Symphony 37

“You see, Jesse, Mr. Ulrich, Ms. Kelly, and Mrs. Clementi have all complained about your misbehavior in their classes. And when I asked the rest of the teachers how you are doing this year, they all said you weren’t doing very well. Things can’t go on this way, Jesus. What are we going to do about it?”

Jesse had stopped cooperating. Bill Campbell kept digging away at him, but Jesse refused to answer. Finally Bill said, “Jesus, do you think you can go out there and do your work without trying to stir up trouble with your classmates?”

Jesse shrugged and would not meet Bill’s eyes. He said, “That’s what I always do.”

There was a heavy silence in the room. Bill just said, “See that you do.”

# # #

When the mother and child had left, Bill said to Neil, “If I had asked him one more question, he would have called our whole teaching staff liars. Then I would have had to send him up before the board for expulsion. I couldn’t have allowed that kind of defiance.”

“You could have had him out of your hair,” Neil suggested.

“Yes. And I probably should have. It will come sooner or later, unless that woman gets some help. And she won’t; we’ve been trying to get her into counseling for three years now, without success.”

“What is going on? Was the boy abused by his father?”

“Now that is the essential question. We don’t know. We only know what the mother says and you could see how unreliable she is. If he was abused, she has made it worse. Since the father died five years ago, she has lost all semblance of discipline. Jesse runs that household. He is an only child. There are only the two of them in the house, and I thank God for that. If there were a younger sibling, I would really be worried about what Jesse might do to him.”

Neil sighed, staring at the door where Jesse had gone out. “He is so young.”

“That’s what hurts. But you would be doing him no favors if you cut him too much slack. He has to learn to live in society or society will destroy him. If he doesn’t learn some respect for authority now, he’ll be in prison before he’s twenty-one. Right now, his mother thinks she is his only friend, when in fact she’s his worst enemy. Don’t fall into that trap.”

Neil paused at the door and said, “Thank you for your support.”

“That’s my job.”

“What I mean is — I’m sorry. I misjudged you. You didn’t want me here, so I didn’t expect any support from you, but you have treated me like any other teacher.”

Bill Campbell shook his head. “Neil, I said that if you made so much as one mistake that I thought might be leading you into any form of sexual misconduct, I would nail you. And I will. However, if I hadn’t been ninety-nine percent sure that you were innocent, I wouldn’t have hired you.

“As far as the parents, students, and other teachers are concerned, you are just like any other teacher. Publicly and privately, I will treat you that way, except for one difference. I will be watching the way you deal with your female students even more carefully than I watch any other teacher — and I watch them all.”

# # #

That same afternoon Carmen came to see him about back to school night. He had given it no thought, so she explained, “This isn’t an open house to show off what the student’s have done. We have one of those in the spring. The purpose of back to school night is to give the parents a chance to see their children’s teachers and to see what they will be doing during the year. For us, it is a chance to meet some of the parents.” more tomorrow


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