This is an excerpt from my book, Broken, 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School. It's available as a Kindle on Amazon. This is chapter 9 and narrated by a student named Carmen.
Watching your Mami get shot, it changes you. Her blood staining your lap while you’re waiting forever for the friggin’ police, it changes you. You go to school the first day in September, all them teachers all smiles, sad, sick, I-know-all-your-business smiles that makes you hate ‘em. They don’t know none of your business. You don’t want none of them to know nothing!
Miss James she writes on the board, “Write in your journal what you did last summer.” You laugh. She’s looking at you funny. You keep laughing. You can’t stop. Then she gets on that I’m-not-mess’in-around face. That’s even funnier. She’s just a skinny pelirrojo. You know you could beat her down. You keep laughing. Now the whole class is laughing. You just walk out.
Vice Principal O’Malley is prowling the halls. She sees you at the top of the stairs. Her face is all screwed up tight as usual. Her eyes are like she don’t believe how bad you are. Her voice is hard like she’s hitting you with it. She’s filling out one of them yellow forms like she’s stabbing it with her pen. She’s telling you, “You better change, Carmen. You better change your attitude! It’s the first day of a new year. What are you gonna do?”
You don’t say nothing. She ain’t nothing to you, nothing. School is nothing but a place to meet your friends. You don’t do none of their friggin’ work. She takes you to the office and sets you on the bench.
Next period you go to Mr. Shaughnessy, he’s talking about the Roman Empire. He’s talking about people getting eaten by lions. Man, you see that every day. You just walk out of Shaughnessy’s class.
You walk out the front door of the school and down to Herbie’s Place. All your peeps inside. You smell coffee, cigarettes, eggs with arroz y gandules. Everybody’s chill’in. You want something from them, something without a name, that makes you sad.
You go outside again. Parked cars pumping out the beat. Ricky standing by the door says, “What up?” He knew your brother. He knows Juan and Ramon too. They were the ones standing by the building when them cabrones drove by and pulled the trigger. It was supposed to be for your brother, but your Mami was screaming, “No!”
Now you’re living with your other brother, the one with three kids. His girlfriend is nice, sometimes. She took you in, but she’s not your Mami. Your Mami was your corazón.
You’re a walker, so next day you’re walking to school with Angie, Raul and them. You come to the corner by the cemetery. You walk in the gate. They say, “Where you going?” You say you’re going to see your Mami.
You remember the day they put her in the ground in that fancy box. All your people were crying. No tears came for you. You just stared at that box. Now you can’t remember where they buried her.
You think you hear a voice, her voice, saying, “Ven aqui.”
There are fences and stones everywhere. You can’t find her. You can’t find your way out. Finally there’s the gate. You go through and walk to school. Alone.
You go to class. It’s eight o’clock. Miss James asks where you’ve been. You can’t answer. She points to the board where it says journal. This time you’re supposed to write what you wanna be when you grow up. Who knows if you’re gonna grow up. You write about the voice in the cemetery, the voice calling you towards the grave.
Angie passes you a note. It says, “Where you been?”
You can’t tell her neither. You draw a picture of a rose with Whiteout and black pen and pass the note back.
The bell rings and you are out of there. The hall is full of all your peeps. You’re smil’in. You’re high fiv’in. They all go to class.
You can’t go in. You’re wandering. You’re sneaking around corners when you hear them high heels clicking. O’Malley, she finds you in the eighth grade girls’ bathroom. You’re drawing a rose on the stall.
She’s hating. “Mrs. James says you were late. Mr. Shaughnessy says you weren’t in class. Where you been? When are you gonna change?”
You want to tell her you’re changed already–forever—but you don’t say nothing.
Have you ever had a student like Carmen? Please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your stories too.