By WENDY HODGE
When last we met, the mood at Carver Elementary was tense. Our two hall monitors, Steve and Andy, were not exactly everybody’s favorite people. Steve handled it the way he handled everything — with an easy smile and a fake laugh. Things just rolled off his back, for the most part.
Andy, however, remained stoic and silent. I remember trying to start a conversation with him as we stood in the hallway one afternoon. I was in line for the water fountain, and he stood with his back to the wall, always vigilant. The boy at the head of the line had apparently just crossed the Sahara Desert and so needed to consume ten or twelve gallons of lukewarm water while we all fidgeted behind him. The close proximity to Andy made silence awkward … at least for me. I’ve often rushed to fill silences with words.
“Hi,” I said quietly.
Nothing. No reaction.
“I’m Wendy,” I tried again.
Still no response.
I’ve never been one to give up easily, so I tried one last tactic:
“You’re a very good hall monitor.”
This time he glanced at me and smiled just a hint of smile.
“Thank you,” he said in a hoarse voice, as if he had not spoken in days.
Just then the line moved, and we surged forward.
That afternoon, Mrs. Taylor was called away to the principal’s office on some secret teacher business. She left us with the instruction to remain silent and work on our math sheets.
“I’ll be right back,” she said.
We could still hear her heels clicking up the hallway when the murmuring started.
“I hate that we have hall monitors,” said one girl.
“Yeah. They act like we’re all babies,” said another.
I glanced over at Steve, who had a smile plastered on his face but was clearly beginning to feel a bit antsy. Andy, on the other hand, had the same implacable expression on his face.
The murmuring got louder, and pretty soon the entire classroom was on their feet or sitting on the top of their desk. A plot was forming — a complete and formal protest of the existence of hall monitors! Mrs. Taylor had been gone a total of six minutes, and when she returned she had an uprising on her hands.
She knew it the moment she entered the room. Bless her heart. I hoped she had a well-stocked wine cellar waiting for her at home.
To her credit, she heard us out. Every single comment and criticism was given attention. She even agreed with some of the arguments her class made, and never once did she make us feel like the children we were. She was truly a good teacher.
Once we had aired all our concerns, she drew a deep breath and said, “You’ve all forgotten one very important thing. Since Steve and Andy started keeping watch in the hallway, we haven’t had one single incident of vandalism. No graffiti, no missing pencils or broken crayons, no bad words on the blackboard. All of your belongings have been safe. School property hasn’t been harmed.”
No one had a response. She was right, and we knew it.
“I think we owe Steve and Andy a very big thank you. They’ve been doing a job no one else wanted, and they’ve done it in spite of the way they’ve been treated by the very people they’re trying to help. I’m talking about all of you. Don’t you feel the least bit ashamed of the way you’ve acted?”
She was good at that, too — making us feel that blush of shame when we knew we could have behaved better.
Grudgingly everyone made their way back to their seats and accepted the fact that hall monitors were exactly what we needed.
Christmas break came and went, and the cold winter months crept by. We learned how to add and subtract numbers with multiple digits. We read aloud and memorized vocabulary words. We played Four Square and Red Rover.
Steve and Andy were hall monitors until the school year ended. Steve stayed in our town all the way through high school. He always kept that same good humor and easy smile. Andy, on the other hand, moved away before third grade. We learned from Mrs. Taylor that he was a military kid and that his year with us was the longest he had ever lived in one place. I wish I could say that he made lots of friends at Carver Elementary, but that wouldn’t be true. The conversation I had with him that day in the hallway was the only one I’d ever have with him. He kept to himself and did what he was asked to do.
But I never felt sorry for him. He was not unhappy. In fact, he seemed quite content in his solitary path. Maybe he was just naturally that way. Or maybe it was a protective skill he developed over the years — why attach yourself to friends you would only have to leave and try to forget?
As for the “hoodlum” who vandalized Mrs. Taylor’s second grade … that mystery was never solved. At least, not to my knowledge. There was gossip, I’m sure. But he (or she) remains a mystery to this day.
Just this morning, the news was on. There was video footage of angry mobs wreaking havoc in an inner-city neighborhood. Thugs with clubs in their hands stood in front of a wall covered with graffiti and screamed at a line of policemen who were trying to control the crowd. A car had been overturned in the street, and trash littered the ground.
I had an instant flashback to the second-grade classroom and the damage done there.
In response to the situation in her own city, an elected politician (someone who was voted into office by fellow Americans) was standing on the steps of Capitol Hill. Her face was flushed with rage, and she choked out these words:
“We don’t need these police! We’ve never needed police! Give America back to these people and defund the police! They are the only reason we have crime and death in this city!”
I stood there a moment, trying to see things from her point of view. Mrs. Taylor would be proud. I actually gave this angry US Representative’s words consideration. But then I thought about Andy. Quiet, solid, determined Andy. He had no friends. He had an address that changed more often than we changed lunchboxes. And he had a job that he was proud to do. A job no one else wanted.
You may part ways with me here because of whatever political views yo
u hold. And that’s okay. That’s what America is — we have to be okay with disagreeing. What we don’t have to be, however, is violent and destructive and completely opposed to any and all authority. We’ve become a society of not just rule-breakers but rule ABOLISHERS. Like second graders, we want cookies and chaos all day long.
But when things go south, and they ALWAYS go south, it is the Andys of the world we need.
As the news story ended, I watched the same angry politician be escorted to safety by her own personal security detail. Men in uniform with guns on their hips rushed her inside a car with tinted windows. The irony would be funny if it wasn’t so infuriating.
How I pray that our country learns what Mrs. Taylor’s second-grade class already knows — we need laws and law keepers. That is the human condition.
Wherever Andy is today, I imagine him surrounded by family and friends who love him. I imagine him putting on a uniform with pride and serving his neighborhood and his country with the same solid reliability that he gave Mrs. Taylor’s second-grade class. If I could, I would have a second conversation with him and tell him just how much he taught me during those few short months he lived in our town.