What does poverty look like?
It can be any color. Sometimes, it is painful. It doesn’t have a phone, internet or cable. Sometimes, it hangs out with anger. It has a rumbling belly and a grudge a mile wide. Sometimes it is cold. It gets mad at others who don’t appreciate the finer things, like having a warm jacket. Sometimes it is envious. It might be friends with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, it tries to hide from those friends. It doesn’t care if it has to use food stamps as long as that means food. But sometimes, oh sometimes, it hates asking for help. Poverty has pride even though others don’t notice it. Sometimes, it was just born like this and wishes it could grow up to be something else.
I loved all my children instantly. Even the difficult one. The mad one. The one who hated school. I thought he hated me too, but since it was only first grade, what in the world did he have to be so angry for?
He didn’t listen, or do homework. I tried to talk to his mother, but she didn’t answer the phone. Half the numbers weren’t working for most of the kids by November anyway. Some parents still hadn’t met me yet. This was not what I thought. What was I doing here? One day, my angry friend didn’t show up to school. He always tried to pick a fight with the other kids or back talk me, but I was still surprised he wasn’t there. An hour or so after school started, in walked “Q” with his wife-beater on drenched in sweat (the kids called tank-top undershirts that name). I felt his forehead, and asked him what in the world happened. Was he sick? No, I missed the bus. Ok, so is your mom signing you in? No, she’s not (he angrily spit out the words). Okay, honey. How did you get here? I walked. You walked??? To school??? Honey, I have to call your mom. Where is she? You can’t call her. Her boyfriend ripped the phone off the wall and hit her with it. So then, they left. And I missed the bus. At this point, I had to compose my features. I was about to cry. Ahem. I’m just going to get my friend real quick. Would you like to talk to her? (I am/was legally bound to report abuse of all kinds and I didn’t know what else had happened, but before he said another word, I needed the counselor there.) No. I don’t. Can I give you a hug? Yes. I squeezed Mr. Q as tight as I could infusing in him all the love I possessed so he knew someone cared. So I got him working on whatever totally trivial piece of work I was required to teach this child. Because let me tell you, I can’t remember what it was and he certainly needed to know he was loved right then. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved the curriculum I taught back then, but I knew I needed to teach so much more. Things that are taught from birth to age 6 that slip the minds of some folks because they seem second nature.
I’d like to tell you this had a happy ending, but the truth is after I talked to the guidance counselor, his momma tried to come up to my class and start a fight with me. I had just found out I was pregnant with my first child and the guidance counselor was there in the hall as the mom stared me down, mind you, I’m still a 5’2 white girl, and I stared right back. She did make a motion as if to strike me, but did not. She went in to see the principal and my friend Q was moved to a different room that year. A black teacher’s room (see previous post if you wonder why this matters). He came to my room every day. Every single day after that. He told me he missed me. He asked to be moved back. I was almost on the verge of tears so I sat him down. “You didn’t do anything wrong, honey. And neither did I. Sometimes, folks don’t see eye to eye on how to handle a situation, so they do the best they can. Your momma, well, she doesn’t like me much now. Maybe later she will, but right now she doesn’t. It’s not your fault. ” Like I said, Q came to see me everyday. His teacher and I were already friends, so she knew how much it meant to me. And guess what, she was married to a white man, but Q’s mom didn’t know that, ha.
Writers note: I wrote the two pieces separately, thinking of the same situation. They seemed to fit together to give you, the reader, the whole picture.