A Young Father Loses His Life

A Teacher Remembers

Tara Lingeman

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Photo by panyawat auitpol on Unsplash

Today, Facebook notified me that it was one of my former student’s birthdays. He would have been 30 years old today. I thought I would share a story I wrote about him (names have been changed):

“I hate this kid!” José’s exasperation tumbled out after he finished reading the chapter aloud.

I smiled, and tilted my head. I respected that José hated Holden. In fact, him hating Holden told me that he was paying attention. I was reading the book with a group of seniors who needed to make up English credits to graduate. I had picked Catcher in the Rye because it was the classic book for kids who hate school. But I was teaching at a charter school in Southwest Detroit in 2011, and this mostly Latinx group of students lived lives far removed from the private school experiences of Holden Caulfield. Still, many of them identified with Holden’s angsty narrative and societal critiques. José, however, just saw a privileged white kid whining about everything while he spent loads of his family’s money around New York.

José needed to graduate. School was taking away from time to work to support his two year-old daughter, and her mother, Erika. Erika had graduated the year before with high honors. A traditional good girl, she had planned to be the first in her family to go to college. José, on the other hand, was always on the cusp of failing. His family wanted him to finish high school strong, but the expectations beyond that were different. His parents would have been happy with his getting a legit job and staying out of the gang life. His older brother, however, was in deep with the Sureños, and José was always being pulled in that direction. Erika wanted nothing to do with that life, and most of their fights were in regards to José’s involvement. José found himself torn between this vision of a safe and warm family life with Erika and their daughter, and the obligations he felt towards his brother and the crew. He tried to walk the fence and keep both sides happy, unsure yet of who he wanted to be, unable to claim a truth that wasn’t yet clear. Both factions agreed on one thing — José needed to graduate. Lucky for him, his brain was quick, and he was…

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Tara Lingeman

Seeker, Lover of Stories, Writer, and Teacher. Author of a memoir about searching and finding and a novel, Salamandra. Find both @ https://linktr.ee/taraling.