There is a student whom I absolutely loathe.
In my three years of teaching 7th grade, this has happened on only a handful of occasions and never before with a female student.
But this one…this one makes me want to lunge across the desk and wrap my hands around her neck, pull her ironed, stick-straight blonde hair right out of her thick skull, and punch that red-lipped smirk off her face. I want to abuse what limited power I have to ridicule her in front of the whole class, shame her into submission, gleefully stomp on all her essays with freshly muddied boots.
Sits there muttering insults.
Rolls her eyes so much you’d think she was auditioning for The Exorcist.
Strolls around the room during my lesson like she is on the fucking promenade.
I’ve had plenty of students not listen, refuse to do their work, let loose with the sarcasm and sneering. I don’t mind a little cheek every now and again. Lets me know they’re alive and kickin’.
But this one. There’s just something about this one that makes me want to lash out, to punish.
She was crying one day about her alcoholic parents, how when they start in on her, it’s like she can’t escape. Like being in a tiny box, she said, with no way out.
So I let her slide on the assignment, thinking this might ease the tension between us.
Next day, she was back to flinging slurs like she’s spitting sunflower seeds, nice and easy from her rocking chair.
Enraged, I called her mom, forging an alliance would fortify my attack. We had a perfectly nice chat. It was only in jest that she threatened her daughter would come to school missing an arm the following day.
Convinced that the kid would come back a penitent Pip, imagine my surprise when she sauntered in clearly unmoved, arm intact.
I watered my anger and it did grow.
I watered it when she refused to put away her phone.
I fed it when I reported her lateness to the principal.
I caught her playing footsie with a boy and declared, “I know you’re in love with him, but can you please not play with him during English class?” The class erupted in laughter. Her face blazed with shame.
My tree grew stronger.
It was so big and healthy that when a parent complained to me about this girl during conferences, I rolled with delight under its bountiful shade.
“Yes, yes, complain to the principal.”
The story went like this:
The mother has a son with whom the girl has apparently been obsessed for years. She follows him home from school, comes uninvited to his baseball games, “hanging on the gate in her short shorts,” and shows up at every party to which he is invited.
“She sinks her claws into him so deep, I swear she leaves marks. I told her not to touch him and she said that he likes it. I told her that I am his mother and I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it,” she said.
I had seen this in class. She would sidle up next to him, he would chat for a few minutes, and then walk away. I never saw the girl smile as much as she did when she was next to him. He was disinterested.
The funny thing is he is so wholesome, looks like he’s been reared on nothing but a diet of corn and apples and sunshine his whole life. She is skinny and dead-eyed and her clothes are never entirely clean.
“She is like a parasite, a dirty disease. I don’t want that slut in my son’s class.”
And instead of feeling thrilled when I heard these words, I was sick.
And I realized what it is about this girl that festered inside me. I understood why I wanted to hurt her.
I used to be her.
Wanting a boy because he was good.
Acting like nothing could touch me, but desperate and hungry and broken inside.
Hoping he would be nice to me.
Never being good for anything other than a fuck behind a dumpster.
Being the dirty one, the one they could do anything to, and pretending I liked it like that.
Love me, love me, love me.
If I turned over her wrists, would I see the familiar red slashes?
If I looked in her closet, would I find pot and sleeping pills and scraps of food for the binges?
If I came close enough, could I smell the fear?
Take care of yourself, N, take care right now, because if you don’t, the self-hatred will never go away. Never.