I SEE RED: Chapter Two



[I see you.]
The principal shifts in her seat and leans forward, “He’s just not a good fit for this school.”
I’m not stupid; I knew this was coming. Dallas’s Mom picked him up not five minutes ago, and the school didn’t have the balls to kick him out then and there. I’m not their messengerif this principal is going to have him expelled from yet another placement, she has to tell his mother herself. Meanwhile, where is he supposed to get an education? I want to tell her to shove her precious school up her ass, but I’m a professional. I’ve finally figured out how private schools work: tell parents that all kids are welcome, then exclude the weird ones three days later when they “don’t work out.”
“I know he’s hard work,” I sigh, not quite finished with my sentence when she interrupts.
“Hard work?” she scoffs, as I brace myself for a lecture.
“Zoe, I’ve worked in education for longer than you’ve been alive,” the principal begins. “Hard work is teaching a kid how to share the red crayon. Hard work doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we are dealing with here.”
“He needs you to give him a chance,” I respond.
The principal explodes, “Dallas Jensen is a psychopath!”
“Conduct disorder,” I snap. “It’s impossible for a child to be a psychopath.”
She suddenly looks repentant, and unsuccessfully scrambles for a way to save face.
“Well, from where I’m standing, that kid is one episode away from becoming a murdereror killing himself in the process,” the principal replies, with no less unprofessionalism. I can see that Dallas has brought this lady to her knees.
I’m livid, but there’s no refuting her argument; I just don’t want it to be true. I know he has potential, but I can’t let it overshadow his current reality. We have to take him for who he is, right now, at this moment. Is he capable of being in a mainstream school environment? Truthfully, I don’t know. I’m walking a constant tightrope while trying to lead others to join me on the precarious cable. Unsurprisingly, I’m having a hard time getting people on boardespecially staff at this school. I never thought it would happen, but somehow over the course of the last few months, I guess I’ve fallen in love with this ridiculous child. As a Behavior Specialist, it’s my job to extend hope to families and schools by providing interventions that change circumstances like this. The sad part is, at this momentholding my broken glasses with a pounding headache, with scratches all over my arms and bruises to matchI totally agree with her. Although he’s never had a formal diagnosis, his future looks bleak. I’d be lying if I told you I thought he was sane and safe.
“Can you please give him another chance?” I try not to sound too desperate. “You know, these kinds of behaviors often get worse before they get better.”
“We’re already seeing major red flags, and it’s only the third day of the school year,” the principal responds.
“He’s the new kidweren’t you ever a kid at a new school? It’s hard to be an outcast,” I plead. She looks at the ceiling. The silence is deafening.
            “I don’t know if I can risk that kind of liability,” she says, exhaling.  
"Dallas is going through a lot at the moment, with the new baby at home and a new father figure joining the familyhe’s got no stability,” I remind her.
“We can’t sit here and wait for his mother to get her act together,” she says, seeming like she’s already made up her mind.
“You knew about his situation when you accepted his enrollment!” I say, a little unprofessionally, but heck, I’m in good company. “I thought you believed in giving every student the right to learn?”
She retorts, carefully, “We didn’t understand the… magnitude… of the situation at the time.”
“Can we just put off making any further decisions until the end of the week?”
“I don’t know, Zoe.”
“That’s two more days,” I negotiate, “He’s already gone home today, so just Thursday and Friday. If the next two days go south, then I agreeit’s time for the school to cut ties with this family.”
Because I work for his family directly, I don’t risk losing Dallas if this placement goes awry. He’s never been at a school longer than two weeks, and that’s why the family hired me. Well, at least his Mom hired mehis step-dad hates my guts. The principal sighs and puts her face in her hands. She’s exhausted. I’m exhausted. From her facial expression, I’m preparing myself to be more persuasive. I need to think quickly... I’ll say something about equality, and how every child deserves
“Fine,” she says.
Waitwhat? I try not to look excited. Game face, Zoe.
“He’s got two days to prove he can be a functioning part of the group. If he passes, we will only keep him here on continued good behavior,” she says as she makes very intense eye contact.
“Thank you,” I smile.


I walk to my car with a blank stare. I open the door, sit down, and turn the key in the ignition. Finally I’m alone, and I don’t have to pretend it’s OK anymore. It seems like 85% of my energy as an adult woman is used up by figuring out ways not to cry in public. My head falls to the steering wheel, and I’m weeping involuntarily. A great, big, ugly, snotty cry. The tears are heaving from the pit of my chest, and I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Looking down at my arms, I see tiny pieces of torn-off flesh and hints of the red blood beneath. I hate myself for having let that happen to me, and I hate myself for having to hold him.
What if I am the monster? What if I have this all wrong? What if I’m just choosing to believe I am helping this boy, when maybe I’m making it all worse? He thinks I’m trying to kill him, and while I know my intention is quite the opposite I believe he thinks I’m here to make him die. I pull my sleeve down and lift the emergency brake to drive away.
I guess so much of life is simply about forward motion.

[I see red.]
Home smells different since Jacob moved in. It’s smokier, smellier, and there’s more yelling. Yelling isn’t a smell, but it’s also something that fills the air and makes us feel weird. I don’t know why Mommy choosed to live with himthey only like each other because they maked a baby. I thought he would move out quicker if I was more bad, but so far he’s stayed around. Most people think it’s good when adults stay together, but I only think it’s good if it’s your real Mom and real Dad. Even if I never see my real life Dad ever again, Jacob will never be my real Dad. He’s mean, and Mom’s mean for letting him be that way.
It’s only lunch time, and I have to be at home because I got sent home from the new school. I can hear Jacob yelling at Mom; he’s telling her something about how he doesn’t like me. I found the game playing tablet and I crawled into the tent I maked under my desk table. I really want to play all of the gun games but actually… I’m so… tired. I’m trying to stay awake but, I’m falling… asleep.

[I see you.]
Walking into my house, I throw my backpack down on the ground and fall into bed. There are a thousand things I want to do, but I can’t think straight. I close my eyes, just for a minute.

I hear my roommate, Julia, banging on my bedroom door.
“It’s time to go!” she yells through the wood. “Are you coming or not? We needed to leave, like five minutes ago.”
I look at my phone, and it’s 6:05 pm. I swear I only blinked, but I must’ve fallen asleep for three and a half hours. Julia and I are supposed to go to a fitness class tonight, but after all that’s happened today, I don’t think I can ‘people’ right now.
“Sorry,” I groan, “I’m not feeling well.”
“You could have told me earlier,” she sighs, as she grabs her keys and slams the front door behind her. Julia and I have been friends since we went to high school back in Santa Cruz, and we were lucky enough to find a rent controlled apartment here in this crazy city. We don’t live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s nice only to have to live with one other person. Most of our friends are packed like sardines in houses of six or more (gross), and I don’t think I could handle that.
At the end of a day of Dallas, I tend to want nothing and no one, which is a far cry from my formerly extroverted self. I find myself being able to handle less and less of what people my age are supposed to enjoy. Julia bears the brunt of most of my isolation. I should spend more time with her, but I can’t seem to get my head above water. I want to tell her it’s me, not herbut instead, I just make stupid excuses.  I’ve sold her out to be there for kids like Dallas. Over the past three years, I’ve had around six other versions of Dallasall boys under thirteen. All troubled in their own ways, all struggling to make life work, yet none of them so much as Dallas.
I try to get out of bed, but I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. I flick the switch on my lamp, and it seems so much brighter than usual. Squinting reflexively, I catch my reflection in the mirror, looking like a haggard, crazy-haired cat lady. There’s a bruise forming on my cheek from where Dallas headbutted me and I’m starting to worry that I slept so long because I might have a concussion. I reach for the ibuprofen again.
The recurring thought crosses my mind: what if Dallas can’t do this? What if he has another episode this week, and all of my advocacy falls flat? What if there’s something profoundly wrong with this boy, and I’m perpetuating the problem? Do I honestly believe people can change?
The pills hit the pit of my stomach and stay there.

[I see red.]
I wake up under my desk tent, and I hear Mommy singing to the baby. Babies cry all day and all night long, and they are bad friends. They actually do nothing but eat and poop, and also they sleep. I can’t know why Jacob likes the baby more than he likes me because I can do all the things, like win games and play baseball and I also sing really good too. The stupid baby can’t even walk. Her doesn’t even say words.
“You’re so pretty,” Jacob says to the baby. I hear a kissy sound, and then he tells my Mom he loves her. Gross. I never heared my Dad ever say that to my Mom, and that’s the way it should be. My Mom will win for her own self, and nobody needs to win things for her. My Dad wins things for himself, even though I don’t know what kinds of things because I haven’t been to his house in a hundred years. I heared he has like 2 or 4 stupid new babies at his house, too. Why everyone’s gotta have more babies?
I walk out into the living room to break up their disgusting party. Jacob looks at me, and leaves the room, and that is because I always win things I want.
“We need to talk about today,” says Mom.
“What about it?” I shrug.
“Why did you run away again?” she asks.
“Because I am sneaky and fast,” I smile.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” yells Mom, and walking back and forth in front of me. She grabs her phone and types in some things. I hope she’s getting me a game to playI mostly hope it’s one with laser guns.
“Jacob, I think we need to call that psychiatrist the school recommended,” she says, and I start to think she’s not about to let me play gun games.
“We’ve already had this conversation, Sarah. The fees are sky high,” he responds, “We can’t afford it.”
“We also can’t afford to raise” Mom stops half way in the middle of her sentence, and Jacob interrupts. Interrupting is rude, everybody knows that.
“Call a spade a spade, why don’t you?” Jacob says. (Duh, why would you call it anything else? Jacob isn’t smart)
“Dallas, go to your room,” she tells me, and I know there is about to be a lot of yelling. I am starving, because all I ate was half a bagel in the morning and I’m about to die of hungry. I know better than to ask for dinner right now, so I grab a box of crackers off the table and go to my bed (I sleep on the bottom bunk). The crackers start to taste like a cardboard box after a while, and I am thirstier than I have ever been. I have a juice box in my backpack, which is extremely lucky, and I drink it in three long gulp, gulp, gulps. When it’s empty, I can suck the air and only small bits of juice come up the straw with a lot of air and it makes this loud sound like a fart. It’s almost loud enough to block out what Jacob is saying about me in the kitchen.
“Wake up to yourself! He’s not a normal kid. I don’t need to know a shit ton about childhood development to know he’s not normal,” I hear him say when the juice runs out.
“Well, are we going to just throw our hands in the air and say he’s a psychopath, or are we going to help him?” Mom yells back.
“We’re paying a million dollars for that girl to follow him around all day at school. She should be able to fix him for the amount she’s charging,” he says.
“I know, and I appreciate how much we pay,” Mom tells him.
“I don’t think you do, Sarah,” he says. “You just piss my money away on that kid. He’s not even mine.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
I’ve had enough of this conversation, because I hate the girl that follows me around at school. And I think Jacob is actually more right than my Mom, but Jacob can’t win, so I am stopping listening to what they are saying. I have headphones around here somewherehere they are, they’re tangled as F-word. Untangling them is the worst punishment, so I start singing as I try to get them undone. I am a really very good singer. They’re still sort of tangly but enough undone for me to plug them into my extremely old music player, which is where all my good songs live.