He was also a child who needed love in the worst kind of way. Charles (not his real name, of course) was one of about 10 children adopted by the same parents. He, and all his siblings, had been born addicted to drugs.
Now I am not saying his adopted parents didn't love him. They did. Desperately. They loved all their kids. But two parents only have so many hands and eyes and mouths to pay attention with.
Charles was one of the older siblings, but he needed attention the way a toddler does. He drove me to distraction. I honestly don't know if I taught him anything. Certainly, he wanted to convince he had learned and would learn nothing.
Yet despite all this, I liked Charles. He was quirky and funny and insightful. I worked hard to keep our relationship positive...even when I was sending him to the office...again.
At the time, I would have said he didn't care about me one way or another. I had no idea what he thought. Then he showed me.
My classroom at the time was at the top of a set of stairs that lead to the cafeteria. At lunch, it was a madhouse. I was standing at my door on hall duty one day at the end of lunch.
It seemed like an ordinary day. There were no traffic jams. No one was threatening to fight. No one was crying. My neighbor teachers were visibly present. So when a student asked me for something (I have no idea what), I went into my classroom to get it for her.
Suddenly, Charles was there in my doorway, screaming "Ms. Hirsch! Ms. Hirsch!"
I turned towards him. He was holding a girl by the shoulders protectively and when I turned he shoved her towards me, "Ms. Hirsch! Help!"
The girl, a student I had never met, was standing before me holding one arm by the other at the elbow. Below the elbow was a clean and visible break through both bones.
Her arm wobbled sickeningly when she moved.
I remember thinking, "If this girl sits down, she is not getting back up, she'll be in shock."
Instead of keeping her in the room, I walked over to her, moved her uninjured hand so that she was holding the lose end of her injured arm to prevent it from dangling loosely. I said "I am going to take you to the nurse now."
She just nodded mutely.
I moved to the doorway and looked out onto the throng of students, took a deep breath and plunged forward calling "Watch out! Coming through!" and body checking anyone who didn't move fast or far enough. And there was Charles. Helping clear the way and dancing around us in herky jerky way that demonstrated his agitation.
I called out to my neighbor teacher to call the office and please watch my class.
We proceeded down the hall to the elevator where I used my key to get us safely from the third floor to the first floor to the nurse's office.
The elevator dinged and we exited. It was blissfully calm. I steered the girl to the nurse's office and deposited her on a chair saying to the nurse "This young lady fell on the stairs or something, I don't know, but her arm is clearly broken and I don't know her and I have a class so I have to go."
With that I dashed out of the office and up three flights of stairs to get back to my waiting class, Charles hot on my heels.
He asked if she would be ok and if he could get a pass to class. I said yes to both, thanked him and sent him on his way.
I remember shaking from the adrenaline in my system. I remember wondering if moving this girl had really been the right call. I remember nothing else from that day.
Surely, Charles and I both had to write statements. Surely, the administrators tried to find out how this had happened. From what I recall, it was deemed an accident with no clear perpetrator.
The thing is, though, Charles showed me that my efforts to establish a relationship with him, to get him to trust me, had worked.
He could have gone to one of the other three nearby teachers. He could have tried to take this young lady to the nurse himself. He could have left her on the stairs unnoticed. He could have run off as soon as he passed her to me. He could have laughed.
But he didn't. Charles did the one thing that proved how big his heart was (no matter how irritating his behavior!) and how much he trusted me to help. He brought this stranger to my door and literally gave her to me.
Sometimes its the little things that stick with you. Charles was a disaster at school. That never changed. He was not, however, a disaster at being a compassionate human being. I get no credit; I'm just honored he recognized that I cared too.