but today, his feet stand still. As he updates me — who he confronted and how it went, what he thinks he’ll do about the other relationships that trouble him — I know that he knows now what is required of him to endure.
Before I even start to go back to my room, he stops me. “But Ms. Graham, look.” He grabs my wrist, and, smiling, holds my palm against his chest. “Can you tell? My heart — it feels normal again.”
Kerry Graham is a creative in residence at The Baltimore Banner.