In inner-city New York, horrors lurk in the unruly hallways of Malcolm High School. As in-school riots and gang violence consistently envelop the classroom, Olivia Dalton attempts to teach her students while simultaneously directing a drop-out prevention program that embraces an ever-increasing group of at-risk students. Left with little hope she will ever have children of her own, Olivia becomes entrenched in her students' lives, partly out of love, but also out of an unconscious desire to avoid her own internal anguish.
Meanwhile, Olivia's devoted husband, Tom, is having trouble facing his own disappointments in not being able to create a family. In an effort to protect Olivia, he attempts to hold her back from the one place she feels useful and fulfilled-her career. But despite her husband's efforts to quell her desire to help the troubled and confused, Olivia presses on and believes in change, even in the face of her students' continual mistakes and poor choices. Neither Tom nor Olivia have any idea that everything is about to change when an unassuming gift is left at their door.
Shades of Gray is the profound story of one woman's unpredictable journey to the truth, new beginnings, and a kind of love she never knew before.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
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SHADES OF GRAY
By Susanne Jacoby Hale
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Susanne Jacoby Hale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sirens blared, but all I heard was the sound of my heart thumping as I ran down the unruly hallways of Malcolm High School. Other teachers were urging straggling students into their classrooms and out of danger. I was on a mission. I'd left my co-teachers with our class and rushed through the halls. I had to know that Benz was safe. I wanted to believe—and so I did—that he had nothing to do with the riot that was tearing through the halls of this New York City high school. I would not rest until I knew that he was not one of the injured students. The thought of Benz being one of the instigators of the uprising, the third that year, ruefully crossed my mind. Please be in your Spanish class today, Benz.
Even though not all fights involved the use of weapons, students received routine pat downs when entering the school, and there was constant talk about the need for metal detectors at the main entrance. Most fights were not premeditated either. They started over the typical he-said/she-said banter or yo-mama trash talk. Next thing you knew, a punch would be thrown, or a student whipped a blade out of his sock or a gun from under his jacket. It was never apparent until well after that first punch was thrown which fight would escalate to a dangerous level. One never knew if it would remain a two-person slug fest or if their friends would jump in and turn it into an out-and-out brawl.
The only certainty was that once a fight broke out, security would get immediate notification, then the school went on lockdown. All students would be ushered out of the hallways, and the classrooms' doors and windows locked. As well trained as security personnel were to deal with these brawls, I often wondered if they too weren't frightened that the next one would be the deadly one. To my knowledge, no one had ever died in a school fight at Malcolm—there had been injuries that required stitches, a few black eyes, and broken bones, but no deaths had occurred. Those were saved for the streets.
This was the first serious uprising I had experienced, and it was all happening so swiftly that I didn't realize what a true insurrection it was until the dust had settled. We, as staff, had been instructed on how to handle these situations at our teacher orientation, but I guess I never believed that such a mutiny could truly ensue. Not once during the chaos did I think about the rules the administration had carefully spelled out for us during the long lectures that preceded the beginning of school early in September. Teenagers were rushing through the halls screaming uncontrollably. Sirens roared and announcements demanded that the hallways be cleared. Security guards with walkie-talkies ran up and down the halls marshaling students into classrooms. Through the windows that flanked the corridors, one could clearly see down all eight floors to the street where a pool of police cars enclosed the school like a perilous moat.
As I hurried down the Foreign Language hallway, I heard some students screaming to me, but their words rushed around me like flurrying snowflakes melting before they ever contacted my skin. Wrangling my way through the sea of madness, I managed to find Benz's fourth-period class and banged my tightened fist on the classroom door. A panic-stricken teacher immediately peered through the glass window, saw it was me, and cracked open the door just enough to attempt to pull me in by my elbow, grabbing the fabric of my sleeve
"No, no," I exhaled in a breathless voice, "just tell me if Benson Douglass is in your class." I scanned the room. From the corner, with a consortium of girls encircling him like a school of fish, Benz waved. His half grin eased my quivering anxiousness. Once I saw with my own eyes that Benz was safe, I could check on my other students. Amazingly enough, the students sat unharmed and seemingly unaffected by the chaos swirling around their peaceful classroom.
I then resumed my race down the hall and up the side stairwell. As I pushed through the heavy metal doors, back into another riotous hallway, hysterical teenagers came charging toward me. Immersed in ear-piercing shrills, one name kept coming at me, buzzing in my ears like a thousand bees. Omar. Omar.
I could hear only the terror in their voices at the repetition of his name. As I rounded the corner to my classroom and office, corralling in as many followers to safety as I could, I came to a halt. At my feet, Omar laid somewhat propped up against the tiled wall, a circle of faces staring down in awe. There was a pool of blood surrounding him. I chucked the key to my classroom to an unidentified face and ordered the student to call 911 from my telephone. In a weak gesture, Omar looked up at me and said hello as though we were meeting for lunch at a neighborhood café. He held his hand to his bleeding head and kindly asked me to help him into the classroom so he could clean up. Always the gentleman.
"Omar," I whispered through my terror, "I think you have to go to the hospital." He looked up hesitantly and tried to muster a smile. "I'll be fine," he replied as he attempted to get up from the cold floor. "It just look bad."
"Stay down, man!" yelled one of two boys rushing down the hallway. I felt a shudder of fear at their words and threw my body to the ground beside Omar. Until that second, I hadn't had time to think about what was going on around us. From the cold floor, I ordered the students around me to go back into the classroom. "We have to clear the hallways. Please go inside," I insisted in the best teacher voice I could muster for the moment.
Two enormous boys, students I didn't know but who seemed to know me, began to help Omar up and in hard, howling voices told me that we all had to go in right then. "Clear the hallway!" someone yelled.
Something told me that they knew better how to handle this situation than I, and I followed Omar and his bodyguards into the classroom. Strangely, they settled Omar in my desk chair and left before I could say a word. I yelled after them telling them that they too should stay in my classroom until things settled down, but they looked back at me sheepishly, like two angels returning to their clouds in heaven.
I ran to my office, a sort of primitively built, tiny room in the back of my classroom, to grab a beige sweater that I kept there for late- afternoon grading sessions. I put it around Omar's big shoulders with the hopes it would ease his shivering. A sweet girl I had never seen in my classroom before brought a load of paper towels from the sink in the back of the connecting classroom, and I began to apply them to Omar's bleeding head.
Things seemed calmer for those few seconds as we sat and absorbed the situation. Two dozen frightened high school students stood at the door watching me take care of Omar. I tried finally, while mopping up Omar's hemorrhaging head, to conjure up the proper procedures for a riot that were carefully mapped out by the administration only months before. I wanted to do this the proper way—the way the school deemed appropriate—but somehow, instinct took over instead.
Ironically, the month before, I had been called down to the principal's office and given what they called a warning. When I arrived in Mr. Escandell's office, there sat Mrs. Marion, the assistant principal who was generally all about rules and impossible to warm to. She was the stereotypical city employee, counting her days until retirement and making sure that nothing marred her reputation as hard-ass along the way. On the couch sat Mr. McMann, math teacher and head of security. The students all thought he was cool as he roamed the halls in his washed out Levis and leather basketball sneakers. I just loved his auburn hair and the light freckles that crossed the bridge of his nose. He was adorable.
Mr. Escandell, a tall lanky man with a head of thick, dark hair and just enough gray in the temples to establish an aura of experience and prestige, thanked me for coming, while Mrs. Marion nodded her head in agreement, as though any new teacher might casually decline when asked to meet with the principal. They commended me for having retrieved a weapon from LaBron Howards the day before. I was elated that the school administration should take notice of what I thought was just part of my job as teacher in a dropout-prevention program in one of the city's toughest schools.
Grateful for their thanks and prepared to leave our short meeting feeling quite satisfied by their kudos, I stood up, gathering my bags. Mr. Escandell stopped me and asked me to show him how I retrieved the knife from LaBron. It seemed a simple question. "I just asked him for it. It was obvious that he was carrying it, and so many kids had already told me he had it hidden in his pants," I answered coyly.
"But how did you get it from him?" he repeated accentuating the word get.
"Show us," chimed in Mrs. Marion.
Obviously, I wasn't following their game plan. It didn't seem that difficult to grasp, but I went through the motions and put out my manicured, still somewhat tan from the last weeks of summer hand, palm up, as I did for LaBron the day before during fourth period.
All eyes on me. I glanced around the room expecting sincere adulation and found the praise I had seen in their faces now misconstrued on my part. They each looked from my outstretched arm to each other's faces in search of a leader. That is when I realized I had gone about it all wrong. At once, they began to make clear that what I did was both wonderful and terrible. Who knew? Why should it matter how I got the damn knife from him? Isn't it most important that it be out of my student's hands?
"You never ask for a weapon like that. Always have the student put it on the desk, and then you pick it up and remove it from their reach immediately," Mrs. Marion told me forcefully.
I retracted my arm, laying my fist in my lap, feeling the coolness that moments before had me pumped and gloating, evaporate from my rather petite body. I apologized softly all the while thinking that this seemed a ridiculous rule.
Mrs. Marion repeated the rule, like a mantra, three or four more times before the meeting ended. "It is imperative that a weapon be retrieved in the fashion described in the book, Mrs. Dalton. These rules were purposely written for your safety. We must remain strict about this sort of thing for the safety of our staff. Certainly you can understand that, can't you, dear?"
Mr. Escandell's face read discomfort as I shuffled past him, back to my classroom. I imagine that he knew right then that my apologies weren't necessarily sincere, but my love for my job and the students was. He was simply doing his job—running one of New York City's toughest high schools—and in my mind, so was I.
Mr. McMann said very little during that meeting. Later though, in the teacher's lounge, he came up behind me, placed his hand on my shoulder and told me not to be too bothered by the meeting earlier. "It happens," he claimed. "Just be glad you got the friggin' knife from the bastard."
I cringed at his calling one of my students such a name, but by then, I should have been accustomed to it. I looked at him and said, "Who knew?"
Mr. McMann laughed, and I shrugged as I was reminded of the time at least twenty years prior, when my little brother came home from school looking forlorn. When our mother asked him what happened in school that made him so upset, he started to yell, "Who knew? Who knew?"
"Who knew what?" Mom asked artlessly.
"Who knew that if you talked during a fire drill you get in trouble?" my brother cried.
"Did you talk during a fire drill, Michael?" Mom questioned, handing him a tissue.
"I just told the boy next to me leave his backpack and follow me. "Who knew? Who knew?" He continued. All night he sulked about being reprimanded by his kindergarten teacher, and for years, my sister and I plagued him about being such a goody-two shoes. "Who knew?" we would tease. "Who knew?"
So many of the teachers at Malcolm alleged to want to help these kids, but when it came down to it, the population, according to the staff, was overflowing with bastards and street trash. I didn't have the heart to tell my dear colleague that I wasn't completely perturbed. He also assured me that he would always be watching out for me. How sweet, I thought, feeling my inner strength begin to rev. The thought of being perceived as needy or frail, no matter how adorable this coworker was, made my innards cringe a bit. I tried to remain reasonable and remember that I was ultimately out of my element—a little backing couldn't do any harm.
"They have to cover their asses is all it was. Just be safe. You have a tough bunch up there," Mr. McMann reiterated.
Although I appreciated the shoulder squeeze and his kind words, I duly concluded, right then and there, that he was no more than a handsome facade with burly hands. It seemed a waste. He was right, though, about the fact that I did teach a tough bunch. I thought I could tackle it all, convinced there were few parameters or hurdles to cross that I could not handle on my own. I was sheltered and naïve, and thriving on it.
I held a wad of paper towel to Omar's head as I dialed the telephone number his trembling voice recited for me. "No answer," I told Omar. "Is there someplace else we can call?"
Now, Omar looked up at me as his deep, chocolaty eyes fluttered.
"Please don't pass out on me, son!" I said nervously and loudly, as though my strident voice would keep him from fainting.
Omar's breathing deepened, then halted for what seemed an eternity. His eyes widened as fear and apprehension strangled his thoughts. In a gentle whisper, he asked me if I would text his brother. It wasn't until much later that I thought of the stack of half-completed emergency cards that sat in my bottom desk drawer. If Omar's brother was whom he needed, then that was whom I would contact.
Feeling somewhat weak at the sight of my trembling fingers, I tried to turn my back a bit so no one else should see me shaking as I texted. I had to maintain the image of the stalwart and primed teacher. Any sign of weakness could be deadly. They never taught us about this sort of stuff in Columbia's graduate school.
His brother, Darrel, called back in a matter of seconds, initiating the conversation by resolutely grunting, "Who dis?"
In a deep, succinct pitch, before I could finish sharing the details, he told me that he was on his way. He was no stranger to calls like this apparently.
The buzz of a silenced line drummed in my ear like an alarm clock, reminding me of the situation behind me. I reached into the bottom drawer of my desk and tugged at my purse. I felt a twinge of guilt skim over me—even in the midst of an intense trauma, I wondered if any the students had noticed that I kept my desk drawer unlocked. Turning back to Omar, patient and still bleeding, I suggested we go. "Your brother will meet you at the hospital." I threw my purse over my shoulder and vowed to myself to keep the desk locked from then on.
The halls had started to quiet like the winding down of a storm. The rest of the school remained on lockdown, but the school nurse and two police officers banged at my door, a wheelchair in tow, to take Omar down to the ambulance. "I'll call your mom, Omar, and I will check on you later." I wanted to assure the lanky, black boy that sat quietly at the corner table for English class every day.
He reached for my hand, pouting like a mournful child. Omar was genuinely afraid. Was he scared to be alone? Scared of the ambulance? Fearful of where his mother might be? Terrified of what may await him down the hallway? Was it all of this and more? He reached for me to come with him, to hold his hand; and save him from the horrors that lurked in the hallways of this nebulous world where he was growing up.
I felt a blossoming need to be there for him. I would support him, hold tightly to his outstretched hand and comfort him—save him. It was time for me to give something to my student that I couldn't teach him in any classroom through countless standardized lessons. I was going to show him that love has no boundaries and that I cared and would surely hold his hand as we went to the hospital to stitch up his cracked head. Therefore, I did.
Excerpted from SHADES OF GRAY by Susanne Jacoby Hale Copyright © 2011 by Susanne Jacoby Hale. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great peace of literature. Its a must have!! Great conversation peice.
I expected this to be the familiar story of the teacher who rescues her students from their situations and turns out to be the hero. How refreshing and unexpected it was to get a peek into the head and heart of the loving and devoted Olivia Dalton, who discovers that people who seem to have very little are able to give so much to those who seem to have everything. There’s not much I like better than discovering a new author to enjoy, and then being even more pleasantly surprised by how much her story could affect me. While Shades of Gray may open with the tension of violence and fear in an inner city school, it quickly switches up to a heartwarming story about the unexpected ways people can be rescued by love. Can’t wait to see what Ms. Jacoby-Hale comes up with next.
Intense! Riveting! The book begins with a literal explosion and maintains this intensity throughout the book. It pulled at my emotions, and I marveled at how the main character strived to help students who needed help the most, and maintain her own optimism and inner strength. To say I loved the book would be an understatement. It was simply fantastic. I can’t wait to read her next book.