I’m sitting across from the Head of Upper School.
He’s studying me, interrogating me.
Every now and then he’ll write something down on a clipboard and urge me to go on or tell me my story doesn’t add up. And I just sit, wondering how did it come to this?
I know he can see the truth hiding behind my wide-open eyes, my airtight fists and the mangled words that sputter from my mouth.
I can feel it in my gut — there’s no way out.
But of all the terrible moments that lead up to, consist of and linger long after a suspension, that’s not the worst. It’s not even that bad compared to the others.
There’s the moment I feel like a prisoner in my own school, locked in the conference room for four hours. They take my phone, my computer, my schoolwork. They leave me with just my thoughts, the walls and decades of yearbooks.
Or the moment I stand in front of my peers on the Discipline Council and ask for mercy, trying to speak clearly through the lump in my throat and the tears welling up.
There’s all the times people tell me I’ve blown my chance of going to college, and now there’s all the times I get to prove them wrong.
Or the day I spend at Hillcrest High School and see exactly where I’m going if I slip up one more time. I’ve never walked through metal detectors on the way to class before.
There’s all the moments when the moms in the cafeteria line won’t even look me in the eye. People I’ve known for years suddenly turn their backs on me.
Or the moment a teacher I think I can count on sees me in the halls and walks the other way. Too ashamed to even look at me.
But none of those come close to the worst moment.
That’s when my mom walks into the Upper School Office — still in her tennis clothes, blonde hair flowing from under her visor.
Her face, usually a bright smile and radiant eyes.
Her face, blank and confused.
I look into those hazel eyes we share, and I know this isn’t going to be easy. I’m ordered to explain.
At first it’s just few trickles of truth. I can’t do it. But then the dam bursts.
And as it does, she doesn’t strangle me.
She doesn’t scream, “Will, you’re such an idiot.”
She just takes my hand in hers, squeezes it tight and tells me everything’s going to be all right. Tells me she still loves me.
Why didn’t she yell at me? Why didn’t she get mad?
It would’ve been easier I think.
But her holding my hand, supporting me, loving me – that’s a hundred times worse.
How could I do such a terrible thing to such a kind woman? How am I worthy of her love?
Being suspended for five days didn’t change me.
Visiting Hillcrest High for a day didn’t change me.
Writing the required reflective essays definitely didn’t change me.
But her holding my hand. Her loving me when nobody else would. That changed me.