David is depressed. His brown eyes, usually flickering with bad ideas, have gone dead, and he cups his cheek in his palm, head lolling to the right. “What’s wrong with David?” Adam says, spinning around in his chair. Adam is David’s best friend, but they are not sitting together this homework period since Adam, within two minutes of the start of class, was moved to a table in the corner of the room where he might quiet down and focus. Lydia, too, has been moved away from her gaggle of girlfriends in the room’s far right corner and sits to my right, with Adam to my left.
“David, WHAT’S WRONG?” Adam yells. (David is less than two chairs away.) I try to quiet him down, but now the class has joined in and a chorus of pleas for David’s attention quickly becomes a class guessing game: why is David sad?
“He’s bored,” Carlos posits, inexplicably wandering from his seat across the room to my table as if he’s about to argue this point before me.
“He’s depressed!” Eric shouts with curious glee from behind his Harry Potter spectacles.
“He’s lonely,” Hanna proclaims, setting down her pencil with a finality that frightens me. She, too, stands up for no reason. “David?” She waves a tiny hand in front of him. David does not respond. I notice that Lydia is not entering the David fray, and remember that they recently began dating, in sixth-grade terms. His forlorn face, then, is obviously the expression of heartache.
Suddenly Mario, who was miraculously focused on writing a Reading Log summary a minute before, careens out of his chair toward David.
Flashback to three minutes ago: Mario, a perennial problem student, is doing his usual incoherent growling routine since I will not sign his Reading Log. He has presented it to me blank, with no summary of the text, although I saw him doing what appeared to be reading. “Write the summary and I’ll sign it,” I say.
“Fine, my mom will sign it,” he replies, pivoting away so forcefully that he almost falls over. Just seconds later, Eric—tables away but apparently eagle-eyed—yells, “Mario is forging his mom’s signature!”
I jump up from in between Adam and Lydia and grab the Reading Log as Mario concludes his forgery. “Who is his ELA teacher? I’ll let her know,” I say. Always more inclined to see a student get in trouble than help him, Mario’s classmates excitedly yell out the name of their ELA teacher.
“What? That’s illegal?” Mario takes the paper back and immediately erases the signature. “Just sign it!” he yells. I try not to stare at the raised scar on the top of his hand where he bit through the skin a few weeks ago, leaving a frightening trail of blood through the stairwell.
“Write the summary.” I point to the blank box and sit back down next to Adam, whose delicate focus is beginning to wane from his Muhammad Ali book.
Mario stands back up and approaches me gingerly. “What’s a summary? How do you write it?” he asks quietly.
I am relieved. So he isn’t just trying to cause trouble; he doesn’t understand what to do. I ask him to tell me what he read about. “Mummies during the Ice Age,” he explains. For a moment I contemplate whether or not this could be true, but then remember that Brad Pitt has a tattoo of Mario’s reading subject. Too much pop culture knowledge sometimes pays off.
I tell Mario to write that down; a summary is just a description of the chapter. Mario gets to work. Adam shares the title of a Muhammad Ali movie referenced in his book. Lydia, who a second before confessed “I just like looking at the pictures” as she stared at her book, now vigorously turns a page. (She later tried to steal the book; I was partly annoyed and partly ecstatic.) The class is relatively quiet.
Fast-forward to present: Mario is flying toward David, who, apparently debilitated by thoughts of Lydia, shows no signs of movement. Mario stops short about an inch from David’s inexpressive face. “DAVID,” he spits. Almost every student in the class has turned away from his or her homework to either silently observe this interaction or offer commentary.
“Don’t touch him, you’ll catch it,” Lydia helpfully advises as I lodge myself in front of Mario. (‘It’ is a series of circles around her temple a.k.a. crazy.)
I instruct Mario to sit back down, reminding him that he is not even supposed to be in my class and that I’ll send him where he belongs without pause. (Truthfully, his rightful teacher begged me to adopt him for the period.) Miraculously, Mario slowly backs away. He hands me his Reading Log, now with summary, for a signature. I sit next to David, relieved that a crisis has seemingly been averted. I give him a drawing challenge—draw a house with an X in the middle without lifting your pen or going back over lines.
It’s no love potion, but it seems to do the trick.