My visit to Principal Bronson’s school started in the quietest way. I arrived by way of a gate at the far north side of the yard. Soft soled shoes. Sweet breeze. Seagulls circling. Empty, peaceful playground.
Then, as I crossed a set of four-square courts – a passing delivery truck banged over a speed bump as the door to a bungalow slammed open against the door stop. At once, two dozen second graders – small, wide-eyed, and screaming, spilled out onto the blacktop – bolting to the to every corner. Pulling up the rear, a boy shot through the door. He had a long shock of black hair that ran to the middle of his back and he could run. With one hand gripping his too-big jeans, and the other fist clenching an open bottle of red paint, he scanned the yard for targets.
As paint boy honed in on a hapless classmate, a fast yard supervisor swept in and scooped him up. He was carted off, I learned later, to Room 15. And meanwhile, a frazzled woman stepped from the Bungalow, face, top, and pants spattered in red paint. She held to the door jam to steady herself. Only then did I find out the boy’s name:
“Where is Pablo?’
I pointed in the general direction and it was only then that I realized that the woman listing in the doorway was, in fact, Principal Bronson. Doctor Principal, the kids called her. She spotted me at the same time and then seemed to rise to the surface. She scanned the playground, and looked lost.
“How are you?” I asked as I approached. She did not answer. She spat a few words into her hand-held radio and walking toward the main building. I followed. We had an appointment after all.
“Mr. Bunyan. Do you copy? Bunyan, come in please.”
I heard a deep male voice reply: “P is here. I have him.” Doctor Principal spat into her radio: “Mr. Bunyan, keep him there.” He replied: “We will be in Room 15.”
She let the walkie-talkie drop and stopped at the foot of a short flight of stairs that led into the first floor. I saw a tear gather. I placed a gentle palm on her elbow and guided her to a bench. Children darted, played, said hello, and looked toward their principal with eyes full of wonder. She and I sat on the bench as I listened to her breathing. As she pulled herself together, I learned that P’s mother would likely not come for him, that he had bombed out three rooms, overturned chairs in a fourth and that he would, maybe, go home for the day.
When a child hurls red paint, the paint penetrates. Chin, hair, and through to the skin. The boy who had made her a target became a letter exchanged in radio communications as different individuals call social workers, the boy’s mother, and the police.
Room Fifteen is a place where we all go. It can exist as a quiet corner in a loud room or a pretend place within a child’s mind. For “P”, Room Fifteen had a door and a lock and a deep-voiced man who kept him safe. For the principal, Room Fifteen would come in a different way, starting with me and her on a bench beneath the bright sun.
Peace comes, and learning along with it. Sometimes, we must wait. Waiting cuts a path that leads to whatever comes next.