The Ingredients to Mutually Prevent Destruction


I could feel the familiar mixture of



and sadness

at the slumped over head and shoulders,

conscientiously opting to twist the pen

between his relaxed fingers

instead of making them dance across the pages

of the bare and empty notebook pages.

I rest my hand on drooped shoulders

A split second thought to confront this

offense he deems as casual

But instead mark the encounter

with a verbal promise to address

the situation later.

And when the bell rings and

bodies shuffle toward the doorway,

stooped shoulders lethargically

gather themselves from their resting place

and make their way toward me.

“Ms. Younge?” he ventures in a tiny voice

that feels like it’s a million miles away

and begging for someone to help it return.

Eyes heavy with unshed tears flit quickly

toward my face and then away again.

Staring into the expanse of the room,

a slow, rattled breath is drawn in slowly.

And I simply wait.

“I guess…”

Take your time.

“I guess…”

You can tell me.

“I’ve been getting D’s and F’s for so long in reading

that I’ve convinced myself that I just can’t do it.”


Breath forced out of me by a constricting chest

as my own eyes brim over with tears.

Had I become part of a cycle

that had broken down this young man?

Did the D’s and F’s from my class

Nail permanent marks of failure

onto the coffin of dead dreams of his life?

But all I could do for the moment was stand there,

thinking about how could I tell this student

that without HIM I would be lost.

There’d be no meaning to early mornings

and the way the heart can grow weary

with each days burdens brought on

by outside forces beyond my control,

or the struggles to just get some to understand

what it means for a child to have the gift

of reading and the rewards of knowledge.

That without his work, his effort, his dreams–

If he lost his will,

his belief that he can and will be better

I would have stopped convincing myself a long time ago

that all battles for my students were worth fighting.


I guess, too, that I would have stopped smiling–


But I can’t in this moment find the right words.

All that I could do was transcend the broken channel

of communication into action.

So I hugged him tightly to me.

And I told him that this year would be different,

that his grades were not a reflection of who

he was, but rather the effort he had convinced himself

so long ago was all he was capable of giving.

Though not a change I knew would happen overnight,

I hoped to plant the seed that if watered just right

Could formulate the right ingredients

to mutually prevent destruction.



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