Those Who Can’t

By Victoria Allek

September

Today I met a Satanist.  Okay, so I didn’t just meet him.  Jacob’s been in my junior Advanced Placement English class since the beginning of the year.  But today, three weeks into the year, I found out he’s a Satanist.

Yesterday, he was just another supremely polite kid.  He sort of reminded me of literature’s version of an English gentleman, minus the accent.  Soft-spoken.  Pale.  Precise in his language choice.  Sure he dressed in basic black, but lots of teens gravitate toward that at some point.

He was just sort of…background. Bland. Vanilla.

But today, and forever after for me, he is a Satanist.

He told me, or rather had me read, all about the finer points of Satanism and how he came to make that choice.  Not Devil Worship or that phony animal sacrifice stuff, he scoffed, but Satanism.  And not that “absence of a God” sort of stuff, either.  Nope, he believes in the big one: Satan as a deity.

Okay, so this has to be a test, right?  He’s pushing to see what I’ll allow for topics, how I handle random tidbits of disturbing information, or how confidential I will keep their personal narratives.

“The teacher at my old school didn’t really appreciate this, so as you read this, keep an open mind, a very open mind.”

Definitely a test.

I’m understanding.  I don’t laugh.  I don’t even raise my eyebrows, though I don’t know how I manage it.  I offer intelligent insight while ignoring the topic.  “To me, this reads more like a definition paper than a personal narrative, could you try…”

But he follows up with questions for me.  “How much of this background information did you know already?”  More than he would have thought, it appears.

I’m beyond uncomfortable with this conversation.

“So you’ve had Satanists in class before?”  He’s exhilarated.  He’s disappointed.  He’s never found any among his peer group.

Did I pass the test?  Does that mean that somewhere tonight he is kneeling in front of an upside down cross praying to Satan, his dark Lord and Master, to “bless” me?  Am I okay with this?

Even if I’m not, there’s really not much I can do.  I’m pretty sure this would fall under that religion in schools regulation, so maybe I could avoid it, but then what if his parents sued me for religious discrimination?

But then, what about the kid?  He really is just looking for someone to understand him, a way to fit in.  That much I get.

I hope I have it in me.

16 months later

I will probably never see my Satanist again.  After having him for his entire junior year in class, I was surprised to see him beside my desk at the beginning of his senior year, asking to be my teacher’s assistant for the year.

I was desperately in need of help.  Besides, I thought he was an okay kid, so I’d said yes.  As the year wore on, I found myself biting my tongue when colleagues complained about his mannerisms.  I certainly didn’t stand up for him.

And he eventually asked, in his odd, formal way, standing beside my desk, hands behind his back, for a letter of recommendation. I wrote him one.  He forgot to tell me he got into his first choice school, somewhere on the East Coast.

I am aware I don’t thank my assistants enough.  So, to commemorate the end of the year and acknowledge the work he did for me, I gave him a gift card for a bookstore with a note in the card.  In the card, I scrawl a thinly personalized message of the generic ilk in which I wish him luck, thank him for his help, and express that I sincerely hope he finds everything he’s looking for in college.

He had never liked it here, never quite fit in; although, I think he relished his nonconformity, to some extent.

He thanked me profusely.  Hadn’t he ever received a thank you gift for a job well done?

I leave for the day, not thinking about him.

The last day of school:  no students, and all day to finish my grades and clean up my room.  I was doing nothing in particular, probably trading anecdotes with my colleagues I would be embarrassed to have attributed to me later.

He showed up in our office, his longish hair pulled back into a low ponytail at the nape of his neck to more effectively show off the upside-down cross breaking up all that black clothing over his pale skin.

He brought me a gift, wrapped awkwardly in black construction paper and too much clear tape.  I comment on the choice of wrapping, and he ducked his head and said simply, “Because it’s from me.”

I know.  I get it.

I opened the gift as he looked on.  It’s a dull black, carved cat.  It’s sort of Egyptian-looking, with symbols on the base, and I noticed a snake peeking out from between the seated cat’s front legs. A cobra, an asp maybe?  I thanked him, told him he hadn’t needed to do that, and wished him luck again.  He was gone quickly after that.

I heard the comments from those around me that sounded like they were about the gift, when I could tell they were really about the giver:  It should go right in the garbage. It would never see the inside of my home.  If you place it on your mantel, it’ll begin to bleed. 

And I simply didn’t know what to make of it.  Was it symbolic of something to him?  Did he know I had a cat at home and think I might appreciate the little statue?  I can’t remember.  It’s a nice gesture, I decided, and vowed to leave it at that.

There was a card with the token.  “Thank you,” it proclaimed on the front.  And inside it simply stated, “so much.”  A nice card, in and of itself, but he had added two lines. Written in his funny half-script, half-print style I suddenly recognized as similar to my own:  I did not forget.  And I will not.

Other than that, merely his name.

I’m even more ashamed that I didn’t hush my colleagues and their snide comments.  Did I contribute to them?  My face flushed warm and my vision swam, just a little.

What was he talking about? I savagely scavenge my brain. Did I deserve the gesture, or was I over analyzing?  Was it just about the gift card, for the letter of recommendation, for…?

Those who choose to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl watch from the safety of the steps, analyzing which pods seem to respond to their occupants.  When the carnie opens the gate, they race around the corrugated metal ramp, diving into the choice cars.

People who don’t like spinning rides shake their heads while the riders try their hardest to get dizzy beyond reason in the name of fun.

As a high school teacher, I had a prime seat on the Tilt-a-Whirl of teen angst.  From that vantage point, I managed occasional glimpses out the side of the ride as the world reeled by.  I could lean one direction and hold onto the bar, and sometimes I could make the car spin the direction I wanted. But not always.

I still have no idea how the ride works.

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Categories: Issue 6, Non-Fiction | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Those Who Can’t

  1. Betty

    Mmmm…kind of makes you step back and think about the ripple effects of our actions and words on others. Interesting piece.

  2. Thanks for sharing us an inside look (and insight) of a teacher’s work. We do so much more than write lesson plans and grade papers!

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