The morning before I had worked with Harley, as I will call him, and that day seemed no different than any other. Harley was a struggling reader and even worse in math. At age eleven, he had not yet developed the skill to string words together to read aloud. Harley had a diagnosed learning disability that hindered his achievement. He was a bright boy; a sullen boy.
That morning we had worked on blending phonemes into words. We did not have a good session together. He was distracted and quick to talk back. I snapped at him. In the moment that I scolded him I knew that I was wrong, that I was unprofessional and that I could have handled the situation so much better. Harley knew too. When I walked with him to the exit of the building he reached the door, stopped and turned around. He looked at me and simply stated, “Next time you want me to do something you should just ask me. You don’t have to get upset with me.” He walked away. I was emotionally and physically frozen. The eleven year old boy was right, and he had the maturity to tell me. I went home that night humbled by my inexperience and my mistake. I was embarrassed by my actions and proud of his speaking up.
The next morning the sun rose as expected, but that was the only thing that was normal about the day to follow. I arrived at work at 7:50 that morning. It was a chilling November morning and I sat in my room trying to warm my hands and jump start my brain before the bells rang across the hallways demanding productivity. Minutes passed and Harley had not appeared at my door with his black and purple backpack, slumped into the farthest chair and stared at the ground. More minutes passed. Finally after 23 minutes I saw a shadow near the door. I walked over and saw Harley standing outside of the door. He didn’t have his backpack and he didn’t seem to have his soul. I asked him to come in. He didn’t move. I asked again and Harley continued to stare at the linoleum beneath him. Tears began to stream from his eyes. They fell so rapidly that it almost appeared as if it was raining from his being.
My insides started to quiver as I asked Harley what was wrong. He couldn’t talk. His words were being held captive by his emotions. He looked so broken, defeated and alone. I started to panic and asked him again what was wrong. I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder and he pulled away from me. He continued to cry. Slowly his hand began to move and he lifted his shirt and wails left his body with such power that I thought he may pass out from lack of air.
It was then that I saw. I saw the battered, bloody, bruised and burned flesh beneath his shirt. There was not an inch of his skin that did not have new or old wounds. Harley’s knees buckled as his secret was revealed and he began to fall forward. I caught him in my arms. For nearly an hour he lay there in my arms sobbing as he felt the binding of his secret loosen. His entire body shook, his voice squeaked with exhaustion and he smelled of blood.
Harley and I made it downstairs to a private office. I made the call to child protection services. While we waited for them to arrive, Harley agreed to take off his shirt and allow me to clean his wounds. His body had endured the rage of pure evil. Flesh hung from sections of his back. Bruises old and new were at different colors of healing. A rope like mark ran across his chest. Household objects could be identified by the burns in his back. Welts were more than a half an inch thick raised from his tine body. As I cautiously cleaned his wounds, Harley continued to cry. His lip shivered, but he was quiet now. There was not an ounce of his eleven year old structure that wasn’t utterly terrified.
A knock on the door startled both me and Harley. A man from the child protection agency entered the room. Harley would not look at him. The tall, strong looking man asked Harley questions. The eleven year old broken boy again stood staring at the floor, but this time he was violently shaking his head and tears were launching off of his soaked face. I put my hand near his hand, he grabbed tight. I asked the man to back up and stand near the door. He complied. I explained to the man that it was the boy’s father that had delivered the horrors onto the eleven year old body and soul that stood before him.
Harley left with the child protection services worker that cold November morning and I never saw him again. I was assured years later that Harley was safe and had been placed with caring and loving family. Harley’s father spent three months in jail.