I had a student three years ago named Luke, a tall, thin guy with long blonde hair, a lively throwback to the 60s. He was bright, witty, and irreverent; and I loved working with him in English 9. Unfortunately, he was more interested in drugs than in schoolwork. I heard the other teachers complain that he was rude and generally difficult to get along with in their classes, but he wasn't like that around me. He was one of my favorite students. Ever.
Luke quit school a year ago and started singing in a rock band. By all accounts, he had some talent and enjoyed some success. When he came back to school to visit a couple of times this fall, he always stopped by to say hello. I made a point of asking him to come back to school, and he always said that he knew he needed to and that he would get around to it. Music was his life, and he wanted to see how far he could go with the band. Maybe he would get his GED and go to college, become a teacher himself if the band didn't work out.
Even though I knew that was the kind of thing students say when talking to their old teachers, I was pleased. He would make a good teacher, I told him. He was smart. He also understood the kids who really needed understanding. He was good at English, he could do it. He smiled and said again, he might try it. I envisioned him in ten years, long hair tied back in a ponytail, in a classroom, bringing Hamlet and Ophelia to life for his students.
Deep in winter he sent me e-mail: he had been going through some tough times and had tried to kill himself. I wrote back some words of encouragement. He didn't respond. A month or so ago on impulse I sent him a little e-mail card, hoping things were going well. He didn't respond.
But this morning at 8:30, he came to school. He was drunk. He had a gun. And he was looking for the girl who had just broken up with him.
The security team stopped him in time.
We had a faculty meeting at the end of the day and reviewed emergency procedures. Afterwards I went back to my classroom and stared out the window a long time, trying to pull my thoughts together. It was a warm spring afternoon, and a bird sang in the maple tree. My classroom felt cold; the stack of semester exams on my desk, irrelevant. A student drove by, the last few lines of "Eleanor Rigby" blaring from his new speakers.
I wiped away a couple of tears, said a prayer for Luke, and stuffed the essays in my book bag.