This story is by Brian J. Murphy and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bury Him Deep
My son was taken from me when he was just thirteen years old. I can remember only a little about being directed to the hospital and waiting for updates. It was all a haze and I guess my brain couldn’t slow down enough to find any focus. He passed shortly after arriving at the hospital. I do remember hearing a triage nurse telling someone that she was surprised he even made it that far. The bullet struck an artery and did a number on his insides. The whole of my existence changed that day.
Two days later when the police found the young man who shot my son, they notified us and provided little detail. My wife did not want to know or hear about any of it. As for me I had to work rather hard to find out that this kid was a newly crowned gang member and the shooting – labeled an accident- was part of an initiation gone wrong. Putting an automatic weapon in the hands of a fourteen-year-old after giving him a four-minute crash course in firearms can never go right. Not too long after that we found out that he would be incarcerated in a juvenile detention home for a couple of years and then monitored by the juvenile system. No accountability. No justice. No semblance of what my life was.
I have just four minutes if, and only if, all my students leave class immediately to get to their next class. Feeling rather lucky as they all decide to ship straight off, I sit down in my leather swivel chair – black and soft with the little adjust handle on the neck. I use this time to separate myself and to find some momentary escape from my reality. The problem starts when the memories I try so hard to repress come boiling to the top. The silence brings his face into my mind and the knowing that the class will soon fill with so many near his age drives me out of the calmness I long for. I lose track of all that for just a short stretch and it settles me, makes me regulate my breathing, helps me to forget.
You see, I’ve been doing this job for the past seven years now. I believe that only an idiot would continue on this career path. I teach middle school science in an urban school district. This is actually the fourth urban district I have “taught” in over those years as I have moved city to city across this land. I started this continual moving shortly after my wife said “I’ve lost my son and you both.” At that point she simply stopped being my wife. So now I choose the cold, stale reality of urban life. It’s not good. But the jobs are easy to come by. The schools beg for science people and no one other than the world-saving young optimists would choose to teach here unless they needed the check.
As my class enters, my few minutes of peace and relative silence leave and are filled by the awkward attempts at humor, the inappropriate teasing to get attention, and the simply bombastic voices which thump on my head and bring me deeper into myself and more focused. That is how one tries to cope with twenty-six young people who mostly have been given little to no guidance and who choose to simply focus on the worst expressions in our language and repeat them time and again. Order. Order and discipline. Keep them working or at least attempt to get them working. It almost never works.
“As we do each and every day- please take out your detail journal and copy the new terms which are on the board behind me.”
“Tyler, please stop using that word.”
“ No Jackson, we have not already done these words.” “I don’t care if your sister did them last year and told you about them- you must still list them and look them up.
“Tyler!” “Stop saying penis! I can clearly hear you saying it.”
Only 49 minutes left to go in this class.
The struggles for these kids are real. Many come from single parent homes – just mom as a constant. They are fed the “you can be anything” line but are not shown in their developmental years how to be anything other than what they see around them day to day. Instead, they escape into social media and video games and they look up to ex-strippers who glamorize that particular lifestyle.
Their choices may seem limited, but they still have choices. What we choose defines who we are and lays out the blueprint for our future- immediate or otherwise. Once you choose a path you must reckon with what you will encounter around any of its many turns.
When my break finally arrives, I head to the office and pass the fliers with the missing children. Every urban school has these things hanging somewhere. Not so sure you see these fliers in the suburban school offices. I know that most of these young people will be found to have run from home and gotten caught up in something beyond their years. A new one is front and center.
Darion Jackson aka “Jackem”
15 years old – Last seen in Elmcrest area
5 feet 5 inches tall
Last seen wearing a white t-shirt and distressed jeans
Most of these kids will be home safe soon but not “Jackem”. A nickname like that and hanging in Elmcrest means only one thing- gang. He has a new place.
So this is my existence from day to day. I make my copies and I head back to teach another class. This is what I have chosen or what has chosen me- what difference does it really make? This job facilitates what I am fated to. I am actually a pretty good teacher. I have been asked in two different schools to consider running for department chair, although I’m not sure if that is a position of status or bother. I have been lauded by administration on multiple occasions for getting those ever so important testing scores up (I am sure there were administrative raises attached or considered in connection to those scores).
I could care less about any of it.
Final bell- dismissal. The school day is over and my body relaxes a bit physically as I release a big breath of something unexplainable which builds up all day long. I feel more energy as I leave the building and I stand up straighter. I now feel a sense of purpose. Not one that I ever wished for or imagined possible- but purpose nonetheless.
I feel energized, perhaps even empowered, as I approach my car. I have always made it a point to park at the end of the lot even when I get to work early. I suppose that people would see this as an excellent way to get out of there quickly when the school day ends. That is not why I park there. My car is backed in against a wall and I look at the rear of it as I walk up. There is a small puddle behind the driver’s side rear tire. I quickly go into the bag under the back seat and pull out a piece of cloth to mop it up. Jackem’s distressed jeans in my hand do the trick and the red circle left on the ground is easily covered with nearby sand. A spot to bury him deep is foremost on my mind.
I should have wrapped the body more carefully.