Written by Devonne Parsons Jeffrey was mad before he left his house. His stupid sister had stolen his iPad charger which meant that it was just about dead. Mrs. Wheeler'd make him charge it in her class instead of using it. If she were any kind of teacher at all, she'd let him use it while it charged, but, that was her pro-ceeee-dure, her special way of doing something. She took your iPad, made you do your work on paper, and charged it for the rest of the class. She ws so proud of her "natural consequence." The though of working without any means of escape gave Jeffrey chill bumps. He'd have to write forever and couldn't sneak off into the strategic kaleidoscope fantasy world of the video game that was Fortnite. He had nothing to look forward to. The only place that Jeffrey felt halfway good at school was in the gym.
"CJ, you jerk!" The dodgeball hit Jeffrey on the corner of his glasses and sent them flying across the gym floor. Jeffrey didn't have to call CJ, the wiry kid, a jerk at the beginning of 6th grade gym class, but it made him feel better. When Jeffrey was in one of his moods, he had the power, and he was a force that everybody, even Coach, hated to reckon with.
"You slammed me in the face with a dodgeball for no reason, jerk." said Jeffrey.
CJ believed that dodgeball was a blood sport. Whoever didn't move fast enough was fair game, extra points if the glasses came off. Dodgeball was always open season for slow, fat, ugly kids, like Jeffrey. Nobody figured Jeffrey would go after CJ, but that was because CJ could take him. Jeffrey was all mouth and misery. He was always whining about somebody or somebody doing something to his fat self.
A sharp blast from Coach's whistle stopped the exchange before it escalated. Disappointed groans and dropping balls filled the gym. Everybody wanted to watch some skin get torn up. Jeffrey ignored Coach and kept coming after CJ, he dribbled his dodgeball slow and loud. He meant business. Jeffrey's face twisted red with rage, tears fogged his glasses, sweat soaked through his yellow t-shirt and down the back of his red shiny gym shorts. Coach stepped in front of Jeffrey. Chest puffed, Jeffrey pushed Coach backwards until he ran out of steam. With Coach between him and CJ, Jeffrey had the courage of a freight train. Still, Coach's bodily intervention was enough to diffuse the fight. Jeffrey was still huffing mad though. Jeffrey's mood didn't get the chance to improve before the next period. As predicted, his iPad was dead in English class. He had to sit up front and away from his friends to write his paragraph out by hand. He had even brought his brand new wireless earbuds. Jeffrey's skill at hiding his earbuds to listen to forbidden music in English class was unparalleled. There was no way he could write an eight-sentence paragraph without music. He hated English and everything about it.
His teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, who was a hundred years older than his great-grandmother, wanted everything to be perfect. She wanted variety, whatever the hell that was. Did he have any nouns? Were there verbs? Did he have as many sentences as he was supposed to have? She demanded sentences, complete sentences, exactly eight sentences.
"Everyone, count the periods in your paragraph, make sure you have eight sentences," said Mrs. Wheeler for the thousandth time. Jeffrey put in two periods for good luck.
"I'm not finished yet." Jeffrey hid his paper from Mrs. Wheeler when she came around to his desk in case she found fault with it.
"May I?" She put her hand out for his paper.
Jeffrey wasn't about to let her see his masterpiece. He knew she would criticize it. She'd say he didn't have a topic sentence, that he didn't have any details. She'd say his drawings were creative and good, but didn't belong right here right now, did they? She just wanted too much. The more the thought about it, the madder he got. Finally, he wadded up the paper and shoved the whole thing in his mouth. That showed her.
"Jeffrey. You really shouldn't have done that. You would have gotten credit for your work. I can't grade what I don't have," said Mrs. Wheeler.
"That's not fair. I did my work. You watched me do it." Jeffrey slammed his head down on his desk three times and continued chewing until the end of class. "Anybody got salt?" he asked under his elbow. "Jeffrey, be sure to get your iPad on the way out of class, it's all charged up. Jeffrey, you know the procedure, always bring your iPad fully charged." said Mrs. Wheeler. She was so cheerful Jeffrey wanted to punch her in the mouth, but her pro-ceee-dures were noting if not consistent, so she gave it back, fully charged. He hated her.
Jeffrey bopped into the last class of his day, saluted the teacher, and slid into his chair in the far corner of the room. Mr. Pope, a short ginger headed man, always wore the dumbest bow ties he could find. That day, it was red for school spirit. God, it was awful. That red bow tie around Mr. Pope's neck made his head look like a bleeding lightbulb. Only a dork would wear something like that.
"Welcome to long division, Jeffrey. I'm glad you made it. I was just getting ready to send out the National Guard for you. I thought maybe you'd been abducted by aliens," said Mr. Pope from the back of the room. He was always way too cheerful. Mr. Pope liked to give pep talks at the start of each class. His hope was that 'his kids' ended their day like after a good workout, with refreshed spirits and alert minds. Jeffrey thought Mr. Pope was an idiot. "I know you're tired and weary. Today's assignment is on your iPad. Long Division by Dinosaurs is an adventure in discovery. Dinosaurs roam the Earth and hide divisors, quotients, dividends and remainders in the caves and forests of the earth as they forage for food. What could be better?" asked Mr. Pope. Lots of things could be better, but Fortnite, the coolest video game in the whole wide world, was at the top of Jeffrey's list. Mr. Pope believed his class added levity and laughter, or at least variety to the long, dreary days of preteen angst. However, the Division by Dinosaurs assignment didn't live up to levity and laughter although his bow ties just about did.
Finally, Jeffrey could use his iPad and brand new earbuds. Plus, the way he could flip back and forth between programs, Mr. Pope would never suspect a thing. Score!
Mr. Pope's class was a small group of students who needed math intervention. Jeffrey was the least inspired, but he feigned interest in Mr. Pope's words as the division activity was explained, modeled, and assigned. He looked interested just long enough to get his iPad up to the precise website. Mr. Pope was pleased and paced throughout the classroom. His eyes found Shannon, chewing the ends of his nails, head tilted, eyes peeking up from beneath his furrowed unibrow. He was on task, as was Monica. Jason and the infamous CJ were also completely engaging his students. Jeffery didn't notice when Mr. Pope walked up and stood beside him because Jeffrey was lost in Fortnite, not Division by Dinosaurs. Fortnite was a game of strategy an sheer awesomeness, forbidden during instructional hours, math class, and particularly long division. He was busted, oh, so busted.
"Jeffrey, you know you can't play Fortnite in class. Give me your iPad. here is paper and a pencil to complete your long division. I'll give your iPad back after class." Jeffrey looked up at Mr. Pope over his big black glasses. "No," said Jeffrey, and he grabbed his iPad and ran from the room. He kicked the trash can out into the hall when he left. A collective gasp followed him.
Mr. Pope waited for the sound of the exploding trash can to subside, asked the teacher next door to guard his class, then sauntered toward the boys' bathroom. He suspected he'd find Jeffrey tete, lost in the video game. As Mr. Pope turned the corner to the restroom, Mr. Wilder, the school principal, and barrel of a man, lumbered toward him during his afternoon rounds through the building. Mr. Pope motioned for him to follow, told him to shush, and led him to the issue at hand. He wanted a witness.
"Jeffrey, if you needed to go to the bathroom, all you had to do was say so. I'm supposed to give you a note. Procedures were put inlace for your safety. You understand that, right?" said Mr. Pope.
At the sound of Mr. Pope's voice, Jeffrey locked himself into a stall and sat on the toilet. He put his feet up on the door and continued his game. He knew how to be invisible. It was a trick he'd learned at home years ago when he needed space. Jeffrey could hang all of his attention in his whole body to something he would disappear.. Not only would he disappear, everything around him, would disappear. It didn't matter where Jeffrey sat in the world or who was around him when he needed to be invisible. Then, he sought the comfort of the blues, pinks and greens of Fortnite. He disappeared into the colors, he sat in the skin of the characters and didn't exist in the world anymore. Nothing got on his nerves when he was invisible. Jeffrey had had enough of CJ, sentences, dinosaurs, and Mr. Bowtie Pope.
"I know you're in there, Jeffrey. Why'd you lock yourself in the stall?" asked Mr. Pope. Jeffrey knew Mr. Pope was as stupid as he sounded, he had to be.
"You're going to get me in trouble, dirt bag." Mr. Pope admired Jeffrey's verbal restraint. He was accustomed to students calling him worse names. A few minutes before Jeffrey came to class, he overheard Shannon tell Angelina that he thought that Mr. Pope was a jerk. Mr. Pope had this thing about consequences. Shannon had a thing about consequences too. That's why he shoved the papers that were left on is desk to the floor. Mr. Pope made him pick them up and they weren't even Shannon's papers. No wonder nobody liked Mr. Pope. "Jeffrey, you are in a bit of a bind here; that is true. How can we make this a better situation?" asked the ever wise teacher. It was taking Jeffrey so long to answer, Mr. Pope thought for sure that Jeffrey fell into the glory of the game. Finally, Jeffrey spoke.
"I've got some conditions, Mr. Pope," said Jeffrey. He was matter of fact. The locked door of the bathroom stall made him bold, he was winning. Jeffrey put his feet on the floor. Mr. Pope had underestimated everything. This was a hostage situation. Mr. Pope and Mr. Wilder exchanged looks and half smiles. "First, if I come out, I keep my iPad," said Jeffrey.
"First? You know the US Government does not negotiate with terrorists, Jeffrey," said Mr. Pope. He hoped he sounded funny in a semi-threatening sort of way. Sixth grade boys like Jeffrey often felt empowered if their capacity for violence was acknowledged.
"That was so funny I forgot to laugh, " said Jeffrey.
"Your sense of humor will get you far in life, let's think about how it can get you out of this situation right now." Mr. Pope brought it right back to Jeffrey, who rolled his eyes at the teacher from behind the stall door. "Second, I don't go to the principal's office. No write up," said Jeffrey. Mr. Wilder chuckled to himself and shook his head. He looked at Mr. Pope.
"Jeffrey..." "I mean it. I'm keeping my iPad, and I don't get no write up. You get the principal involved and I'm done. It's over," said Jeffrey. He was adamant. He'd stay in that stall forever. Forever.
"I get it. You're into Fortnite, but there's a time and place for..." said Mr. Pope.
"I'm keeping my iPad, and I'm not getting no write up because I didn't do nothin',“ said Jeffrey. He turned up the volume on his iPad so the glorious sound effects of Fortnite echoed throughout the bathroom. Mr. Pope considered his next words. Classroom management and humanity hung in the balance between education and administration. He continued his negotiation rather than pull rank, yet neither one jived with his professional judgement. He liked it best when kids just saw school in logical terms. "If this, then that." He sighed and remembered who he was dealing with. He looked at his watch, then at Mr. Wilder, who was enjoying the exchange, but trying to decide the best course of action to take once Jeffrey emerged from the stall. "Jeffrey, would you please turn down the volume?" He waited before continuing, "If you didn't do anything wrong, why are you hiding?" asked Mr. Pope.
"It's simple, Mr. Pope. I'll come out if One, I keep my iPad. Two, I don't get in no trouble. No write up. No conference with the principal or vice-principal, and we do not call home. Period." The volume went back up, louder than before. "That's it?" asked Mr. Pope.
Sound effects bounced from the walls of the stalls for a full minute then went silent. Mr. Wilder shook his big bald head in wonder at the escalating demands of the child.
"And Three, I get all A's too. Yeah. I keep my iPad, I get no write ups or calls, and I get all A's, capiche?"
Before Mr. Pope could respond, the bell rang and Jeffrey, taking it as a sign from Heaven, bolted from the bathroom stall, but was blocked by Mr. Wilder's body.
"Good afternoon, Jeffrey," said Mr. Wilder. He offered to shake Jeffrey's hand. Jeffrey looked up over his big black glasses, swallowed hard, and offered his hand. "You shoulda asked for a helicopter too. See you in the office in the morning."