Living in Cleveland, Ohio during the winter of 1977 was like most years; plenty of snow, limited sunny days, many cold nights, and the daily task of driving on slippery, snow covered roads. It was soon to become clear that this day would be like no other day in my life. As I sat, in a chair backwards in the school custodian’s office, feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness were painted on my face by a brush stemming from pure coincidence. The color of these coincidences were later expressed in puddles of blood. The origin of the blood came from a wounded teenager who attempted to commit auto theft and escaped from the school custodian’s office.
Looking back in retrospect, it seemed that fate and destiny played a unique role in our chance meeting. Our stand- off confrontation felt like the forces of good and evil were locked in a struggle for survival. What force would prevail? The answer was in the hands of a higher power. In the moments that followed; there was a confrontation that created two faces of desperation in a desperate face off for self-preservation. A poker faced kid sat across the room, avoiding my glances, while he nervously rubbed the arms of his chair. The silence in the room was deafening.
The events of that day collided and exploded into a series of actions that imprinted into my mind — a life changing event.
It all began, as I drove into the school parking lot, the entire car lot was snow- covered by a heavy snow flurry. After parking my car, the school custodian began waving and gesturing, he was pointing to a car covered with snow. As my attention was turned to his urgency, it was noted that the car was idling with carbon dioxide venting from the tailpipe. We met at the car in question. Mr. Evans, the custodian, opened the car door and grab a teenager by the arm. Next, we escorted the young man to his office for temporary confinement to await the arrival of the police. The culprit was about 17 or 18 years old, light skinned, and of average height and build. Mr. Evans accused him of taking a teacher’s purse from the lunchroom, and that he attempted to steal a teacher’s car. He was caught red handed with her purse and car keys in his possession. Once secured in his office, Mr. Evan’s called the police and reported the incident. He quickly left the office to attend to his duties, leaving the teenager and myself alone. Just before leaving, Mr. Evans walked out of the office while commanding the youth to stay seated in a chair and await the police. Immediately, the stressfulness of the situation began to escalate, as the realty of the situation became understood.
The custodian’s office measured about 10×12 with a large plate glass window facing the outside, a desk, and chairs.
Initially, we ignored one another, avoiding our dilemma. The climate in the room changed quickly with the passing of each and every minute; the young man’s body language changed from a calm demeanor to one filled with high anxiety. The change was evidenced by his emotional state; he fidgeted, squirmed, and looked around the room for an escape route. Twenty minutes passed, it seemed like an eternity awaiting the police while the face-off continued. At first, our glances into one another’s eyes were less frequent, but with each passing minute, the glances became stares. As my eyes looked into his, there was a sense of strength, confidence, and courage coming from my higher power. Quickly, the climax of our story came to pass. The young man stood up, then I stood up, we prepared to be attacked, we sized up our best route of escape. Instead of a fight, he chose flight from the room.
In just seconds, to my disbelief, this kid crouched, and sprinted forward, like a track star getting out of the starting blocks. He hurled his body toward the plate glass window, using his skull as a battering ram, shattered glass, and tumbled into the snow outside the window. He left a puddle of blood in the snow, as he raced away with his new found freedom. In that moment, the reality of the encounter was beyond my understanding.
My initial reaction was to peer through the broken window and see if the kid was injured or alive. His silhouette disappeared around the corner of the school. As I collected my thoughts; I was relieved for the both of us. A physical altercation was avoided between us, and we both could go on with our lives without ties.
In the moments earlier, we were bonded by circumstances that created desperate emotions and actions. Just as quickly as the confrontation appeared, it had disappeared into the snow. A report was filed in the school office, and duty was served back to the classroom.
In the end, two strangers met, and escaped a relationship built out of desperation and fear. As a post script:
In the next days, a call came from the school office that informed that the rear window of my car was broken. Upon a closer examination of the damage, it was apparent that the window had been shot out by bullets. Further checking located two bullets lodged into the driver’s headrest. Was this incident the result of the earlier incident? Did the teenager voice his feelings? As I pondered these thoughts, it was recollected that not a word was ever exchanged between us. Possibly the teenager had spoken and was heard loud and clear. This is just one of many stories remembered from my many years as a teacher.