I was told to report to the school music room where a student was “behaving dangerously.” I pictured impalement on a double-bass but it proved merely a second-grade boy seated on a turned-over piano stool. He was silent, wouldn’t respond to my requests that he stand up, and then cartwheeled across the room. The music teacher hustled out the other kids while mine shimmied up a carpet-covered pole almost to the ceiling. His grace was eland-like and he remained silent. An aide showed up and we carried the boy firefighter-fashion to the school psychologist.
A middle-aged man and an elderly woman huddled at the table in the waiting room of the office, furiously studying a thick sheaf of papers. Across the room, alone, sat a woman reading a booklet titled “Defusing Power Struggles.” I was told a court order had been issued against the father, mandating him to stay away from his kindergarten son. The old woman was his mother and the woman across the room his estranged wife. I know their son and he seems a remarkably affable child given the storm raging over his head. Then I was called to the playground to retrieve a kid who wouldn’t reenter the building, and as I was leaving a police officer arrived.
The recalcitrant boy on the playground turned out to be the kid from the music room. For the first time I heard him speak. He said his classroom was too hot and he could only breathe outside. On my radio I called the psychologist and sat on a bench as the boy kicked a red ball across the blacktop. When the psychologist arrived the boy moved across the playground, up a flight of concrete steps, over the railing and into a dense copse of pines. We followed but kept our distance and he scooted fifteen feet up a pine with the effortlessness of a spider monkey. I radioed the principal who said she would call the fire department and the kid’s parents. Mom beat the fire truck and talked him down.
The most troubling event of my early schooldays was the sight of so many kids my age with polio, wearing cumbersome braces of leather and cast steel. I remember the sound of a boy in my first-grade class, his feet scraping across the plank floor. Two years later, his twin sister leaned over in class and kissed me on the shoulder, an event we never acknowledged. Four years after that, when the three of us were in seventh grade, her brother, the kid with polio, died, and no one acknowledged that either. In his first book, The Summer Anniversaries (1960), Donald Justice included “On the Death of Friends in Childhood”:
“We shall not ever meet them bearded in heaven,
Nor sunning themselves among the bald of hell;
If anywhere, in the deserted schoolyard at twilight,
Forming a ring, perhaps, or joining hands
In games whose very names we have forgotten.
Come, memory, let us seek them there in the shadows.”