The red markers started to disappear from classrooms. In some of the brand-new marker boxes, the count became seven instead of eight. It was always the red one missing. We, the teachers, hadn’t thought much of it initially; rarely do we end the school year with the same amount of supplies with which we begin. But that was changing now that the students needed red to make corrections and complete their schoolwork—or, for some, to color in the hearts they’d scribbled on love notes. A blend of orange and yellow wouldn’t suffice as a substitute, so we were determined to find the culprit.
But even before investigating, red writing started showing up all over our classrooms. On desks. On folders. On looseleaf. On whiteboards. It became clear that the red markers had a new owner. And that owner he left us little opportunity to apply our Law and Order sensibilities: He used the red to tag his name. And by tagging, I don’t mean the kind of elaborate graffiti that once covered the murals at 5 Pointz in Queens—it was just his handwritten name. If his handwriting were a font, it’d be pretty close to Comic Sans: child-like, nothing distinct or loud—besides the color.
That’s how he was, too. Deion was not one of the more boisterous students in my ninth-grade English class. He was a tall and skinny tree, a student who didn’t take up much space. I had one student who’d often ask her classmates to smell her armpit the instant she entered the classroom. Or I had another who’d always spend the class loudly complaining that I was assigning them “mad work”—too many handouts for her to handle. Deion wasn’t like that. He never caused much fanfare upon entering, even though he typically arrived late. He would come in like Casper, typically finding one of his friends—a girl who’d often leave her headphones in during class while reading Crank—and plop right next to her. (Few students cared that I had a seating chart.) After a few minutes of schoolboy flirtations, he’d be ready to participate in the freewriting sessions I held every class, scribbling in his makeshift notebook: looseleaf in a red folder, red marker in between blue lines. Even though he’d arrive when half the period was over, he always tried to make up for lost time.