I walked up to my new student, who sat hunched over the plastic, beige desk of the tutoring center and lolled his head back and forth. Next to him stood a tall plastic cup full of chocolate Frappuccino that was half empty. Before sitting down in the open chair next to him, I followed his gaze, which danced to keep track of a squirrel that hopped along an oak tree’s branches on the other side of the window. I pulled back the chair, sat down, and stuck my hand out.
“Hi Kevin. I’m your tutor, Hans.”
Kevin stared at my hand, and then at my face, and finally shoved a lone finger up his left nostril. I kept my hand out and asked him how he was doing. He responded by excavating a green chunk of boogers from his nose and stared at it.
“Ok,” he said.
“Are you ready to do some math for the next hour?”
“Whatever,” he shrugged, and he buried both his finger and his prize into his mouth. He then pulled out his eighth grade pre-algebra textbook and flipped the book to today’s homework assignment, multiplying and dividing fractions.
“Have you done these kind of problems before?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s review.” I watched as Kevin scribbled down an answer using pencils that had no erasers left on them. I pointed out that the answer he had written down was incorrect. He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Jeez, I wasn’t done yet.”
“Oh, okay. My bad.” He corrected his mistake by scribbling out his mistake and turned his body away from me. He shot a glance back at me and narrowed his eyes before going back to his work. I leaned forward and twisted my body so that I could continue looking as his work through the hole that his bent right arm formed. I interrupted him after he missed a problem dividing fractions.
“Here, let me help you –“
“Yeah, yeah, I know what I did wrong, okay? I wasn’t even done yet, gosh.” Kevin whipped his head back and forth and leaned further over his work to make it invisible from my view.
“I can’t see your work, Kevin,” I laughed.
“Maybe if you weren’t so mean I’d let you see it.” I knit my eyebrows and tapped the table with my fingers before asking what he meant by that. “You’re mean. You’re saying I’m doing this wrong, that wrong, and I don’t even know you!” He turned his head, squinted his eyes, and pushed his face up to mine. “You’re mean,” he breathed, a scent of the chocolate Frappuccino accompanying his words.
I stifled a laugh, pushed my chair back a foot, and looked over my new student. Kevin wore a Cincinnati Reds t-shirt hung loosely over his pronounced shoulder blades, and his shoes matched the bright-red and black socks that extended over his shin. His long, sunburnt fingers picked away at a lone pimple, a vanguard on his otherwise-unblemished face, which had set up shop on his chin. For the next ten minutes, we remained silent, save for the pencil between his hand that scraped out mathematical equations and his right heel that tip-tapped a beat on the floor.
“Are we ready to check our work?” I finally asked Kevin, who flinched.
“We don’t have too much time to work on other subjects if you keep resisting like this.”
“Well maybe if you weren’t mean and didn’t get angry at me, you wouldn’t have that problem.” I asked what I was doing that would warrant him calling me mean and angry. “You’re telling me that I’m doing this wrong and that wrong. Always, it’s me doing something wrong and never right. You’re just like my parents.” He began to sob, got up, and walked over to where the tissue paper was to blow his nose. I smiled and watched his lanky figure drag itself across the room from one end to another. When he returned and sat back down, he wiped his eyes and shoved his face once again in mine. “Well?”
“‘Well’ what, Kevin?”
“Well, aren’t you going to apologize?”
“Apologize for what? Your fake crying?” His head jerked back and his eyes opened wide. He looked over both his shoulders and whispered to ask how I knew. “I have a little brother. He used to fake cry all the time because I wouldn’t let him play my Play Station 2, and he was actually good at it – he could produce tears.”
“Yes way. And you know what else? The last time he fake cried was when he was six. How old are you again, Kevin?” Kevin blushed and turned his face away from me.
“Thirteen. My birthday’s coming up in a few months, though.” I wondered aloud how a teenager could still be crying. I pondered for a few seconds before asking what his parents did when he fake cried.
“I don’t fake cry to my parents.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Okay, I do.” Kevin fidgeted in his seat and looked down at his feet. “But I only do it because that’s the only way I can make them apologize and get what I want.” I grinned, and his face flushed red again. “What’s so funny?” I peeked at the math problem he had been working on. He had neglected to take the reciprocal of the fraction he was dividing with. I got up, grabbed three pencils nearby that had a good chunk of eraser bits on them.
“Get back to math. Show me your work. I can see that you’ve missed two of the problems you did on your own.” I handed him the pencils, and he looked with defeat at the eraser bits.
“And one more thing.”
“No more fake crying.”