Mike is a kid who needs to figure out the end of his story. Always a troubled kid, things reached a head at the end of the summer when his junkie, abusive mother kicked him out of the house.
He's smart - real smart. He's also raw, and honest to a fault sometimes, and doesn't control his mouth or his temper sometimes. I taught him last year and got to know him well. He was an erratic student. He loves to read (hates TV), and on one hand, he would read Their Eyes Were Watching God in two nights and then complain we were moving too slowly. But, on the other hand, he would flat out refuse to do his daily grammar drill, and never held back his comments. But I got along with him well. I finally got him to stop using the f-word - both of them - in class. He started curtailing his talents into better work and a more disciplined approach. He got his grades from 50-somethings to 70-somethings.
I could tell the homelife wasn't great. The one time I met his mother, she seemed to have no idea how to be a parent, literally telling me she had no idea what to do with him. Then, the stories Mike would tell me, about refusing to let him go to school, about locking him out of the house overnight, about calling the police on him when he did try to come in. I usually round up a dollar to all the kid when they buy their books, and it's for kids like Mike - I got his books for him last year, because I knew he couldn't himself.
This school year, he missed about a week, which was a concern. When he returned, he told me, "Aw, you know me, Mr. Epiph, I love school. I'd never hook for a week." And he does love school, and wouldn't. Apparently, his mom called the police on him, telling them he had weed in his room. Which he didn't, and a search confirmed. It was clear that mom and son couldn't live with each other anymore, though. They haven't spoken since, in fact. He's now staying with his - get this - his grandmother's sister's daughter's family. Figuring out the family dynamics made my head hurt a little bit, but he's with an aunt and uncle who have a 19-year old daughter and a 15-year old daughter, who are apparently Mike's cousins. It's a stable house. He's got his own room and his own computer. He is now well dressed. His hair is cut regularly. He exudes health when before he just looked scrawny and unkempt. The difference is night and day. He is doing well in his classes and I couldn't be happier.
I give him a ride home on Mondays, after his Man 2 Man Book Club meeting (where they're currently reading Letters to a Young Brother. Tonight, though, he forgot his house key, and I wasn't about to leave him on his front porch for a couple of hours in the blistering cold. So we went to Wal-Mart, where I had to return something. There, he did his Christmas shopping for his aunt and uncle.
And I just can't believe the life preserver that's been thrown to him over the last year of his life. He's gone from an unstable house and a distant, clueless, possibly worse parent, to a stable, loving family. Here's hoping he uses that life preserver to get himself out of Baltimore and into college in the next year and a half.
I told him tonight that his story would make a great book - the scattered homelife, the messed up mother, the jailed father, the troubled educational path and now the redemption. I told him he's got to write that book now so that the ending works for him. Get his average up to a 90, where it should be, and hopefully he can turn this story into some great college essays and scholarship opportunities. He deserves it.
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