Notta and What Hurts


  • Yeah, About that

I don’t know why it should still shock me in these days. With the Merchants of Death making sure more and more military-grade, lethal weapons are available to anyone of any stripe and any mental/emotional level, we pretty much have to expect to hear of someone’s sudden, violent, and most often unprovoked, death by shooting. To these MoD, this is simply business and networking: someone gets shot, everyone who knows the deceased or about the deceased will buy more weaponry out of fear. And the more the MoD pay the media to cover it, the more the paid media talk and spread fear, and the more people will buy and enrich these bespoke-suited miscreants. To them, it’s a win-win. To us, the public, it’s a death, death and more death. And it hits particularly hard when the victim is teenaged to forty-something. Young enough to be one of my children, or barely out of diapers. The brother or sister of one of my students. A child who, through little or no fault of her/his own, has left a parent who fully expected to die before their children.

One of my students had not been to class in a week. As per my habit, I called to see if she was all right. Her voice came over the wire hushed and strained. “I’ll be back next week, Mrs. Jody,” she said. “We got some problems here.”

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

She sighed, a ragged sound, almost like a sob. “No, thank you. My brother and cousin were shot five days ago. They got into a fight with some kids from another school a couple weeks ago and those caught my brother and cousin coming home from the Seven-Eleven and killed them.”

I asked her if I could let the rest of the class know. She said find and she had to go.

To say the news left the rest of the class dumbstruck would understate their reaction. A couple of them crossed themselves. One wept silently. Even Notta muttered something religious-sounding. Then one of the young men, the one who preferred to work alone and didn’t interact with many of the other students, announced, “My friend died a year ago when some [expletive] shot him at the Dairy Queen.”

“That’s terrible.” I know that’s a ridiculous response; almost as feeble as “I’m sorry for your loss,” but what else was there to say? “Were you able to be with your other friends to mourn?”

He shook his head with a scowl. “I don’t have other friends. Don’t want them. You can’t get close to anybody these days. Not in my neighborhood. Makes no sense to get close to nobody. They’re either going to move out or get killed.” He looked at what had to be a roomful of shocked faces. “That’s the way it is.”

“What about his family?” Notta asked. “Did you visit them or go to the funeral and talk to them?”

He looked at her with something close to contempt. “They just tried to see if I was all right, if I knew enough not to go into them places or fight with those people. They tried to be my parents and I got parents telling me the same damned stuff. It’s no good to anybody, ‘cos if you’re going to get shot, you’re going to get shot.”

Now the American Educational System-trained teacher in me had a flash of a teachable moment on the issue of gun control, but I was grateful Notta jumped in with another “lesson.”

“Were your friend’s parents close with him?”

“Yeah.” More a grunt than an answer. “He had good parents, even if they nagged him a lot about staying in school and all.”

“And they liked you?”

He laughed a little. The end of the laugh broke off, like a sob. “His mother was always trying to feed me or get on me about clean clothes and good shoes. His dad watched football with us. That old man could make some killer chicken wings.”

“You still watching football with him?” Notta asked.

“Not since the funeral. Reminds me too much of him and I don’t need that. They don’t need my reminding them of him, either. Best we all forget and move on, that’s all.”

“Why?” Notta wanted to know. “What’s wrong with remembering people you care about?”

He stared at her. “’cos it hurts. Why would I want to hurt like that? Or make them hurt like that?”

Notta leaned forward, folding her hands on the conference table we use for our class. “Who told you that you didn’t have to hurt? Life hurts, kiddo. Love hurts. Losing a friend hurts.”

“But I don’t have to hurt all the time!” he said. “I cried at the funeral and I’m done.”

She shrugged. “I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But if life hurts, and you don’t hurt, that must mean you’re dead. Inside. And that’s not living at all.”

“You’re crazy, Mrs. Louden.”

Notta laughed. “So I hear.”

“Nobody wants to live in pain.”

“That’s true,” Notta agreed. “So we find things to do or say or think to make the pain either go away – which kills us inside – or to make it better.”

He made the hissing, deprecatory sound my students make to nonverbally dismiss an idea they don’t like. “Like what?”

“You ever cut your finger?” He hissed again. “Did you let it bleed and do nothing except avoid all knives and scissor and razors and things like that?”

“’course not,” he said. His thin eyebrows knit in a wary scowl. “I put salve on it and a Band-Aid.”

“Did that stop the cut from hurting?”

“Not right away. Stung like hell.” The rest of the class laughed in agreement. He relaxed a little. “But it helped heal.”

“So you had to do something that stung like hell, but eventually helped you heal.”

“Yeah.” He half-grinned, as if he held the trump card in this discussion. “And I’ve been careful not to cut myself like that again.”

“But you still use knives and scissors and –“ she looked at his stubbly cheeks and chin – “sometimes razors?”

“Yes.”

“And the danger of another cut is always there.” He shrugged. “So when you hurt, you find something to help you heal, even if it stings like hell because you know you need it to help you.” He said nothing, his deep brown eyes fixed on her. “What if someone in your family gets a cut like that? You leave them to bleed out?” He hissed a third time. “No, you help them and they feel better.” She paused. “Feels good to help someone hurting, doesn’t it?

“I suppose,” he admitted, not happy but understanding.

“And sometimes, that cut is going to be too deep for you to take care of on your own.”

“My brother cut his scalp open on a jungle gym once,” a girl offered. “He had to get stitches.”

Notta and I nodded. “Sometimes you have to go to other people for help. Maybe even people who have had cuts like yours and know how to help you heal.”

“Wait, wait,” he said, waving his hands in defense. “You telling me to call my friend’s parents and help them heal?”

Notta smiled. “I’m not telling you to do anything, kiddo. I’m only observing that we heal better when we don’t just ignore our cuts and avoid living. We heal better when we do something to heal and maybe help other people to heal.”

The young man stayed quiet the rest of the class.

I do not know if he did get in touch with his friend’s parents. He never said. But I know he listened and he heard. As we could only with more people in our country would do. Especially the MoD.

Then again, I believe in miracles, too. I have to; it’s what helps me heal.


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