*This is chapter SEVEN to my first short story titled, Da G.O.A.T (The Gangsta of ALL Teachers). Remember, these blogs are only available for TWO WEEKS and they will be deleted. Then, chapter 8 for 2 weeks and deleted, chapter 9… I appreciate all likes and loves. I respond to all comments. Those SHARES tho? OMG! I LOVE THOSE SHARES!!!*
The Last Game of Dominoes
When I entered the classroom, the students let out a collective sigh of relief.
“Whew!” Cadillac yelled first. He was usually the first to respond to anything. “Maaaaaaan, I texted my big brother Mr. C.” He held up his phone to show evidence of his claim. “I said, Bro, 5-0 got the best teacher up here hemmed up. Principal escorted the laws right into our classroom.”
Jamaica was next, “Was you scared Mr. C?” he asked. “Bet you thought somebody in here snitched real quick huh?” Jamaica was impressed with the direction of his own questions. “What would you have done?”
“Shut up fool!” K’myree rolled her eyes. “He wasn’t gon have to do nothing. I’d have handled you or any snitch myself. AND nobody start asking why and what and stuff. It ain’t the first time some officer come here.” She squinted her eyes and sneered at the class in general.
I’ve always marveled at my students’ resourcefulness and resilience. Nothing within the borders and boundaries of this educational establishment could rock them. Today was my last day as their teacher; as my multiple sclerosis progressed to the point that standing was difficult. I was more choked up and emotional than any of them. Each of them had an amazing story. Each story was unfinished and I knew that by retiring early, I would never get to finish reading those stories. It’s a major component of my adoration for working with young people, the stories, the unpredictability of each day, the opportunity to make a direct impact. Mrs. Locke was right, I am recklessly optimistic. Throughout the years, I made a habit of diving headfirst into the lives of my students. If I thought I could help, I dove into whatever was happening. If asked, I dove into whatever was happening. Now, on my last day, I felt the significance of those decisions. Each of those decisions had a face in this classroom.
“Anybody down for the last game of bones?” I asked aloud. I wanted to avoid the whole Detective Moore debacle. The ONE thing that always calmed my class of rambunctious students was a game of dominoes. I used it as a counseling method, introduction activity, calming exercise and lie detector. I walked to the cabinet and took out the 5 sets, one for each table.
“I call your table.” said Syria. “Me, Princess and Jada.”
Other groups followed her declaration. Each group had its own rationale for why I should start with them. Some asserted that their group always paid rent on time. Others claimed their group did the best job with volunteering for activities. K’myree argued that she was my favorite student so she should pick for me.
“Whoa!” I raised my hands to the sides of my head. “Syria called it. I start with their neighborhood. Top two stay up each game. We’ll play to 50 so it stays moving fast.”
“I got next!” called Marcus. He glanced at K’myree, “before YOU start tripping.” He walked over to Syria’s table and pulled up an individual chair. She responded by rolling her eyes.
K’myree and Marcus grew up together in the roughest area of the school district. Both were highly intelligent, fiercely loyal but saddled by extremely unpredictable mood swings. I allowed them to sit together because they shared a love for Jordan shoes. As long as their rent was paid, they could gossip all day about the retro Jordans, flu game Jordans, Carmelo Jordans, new Jordans and whatever other Jordans their little hearts could desire. When other teachers complained about students’ off-task talking and behavior, I advised that some chatter was a given. The best way to “control all the chatter and interaction” was to integrate it in their lesson or perform some spectacularly interesting lessons. In the age of technology, internet, social media, students literally have the world at their fingertips in a cell phone. We, all educators and parents, are competing for their attention. The world has changed and it is ridiculous to expect that anybody gives you undivided attention. These two, Ky’myree and Marcus prove that they’re paying enough attention with their participation, good grades and timely rent. I reward them with a little leeway on chatter; they reward me by keeping other classmates on track. As the groups began to play, their conversations drowned and drained into a single symphony of chatter.
Jada stared at her hand absently. She carefully placed the big six domino while chewing her bottom lip. I knew what she wanted to bring up. She, Princess and Syria were deeply involved in gang life. Jada is a remarkable student, her drawings are exceptional but she fights everything. She fights for others. She fights for herself. She even fights when she is winning. Finally; she said, “I looked into the whole lawyer thing.” I had been pumping the idea of a future as an attorney all year. “I mean, that is a lot of school. Nevermind the money, that is a lot of school. If you retiring now, who gon help a sister?”
“Fifteen! Yes!” Princess slammed the 6-3 domino piece. “Quit playing Jada. Gon ask what you really want to ask.” Princess looked like the definition of a thug. She wore hoodies every day, kept an oversized pair of Beats headphones and her arms and legs were blanketed in an assortments of scars, scabs and marks. She spoke with the slowest of Southern drawls, “Gon. It’s his last day.”
“Well, damn Princess.” Jada snapped back. “Give me a chance.”
I laughed aloud. “Do y’all want everyone else to join the conversation?” I asked as I aligned my domino on the board. “If you stay that loud, you’re inviting others to speak their opinions on your material. Unless, you know, you want a whole class debate on whatever it is.”
“Knock.” Syria was next to play and knocked hard against the desk. She had a tendency to smile at the worst times. Given her rough upbringing, there was little a school administrator could threaten her with. Syria lived with an addict of a father and bounced between the families of gang members and latest boyfriends. Her left tragus was pierced, her right tragus was tattooed with a circled M. She was in her 3rd year with me and I honestly worried about her after my class. “Yo, Mr. Chase. Thanks.” Her eyes never left the hand of dominoes that she played. “Like, for real. Thanks. I know you found her.”
The group was concerned about their friend, Della. “She is in the hospital but I can’t tell you much more.” I spoke softly. Della had decided to join some gang, officially. This meant she had two choices, get jumped in or get fucked in. The group of girls came to me weeks earlier and wanted my advice. I strongly objected and told them a personal story in hopes of scaring them. I even used some of my high school, gang-related males visit to explain how it works. The counselor and campus officer met the girls but gangs were an epidemic in our area. Parents didn’t return our calls and letters home. I drove out to their apartment complex one night in an attempt to contact some of their parents. Della’s mother lived with an abusive father that pimped them both out. Despite continual efforts, CPS could never get Della out of the home. She was rarely at school five consecutive days and if so, she spent time weekly in ISS for tardies, skipping class and general misbehavior. I understood what she was facing and pulled her from ISS every day that she was in school. She sat in my class for her assigned period and another, if she completed assignments and worked well.
“So, were you in a gang Mr. C?” asked Jada. “Is that how you knew so much about what would happen? I mean, especially after that story earlier. Tattoos everywhere, piercings, drug dealer car and I ain’t mention other stuff out of respect.” She slapped a domino and called out, “TEN.”
“Not at all. I was never gang material but I’m loyal to a fault.” I replied and shifted uneasily in my seat. “My squad gave me a role or duty.” I slid my domino unto the table.
“Awwww, come on Mr. C.” said Syria. The pace of the game was picking up. She poked Princess. “Ain’t nobody listening to us talking. It’s your last day. It’s just our lil table. Tell us a story..”
Princess snapped to attention. “My bad. Gimme that TWENTY TWIN!” She slammed her domino again. “Ok, you wasn’t like, banging BANGING but you had to be doing something. Nobody just hangs out with a squad. Spit it Mr. C.”