Youth in the Woods

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 1:26 AM

Connie Stevens was furious. She had been summoned from a firm-wide meeting by her son’s teacher. She naturally asked if the face-to-face meeting could wait, and was told instead that she should come immediately to meet, and remove, Peter from school for the day. What could he have done? She willed herself to recite “the prayers,” in the hope of escaping irrational anger at her son, the teacher, and the world.

This is the third installment in a story by Jason Kettinger. Find the first and second parts of “the Woods” here and here.

Connie arrived more at peace, hoping to find out what had happened. A sudden knowing came over her, that mother’s angst which assumes sickness or injury. Mrs. Stevens steadied herself, realizing that they would have told her right away in that case. As soon as she entered Happy Cove Elementary, Miss Mary Ann Blank met her at the door. Miss Blank was a semi-tall 5 feet 10 inches, dirty blonde, fit, and curvy. Connie caught herself again; not the time for jealousy, and besides, she looked great at 33.

“Thanks for coming. I know it’s inconvenient,” Blank offered.

“If I have to,” said Connie, with just the right amount of inquisition to provoke an informative response that wasn’t defensive.

“Peter was incredibly disruptive today,” she started, “and took it upon himself to lecture the other students on their moral failings. When I told Peter that I was the teacher, and he should let me handle it, he started quoting Bible passages at me. This went on for the whole day. He finally clammed up when we sent him to the principal and told him we were calling you.”

“Hmmm, that’s very strange,” Connie agreed, looking puzzled.

“Look, I respect your religious beliefs. I know that you are Christians, but…”

“Now, wait just a second,” Connie began sternly, using a moment to stop herself from raising her voice, “we taught him about Jesus, and we have read the Bible to him. We didn’t teach him to read by one year old, we didn’t teach him to memorize it, and we certainly never taught him to be judgmental or disruptive.”

“OK. I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you. Now what are we going to do?”

“He surely doesn’t belong in a first-grade classroom,” Miss Blank stated firmly. She asked, “Why didn’t you home-school him?”

“My husband Blaine is a teacher, and he was badly needed elsewhere.” Connie felt a little more than a twinge of guilt that she had chosen to keep working, a thought she would continue having for many years.

“The thing is, he belongs in a 7th or 8th grade class, but you’ve said you wanted him with kids his own age. It may be time to re-think that. Talk with him about what happened today, and seriously consider if you are stifling your son.”

“Sorry about what happened today,” Connie said.

“It happens,” Blank shrugged helpfully. And they both knew it was a lie. Neither of them had previously, nor would ever see again, a child with as much intellectual ability. And Blank knew that the list of moralizing five-year-olds would be short in her career. It was a mystery.

Connie shook the teacher’s hand, and went toward the principal’s office to pick up her son. She said just a brief word to him before seeing Peter, and actually had to work at putting on her stern mother face, even though she had been angry, because she was glad to see him and he was such a charming and happy little boy. Just not today.

“Mother, I tried to tell them…” Peter began, when he was stunned into silence by Connie’s angry eyes. She collected herself, and said, “Peter, we’re not going to discuss this until your father gets home, is that clear?” He nodded. “Let’s go,” she said and they departed.

It seemed like a long drive, but it wasn’t. When they arrived home, Connie purposed to lock Peter in his room to think about what he’d done. Before she closed the door she said, “Peter, I want you to meditate on the Scripture which says, ‘A disciple is not above his teacher…’ until your dad gets home.”

Blaine got home at 4, and they discussed it until 5:30, whereupon they ordered pizza and salad, because neither felt like cooking. They ate in silence, and Peter knew he was doomed. Dad had stopped in briefly to say that they were deciding what to do with him, and that it would be meted out after dinner.

Mother and father shared their frustrations, debated, and even laughed a little, as Blaine offhandedly wondered if they were raising a little Pat Robertson. They let him stew awhile, until 7:45, when Blaine came in.

“I’m very disappointed in you, son. You know how thankful we are to have you, how much we love you, and how unlikely it was that you’d be here right now. You owe your love and loyalty first to God, and then to us as your parents, and anyone we put in authority over you. You know what the Scripture says. But you made yourself the judge, and that is sin. I’m no longer angry with you, but I’m going to spank you.” He took out the little wooden paddle, the one he thought he’d never use, and did his duty. He hugged his son when it was over, but he knew he had to get out before the walls came down. He cried like a man on the back porch, and his wife knew to leave him be.

Mary Ann Blank was single, lonely, and exhausted. “Dreams and spaghetti-Os” indeed. She watched a movie and went to bed early. But she dreamed a nightmare so vivid that it shook her. Still, it would take several more before she put it together. A red, horned figure, bathed in blood simply appeared in her mind’s eye and said, “The boy is mine.”