Princess makes things up. Not that she lies. Instead, the dust she stirs blows from some hidden place and forms into shapes solid enough to collect into stories and give her a beginning and middle that might tumble toward an end.

With her shiny black hair tied back neat and tight, this ten year old girl came to school today dressed in the same blue sweatshirt she wore yesterday.  At the same time, I got a call from a panicked woman, a nurse, she said, who worked at our nearby clinic. She spat out short sentences to describe a girl she had just seen being choked outside a coffee shop. Forty year old guy in a brown tweed jacket – the choker. She told me she had stepped out front and in between to intervene. But the girl and the man walked off. Come back they would not  so she, seeking resolution, called every nearby school.

Do you know this girl?

I sat at my desk listening to the description – black hair, dark blue sweatshirt, neat, maybe ten years old. There, framed in the door to my office, she stood.  Princess. No, could it be? I asked the ten year old to step through my door. Red marks on her neck. A tear in her collar.

Ma’am, I will call you back.

Facts blew out as short puffs with periods. Brown tweed belonged to uncle.  Parents had left her. Mom lived somewhere in Mississippi. Never called anymore. Tweed throttled her since she was four. He choked her today because she had eaten candy without asking.  He choked her last week for forgetting her homework. A month ago for talking back. Whatever.

Her gathering windstorm began when she was five. Pinning, throttling, smacking, and the backhand slap. All included. She could not remember the number of times. You have the right to safety and no one has the right to treat you these ways, I said. And she, at age ten, had eyes of a centurion.

Stop asking, said she. Stop telling me what to do. Just let me be. I am standing here, not there. The girl that got choked didn’t come with me to school. Don’t ask me about what happened before. Let me be what I want. Then she said – I don’t have a shadow.

Each morning, I sweep the playground. Clearing away the day before helps me start over. I work my way around the edges, “pan-picking” a hodgepodge collection of dust covered discards. Another principal told me that you can’t sweep yesterday away. Still, I keep sweeping.  He even suggested that I make friends with the dust. It might be all you’ve got, he said. Make peace with it, said he.

But redemption is an active thing – a movement calls for take and give – thrust and yield.  Princess tells me that clearing out what doesn’t serve is child’s play – an assurance in  a nine year old that I can change any time I want, and take it whichever way I need to go. It’s as  simple and impossible as that.


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