His hand is up. I feel like his hand is always up. Even though I have told him that he can just talk, that there is no need to do the hand-raising-so-I-can-talk thing, his hand inevitably goes up.
“Here’s a question,” he begins, oblivious to the other people around him, “what am I supposed to do at night when I can’t sleep?”
Oh boy, we have been down this road before…
“I bet that is hard,” I answer, trying to strike the balance between hearing his question (and the ones lurking underneath) and getting him back on track.
“You have no idea,” he says, the words tumbling out of him with the exhale that has likely been stifled all morning. “In fact, I haven’t slept in days! Usually, I am up all night and fall asleep around 4 am but then my mom tells me that it’s time to get up and so I don’t even really go to sleep because then I have to get up and come here and I don’t have any coffee even though I’m really tired but my ADD medicine makes me too jumpy and then I forget to eat…” He talks without waiting for a response, without making eye contact, without even breathing, it seems.
“Well, I am really glad you are here,” I interject, noting that the patience of his peers is starting to wane and their sympathy is shifting across the line into mockery, responding as typical teenagers who are uncomfortable with his unfiltered honesty. “Let’s figure out how to get moving into our workshop.”
“But seriously, did you sleep? I know that when I don’t sleep I seem to have more energy than when I do sleep which I never really do except when I was little and I would just like literally pass out from being awake and then I would sleep…” I wait for the pause to come, allowing me to try again to get this train back on its rails. “And I can’t write about any of this because it brings up too much for me from my dad…”
No, no, no…please don’t go there.
“The way he abused me was not okay and I won’t write about it and you can’t expect me to because then I just get angry and I don’t know how I’ll react.” He pauses, but I can’t fill the space fast enough. “People like that should be in jail and he is but then he might get out but he’s my dad and that whole side of my family is just not okay.”
“You don’t have to write about that,” I edge in, now breaching my six foot perimeter so that he knows I am not afraid of him and his story, “You can write about anything. What about revisiting the piece you started on climate change? Or the one about the roller coaster?”
Please, let me guide you back. Please, let my words penetrate so that you can come back into our classroom today. Please feel my presence and know that you are safe. Please be in our workshop.
“I can do that.”
And as quickly as it started, it ended and he went back to his computer with dozens of open tabs and multiple pathways to distraction. Today, like other days, I will have to decide if it is a day to direct him or to follow his lead. Neither has led to anything that even closely resembles the writing that I am trying to coax out, but I wonder if maybe today will be the day.