Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Meat is Murder

(The following photos taken over two days of White Elephant Gift Exchanges)

Story out of Japan this week about an unemployed man who killed fourteen on the street with a sword, just a mind unraveled in debt and dread and wanted to take as many with him as he could. Another out of Taipei about a man who filled his car with gasoline canisters and committed suicide by driving into his child’s school. Then Sophia told me when I got to work this morning that last night she was awoken by a domestic dispute, a Taiwanese woman actually screaming the English words, “S.O.S.” out the window while her husband poured gasoline over his body and ran out into the street to light a match.
Good Lord.
Oh, my Good Lord.
This morning I was standing in the hallway with this boy named Marshall. He was frothing. Just seething and spitting with anger. Eyes rolled back into his head. Screaming at me, “You give me back my ping pong paddle or else…” and I recoiled. He was exactly like Gomer Pile from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Full Metal Jacket, “This is my rifle. There are many like it but this one is mine.” I mean, it’s a moment of sheer intensity, and it’s just me and this kid standing in the hallway with a blinking Christmas tree between his shrieking rage and my absolute devotion to standing my ground.
Our eyes bulge.
Our fingers lock in fists.
Marshall is about to snap.
I’ve learned that so much of life is what you have absolutely no control over.
The job interview you pin your hopes to, but which has already been decided upon and meeting you is a mere formality.
The fault line hundreds of feet below your apartment that’s been spewing and gurgling for a thousand years and one day decided to crack and drop you into the abyss while you’re tossing an omelet in the air.
The strikingly beautiful woman you meet by chance in the coffee shop and have the conversation of your life with who promises to meet you again and while you are making reservations for a romantic dinner she is walking away texting ten different guys she’s banging about how they wouldn’t believe the dork she just escaped from by lying.
It’s the stuff you least expect.
The back channel deals. The behind closed door secrets.
It’s no wonder we snap.
No wonder we burn.
Marshall ain’t got nobody.
9th grader, just turned 15.
I’ve had hundreds of these kids and yet this one is different.
He is always in the mix, always stirring it up, sits in class and screams out profanities for fun. Tell him to stop he kicks over his desk. Tell him to sit back down he flips you off. Make a move toward him, he storms out into the hallways to cry. There’s no breaking a kid already broke.
He’s stunted and studdery, weepy eyed and weak as brittle grass.
The abuse this kid has suffered is mind numbing, and that is just from word of mouth among the staff members. There’s no file on this student. No collection of writings and solutions from past teachers to seek. I know his mom is a professor, divorced, but the Chinese teachers here just shake their heads, “Oh, it’s such a pity! Single parent child. Oh, the waste. He is a special case.”
“No,” I add. “He’s not. There are thousands of kids that come from divorced families that can thrive. They learn responsibility, courage, toughness. We don’t need to coddle this kid, and we have to stop making allowances for him. We have to hold him accountable.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. We know you are right. But it’s such a pity.”
So nothing happens.
I know they are overwhelmed.
We all are.
There are so many Chinese parents that just refuse to face reality when there is obvious mental or psychological problems with their child. They just beat the kid instead. They avoid. The lock the disorder in a room and walk away.
And that is what happened to Marshall.
I’ve tried things. Things that don’t make sense. Stuff you’d never read in text books or manuals. Like the time I sat down and played him AC/DC and Black Sabbath and told him, “This is what you do when you’re angry. You listen to this.” Or the time I took him outside to shoot baskets and he talked my ear off about professional wrestlers. Or the time he was crying in the office because another boy clipped his eyebrow with a ping pong ball, yes, a ping pong ball, and he wanted a bandage.
He was being coddled. Cradled. And so I just got between him and the female teachers and started doing push-ups. Just a quick fifty, then stood up and said, “Sweat your tears.”
But nothing.
Just nothing.
So yesterday I’ve got him in the hall. I caught him bolting out the classroom door kicking other kids and screaming obscenities so that he could be the first to the basement to play ping pong during the break. I confiscated his paddle. (Wait… Dear Reader, would you please just pause here for a second to read that again… Yes, this is a fifteen year old kid who has just had his ping pong paddle confiscated… I know you think I am joking… I know many of you had social security cards at that age, a job, and a learner’s permit… I know.)
So now Marshall is shaking. Seething. Spitting. I mean his eyes have rolled back into his head and he is screaming at me, “You give me back my ping pong paddle…”
And all I can think about is how I am the only hope this kid has got, and neither of us ever stood a chance.

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