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Crossing The Line

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Suddenly, almost naturally, she becomes a daily visitor in my office, and I'm helping her with one crisis after another. She demands that I stop everything to listen and talk. And then, without my offering, she starts eating half of my sandwiches, making chains out of my paper clips, and storing her books in my desk drawers.

And then one day, this kid who has been the highlight of my workdays for more than a year, who has made school her home, is absent.

It turns out that she has been thrown out of her house and placed in a group home in Manhattan. Friends are not allowed to visit; only family members--family and teachers. It is Christmastime. She is 15, and she is alone.

Alarms go off in my head as I walk down 17th Street with a gift-wrapped Walkman. It is the first day of Christmas vacation. Teachers need vacations. "She's a little upset,'' the sister at the front desk says with a faint smile. "She was expecting you at 12 o'clock.''

"Jeez. Oh, sorry. I told her 1 o'clock.'' It is 12:43. My heart is pounding. The elevator makes a screeching sound as it bounces onto the lobby floor. She walks out, red blotches under her eyes. She mumbles, "Hi,'' while staring at the floor. We sign out at the front desk. I promise to bring her back by 3. I put my hand on her shoulder as we head out for hamburgers. She flinches. I have crossed the line.

Mike Frenkel The author is an adviser and English teacher at Westinghouse Vocational and Technical High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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