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Monday, May 27, 2024
<p>The Avenue&#x27;s Literary Corner features poetry, personal essays, short stories and other creative works from local writers. </p>

The Avenue's Literary Corner features poetry, personal essays, short stories and other creative works from local writers.

My body is reacting. There is a cotton ball or two or three, bulbous in the back of my throat. I feel so restricted that my eyes glow red, glossy. My phone watches my visceral response as it blares out the words of a news article.

With my fingers clenching, scratching at my palm, I remember.

A Florida springtime in 2021. I met lots of children, and they took a liking to me that made me feel important and loved.

Some were little-little, with sticky tangles in their hair and some were older with colors painted through the locks. All of them were bright and aglow with the sort of wonderstruck eyes and button noses that pointed upward when they looked at me.

I was so surprised by how much they looked to me for support.

Like I could keep them safe; I could keep their words safe, even though they had only just met me. I could hold their hands through walks in the woods. I could lift them to the top shelf. I could shield them from the hurt of those who didn’t understand — not yet at least.

I met a fifth grader whose name reminded me of my favorite movie in middle school.

She was one of the brave ones who would carry rejected soggy tree branches around the woods with a trail of like-minded but soft-spoken friends following close behind her.

I would lean against the railing, taking in the parade of children and calling out to “stop running!” every so often; but mostly, I just observed.

The day was covered in pearly gray clouds, and the leaves of the canopy of trees overhead dripped water onto the heads of the students. They didn’t care about getting wet, they didn’t care about the slick black mush beneath their tennis shoes and they didn’t care about the shoe prints they would be sure to leave through the hallway into their classroom.

When I announced to the student’s dismay that after an extended time of play, it was time to come back inside, I was met with groans, but no verbalized objections.

Some started racing past me to the inside, and I stayed behind waiting for the stragglers and thinking about the mud; hoping the real teachers wouldn’t judge me for the mud.

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The tiny ringleader and her crew were the last few. As I turned toward the door inside, I sensed hesitance. I looked down, and the ringleader took this as her chance to tell me something.

My memory fails to give you her exact words, though I wish I had them somewhere tucked away so I could be sure they would remain safe forever.

She said something along the lines of “Ms. Jillian. Someone was saying that being [redacted] is gross...” Then there was that hesitation again. My show of shock. Then a deep breath, and she continued, “And some of us are [redacted.]” My show of deep understanding. And she concluded, “Like, I’m [redacted].”

When we came back inside, the students were somber, tuckered out and caked in dirt.

My heart pounded inside my chest with an intensity that made no sense coming from a 20-year-old standing at the head of a room of 10- and 11-year-olds.

Nervously, I gave my version of a reprimanding that went a lot like, “I would be extremely disappointed to think some of you would say things to your classmates that would not only hurt them but make them feel unaccepted by you.”

As I paced between wooden desks, I gave stern glares to each of them and could sense the worriedness from their hung heads and twitchy hands.

And through the rest of my day with them — once my ringleader had surely gotten past it, as told by the way she whirled through the room, whispered in ears and passed notes, joyously — I continued to think about it.

I thought about how I could’ve done better. I could have said something that would have made more of an impact.

And now, it’s a year later. I still think about it sometimes.

But it’s a year later, and now if that brave, kinetic child came up to me and she told me what she told me last spring, she would be punished for it.

My words that I thought weren’t enough, would probably now be far too much.

Now we are told that our words should be used to expose the narratives of children like the one who looked at me and something told her that she was safe to confide in me.

“Don’t say [redacted],” they say. But if someone does say it, then go ahead and out them to the office, and the office will out them to their parents and whatever reaction the parents have is their right to have.

But the children will be all right, right? They won’t suffer from any mental effects from this, right? There’s already something mentally wrong with them if they’re [redacted], right?

And my ringleader was not the only child who came out to me in my short time spent substitute teaching. I want to say there were at least three.

So, you’re telling me, had they come out to me a year later, I would be expected to not meet them with quiet understanding and assurance but take them by the wrist and tug them to the office, out of a closet they may not have been ready or safe to exit, yet?

It is ethically unjust. There is no way out of this being purely senseless.

It is regressive and horribly, unnervingly wrong.

And children will suffer because of it.

It is a year later, springtime again. I don’t get to see the students anymore because I am back at my university in Gainesville, and they are at their elementary school in Tampa.

But I will now live knowing that those radiant, ferociously true children that told me something about themselves that should never have to be kept hidden if they don’t want it to be, will suffer from it.

They will suffer.

This piece was submitted to the Avenue's Literary Corner. The section features poems, personal essays, short stories and other creative works from local writers.

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Jillian Rodriguez

Jillian Rodriguez is a third-year public relations major with a double-minor in English and women’s studies. She can be reached at or @jillygabrielle on Instagram and Twitter for more info. You can find her portfolio at

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