Sam Winchester. An interesting boy. He came into my 4th grade class early in the third term, and despite my repeated attempts at conversation with him, all I really knew about him was that he was very quiet, very smart, and very self-assured.
One afternoon, the Friday of the second week he was with us, I handed out drawing paper and markers, and asked the class to draw a picture of things that meant love to them. As they worked, I walked around the classroom, looking at what each child was drawing.
Most of the results were what I expected – toys, dogs, candy, stick drawings of parents and siblings. Typical feelings of typical nine year olds.
Sam Winchester however had an interesting picture in front of him. The paper was divided into four sections, and each section had a more interesting – even disturbing - picture than the last.
One section depicted a tall, narrow box with what looked to be astrological symbols on it, and next to it what might be a mortar and pestle. Another section showed a bed with two little people in it, next to a window, and what looked to be a figure looming over the bed, holding a weapon of some sort. The third section seemed to be a drawing of a cell phone. The final section depicted the back of a large figure, arms extended over its head, with a snarling dog at its feet.
At the end of class, I collected the pictures, dismissed the other students, and asked Sam to stay behind.
"This is an interesting picture." I told him. "You did understand the assignment, didn't you?"
"Well, I'm not sure you did." I looked at his paper again. "Why did you draw these things?"
"I was supposed to draw something that reminded me of love." He said. Then he added, "You didn't say I was supposed to draw something that reminded you of love. Did you?"
I chose to ignore that question.
"What do these pictures mean?"
"They can't mean love?"
"I didn't say they can't mean love."
"But you're implying it."
He was much more savvy than any nine year old I'd ever met.
"No, I'm not implying that." I used my best 'I'm the teacher, there's no point in arguing with me' voice.
Sam Winchester was not impressed.
"You told me to draw something that reminded me of love. I did. Now you're asking me what my pictures mean. That implies that what I drew doesn't mean love."
All the while he clarified this for me, he kept his face a study in neutral.
"I'd just like you to explain them to me."
"Sure." He said. I should've known that was too easy. "When all the other kids have to explain their pictures to you."
I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and wondered if he was too young for law school.
"Your pictures don't represent the typical ideas of love." I tried again. I expected Sam to agree with me. Or argue with me. Or have no answer for me. What I didn't expect was:
"So to you love is represented by material gestures? Money, presents, video games? That doesn't sound like love to me, that sounds like lazy parenting."
And still his expression remained neutral. His voice was as casual as if we were discussing sports teams.
"Sam -." I began. I was the teacher, I was the adult, we would stand here all afternoon if that's what it took.
But another voice interrupted us from the classroom door. Sam's brother Dean.
"Yo, Sammy! You coming or what? Dad just pulled up."
Sam shrugged to his brother and looked at me.
"We done?" He asked me.
"Done? Done with what?" Dean asked. He walked up to us like someone used to doing exactly what he wanted, even around teachers. He looked at Sam's picture on my desk. "What's that?"
I was about to tell him that he was not part of this discussion, but Sam spoke first.
"I was supposed to draw something that reminds me of love. She's saying I didn't."
Before I could act or react, Dean had pulled the picture from my grasp and set it on the desk Sam was standing next to.
"Wow, this is great!"
Sam smiled at the praise but I knew Dean was only patronizing his younger brother.
Apparently I was wrong.
"The Lucky Charms." Dean pointed to the box I'd thought was covered with astrological symbols and the apparent bowl and spoon I'd thought was a mortar and pestle. "You remembered that I let you have the last of the Lucky Charms that day. And Dad -." He pointed to the figure looming over the bed. "This is when that bad guy got away from the State Police near us, and Dad stayed home from work that night and stayed up and kept watch over us until he heard on the radio that they'd caught the guy again the next morning."
With each observation from his brother, Sam's smile deepened, like his brother's praise was all that mattered to him in the world.
"Does your father have a gun?" I asked of the weapon I thought I saw in the picture. Dean gave me a look that told me in no uncertain terms that while I might be near them, I was not part of their conversation. Then he continued remarking on Sam's picture.
"And the phone - that's when Dad calls us when he's at work so he knows we're okay and we know he's okay. And this -" He pointed to the last picture. "That's when that black dog jumped at you and I scared it away."
Sam nodded, still smiling, and Dean bumped shoulders with him.
"Cool job, man. This is the best."
Sam lost his smile.
"She doesn't think so." He said of me and Dean gave me a look up and down. "She thinks love is stuff."
"I guess some people do." Dean said after a moment. It sounded like - no, it was - a condemnation. "C'mon, let's go. Dad's waiting."
Sam picked up his backpack and Dean picked up the picture. They started to leave.
"You can't take that." I said of the picture. Instead of Sam's lawyerly skills this time, I got Dean's.
"Is it yours?" He asked.
"It's an assignment I gave him in class."
"Is he being graded on it?"
I took a moment and a breath and counted my blessings that no other students ever displayed such knife-sharp arguments.
Dean cocked a smile that was all victory and no courtesy.
They left, picture in hand.
I thought I might never look at love the same way again.