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  • Haphazardly stuffing sheets of paper decorated with the scribbles of fifteen minutes of free writing into my intensely disorganized binder, I consider the possibility of not even reading them. Would they know I didn’t read their profoundly articulate responses? Eh, it’ll be a participation grade.

    “Hi, Ms. Earwood.”

    Nate, skulking through the air like it was some kind of semipermeable membrane, slams his binder on the desk beside me.

    “Sorry, man. I’m trying to get my stuff off your desk.”

    His eyes are on me, but he’s looking beyond me, deep in thought. Maybe he spilled his coffee again as he was skateboarding to class. I’ve seen decaffeinated eyes; they’re vacant and unexpressive. Nate was staring daggers. Okay, Cyclops. Maybe he and Jean Grey got into an argument.

    “Are you okay? What’s up?”

    “No, Ms. Earwood. I am NOT okay,” he articulates the word not in case I might misinterpret the gravity of his state of being. He steps away from his belongings and crosses his arms defiantly across his chest.

    “Yeah? What happ—”

    “This little 7th grader on the bus needed a place to sit, and normally we don’t get along, but he needed a place to sit, you know? I let him sit next to me, and I put my ear buds back into my ears. And I’m, like, singing, but I always sing, and I know it wasn’t loud because the person in front of me couldn’t even hear me. So you know what this little kid does?”

    The contrast between the red of his face and the blue of his eyes catches me off guard. Nate is seriously pissed off. He’s tapping his foot impatiently. He actually wants me to try to guess what the kid did. Talk about role reversal.

    “Um, I don’t know, Nate. What did he do?”

    “He freaking tells me that if I don’t stop singing he’s gonna punch me! ME! This scrawny 7th grader is going to punch me. So, I tell him, ‘Yeah? I can punch a lot harder than you, so I’d probably think twice about that,’ and the kid punches me right in the arm! I told him it didn’t even hurt, and he tells me that next time he’ll make it hurt.”

    “Are you serious? Did you turn him in?”

    “That’s not even the end of it! I tell him if he does it again I will beat his butt, only I said the other word,” he mouths ass.

    “Uh huh, so did he leave you alone?”

    “No,” he takes a deep breath before plunging into part two of his epic tale. “So, then, like I mean, I don’t believe this kid. I start singing again because I just do. I wasn’t trying to be mean. It’s just what I do, and he punches me HARD in the ribs.”

    At this point, several other students have sensed something is awry. Blood’s in the water. Sharks begin encircling the injured seal. Nate's alone on his iceberg.

    “So, then, I punch him right in the side of the head, and his head smashes into the window. It was like a two-for.”

    “Dude, you should have not punched that kid. Now, you’re the bully!” Samantha spews her well intentioned wisdom.

    “WHAT?”

    Here comes the feeding frenzy.

    “I have the right to defend myself! It was self-defense! I have rights here!”

    Yes, Nate,” I softly begin to explain, “but technically you were on school property, and so that means zero tol—”

    “WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING? HE FREAKING PUNCHED ME!”

    Snickers begin trickling through the air.

    “I bet you didn’t even punch him hard. Quit exaggerating.”

    Thanks, Mark. Realizing that perhaps Nate would love to reenact his glorious two-for without the presence of an adult, I make my way to the hallway to join Mrs. J for hall duty.

    Nate’s voice tumbles into the hallway, “My social studies teacher told me I have rights! It’s in the constitution!”

    Next to Mrs. J, I fall back until my shoulder blades meet the cold, concrete wall. I turn my head towards this hallway matriarch and recite the headline, “Nate got into a fight on the bus this morning. He’s all riled up about it.”

    Mrs. J’s eyes widen in alarm, swallowing a sip of coffee.

    “Are you serious? What happened?” her hushed voice is cloaked in anxiety.

    “I don’t know. He says the kid punched him first twice, and Nate retaliated by punching his head into the bus window.”

    Nodding her head slowly, Mrs. J concedes, “They’ll both get in trouble. Maybe Nate less, but they’ll still have consequences.”

    “Yeah,” I think back to my own expulsion, “I know.”
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