Bear and I

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Kids, Life

Back in my very first year of teaching I had a kid in class who went by the name 111111111111111of Bear. Bear was quite a character, and by character I mean he was batshit crazy. He was in 8th grade was had been held back 2-3 times, so he was probably 16 or 17 or so. Big dude for 8th grade, let’s put it that way.

The thing is, although Bear drove teachers and administrators alike absolutely crazy, he liked me. Oh, he tested me early on for sure. As a matter of fact, Bear was the only student I ever had that I’d look for in the morning on the absence list. I’d check the attendance sheet to see if he came that day, just so I could get mentally prepared for him.

Yeah, you might say Bear was a handful.

For reasons known only to him, Bear called everyone “Sally.” Didn’t matter if you were a teacher, another kid or the principal, to Bear you were “Sally.” It was nothing to be walking down the hall behind him, see the principal walk by and Bear say, “What’s up, Sally?” Hey, you can’t make this stuff up. And he got away with it.

Like I said, Bear sort of liked me, and I think it all started the day he threatened to stab me. But hey, don’t all good relationships begin with the threat of deadly assault? Bear was goofing off, doing something stupid, when I ripped his ass and told him to cool it. Bear just got this maniacal grin, patted his pocket and said, “Well, how about I just cut you?”

Well, like I said, it was my first year and I really didn’t know how to respond to such a thing. So, I just calmly asked him to take a stroll out into the hallway with me. When we got there we had the following discussion:

“Bear, you don’t really have a knife, do you?”

“Sure do.”

Bear then proceeded to whip out a switchblade, pop it open, and hold it about 2-feet in front of me.

Try as I might to remember when we covered these types of situations in my college education classes and how we were supposed to handle them, I was drawing a blank. Probably because all I could think of was an 8-inch ivory handled switchblade with skulls carved into it, waving back and forth in front of my face.

At that point I considered running, but I figured if I did that all credibility would be lost amongst the fine children of the town in which I was teaching at the time. I mean, hell, if I ran now every kid in school would know that if you wanted to get away with something in Mr. Shoe’s class all you had to do was wave a switchblade in his grill. So, with considerable trepidation I decided to make a stand. Keep in mind I still figured running was a viable option if the situation required it. That is, if he called my bluff. So . . .

“Well Bear, here’s the thing. If you don’t want me to use that knife on you I’d hand it over right now.”

Then Bear just stared at me quizzically and sort of tilted his head like Michael Myers in that scene from the Halloween movie, shut the knife, and handed it over to me.

Whew. Crisis averted, and from that point on Bear and I were buddies. Funny, but I never even reported this to the principal. Today there would be a school-wide lockdown, SWAT teams called, Homeland Security notified, counseling sessions for students and Bear would be sent to the slammer.

As it was, I gave Bear his switchblade back at the end of the day and told him not to bring it back. Incredible when you think about it, really.

A couple months later there was a school dance and I noticed some murmuring among a group of teachers standing at the table where the students were checking in. I walked over and asked what was up, and I was informed that Bear was back at the end of the line. This caused all sorts of consternation among the chaperones, as Bear had quite the reputation at these sort of events.

Then I did something that shocked the other teachers. I simply walked back to Bear, held at my hand, and waited. As everyone watched, he reached down into his boot, pulled out a knife, and gently laid it in the palm of my hand. Then I stuck it in my back pocket as he walked on into the dance. And of course, when he left I gave it back to him.

As I’ve said many times before, it was a different time.

I remember once the teaching staff had a special meeting, all about Bear. Seems he’d been missing classes for a couple months, and hadn’t even attended a few at all for a couple weeks. I was perplexed, because I couldn’t remember him missing school much at all. I checked my attendance sheets and he hadn’t, at least in my 3rd Period Reading class. Yep, turns out Bear was showing up at 10:05 and going home at 10:50, coming to school just for me.

I have to admit I was sort of proud.

Oh, and there was the time a parent went to the principal complaining about something I’d done in class. I was talking to a fellow teacher about it in the hallway and Bear overheard the conversation. This led to the following a little later:

“Hey, Mr. Shoe. I heard about that dude going to the principal on you. Want me to take him out?”

He wasn’t kidding.

Bear dropped out of school the next year, but I did have one more interesting encounter with him a couple years later. I was teaching, and as I taught my back was to the window facing a busy street. All of a sudden I noticed my students sort of looking past me and out the window. I turned to look, and when I did I saw a wild-eyed Bear, having just leaped out of a truck, charging towards my window like a demon from hell. For a moment I was certain he was going to jump right through the window, and my students did too. They were horrified. At the last moment though, Bear stopped, pressed his face to the glass, and screamed like a banshee. Then he turned and ran, leaping into the back of the truck as it sped away.

And although my students were somewhat traumatized, I just shook my head. Hey, it was Bear.

Years later I’d moved on to another school, and late one night I’d stopped at a little bar in a town near me. Afterwards, as I was walking across the parking lot back to the car with my date, a small group of guys in their early 20’s appeared and blocked our way. I have no idea what they wanted, but it was clear they were up to no good.

Just as I started to wonder how I was going to handle this a voice from behind me said, “Let ’em through.” Immediately the guys sort of parted as we walked on to our car. Before I got in, though, I looked back in the darkness at the man who’d helped us and said, “Thanks man. I appreciate it.”

Then came the response:

“No problem, Sally.”

I’d always cut Bear a break. Seems he’d finally paid me back.


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