The hard tile floor was making my lower back go numb. I readjusted both body and mind, trying to encourage a student who was clearly uninspired by the current prompts and thus uninterested in writing anything at all. I started on a series of questions in an attempt to get some explanation that might turn into exposition:
“Why did you dye your hair?”
“What is your favorite class? What is your favorite part of the day?”
“What would hurt the most for you to lose–person, place or thing?”
“What are you passionate about?”
This last question finally elicited a response from the stubborn D—.
“I hate when people tell other people to kill themselves,” she said, sitting up and pulling her phone from her bag. She opened a note and handed it to me to read: it was a minor rant, only a few paragraphs long, but well-thought out and not entirely as vague as I thought an eighth-grader would be on such a serious subject.
“I don’t get what’s so bad about it.”
V—, the second of the two students I work with the most, spoke up from her place against the white wall. She is normally completely focused on her writing, a dream student for a mentor in this program. She, too, was uninspired by the prompt that day, but had been working on an old piece of poetry until she entered the conversation.
“If someone gets in my personal space or whatever, I’m gonna tell them to go drink bleach,” she said. “It’s their fault if they actually do it.”
Having lost friends to suicide, and been near that same place myself, this is a subject on which I side with D—. The anger that welled up inside me fought to be heard, loudly and fiercely, but that’s not my role. My role here is to walk these students through their writing, and through their reasoning, asking them what they believe and to put it in words. So I dropped back into questioning mode, trying to get V— to walk through her reasoning and simultaneously trying to keep D— calm; both of these girls had been in trouble before for losing their tempers, and I didn’t want to have it happen right in front of me.
But we kept peace, and by the time the Open Mic started, D— had rewritten the piece on her phone and volunteered to read it. I was beyond impressed. As an eighth grader I don’t think I would have had the mental strength to silently fall into a justified fight, using only the appropriate sanctioned means offered to me at that moment. D—, on the other hand, channeled her anger at what V— was saying (and specifically not at V—) and maturely put into words what her problems were.
I continued to discuss the subject with V—. There were arguments made for karma, “everything happens for a reason,” and destiny, among others. At the end of the day I saw two very different writers: both who thought long and hard about what they believed about the world, whether it was the physical actions of others or the metaphysical reasoning behind why things happen. Writing brings out surprising maturity in very young people.
Cassie Christopher is senior English major.