The first year had been easy. Although he misspelled his words and his spoken clauses were sometimes out of order, I taught him Rummy 500 and he loved it. After finishing math homework, or history, we’d play. In him I saw the individual I was not as a child; he did not cry when he lost, he was kind and persistent.
But she was different. She never sat still, always standing up to get something, we never finished a math problem. Her teacher warned me she needed a lot of help, but I could do that, right?
On the first day, I had a sheet of get-to-know-you questions; “what’s your favorite subject in school,”etc. She answered with one-word responses until we got to “how many siblings.”
“3 brothers,” she said. “I hope they don’t annoy you too much!” I replied. “Yeah, my younger brother does, but one of my older brothers is fine.” “What about the other one?” I asked. “He just hurts me.” She went on to describe physical abuse and sexual assault. It was our first meeting.
The next few meetings, she didn’t want to work. I could see her grades, an F, a few Ds and a B. I let her play on my iPhone. “I’ll never get one of these.” Around everyone else, she was closed, rude, replying in one-word answers or not at all. But with me she drew flowers and told me about her Nike Jordans from the father she’d never met.
It was wintertime, and outside the windows, it was dark by 4pm. I’d gotten her to work on a writing assignment, trying to ensure she finished. She didn’t have a computer at home. But she wanted to do other work. “I have to do this now, my mom can’t pay the electricity bill so we don’t have any light.”
Both of us lived in Cambridge, one of the richest municipalities in the world. I could ask the city to pay her bill and they would. But looking down at her new shoes, she made me promise not to tell.
After that, meetings changed. She started responding to me in one word, then not at all. She wouldn’t do any work. I saw her grades fall. If she wore a hood, she would pull it all the way over her face. If she didn’t, she’d put her head on the table, facing away from me, not hearing my questions. A few times she walked away. I made an anonymous request to the city to pay her electricity bill. Whether it got met or not, I don’t know. I put paper and rainbow pens next to her head on the table, but she didn’t turn over, not even for my iPhone’s games. Each Tuesday, I came, sat next to her, and taught her nothing. But each week, I stayed for the full hour. Maybe my consistency meant something, maybe not. She never opened up to me again.
But on the last day of tutoring, in June, she handed me a letter, “Thanks Anna B. I know I wasn’t nice to you but thank you for coming each week. Love you, Nia.”