Adam and Evil - Gillian Roberts Page 0,1

is left in there for rent. They hear nothing, and see only a rapidly aging pest with style-challenged hair (too long, too brown), boring clothing, a pathetic (I gather) sense of humor, and a love life that annoys them because they don’t understand the status quo. Neither do I, but I can live with that.

Working under those conditions gets old, and it doesn’t allow much time or scope for meditations on the class population’s mental health. That’s how it always has been.

Until now, when it’s gotten worse. Kids today aren’t what they used to be, which was predictably, but nonlethally, weird. Just as we’d relaxed, adjusted, listened to experts’ explanations, and accepted teenagers’ peculiarities, they upped the ante. Headlines erupted with stories about teens who expressed their moodiness by blowing away their classmates, teachers, and whoever else peeved them.

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about their teachers. Sympathizing with them. Wishing I could have talked to them—before their students killed them. Wondering if I’m destined to be one of them.

Reflecting on those news stories in a school full of adjustment problems must be like living on an earthquake fault. You know the danger’s there, but if you think about it too much, you’ll go crazy, which is just as fearful a prospect. All the same, if you’re sane, you note seismic activity and stay aware of how extreme classroom tremors become.

Adam Evans registered a 10 on my Richter scale. I hoped my machinery—not his—was malfunctioning, but I didn’t think so.

Because of him, I feared that I’d overdosed on teenagers in general. But whether or not I had, Adam Evans was a puzzle I couldn’t solve, and he’d been a worry the entire academic year. I never felt sure of myself when it came to him. Never could even determine to my satisfaction whether our problems were his or mine.

Now, eight months after Adam entered my class for his senior year, I was still in the dark. All I knew for certain was that he was a royal pain. Philly Prep runs a high percentage of royal—and commoner—pains. They are, in fact, our specialty, inasmuch as we appeal to those (sufficiently affluent) youngsters who have a difficult time in larger, more standardized schools. Our mandate is to ignite a spark in the insufficiently fueled.

This was what I was trying to explain to my near and dear ones on a Sunday afternoon in late April. My sister, Beth, her husband, Sam, and their two children were visiting en route to a party nearby. This was in no way a typical experience. Beth and Sam were the ultimate suburbanites. Sam rode the Paoli Local into the city each day to his law firm, but then he hurried back out to Gladwynne. And Beth behaved as if coming to the city were the equivalent of going on safari without a guide. So this visit was an event. We drank coffee and caught up on our lives.

I talked about teaching, my growing ambivalence. I talked about Adam. I wanted sympathy, I wanted compassion. Often, lately, I wanted out. “I’m afraid for him,” I said. “He doesn’t seem in complete control. The other day, I was sure he was going to hit someone. I had to physically restrain him. And then he freaked. Acted as if touching him was a crime.” Beth looked aghast—her suspicions about people who lived inside the city limits were proving true. I shook my head. “I’m making it sound worse than it was. He stopped as soon as I touched his arm. He hates being touched. It’s part of what’s abnormal about him. Anyway, I didn’t have to wrestle him down, he didn’t hurt the other kid, but he did overreact to both that other boy and then to me. He’s off center. I can’t explain it, but I worry about what he might do to somebody else—and I worry about what he might do to himself.”

From atop a ladder, C.K. Mackenzie grunted, acknowledging that he was listening. Of course, he’d heard this before, so his real attention was on a painting he was hanging. My brother-in-law partnered in this endeavor, standing nearby, reading a J. Crew catalogue, ready to hand up a tool if needed. Male bonding. They didn’t look at each other or communicate. They were both very happy.

I pulled Adam’s paper out of the pile on the oak table. There were always papers needing marking. That, too, grew old. “Tell me this isn’t peculiar. Quote: ‘I will learn to