Tag Archives: cheating

Little Deaths

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She looks questioningly up at him.  She doesn’t understand.  He always wants her there.  He hates that she lives so far away.

So how can he be asking, pushing her to leave?  Yes, it’s late, and she has class the next afternoon, but that’s never kept him from holding her until the last possible second.

She knows this is best, that she should leave, because it’s the last week before finals, but she can’t help the crushing feelings from all but overwhelming her.  He walks her to her car, kisses her tenderly, and walks back to his apartment.

* * * * * * *

She’s eating dinner with her best friend and his buddy from high school.  They joke, laugh, and entertain her with stories from their past, but she can’t get past the feeling that she just doesn’t like Chris’s old friend.  He’s arrogant, somehow.

Midway through the pizza and wings, Zack looks up at her and asks, “So you’re dating someone at the Lawrenceville Friday’s?”

She shoots an annoyed glance at Chris who just gives a guilty, boyish grin.

“Yeah.  His name’s Tony.  Why?”

“Really?  I work there.  Tony and I hang out sometimes.  I didn’t know he was seeing someone at GSW.”  He has this smile that’s shifty, sneaky, satisfied, and gloating in one.  How could anyone truly like this guy?

She’s already decided to ignore him when she hears Chris ask, “What’s that supposed to mean?”  Apparently, he had heard the hidden implications as well.

“Forget it, Chris.  It doesn’t matter.”

Chris looks at her, says, “Okay,” then glares at his old friend.

* * * * * * *

“How was your trip?  Did you guys have fun at the bachelor party?  Where did y’all take him?”

“Vanessa, we need to talk.  Take a seat, I’ll order you some coffee.  White mocha?”

“Sure.”

What had happened?  Was he okay?  Had they gotten into trouble?  She fidgets with the edge of her red skirt and the straps of her bookbag, worrying about the seriousness in Chris’s face.

Chris was always smiling – what could have happened?

He squeezes his way back over with two coffees, sits, and begins to nurse his own.

She blows to cool hers, waiting as patiently as she can.

Several minutes pass, and Chris watches people passing outside with dark clothes and umbrellas.  It’s not a pretty day.

“Well?” she demands.

He visibly steels himself, turns to look at her, and baldy states, “Tony’s cheating on you.”

Nothing.

“I saw him last night at Friday’s before we took Zack to the strip club.  He was waiting tables.  Every time he had a minute away from his tables, he and this girl were all over each other.  Zack caught me before I did something you might regret.”

“That’s not funny, Chris.”

He looked worn, much older than his twenty-one years.  He closed his eyes and nodded once.

“Why would you say that?  Tony loves me!  He wants to marry me!  I can’t believe you would do this to me…”

She storms out of the cafe, angry with Chris and his games.  Why couldn’t he ever just be happy for her?  As she passed the window next to their booth, she noticed that he hadn’t moved a muscle.

* * * * * * *

In the hour since she’d stormed out of Joe’s, Chris had called her ten times.  She was at the point of turning it off for awhile when “Brown-eyed Girl” sang from its speakers.

She almost dropped it in her haste to answer.  “Tony!” she breathed in relief.  She hadn’t even realized she was holding her breath until that moment.

“Ness.”  He’d been crying.

“What’s the matter, hon?”

“Ness, I’m so sorry.  I’m so stupid.  I’m so sorry.”

Cold fear spread from her fingertips and toes, up her arms and legs, through her torso and around her heart.  When it managed to pierce even there, tremors began racking her limbs.  How long all of this took, how long she sat shaking, she wasn’t sure.

“Ness?  Vanessa?  Oh, baby… Can we see each other?  I need to see you.  I’ll drive there-”

“No.”  She didn’t want him here, bringing his bad news to her warm, safe apartment.  “I’ll drive to you.”

She hit the end button and began throwing random things into a bag.  As she was locking the door, she realized she had no idea what was in the bag, because what could she possibly use from her living room to fix this?

The drive didn’t seem to take nearly as long as it should.  She pulls into a spot just below his stairs, grabs her bag, and is at his door with no knowledge of ascending the stairs.  She hopes she locked her doors.

He comes to the door, bringing a whiff of the cologne she bought him for Christmas, pulls her into his arms, releases her with something like fear or shock – she’s not sure which – in his expression.

They walk to his bedroom; he’s carrying her bag of miscellaneous items.  She numbly realizes he’s probably thinking she came to spend the night.  He places it on the chair outside his bathroom door, and they sit facing each other on his futon.

She uses all her self-possession to keep from jumping off this unfaithful bed, from spitting on its lumpy old comforter.

He pulls her hand into his lap, and he begins to talk.

* * * * * * *

She didn’t scream or rage, and she didn’t cry like she thought she would.  But her insides are still frozen, and she’s been pulling away physically every few moments.  He’s done.  He’s been done.  He’s waiting for her, and she thinks she sees a trace of that earlier fear before looking back at her interlocked hands.

“Is that all?”  He nods, tears escaping onto his khakis.  “Okay.  I should leave, then.”

She makes to go, and he clings to her.  “Wait!  Can’t we, can’t we talk?  You can’t just leave.  We have to talk.  We have to figure this out!”

She’s never seen him beg before, never seen such raw, yet boyish, pain.  She considers him for a minute, then gently unclasps his hands from hers.  She shoulders her bag and leaves, closing his bedroom door behind her.  She takes a moment, then makes her way through his now crowded living room, blindly nodding at who she assumes are his roommates, and she arrives at the door.  She turns the handle for the last time, pulls it to her, and slips into the chilling air.  Funny.  She didn’t notice the winter wind earlier.  She climbs down the first set of stairs before sinking onto the landing.

The gates are open.  The flood has come.  She succumbs.

Her arms wrap themselves around her knees, her bag is gone, her head falls forward.  She sits for days releasing her pain, washing her heart clean.

A distant jingle-jangle dances through the air, and she thinks of her cat, her furball, sitting at home waiting for her.  She’s almost to her feet, wiping her eyes as she pushes herself up, and “Vanessa!” cuts through the cold night and lands in her chest.

She doesn’t turn, she doesn’t answer.  She can only look down at the beautifully carved hilt sticking from her breast, knowing she won’t be able to remove it.

Tony picks up her bag from some three or four steps below, looks up into her face, then lifts her across his chest.  He carries her back to his room, murmuring sweet thanks into her ear, heedless of the blood and life seeping from under his hands.

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APS, Don’t Blame the Test

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The gummit made me do it!

Amid the cacophony of outcries following the report of the Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal have been many voices. Some have decried a system that has completely failed the city’s children – many of them poor, and many of them black, and all of them in desperate need for a quality education. Others have pointed fingers at the city’s business community, with a chamber of commerce that has historically been happy to construct a hall of funhouse mirrors that presents the city’s image in the best possible light.

And now a new sense of dissent is emerging, with a push to lay the blame upon the process itself and hold No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountable for the school system’s failure.

I don’t cotton to that critique. No, sir; not at all.

NCLB is an inherently flawed law that applies a universal standard to education, in which nothing at all is universal. It’s origins were understandable; after all, without certain standardized benchmarks, how can we at all be sure that we’re advancing education and that schools are doing what they are financed to do: teach? Get all the kids together, ask them pretty much the same questions, and if more answer them right this year than they did last year, well, we must be doing something right. If not, start over. It’s that simple. In fact, it’s over-simple.

Kids in different school districts face starkly different realities and opportunities. Many districts – including many more now that was the case when NCLB was enacted, owing to a slumping economy and a bottomless housing market that has sunk the property taxes upon which public education is financed – lack the resources to provide students with the best possible learning environment. I have a certain empathy for kids who are going to school in ill-fitting or tattered clothing and are faced with challenges, like finding enough food or having a warm place to sleep, that make school demands seem petty in comparison. And to these districts, some of which 100 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced school lunches, we are applying the same standard that we’re applying to districts that have the resources to spend many times more on education per student.

And then, when these districts fail to make adequately yearly progress, the federal government cuts their funding, leaving them with even fewer resources to educate their children.

NCLB does not level a playing field. Rather, for many districts, it makes gaining ground much more of an uphill slog, with more bureaucracy and fewer funds.

But does a flawed system inherently necessitate a corrupt approach?

That is the claim now put forth by a piece of the chorus of outcry. The corruption within Atlanta Public Schools occurred because NCLB is a bad law. A bad law, it stands to reason, makes it OK for people to do bad things to circumnavigate it. Were NCLB – a piece of Bush-era legislation that has been harshly rebuked – a better law, then corruption would not have occurred.

Nay, I say. Nay, nay, nay.

Corruption at the Atlanta Public Schools occurred because some people found a way to game the system rather than working within the system. If high numbers is what the government wanted, then high numbers they shall receive. That this required that some teachers and administrators grab an eraser and change a few (or a whole bunch) of answers on a flawed test, then it was only one wrong being employed to address another, and it all worked out in the end.

Except it didn’t, really. While some administrators received substantial notoriety (and bonuses) for seemingly accomplishing a great deal with nothing much with which to work, students were simply passed through a system that never endeavored to take an accurate accounting of their knowledge and preparedness to face the world.

I learned early, in a small elementary school in rural Winston, in a classroom that overlooked a cow pasture, that two wrongs don’t make a right. It was a simple but profound lesson, and one that was seemingly lost in the gilded halls of the Atlanta Public Schools. To place the blame for their actions on NCLB is tantamount to saying the devil made me do it; it ignores free will, freedom of choice, and – most disheartening of all – the example set by accepting responsibility for one’s actions.

NCLB is bad, flawed and unworkable. But it is not corrupt, and it’s silly to think that it causes others to be corrupt. Greed, not accountability, was behind the cheating. And may the devil get his due.