I have a kid in one of my classes. She's a good kid, mostly. She has a good heart. She wants to be successful, deep down. But she's a kid I handle with care. Not like I'd hold a newborn baby or a crystal vase. More like how I might handle an explosive.
In fact, in my mind, I call her "Hurt Locker".
If you haven't seen that movie, here's a clip. It's disturbing and beautiful and bizarre and heartbreaking.
Some days, she's a firecracker. Snappy but celebratory and slightly terrifying. But only slightly. If someone were to light the fuse, the damage would be light. Unless of course you try to grip it too tightly. Then you're bound to lose a thumb, but that's on you.
There are days when you can see all of the trip wires. They lay there exposed, clumsily hidden, just waiting for some dummy to stumble across them, detonating the blast that leaves the rest of us covered in the blood and guts of the moment. Shocked. Gasping. Alive, but glad to not have been caught in the blast zone.
And then there are days when she is an IED, disguised and waiting. Full of the shrapnel made from pain and bad choices and broken promises. Designed for maximum damage.
Other times, she has the blast pack strapped to her chest. She believes in her cause; she's willing to sacrifice for the fight. She sees herself the hero, the martyr. She's ready. Others might get caught in the immediate explosion, but she will sustain the most damage, done willingly, with reckless welcome, to herself.
Each conversation I enter with her, I find myself suiting up. Helmet, gloves, chest pads to protect my heart. It's not much protection, thin as it is, but it's something. It's my job to disarm her, to decide which wire to cut.
Red or black? Yellow or blue? Each is wired differently; no bomb seems built the same way. Red or black? Yellow or blue? Why is this wire green? When did we start using green wires? It seems there should be some sort of manual to follow, but with each attempt to simplify the disarmament, it seems a new trigger is introduced.
The countdown clock does not stop flashing. I can envision the blast, feel its ghost heat upon my face. I shake with its strained energy.
For a moment, I consider throwing myself upon the blast, absorbing the shock, saving everyone else. But that won't stop anything. There will always be more bombs along the road. And with one less person to defuse them. I lean, with my back against the wall, bracing myself. "I can do this," I reason.
Instead, I hold my breath, steady my hands, and speak a prayer for the color green.
With a snip, I look to my left and see us both still standing, still breathing, still clean.
In her place is a crystal vase, fragile and clear.
And I wonder, stunned, who in the world leaves something so delicate in a place such as this?