I had never been inside the gates of government housing, much less into an actual apartment. But I had to meet DJ’s parents. DJ, or Danu, who had just spent a whole hour after school with me, perfecting his essay while humming rap songs, picking at the scrapes on his arms, and drumming on his desk. He had jumped at the chance to get a ride home, but begged me not to come up into building seven. Too bad, so sad. I was going to light some kind of fire, I was so confident. This was step one in my naïve plan. The parents would see how invested I was and they would therefore also become super involved in DJ’s English skills. It was going to work like magic. I was smiling as I climbed rusted steps, lined with “slippahs”.
DJ walked through the open door and shot upstairs, jerking a thumb towards me before he disappeared. I tiptoed in quietly, not sure if I should wait outside. I looked in the direction that his thumb had jutted toward. I saw a glimpse of two brown faces and four brown eyes. “Hi! I’m Alysha, I’m DJ’s English teacher!” The open windows washed a breeze over everything. Flies floated around the furniture. I tried to direct my gaze only on his parents, not the large pile of dirty laundry next to the stove or the molded dishes in the sink.
No one said a word. There was a sound from both of them, I guess an acknowledgement of my presence. But I couldn’t discern if it was a grunt, a dismissal, or a standard greeting used for all. Dad pulled his shirt down, still not covering a huge, hairy belly. Mom got up off the couch reluctantly, leading me back out through the front door. A little girl appeared, her innocent smile reminding me of that same feeling of childhood excitement I see in DJ sometimes. “Ooh, look, a teacher!” Her pony tail bounced and her eyes popped. DJ’s eyes. I wanted to scoop her up and hug her tight and whisper in her tiny ear to never give up, because I already believed in her and her seashell earrings.
Mom still hadn’t said a word. DJ had finally joined us, peeking from behind the doorframe as I started an uncomfortable spiel. Her son was great. Her son had shown such, such incredible improvement. Her son was so smart, had such potential. I could see a sly grin appearing and disappearing from inside.
She gave that same grumble, almost inaudible, with a nod this time. She never looked into my eyes. In fact, she looked pissed, like I had just ranted about the complete opposite. I briefly wondered if my words could’ve somehow been misinterpreted. But no, I had been crystal clear; your son rocks. My whole body was burning, not because of the midday Hawaiian heat. I wanted to send spit flying at her neck tattoo and gold chain, I wanted to scream at all 300 pounds of her, “BE PROUD OF HIM! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT HIM! BE PROUD OF HIM YOU STUPID COW!” Because I sure as hell am. And I shouldn’t have to be the only one.
I said my goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and plastered on a fake smile, waving to DJ and his little sister as I made my way back to my car, completely dejected. I wanted to break down. I wanted to sob in fury and disappointment. But I couldn’t. I wanted even more to be like DJ; strong in the face of a situation in which I should be my weakest.
The next day, he cussed in class, daydreamed through half of the notes, and tried to hide in the closet after the bell rang. The usual drill. But he passed that freakin’ essay, the highest grade he’s ever made on any writing. I pulled him aside and told him how proud I was. He shrugged me off and sauntered away, but not before I saw that same giddy grin lined with dimples. He was proud of himself too. And you know what I realized? Two people having that kind of faith in an almost-failing 12-year old student is better than none. And if there aren’t more now, there will be. And that’s something.