Nurture - People can be helped
In Warrington in North West England the quiet in the high school staff room was interrupted by the door being flung open by a young female staff member, who marched quickly over to the water dispenser, grabbed a plastic cup and in her haste three of them came out. She let two of them fall to the floor and half filled the one in her hand with the cold water. After gulping down that water she crushed the cup and threw it in the general direction of the bin. As she put both hands to her long hair and pulled on it she let out a little scream of exasperation.
‘How can a sixteen year old be such a bitch?!’ She wondered aloud as she let go of her hair, she had the complete attention of the other six teachers in the room, apart from one who remained hidden behind his copy of The Times.
‘No prizes for guessing that you’re talking about Pandora,’ another female staff member said.
‘I really can’t wait for this year to end, will be so glad when I never have to deal with her again, we should have kicked her out years ago,’ the angry teacher said.
An older, male teacher spoke from behind The Times; ‘Is she really that bad?’
‘Trust me you’ve no idea, I don’t care how experienced you are, you won’t have seen anything much worse than her. Her lack of respect is impossible to describe. It’s all right for you only teaching A-level, teaching kids who actually want to be here.’
‘Is this young lady not staying on for A-levels?’
‘No chance, she hates school as much as we hate her, beside she’s not clever enough for A-levels.’
‘She seems to have infuriated and manipulated the mood of virtually an entire team of reasonably intelligent adult teachers, without being kicked out of school, I’d say that shows a great deal of intelligence on her part.’
‘Reasonably intelligent?’ That supposed to be one of your subtle insults?’
‘I would’ve said intelligent, maybe even highly intelligent, but then you used the word hate about a pupil.’
‘If you’d been her form tutor and English teacher for the last two years I bet you’d be using worse words than that.’
‘Anyone ever spoken to her?’
‘What kind of question is that?’ The angry female teacher put her hands in her hair again. ‘She’s been spoken to so many times that I’ve lost count, she must know our code of conduct and respect rules better than anybody she’s had them recited to her so much,’ she added.
‘That’s talking at her, I asked if anyone had talked to her?’
‘Oh I see, we should have used some of your psychological nonsense, and found out that she is really a sweet girl who is just a little confused.’
‘I’m guessing if no one has ever talked to her, no one has ever listened to her either. If no one had listened to you for sixteen years, wouldn’t you be a bitch?’ Dr Mason didn’t wait for an answer, instead he got up and left the staff room.
Dr Mason waited by the main pupil exit from the school.
‘Pandora can we have a chat please before you head home?’ He asked as he stood in front of her, in the doorway.
‘Would love to chat, but I’ve got a bus to catch,’ Pandora said with fake disappointment.
‘You walk home.’
‘How do you know that?’ Pandora looked a little taken aback.
‘I’m an observer by nature.’
‘Sounds creepy to me.’
‘At my age I’m sure you’ll find virtually anything I do creepy.’
‘Anyway I’m not going home, I’m getting the bus into town,’ Pandora said and then took a step to the side and went to go for the doorway again.
‘Come on, I’m giving you the chance to piss off one more teacher before you go home,’ Dr Mason said as he stepped to block her path again.
‘Teachers aren’t allowed to swear, it’s against the fucking rules,’ Pandora replied with a smug smile.
‘Just like you I’ve never been one for rules.’
‘What do you want to talk about anyway?’
‘I don’t really want to talk, what I really want to do is listen.’
‘You want to listen to me? What could I have to say that a Doctor would need to listen to?’
‘I really want to know how one girl can cause so much stress amongst so many of my colleagues and why she has so little respect for them.’
‘I will respect them when they respect me.’
‘Love that philosophy, in fact that’s one of the mantras I teach by.’
‘So you’re saying you respect me?’
‘I definitely respect your ability to control the mood of adults around you, adults who are supposed to be experts at dealing with young people. Unfortunately for me I’ve only been at this school for a few months and this is the first time I’ve had the good fortune to talk to you, from this brief conversation I can honestly say I respect the way you make good eye contact when you talk, the way you stand up for yourself in an assertive manner and the way you have listened to everything I’ve said. Will that do for now?’
‘You’re freaky weird for a teacher,’ Pandora said with a little shake of her head. ‘Okay, you got me, where are we going for this chat?’
‘This class room will do,’ he pointed to an empty classroom just a few yards away from where they were, then opened the class room door, walked through and held the door open for Pandora. ‘Take a seat,’ he said and Pandora sat down in the nearest chair and gently threw her school bag onto the desk in front of her.
‘Just how old are you?’ Pandora asked as he sat down on the opposite side of the desk to her.
‘Rumours flying all over school are they?’ He said after a little laugh.
‘Some say you are a young looking seventy, because you talk as if you’ve been around for ever and are really old fashioned.’
‘Seventy?! I can crush that rumour straight away, I’m only fifty-three.’
‘And you’re a real Doctor?’
‘What’s your PhD in?’
‘That actually sounds vaguely interesting,’ she conceded.
‘So I’m classed as an expert in human behaviour, I could’ve worked for the police, or the government, even MI5. You know why I’ve spent virtually all of my professional life in high schools?’
‘Not sure, is it the teenage girls, or the teenage boys? It’s really hard to tell with you.’
‘That the sort of thing you say that pisses the teachers off so much?’
‘Yeah they struggle with it so much more if you say it calmly, makes them take it more personally.’
‘Why do you want to piss them off so much?’
‘You’re the expert, you tell me.’
He smiled and nodded a little. ‘My guess is that you’re an incredibly complex young lady, probably with plenty of issues at home, but you don’t want to share this with anybody, so you create a character far removed from the one you truly feel like being. You think by being this bitchy that two things will happen, one is that people will think you’re so confident that they will never guess you’re in so much pain. The other is that people will never want to get close enough to you to find out the truth. You’ll be popular whilst you’re at high school, but only on a superficial level, because fellow pupils will suck up to you because they don’t want to be the ones feeling the wrath of your bitchiness. None of your groupies will ever know the real you, because somewhere along the line something has made you feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and you have a great fear of putting people out.’
About half way through his answer Pandora broke off eye contact, and started messing with the collection of rubber wristbands on her left hand.
‘They hand out those PhDs like fucking confetti at a wedding.’
‘Am I wrong?’ He tried to get eye contact once again, but Pandora wouldn’t let it happen.
‘What else has your expertise and creepy observing come up with?’
‘I’ve observed your exam and coursework grades for all your GCSE work so far, Cs in absolutely everything.’
‘What can I say, I’m just an average student,’ Pandora briefly made eye contact, then went back to starring at her wrist bands.
‘I don’t need a PhD or any observational skills to know that one thing you are not is average. I’ve been involved in high school education for around thirty years, and do you know how many pupils I’ve seen in all that time that have got Cs in everything?’
‘No idea but I’m dying to find out, could you email me the answer, my email address is Pandora69@tellsomeonewhogivesashit.co.uk,’ again Pandora made brief eye contact as she replied.
‘None, you’re the first one I’ve ever seen. Not even the odd B or D, you know what that tells me? It tells me you have complete control over your results and in fact you’re more than capable of being a straight A student, but you don’t want to be, because you don’t want to be noticed and you just want teachers to want rid of you because you are such a bitch. It also tells me that you do just enough to make sure that you pass everything, because you know that Cs are considered proper passes and in the future people will be asking how many GCSEs you have at C above, if you were the reckless bitch you make yourself out to be you’d be getting nothing better than a D. So that tells me that you do have the tiniest bit of give a crap left.’
‘Go on this is fascinating, I finding out so many things about myself,’ Pandora didn’t try to hide her sarcasm.
‘Okay then let’s look at what you wear.’
‘Oh this will be good, remember you’re not supposed to call me a slut.’
‘You’re not a slut, just like you’re not a bitch, you just like to give the impression you are both. That’s why you wear the shortest skirt you can possibly get away with, no matter how cold it gets. Conversely no matter how hot it gets, you always wear tights.’
‘You really are getting creepy now, been checking out my arse and legs have you?’
‘There you go, on the attack, your best form of defence isn’t it? We’re in the middle of a heat wave and not only are you still wearing your tights, you never take that jumper off. At a time when all the other girls are getting their legs out and showing off their short sleeved white blouses, you are covering up. What are you hiding?’
‘I’m not hiding anything, I just like to be different and don’t want to look like all of those sluts, you are looking way too much into this,’ Pandora was now looking around the room as she spoke, eye-contact was no longer happening at all.
‘The thing about those school jumpers is that the sleeves always manage to ride up a little, really annoying when you’re trying to hide something, so that’s why you cover your wrists so much.’
‘These are all charity wristbands,’ Pandora said as she held up her left hand. ‘I thought I’d at least get some credit for that.’
‘I do like seeing a young person who is charitable. Doesn’t explain the ever present sweat band on the other wrist though.’
‘It’s called style, they probably didn’t have it when you were young and I really can’t be bothered trying to explain it to you.’
‘You want to know why I chose to work in schools?’
‘Apart from the teenage boys and girls?’
‘I’m sure someone as intelligent as you will already have worked out your usual attacks are wasted on me.’
‘Go on then tell me why, I’m all ears,’ Pandora slumped down a little in her chair, with her arms folded.
‘Because it’s easier to make strong children, than repair broken adults.’
Pandora closed her eyes and took a deep breath in and out. ‘I may not technically be an adult yet, but I am definitely already broken.’
‘Everybody is broken to some degree, the thing is whether we are broken beyond repair,’ Dr Mason replied, Pandora took a long, slow breath out as she flicked at her charity wristbands with her right hand and stared blankly downwards.
‘Whatever you would have done to repair me doesn’t matter, I am way beyond that stage now.’
‘Trust me, you are not beyond repair, nowhere near, the only thing stopping you getting fixed is your unwillingness to ask for help. Most people will see you as a bad girl, I know that you’re a girl who has had bad things happen to her, but if you don’t ask for help sooner or later you will just be a bad girl.’
‘Don’t do your mind reading bull shit on me,’ Pandora snapped a little then sniffed and rubbed her nose.
‘I’m guessing this is the first time any member of staff has seen you even close to upset.’
‘I’m not up….’
‘Before you carry on lying to yourself,’ Dr Mason interrupted. ‘Let me tell you that body language is my speciality.’
‘I’m this close to walking out right now,’ Pandora shouted and held her thumb and index finger of her right hand less than an inch apart, as tears began to form in her eyes.
‘Yet you’re still here, a member of staff is thoroughly pissing you off and you’re still sat there taking it. I’ll tell you why you’re still there, because finally someone is listening to you, someone is showing they care and they want to help. You’ve been crying out for help in your own way for years, but no one has heard you. It’s okay to be pissed off, I’m sure if I’d been through whatever you’ve been through I would be pissed off too.’
‘Stop trying to get inside my head, trust me that’s a place you don’t want to be.’
‘I know it’s a dark place, that’s why you scratch your own wrists, and cut them.’
‘That’s none of your fucking business!’ Pandora shouted.
‘I’m making it my business, that’s what this is all about. Some people might say you just do it for attention,’ as he spoke Pandora turned her head away from him, she could no longer hold the tears back. ‘Is that what someone has said? That you only do it for attention? I think on some level they are right, that’s why you harm yourself on one of the most noticeable parts of your body. During the moments you do it, I think there might be some part of you that really wants someone to know what you are doing to yourself. But then when there is a lift in the gloom, when there’s a little light to end the total darkness you cover yourself up and go back to playing the part you know so well. I hope I’m wrong about the real reason you harm yourself, but I suspect I’m not.’
Pandora turned to face him and wiped both her eyes, first with one hand, then the other. ‘Go on then, tell me why I do it, you obviously love showing off,’ she spoke quietly as she looked down at the table.
‘I think you are dealing with some severe mental and emotional pain, and that sometimes the only way you feel you can cope with it is if you inflict enough physical pain on yourself that it will override your other feelings, at least for a few sweet moments.’
Pandora put both her hands to her face, at first covering her eyes, then moving her hands a little so that they covered her mouth and nose, but both tear filled eyes were visible. For a few moments she just looked at Dr Mason, making eye contact, neither one of them in a rush to speak.
‘Are all kids this easy to read for you?’ Pandora asked him after lowering her hands to the table.
‘Most of them are, most of the time, that’s what being an expert means. Doesn’t mean I know you, or what you’re going through or how you’re feeling.’
‘I bet you have some theories though,’ Pandora said with the merest hint of a smile.
‘Oh I always have theories, that’s what makes me so annoying,’ he replied causing Pandora’s smile to stay and grow ever so slightly.
‘I think it’s safe to say you have my full attention, so the stage is all yours.’
‘Again I really hope I’m wrong, but my theory is you have a sickeningly horrible home life. I know you’re an only child and I think your parents offer you no support at all, never give you anyone to talk to and do nothing to help your self-esteem, only to destroy it. Even worse I suspect there’s some physical abuse, hence the ever present long sleeves and tights, to cover up any signs.’
‘You’re wrong this time,’ Pandora said quietly whilst looking down and wiping one eye.
‘Then take off your jumper.’
‘I’m sure you’re aware how wrong that sounds,’ Pandora became louder.
‘Don’t do that, don’t switch to defence mode, don’t be the role you act out every day. Whatever is happening at home, you don’t deserve it and you can be free from it.’
Pandora started shaking her head as the tears began to flow again. ‘You can’t tell them, you don’t understand, you can’t tell anybody,’ she spoke through the sobs.
‘The only way this will stop is if you tell someone, you will be perfectly safe and you deserve to be so,’ Dr Mason leaned over the table a little, trying to make eye contact.
‘I deserve everything I get,’ Pandora completely lost control of the tears, put her arms on the desk and let her head rest on them face down.
‘That’s what they tell you, I’m telling you that you certainly don’t deserve it. Who are you going to believe? Two horrible human beings who shouldn’t have the right to be parents? Or an expert in human behaviour?’
Pandora couldn’t talk, she could only cry.
‘Pandora, you don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this,’ Dr Mason’s words kept the tears coming. ‘And there is a way out, if you make a complaint now, you won’t ever have to go home again, you won’t ever have to see them again, we can get you into a good foster home, you can get those straight As you’re capable of, go to whichever college you want and then do whatever it is you want to do with your life. Your whole life can turn around right now, it can be a million times better from this moment on. All you need is a few moments of courage, enough courage to speak the truth and you will be free from your prison for ever.’
For a few seconds Pandora remained face down on the desk, then she slowly picked herself up and leant back in her chair. She grabbed the end of her right sleeve with the fingers of that hand, then used it to wiped both her eyes. After taking a couple of deep breathes Pandora closed her eyes for a few moments, then looked at Dr Mason.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Okay I’ll tell you.’
About an hour later Dr Mason was outside the room, heading back towards it with a cup of coffee in his hands. Pandora was inside the room, talking to two police officers. The female teacher who had been complaining about Pandora in the staff room earlier that day was walking by, heading for the exit, then she stopped by Dr Mason.
‘The police? I’m guessing you now see what I mean about her, glad to see someone having the gumption to do something about her,’ she said.
‘I didn’t call them for her, I called them to protect her.’
‘Protect her from what?’
‘It’s amazing what you can learn when you listen to people.’
Four police officers stood outside a terrace house in the middle of Warrington, one of them knocked loudly on the door. A man in his mid-thirties pulled the door open quickly, stood in the doorway and stared at the police.
‘What do you lot want?!’ He asked.
‘Mr Harris?’ The police officer at the front checked.
‘Yeah well done, you’ve got something right for a change.’
‘I’m arresting you,’ the same officer said and stepped into the house, followed by his colleagues, and two of them grabbed him and turned him around whilst one of them handcuffed his hands behind his back.
‘What the fuck is this about?’ He screamed and then struggled a little until they pushed him up against a wall.
‘We’re arresting you for the physical and sexual abuse of a minor, your own daughter,’ the same officer continued to do the talking whilst another two of them held Mr Harris up against the wall, the officer leaned up to Mr Harris so that he was talking right into his ear. ‘Have you any idea what’s going to happen to you in prison?’
‘I’ve not touched that fucking slag, she’s a lying bitch!’
At this point Mr Harris’s wife came out of the kitchen and into the hall way. ‘Don’t listen to him, he beats me too.’
‘You bitch!’ Mr Harris screamed at the top of his voice.
‘I’m fairly sure that is the case Mrs Harris,’ the officer who had done all the talking said. ‘But that really doesn’t give you the right to sexually and physically abuse your own daughter does it?’ He added as he spun her round and handcuffed her too.
Three months later Dr Mason walked into his little office at the high school, he accidentally stood on a big envelope on the floor, just inside his office. He opened it to find a big ‘Thank you’ card. Inside the card was a photo copy of some GCSE results, where the pupil had got A* in every subject. The written message inside the card read: ‘I thought I’d send you this because I know how much you like being right!’.
A husband and wife waited in their car, for their sixteen year old daughter to return from her trip.
‘What did her last text say?’ The husband asked.
‘It said they had just got off the motorway and were going past LA Bowl,’ his wife replied.
‘She should be here any minute then,’ the husband said with a smile. ‘I bet she’s loved it.’
‘A week away from us you mean?’ The wife said with a little smile of her own.
‘Partly,’ the husband laughed a little. ‘But she will have really loved meeting loads of new people and having a go at all the activities.’
‘I’m sure you’re right,’ the wife replied. ‘This must be them now,’ she replied as a coach pulled into the car park.
Both of them got out of the car and stood on the pavement next to each other, looking at the coach as it parked up just a few yards away from them. Even before the doors were opened singing could be heard from inside the coach.
‘Certainly sounds like they had a good time!’ The wife said with a big smile.
‘I do miss those days!’ The husband said with his own smile.
They watched on as they saw their daughter get off the coach, she gave a high five to one of the youth workers and hugged just about all of the other twenty nine young people who got off the coach. She grabbed her big bag then started looking for her parents, as soon as she saw them she dropped her bag and ran over to them and gave a big hug to her Mum, then her Dad then all three of them hugged at the same time. Just as they broke up that group hug, the youth worker that had given her the high five came over with her bag.
‘I’m guessing you are Holly’s parents?’ she said as he placed the bag on the floor.
‘Yes,’ Holly’s Mum said with a smile, but still looking slightly worried about why the youth worker had come over to them.
‘I thought I had to come over and say how amazing Holly is, we often find ourselves making complaints to parents about young people when they’ve done bad stuff, so I like to do it the other way around too. Seriously she was an absolute delight to have in the group, I don’t have kids myself but if I ever have a daughter I would love her to be like Holly.’
‘Don’t, you’ll make me cry,’ Holly said followed by a little giggle.
‘Thank you so much for saying that,’ Holly’s Mum said.
‘Yeah, that means a lot,’ her Dad added.
‘No problem at all, she deserved every word and you guys must have done a great job too. Have fun this weekend and we’ll see you again next week Holly.’
‘Can’t wait, I miss those guys already!’ Holly beamed.