One day when I was off campus, the school psychologist sent me a text about a student:
He’s looking for you. He has a secret he wants to tell you.
I texted back: Tell him I’ll see him first thing tomorrow morning.
The student is my tiny friend who came to our school from another country several years ago. He landed in first grade with no English and a lot of frustration. When I met him that year, he was wearing a Superman T-shirt. I pointed to it and said, “Hey, you’re Superman.”
That’s how our friendship began.
I’ve written before about his perceptiveness, such as how he explained, after his bleak performance on a mandatory reading assessment, that he had Big Spanish while I have Big English. His English continues growing “bigger,” just as he’s growing in stature with each passing year. Although he remains physically small for his age, it’s hard to encapsulate or convey the power of his personality. He has enormous presence. He’s a dynamo. Strong-willed, yet a charmer. Witty. His thoughts are like quicksilver—always moving, fascinating, alive. He’s a keen observer; when he didn’t understand directions in class, he’d watch what other students did and quickly followed suit.
He tells his teachers: “Mrs. Haley is my friend.” He usually greets me by flying faster than a speeding bullet to throw his arms around me with a joyous cry: “Mrs. Haley!”
Then he asks if we can read or write.
That’s alchemy. When the gold finally appears.
So, as to this big secret he had for me . . .
I’m waiting for him when he gets off the bus. He barrels right to me, face beaming:
“I been looking for you! I have a secret!”
Extricating my midsection from his hug, I bend down. “That’s what I hear! So tell, me, what IS this big secret?”
“Shhh!” he says, in overly dramatic fashion, looking around. What a wonderful stage actor he’d be. He’s larger than life. He beckons me to lean in closer. He whispers: “I got a dog!”
I can’t imagine why this needs to be secretive, but, okay, I’ll honor it. “You did? That’s great! I LOVE dogs. What’s his name?”
He looks me dead in the eye. “Her,” he says. “It’s a girl.”
He has no idea what he’s just done. It’s profound. A sign of how well he’s mastering the language, for pronouns are often terribly challenging for English learners. I want to bask in it indefinitely, but I can’t stall now, I have to respond. Blinking, I stammer: “Oh, um—sorry! What’s her name?”
He looks around to be sure no one can hear, and whispers into my ear:
And then he skips away, grinning from ear to ear, this bit of quicksilver, bright as the blinding winter-white sun above us.
I can barely see for the tears welling in my eyes as he blends into the throng of students going to breakfast. I cannot verify that the story is true—that there’s really a dog, that he really named it after me—but this doesn’t matter. The story is his, either way. Born from his heart.
And he shared it.
A gift of pure gold.
That I’ll carry with me, always.
Previous posts about my inspiring young friend: