Don’t Touch Me

Don’t Touch Me

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Don’t Touch Me

As the passing bell rang, I hurried out of my office to take my duty at the doors of the cafeteria. Being a teacher in a large, urban high school certainly has some drawbacks: having to supervise a loud, crowded mass of starving teenagers is one of them. After twenty years, I have a sixth sense when it comes to trouble developing in school. And somehow, I knew this was going to be one of those days.

It happened twenty minutes into the period. The noise level rose. Students pushed their chairs back and got to their feet. Some jumped up on the tables to get a better view of a fight that had broken out in the back of the room.

Being short, slight, and somewhat intelligent, I knew better than to try to break up a teenage brawl. So, I did the next best thing. I attempted to get the onlookers back to their seats and out of the way. In doing this, I approached two students from behind. Gently laying a hand on each of their shoulders, I began asking them to take their seats. I had uttered only a few words when one of the boys swung around, grabbed my wrist and pushed my arm away from his body. His eyes were burning, and his grip tightened as he lashed out with clenched teeth, “Don’t touch me!”

There was that all too familiar phrase, coming once again from an angry, frightened youth. Teachers expect it, but I never let it stop me. I firmly believe children need to be touched. Of course, one risks physical injury—as I was finding out.

It felt as though the circulation of blood was being cut off in my arm. It made me angry, even though I thought I understood his hostile behavior. Now it was my turn to grit my teeth. In a very controlled but firm voice, and with strong, demanding eye contact, I said softly, “You may touch me—but not hard!”

He kept his grip. We stood frozen, our eyes locked together in what seemed a piercing challenge of defiance. Then a strange look came over his face. His hand flew open, releasing my wrist. In that same moment he stepped back; but his arm was extended, his fingers wide apart, as if to stop me from entering his space.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But I told you not to touch me. Don’t ever touch me!”

“Okay, that’s fine,” I said, in a condescending voice. “Just take your seat, please.”

I left school that day, still thinking about the incident and remembering the stunned and puzzled look on the young man’s face when he dropped my wrist. Could it be that for one brief instant he knew that I understood his anger? And in giving him permission to touch me, had he felt my compassion? Probably just wishful thinking. But I thought about him a lot during the next two days. I wondered if maybe he came from an abusive home where a touch most often meant pain. There was such a vulnerable look in his eyes when he stepped back. I kept seeing that look in my mind. And though I didn’t know his name, I remembered him in my prayers each night.

The end of the week was approaching, and I entered school feeling good. I was early, and there were only two or three people in the hallway. Suddenly I realized that my young man was walking just ahead of me.

What an opportunity, I thought. God is giving me a chance to know this child and perhaps to see my prayers answered. “Please, God,” I prayed quickly. “Help me!”

Now I was in step by his side. “Hey!” I said with a grin, as we continued down the hall. “What’s all this silliness about not wanting anyone to touch you?”

“I don’t let nobody touch me!” he snarled.

“Nobody?” I asked. “How about your mama? Don’t you ever give her a hug?”

He stopped short, pivoting to face me head on. Again I saw that fiery look in his eyes. “I hate my mother! I never let her touch me!” he bellowed.

I cringed inside, knowing my initial fears of abuse were probably on target. But there was no time to belabor the issue. I quickly responded, teasingly, “Well, there. You see? You need us teachers to touch you once in a while— to let you know we care about you. Everybody needs to be touched sometimes.” I tilted my head and lifted my shoulders. “Right?” I asked, still in a teasing voice.

The corners of his mouth turned up and he lowered his head to hide the hint of a smile. As I turned the corner, I looked back over my shoulder and flashed him one last grin with a wink. He had not moved. His eyes were still on me. But now his smile was full, and his face was lit up. I entered my office, closed the door, clenched my fists and screeched, “Yes!”

At 11:30 that morning, I made my way down to the cafeteria. I took my usual position at the door and proceeded to check the student’s ID cards as they entered. I smiled, made small talk, checked faces with pictures. It was business as usual until I glanced down and saw the picture of what was becoming a very familiar face. By the time I looked up, he was nearly through the doorway. But as he took his last step through, facing straight ahead as though he did not see me, his hand caught mine. And for one brief moment I felt a squeeze. Then he was gone. I put my arm out to hold back the next student, so that I could step through the doorway myself and acknowledge his gesture. He had moved quickly and was several feet away.

Still not knowing his name, I stood looking after him, wishing I could call out. Then abruptly he stopped walking, turned toward me and smiled. Our eyes met, and I felt a warm, wonderful spirit of understanding pass between us.

I know that I will never have to feel his rage again. And perhaps, if my prayers for him are answered completely, no one will have to hear him repeat those cold, angry, lonely words—“Don’t touch me!”

Kay L. Pliszka

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