17 February 2010

A Scene From Another Life: Wednesday Night

I didn't go to the PTSD meeting today. Just too many roadblocks. I've been keeping busy during this week off. I made a list and have knocked most of the chores off it already. I even added a few and discharged them. I still am unsure how things will go when I get back to school on Monday. I have to find a way to get back and stay back. Last week I was unable to go to work on consecutive days. We had a snow day last Wednesday, so I was only in school on Monday and Thursday. I can't keep doing that. I'll quickly run out off sick days. I am owed 61 hours of missed prep periods, which means I could miss 12 days and they'd still owe a few hours, but it doesn't work like that.

I still feel a little numb and slow, but have only had one disturbing new event. When I try to sleep or when my mind wanders, I see myself standing across the street from my classroom. I'm looking up at my window and, just in my field of view to my right, I see myself standing in front of the kid with the gun in the same area it all took place. There's no sound or movement. It's a like a posed scene. No sense of menace or threat, just an odd sense of seeing myself seeing myself. It's like the feeling I tried to describe earlier of how, during the event, my mind seemed to split, part of it observing and commenting on the action. Except now I seem to have constructed another me, a third me, witnessing the action out of the corner of my eye. I don't know why I'm across the street from my school looking up at my classroom. Perhaps I feel like I'm being kept away from teaching by the events playing out on my periphery.

No response from DFT union president, although he said that he would do what he could to help. No response from my principal, either. I suspect both of them are on vacation somewhere this week.

15 February 2010

A Scene From Another Life: Sunday Night

I wasn't planning to write anything tonight. It's been a dull day interspersed with errands and chores. But I just saw a brief report from one of the local papers that there was a shooting about four blocks south of my school. Two thirty-year olds, one dead at the scene, one rushed to the hospital with a bullet wound to the head. He's in critical condition. The East Side of Detroit is so violent this probably has no connection with the incident at my school, but it could. It also could have repercussions, as family members and gang members try to even the score. I'm probably overreacting and nothing will happen, but who knows?

The next decision is whether or not to go to a PTSD group that the psychiatrist in charge has invited me to join. KS thinks I should, but joining groups is difficult for me in the best of times. When I think about this group, I imagine that the people in the group have suffered "real" trauma that eclipses my trivial experience. When I think about going, I feel like a fraud, like I'm trading on the experience somehow. Oh, well. I'll decide later. I wouldn't bet on my going.

13 February 2010

A Scene From Another Life: Saturday Night

I went to class to this morning, but more physically present than mentally. I wasn't much interested in another lecture on behaviorism. My mind wandered and, one or twice, I realized that my chest was tightening and my breathing was shallow and rapid. There is a cocky bastard in the class and I usually ignore him, but I couldn't today. I challenged him several times before I realized that it was pointless. When he couldn't deal with my arguments, he just repeated his points in a more insistent manner. I finally ignored him because I wanted the class to end as soon as possible and I realized that I wasn't angry at the fool, I was just angry.

I wandered home slowly, stopping at Target for no real reason. I drifted around the store and bought a few things that I really didn't need. Then I headed home. I spent the rest of the day at my desk or napping. Tomorrow I want to make a plan for the next eight days. I want a list of things to do so I can stay focused and feel that I got something done.

Yesterday, as I thought about nine days off, I wanted to go to a dealer, buy a car, and go somewhere. I didn't care where. I imagined some smallish city like Cincinnati, or Louisville. Maybe Pittsburg. A moderately priced suite in a hotel just off the interstate. Wander around during the day, seeing new things. Quiet nights at the suite. But I didn't want to go alone and KS has commitments all week. She needs the car. And I couldn't leave her here on her own. I'd worry about her safety the whole time. So I'm here and I want to stay busy.

Scenes from Another Life: Friday night

As expected, I didn't hear from either the union or my principal. I suspect that my principal wants this whole thing to disappear and she'd like me to fall off the face of the Earth to further that end. She'll shit when she hears that I've been talking to the Union about this. After all, I went out there and she stayed in her office. I'd love to see her statement to the DPS police. I heard that she was incensed that our female, overweight, 50's-ish unarmed security guard didn't rush outside and wrestle the gunman to the ground.

KS reminds me that my principal's probably upset also, but I know that I would have checked in with her if the roles were switched. But that's something I'll never have to worry about.

My college class starts at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, so I'm up way too late. It's better to keep busy, but I guess I have to go to bed.

12 February 2010

Scenes from Another Life: Friday afternoon

I go back and forth on this thing. Am I making too much of it? It's been a week and the event is fading into unreality. But the emotions bubble up at odd times and the memories come back. The anxiety returns.

I need to find something to do to get my mind away from this. I'm going see if KS wants to join the Y. We've talked about it and it might help. I miss the physicality of my younger years. Maybe I can regain some of that feeling. I also need to return to my classes. I'll go tomorrow. The other class doesn't meet until three weeks from Monday. I need to return to that one as well. I am very glad that winter break has begun. I hope that after this week I can get back to school on a regular basis. I need to get back.

I hope that I hear from my principal and the union president tonight. I don't expect to hear from either.

11 February 2010

Scenes from Another Life: Thursday

Up and down, anxious and angry. I went to school today and arrived nervous. I'd taken half a Klonopin and that helped, but I was still anxious. I had to reassemble my room again, but there was less damage that last time. I guess I made my point.

I got through the morning by keeping things moving at a breakneck speed. The usual suspects tried to play around and generally act like idiots, but I just kept moving. By eleven, my anxiety was rising and I took the other half of the Klonopin. I took the kids to lunch and had to deal with the usual chaos in the hallways and lunchroom. I made my way back to my room, avoiding the packs of kids wandering around in the halls.

I had lunch with a friend who had been out sick since before last Friday. Her room was vandalized on Tuesday. She was still out sick and her door was left unlocked. Some kids smashed the door handle free of the door. They then used the handle to smash the glass in the window of the door. Not satisfied, they picked up her computer and monitor and smashed both of them. If I had been at school that day, I would have heard it. She's only two doors down from me. I would have heard and gone to investigate. I wouldn't have gone empty-handed.

She said she heard that something had happened on Friday. I told her to ask someone else.

As I was going back to my room, a bunch of middle-school boys were running down the hallway. They weren't supposed to be on the floor and my thoughts were still on the damage to my friends room. These kids were strong possibilities. I tried to stop the boys and get them to go back downstairs. The pushed past me laughing. I caught up to one boy, the one I knew was the leader. He is a totally useless punk. Before I knew it, he was yelling at me and insulting me. And I was yelling back. He stepped toward me and I said to him, "So what are you going to do?" At that time, at that moment, I wanted him to take a swing at me. I would have have smashed him.

He kept jawing, but kept his distance. I realized that I could smash him, but I couldn't win. Somehow I turned away. I went to my room, locked the door, and stepped away from the door. I considered calling KS and having her come and get me. In the end, I decided to try and make it through the day.

I picked up my afternoon class, and sealed myself off from the insanity in hallways, as I got back to room as quickly as possible. I told the class that I needed their cooperation, that I wasn't in any mood to put up with any stupidity. I know that isn't the best thing to say, but that is what I felt and that is what I did.

Almost immediately, my most annoying student rose to the challenge. Within ten minutes he'd tired of arguing and flipped me the bird. He also mumbled something about hitting me. I kicked him out of my room and sent him to the office. About 15 minutes, he was back, smiling and grinning. No admittance note from the principal, no suspension, no nothing. Five minutes later, he got tired of annoying everyone around him and me, in particular. Something in his addled brain convinced him that it would be a good idea to leap out of his chair toward me. He sits about six feet from me and his leap brought him too far inside my personal space. I shoved a desk out of the way and turned toward him. The look on my face and tightness of my muscles scared the shit of him. He turned and ran from the room.

I called the office and reported the incident. The Secretary asked for a report and wrote it up. I sent the second note to the office. The kid never returned to my class. I didn't care were he was. There were 45 minutes to go until dismissal. The class had dissolved after this latest incident. I'd had it. If I'd had a car, I would have left. As it was, I told the class that I was finished for the day and would not speak any more. I cleaned up my materials and gathered up my things. I had no intention of returning on Friday.

When I got home I wrote a long email to my principal. I haven't seen her all week. She has taken to holing up in her office with the door closed. I've emailed her and tried to talk to her, but she has not said one word to me all week.

I have been in touch with the Union president. A close friend of mine who is very active in the union strongly recommended this action and I grudgingly took her advice. He said he was going to find help for me, but I was so upset when he was talking to me that I messed up his email address. I'm embarrassed to call him back. I've asked the friend who recommended him to forward the details to him, but tonight was an ugly union meeting and everyone is busy, I guess. No response from either person.

I'm not going to school tomorrow. After that I have a week off for winter break. I don't know what I'll do when winter break is over.

Toward a Definition of Bravery

Several people have said I was brave to face down the kid with the gun. Usually they then say I was crazy or beg me never to do it again. I don't know what to say when they talk of bravery. I didn't feel brave at the time and I don't feel brave now. I couldn't even tell you what bravery means. Something happened and I responded. I didn't decide what to do, I just acted. I was aware of all the kids and gun. I was aware of the danger to all of them. I knew that I was in danger as well, but somehow that didn't matter. I just knew that the kid couldn't start shooting. He just couldn't. I was there and I had to stop him. And I know that I would do it again.

Bravery seems so demeaned these days. Perhaps all values are, I don't know. Maybe the corruption of our times has left no ideal untarnished. No worthy act or sentiment can escape exploitation by the all consuming money machine. After the first two world wars, some poets forsook poetry claiming that language had been so corrupted that poetry was impossible. Maybe that time has come for words like "bravery." Maybe I'm just full of shit.

All I know is that if what I did was bravery, they never tell you about the cost.

10 February 2010

A Scene From Another Life: Saturday to Monday

When I got home Friday night, I was still calm. I wondered if I was in shock, but I wasn't sure what shock was. I remember reading about wrapping people up in blankets or giving them brandy. KS assured me that brandy wasn't a good a idea and, besides, we didn't have any. That sense of observing myself continued and with it flowed a general feeling of unreality. I let KS take over and she got me into bed.

KS was also shaken up, of course, but she kept talking to me and listening as well. She told me what was likely to come as my split mind converged on the memory of the incident. She fed me, and loved me, and put me to sleep. While I slept, she was by my side, only dozing herself, watching over me.

The rest of the weekend slid by in a slow, featureless trickle. I didn't go to my Saturday class. I just couldn't. The hours blurred. I made a short trip out to the store, but mostly I stayed at my desk or napped. I kept thinking about the incident or other incidents that might occur on Monday. I found myself thinking about weapons that I could lay my hands on in my classroom.

I had been able to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for first thing Monday morning and I was counting on that. From there, I was determined to go school and see if I could return to work.

On Monday morning, I went to the psychiatrist and showed her the transcript I had written Friday evening. She was very concerned about my state of mind. She offered to give me a medical pass to miss work for the next week. The week after is winter break, so that would be two weeks off. I said no. I was afraid that if I didn't go back, I might not ever go back. She agreed and said that was the best thing to do, if I could. She gave me a medical leave form for Tuesday through Friday, in case I needed it. She also gave me the name of a doctor on the staff who specialized in PTSD and told me to call him directly if I needed more help. She kept my incident report and I suspected that she might show it to him. She also gave me a prescription for Klonopin, an anti-anxiety medication, and recommended that I take one before I returned to school. I did.

I returned to school about 10:45 a.m. on Monday. I didn't know the name of the kids involved in the incident. I didn't know why the thing had happened. When the middle school kids came roaring past me in hall, I flinched. My team-teacher was watching both of the 5th grade classes and he told me to take it easy. He'd keep them until lunch at noon. I went in and cleaned up my room a bit. I made myself go over to the window and look out onto the site where most of the incident took place.

During lunch, three middle school boys were running through the second floor. They should have been in the lunchroom. These boys do this everyday, and everyday I write them up and the office does nothing. As usual, they mouthed off and walked past me like I didn't matter. I didn't know the leader's name, but he was wearing a ghetto special T-shirt, white covered in brand names written in ornate gold script. He wouldn't tell me his name, so I said,"Oh well, with that shirt on I'll be able to find you."

"And I'll be able to find you," he said.

My stomach tightened, my face hardened, and my fists clenched. He stood there looking at me, and his buddies pulled him away. They hustled him downstairs and I slowly exhaled. Had he moved toward me, I'm not sure what I would have done.

I spent the rest of my lunch period locked in my room, away from my door so that I could not see or be seen.

I went and got my class as swiftly as I could. I kept the door closed and locked the rest of the day, a complete departure for me. I ignored the yelling and banging in the boy's bathroom across the hall. I ignored the screams and thundering feet in the hallway as middle school kids changed rooms. Normally, I am out there trying to gain control of the chaos. I couldn't do it today.

I sent one kid to the office within five minutes of class and had written up three other within ten. I realized that I had to get control of myself, so I held the last three forms, but the first kid had to go. I was afraid I would hit him if he continued to disrupt the class, and he always continued.

Just before dismissal, I told them about the kid with gun, leaving out my part, and warned them that they need to go straight home, no hanging around, no clowning. If something started, a fight, or worse, they need to run away from it, not toward it like so many kids always did. When 4:15 finally arrived, I simply opened my classroom door and told the kids to get their things and go straight home. I couldn't face walking my class through the chaos of dismissal.

When the bell rang, I was packed and ready to go. KS was waiting in the parking lot and I was gone by 4:20. This is our usual pattern, as I have a Monday night class. Half-way home I realized that I could not go to class. I'd made it through school, but it had drained me. I just wanted to go to bed.

When I got home I sat down at my desk and tried to think. I tried listening to a audiobook, hoping it would fill my mind, but that didn't work. I tried a mystery, a history, another mystery, music, but nothing would soothe. I finally selected an old, familiar mystery, one of favorites, put in my ear buds, and played hand after hand of high speed solitaire. I was trying to stay on the curl of the wave that building inside me.

About 8:30 the wave crashed and drew me under. I put my head on my desk and started to cry. I cried like I had never had cried before in my life. Not my father's death, not the divorce of an unfaithful wife, not my experience in DC, nothing. I could not stop crying. KS was downstairs, and when she heard me, she ran up the steps to see what was wrong. All I could say was that I couldn't stop crying. She held me and soothed me, gave me whatever comfort she could. I cried for at least an hour and a half. She helped me to bed and covered me. She held me and wiped my face with a cool washcloth. She told me that this was normal and that it would pass. And I cried.

When I was able to stop, I knew that I would not be able to go to school on Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, I left messages for the psychologist and the PTSD expert. I emailed a good friend, who is a building rep, to see if the union had any services. She was shocked at what had happened and gave me the Union president's personal phone number. She insisted that I call him. She said that he would want to know about this and that he could help.

After a few hours, I decided to call the union president. He was stunned that this had happened and that no one seemed to have heard about it. I reminded him that education is built on the big lie. It was after 5 pm at this point and a heavy snow storm was coming our way. We were pretty sure that Wednesday would be a snow day, but he promised to get back to me by Thursday. I didn't hear from either psychiatrist on Wednesday.

Tuesday night was very tense. I kept watching the weather radar, praying for snow. KS kept checking the school closings and, although districts all around us were closing, neither of ours were. My district closed schools at 4:30 a.m. while her's waited until 6:00 a.m.

Meanwhile my stomach stayed in knots all night as I waited for the damn snow. KS finally settled me down by saying that snow or no snow, I wasn't going in.

At 8:30, Wednesday morning, the PTSD specialist called. He was matter of fact and reassured me that my crying was to be expected. He gave me a brief run down on what to expect and encouraged me to get to school as soon as possible. I told him that was what I wanted to do. He said then I should go to it. He ended by saying that if I felt I needed it, he ran a PTSD group that met at 11:00 Wednesdays and that all I had to do was show up. I thanked him, and said that I was going to try going back to school first.

I haven't heard from the Union president, but, to be fair, a snow day makes everyone hard to reach.

I guess that where things are, here on Wednesday night. As the night goes on, I'm starting to feel tense. I guess that's to be expected. I'm going to try to push through the next two days to reach winter break.

05 February 2010

A Scene From Another Life

Six hours ago, I spent five minutes about six inches away from a angry kid with a pistol. I think it was five minutes, it's hard to be exact. All I know is that he wanted to shoot a kid from our school and somehow he left without anyone getting hurt.

About 3:30 pm, fifteen minutes after dismissal, I went to office the see if everything was alright. All week about a dozen middle school girls had been fighting after school in front of the school. On Thursday, yesterday, several girls had brought knives to school. As I walked toward the office, several teachers and parents were pointing toward the front door and shouting "There's a fight."

I ran out of the door and saw about a hundred kids running and screaming toward a knot of bodies on the ground. I jumped the low fence and ran across the front yard toward the center of the convergence. A tall kid dressed in an oversized, solid-black, cotton sweatsuit got to his feet and ran around the corner. Kids were running everywhere, but most were going around the same corner. Two boys flanked the kid in the sweatsuit and appeared to be with him.

I turned the corner where two school buses were idling. The crowd had thinned out, so I thought it might be over. Then I saw the kid in the sweatsuit and his two friends coming back in a half-trot. The kid in the sweatsuit had a glazed, angry look on his face and his friends were pointing and yelling, "He's over there."

I took a few steps back to see if any of the other teachers or maybe the police were behind me. All I saw was kids running back the way they came, running from the kid in the black sweatsuit. Some were shouting "He's got a gun!" Others were just shouting.

The three kids cut between the buses and headed around to the front of the school. I ran up behind the kid in the sweatsuit. Passing two parents, I yelled at them to call the police. Two of my students, drawn as always to the excitement, were ahead of me and only about ten feet from the kid with the gun.

I yelled at them to get away. One stopped and looked at me, and I turned him around by his shoulders and shoved him away from the scene. The other one continued to run toward the low fence over which the gunman had just jumped. My student climbed over the fence after him. I caught up to him just as he was over the fence. I reached over the fence, grabbed him, and pulled him back over. I screamed at him to get away and threw him away from the scene.

The kid with the gun was just standing there, about fifteen feet in front me. He was looking around and his buddies were jumping, yelling, and pointing. I looked around and saw a four-foot long branch about three-inches thick lying on the ground. I picked it up and walked toward the kid with the gun.

This whole time, he had held the gun under his oversized sweatshirt. I never saw it, but I saw its outline as he ran.

I decided that if I saw his hand start to come out from under the sweatshirt, I was going to hit his wrist as hard as could and then go for his groin, eyes, and throat. The branch was rotten, and I was worried that it wouldn't be solid enough, but it was I had.

I ran toward the kid with the gun, staying behind him. As I got closer, I threw the stick down. I just did. I don't know why.

As I got close to the kid, he and friends turned around and started back in my direction. I had the sense that I was invisible to them. I was just another white teacher who didn't matter. They didn't even look at me as they trotted past. I turned and followed. Kids were still running all over.

The kid with the gun turned back toward the main crowd of students. This time, I put myself directly in his path. I raised my hands, open-palmed, and held them up in front of his chest. I looked him in his eyes and started talking. For the next five minutes or so we were never more than six inches apart.

I kept talking to him in a soft voice saying things like,"You need to go home. Turn around, it's going to be alright, but you've got to stop this right now. The police are coming, you've still got a chance to walk away. If you keep going, this'll land you in jail. Come on, do the right thing, you know the right thing, turn around, time to go home."

I kept my eyes on his eyes, but I could see his right hand shoved under his sweatsuit. I decided that if he pulled it out, I was going to have to leap at him, with him skull aimed for his nose. After that, I had no idea what would happen.

He kept ignoring me. He was about six feet tall and he kept looking over my shoulder and trying to go around me. He would slap my hands away, and I would raise them up again. I kept my body in front of him, but stepped back a bit when he tried to push past me. The only thing he ever said was,"I been to jail. I don't care about jail." Later one of the my fellow teachers told me the kid with gun was a 9th grader from the nearby high school.

Once one of his friends, an eighth-grader at our school, tried to get between us so his friend with the gun could get away from me. He grabbed at my hands, but I kept close to the kid with gun and the other kid couldn't get between us.

During the time I was locked up with the kid with the gun, I had no idea what else was going on around me. My mind was strangely calm. It felt like my mind had split into two pieces. One was acting and responding, and the other was observing and commenting on the activity swirling around me. The acting part moved and spoke and rapidly decided what to do. The observing part noted the danger and shrugged. Yes, this is dangerous, it said, but what else can you do? Oddly, I felt no fear. I felt danger and risk and realization that this could end up very badly. But felt is the wrong word. I thought those things, or rather, the observing mind thought those things.

Finally, the kid with the gun and friends turned and headed away from school. I walked a little way behind them and then stood and watched while they turned down a side street. I waited a bit, until I was sure they didn't return. Turning away, I walked to the front of school to see what was going on there. A boy, he must have been 13 or 14 walked toward me. His arm was draped over the tiny shoulders of very young girl. He was pulling her close to him, trying to protect her. He looked scared. "Where did they go?," he asked. I told him and pointed him in safe direction to walk. He nodded and swiftly headed off in that direction, the young girl glued to his side.

The police arrived 30 minutes later.