“I’m just telling you what’s true.”

I was moving from table to table and reached Carlene’s group just in time to hear her say: “That’s the sad little story of my life.”

Sure, yes, many questions.  But with Carlene, I rarely have to worry about whether or not she’ll share.  With her I’m much more worried about how I’ll get her to stop sharing, how to cut off the flow of what-all before she shares way too much.  So I wondered what she was talking about, but I figured I wouldn’t have to wait long.  She looked up and saw me and smiled her I-know-just-how-cute-I-am smile.

“What?  Miss, we were working.  But then I started talking, and I was just telling them how the only reason I got up and went to school when I was still in high school was to sell drugs.”

Everyone at her table fell out laughing.  “That girl goes hard,” I heard someone behind me stage-whisper.

Carlene shrugged.  “So that’s my sad little story.  I mean, I’m just telling you what’s true.”

Carlene is the newest student in my class, arriving about a week after the current cycle started, blowing into the room with a lot of big hair and bad attitude, snapping her gum, asking my older students what was wrong with them that they didn’t get their GED already, wearing a muscle shirt worn shimmied up to her bra band, pretty belly-button stud proudly on display.

So yeah.  She goes hard.

But there’s something … she’s so painfully young for all her tough, jaded girl persona.  Just a month into being 18, she sometimes seems more like 12.  She has a flash of smile that charms the mess out of me.  She sits at her table filling her notebook with writing and writing and writing … the eternal redrafting of the love letters she maybe never sends to her incarcerated boyfriend.  (“My whole HEART is wrapped around you, baby,” she wrote today as I was filling out an attendance verification form for her.)

I’m still not sure what to do with this wild child, this infant-woman.  She contradicts herself at every turn, aggravates and alienates today the same people she charmed and befriended yesterday.  When it’s just the two of us in conference in my office, she is one of the funniest, most winning kids I’ve ever met.  When you surprise her with change, she turns cold and angry, spitting out her displeasure at being caught off guard.

She is not the most disruptive student in my class.

She walked in today with her left hand hastily wrapped in … toilet paper?  Bloody toilet paper?  “It’s nothing, Miss.  My new piercing started to run.”  (Ok, ewww.  Yes.)  She pulled back the tissue to reveal a new double-ball stud in the tiny web of flesh between her thumb and index finger.  Identical to the one in her tongue, the ones in her belly button (one on top, and a new one on the bottom).  I shuddered, and she winked at me.  “Where’s yours?” she wanted to know.


Check out the other slices of life being posted as part of the 3rd annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers.

20 thoughts on ““I’m just telling you what’s true.”

  1. Love the way you describe her appearance, her personality, but especially what you see in her as your student and how that play out in her interactions with others. We teachers really do have an amazing view.


    1. I have to say that watching her is a fascination for me. I really don’t have a handle on what to do with her yet. Maybe if I keep watching so closely I’ll get an idea …


  2. So insightful. Wow. She seems like someone who needs something more than she is getting from life, right? But hopefully, her strong personality will lead the way for her. And a teacher like yourself.



    1. She needs so much more than she’s getting, so much more than she’s gotten in the last 18 years. I hope she’s able to stay with school this time around. She needs more than school, but this is a start.


  3. I concur with all of the commentary!
    I listen to your story and remember when I taught in “the door die” and knew kids who were akin to Carlene:growing up fast on those too fast streets.
    Thanks for taking me back.

    And here I am worrying if I offered sound dating advice to teens who only dream of reaching second base.


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