A free moment in my schedule! My regular group away on a field trip. Time for Virginia History in Miss Hasting’s fourth grade class. That new kid Sonny was pretty demanding. She thought of him, scruffy with dirty blond hair, exuding rambunctious energy, a reputation for a quick temper. Although he stood a head shorter than any other fourth grader, she’d heard he was three years older than any other classmate, Miss Hastings certainly needed help.
Sure enough! As I stepped out of my room, Sonny bounced out of his classroom, across the hall clutching a fistful of rumpled papers.
“Hey Mrs. Metlay. Look what I made for you. I’m bringin’ it to ya’.”
Sonny grabbed one paper. The rest flew about the dank hallway.
“Like my dragon? You know purple ‘n green are my favorite colors.”
I noted how much Buddy resembled the dragon he’d drawn. Plum-colored dragon scales on paper became purple blotches across the leg of his frayed gray sweatpants. He and his dragon both had mouths smeared with red marker. Splotches of neon green, the same color as the dragon’s tail, covered the front of his off-white teeshirt. That shirt’s big enough to be his father’s! I’ll get the school social worker to find him school-worthy clothes!
“Look. I put your name on this.” His bright blue eyes lit up the dusty corridor.
He’d scrawled: “For mSR. Melay” across the feet of his beast.
“Isn’t this the coolest dragon ever? I made it during math.”
I interrupted him. “Bet your class is doing social studies now. What if I came in and helped you on the vocabulary words?
“Gee, don’t you like my dragon? I hate social studies and I really hate copyin’ silly words from a stupid blackboard!” Reluctantly, he followed me into his room.
As we entered I whispered conspiratorially, “I’ve got a deal for you, Sonny. I’ll copy the words and let you find them in your dictionary.”
“I gotta better deal. You copy everything ‘n I draw you a hotrod.”
Miss Hastings chirped from her seat behind her desk in the front of the room, “If you don’t finish those words, all by yourself, Sonny, you’ll miss recess. Go to the boy’s room. Wash that marker off your face. Get started.
Sonny, ready for any excuse not to do vocabulary, scrambled towards the door. He bumped into Jake’s chair.
“Go away, Twerp!” Jake muttered.
“Miss Hastings! Didya hear that?”
“Now you have missed recess Sonny. Get to the restroom before you miss tomorrow’s recess, too.” She rolled her eyes. “Mrs. Metlay, why don’t you help Jake? Sonny can be such a waste of time.“
The children in the class continued to work silently. I bent over Jake’s desk. Sonny reappeared. “Look! I’m clean!”
Jake mumbled, “Yeah, but you still stink.”
“Wanna fight? Nobody says that and gets away with it.” A flailing arm brushed Jake’s arm.
Miss Hastings raced towards her emergency button. I ushered Sonny, with book and paper, out of the classroom.
We returned to my room. “What’s going on, Sonny? I realize you started here in April, after spring break. The school year’s almost over, friendships formed. What do you think of Miss Haste?”
“I love her long blond hair. Reminds me of Momma.
He continued speaking in a dreamy way. “I wish my step-dad Ralph woulda waited to send me here to my Dad’s til after her funeral. He told me I’d make trouble if I stayed. Ya’ know. I miss my brother and baby sister. Now I’ll never see ‘em again. That’s what Ralph said.
“Momma died Easter Sunday. Tuesday, Ralph put me on a plane. Her funeral was Wednesday. I was enrolling in this school ‘bout the time they buried her!”
“That sounds hard,” I interrupted. “How do you feel?”
“I don’t understand what’s goin’ on inside me. Sometimes I feel like I’m gotta cry for no reason, but I ain’t no sissy. I get in trouble instead! Then if they see me cryin’, they’ll think I’m scared.”
“Was your Momma sick? What was she like?”
“I try not to ‘member those days right ‘fore Momma died. She didn’t get outta the bed Ralph put in the living room. Her hair was all gone and her eyes sunk so deep they went missin’. She’d never smile, jes’ squeezed my hand.
“Once Momma told me about my real Dad. She said she loved him ’n all, but he drank n’ beat her up. Said he shook me so hard my brains rattled.”
From My Classroom
“Wow! What about school, Sonny? Why are you still in fourth grade?”
His voice softened. “Momma home-schooled me so I’d stay outa trouble with all those bullies. She tried to learn me my ABC’s, but those B’s and D’s turned inside out, and other letters floated ‘cross the paper. When I read, nothing made sense. Then she got sick and I hadda return to school.
“They pushed me back ‘bout three grades cuz I couldn’t read, or nothin’. Now I’m older’n ever’body, ‘cept maybe you, Mrs. Metlay. If Momma’d stayed well, I know she’da got me to read.”
I smiled at him. “School hasn’t been easy? And I bet you feel like you’re struggling here too?
“I try to be good in Miss Hasting’s class cuz she’s so pretty, but when I get to thinkin’ how she looks like Momma, I can’t help myself.”
As he was speaking, he jumped out of his seat, pulled a folded paper from inside his textbook, dashed out of my classroom, headed back across the hall to his own room.
“Hey, Miss Hasting, look what I drawed for you. A daisy. Momma’s favorite.”
A week later I entered the building before school started. There was a group of people clustered around Sonny’s desk, I walked toward Miss Hastings. “You heard,?” she chirped in my direction. Sonny’s dad took him out of this school this morning. He slugged his baby step brother for no reason. He will go live with his Aunt Rita. His dad feels that might be safer because she has no kids o her own. “She won’t take any nonsense, his Dad says. She has her belt out and ready.”
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"