|We were reading in English class today, and as had become customary lately in that class, Ken just put his head down and tried to gain some of the sleep that eluded him every night. The lecture was over and everyone was just doing other work when he started shaking. I glanced around the room, hoping that no one would notice, and caught Nicole’s eye. There was so much worry there. We held each other’s glance for the longest time. Then, Mrs. Green and I looked at each other. She knew I cared a lot for him and I bet she even suspected that we were in love. She gave me a look that asked if he was alright and I replied out loud “Probably not”. By this time his shaking was drawing the attention of a couple of other people in the room. Mrs. Green called me to her desk and asked me to do whatever needed to be done. I rubbed his shoulder, which made me nervous; I wasn’t out yet to everyone in that room.
At first he shook more. Then he was back to normal. I gently nudged his back, but he began shaking again. Finally, I pressed firmly on his shoulder, and he began to wake up, though he kept his head down. Mrs. Green was still quite worried, but at least the class’s focus wasn’t on Ken anymore.
The bell rang and everyone left, but he didn’t get up, I waited there with him, knowing that our Mrs. Smith would understand completely why I might be late to 4th hour. Nicole stayed behind for a while also, just to make sure that I could handle him , at least for now. I sent her on.
The bell rang for the next class to start; it was Mrs. Green’s planning period. She told me that we could have the classroom to ourselves until 5th hr, when she had another class.
She left. I took Ken’s hand, knowing the panic that was about to ensue from the dream he was surely having. I just waited there for what seemed like forever until, suddenly, Ken became filled with desperate animation, he gasped, incredibly short of breath. The grip on my hand was intense. It felt like my hand was in a vice that kept becoming smaller. The look on his face alone almost made me burst into tears. We stayed there looking at each other, me kneeling on the floor and him sitting awkwardly in his chair, for what seemed like years. I was so worried about him. He finally said something along the lines of thank you for being here, and he never wanted to lose me.
I walked him down to the counseling office, but of course (stupid school district) none were in. So the secretary and I decided that Ken should probably go home for the rest of the day, even though he’d already missed a lot of school. Unfortunately, he had no way of getting there in his current condition. Both his parents were at work and they were struggling to keep jobs in the first place. After some thinking, she suggested that I take him home.
Getting permission to do a thing like this was beyond hell, especially in a public school district. My mom was kind of weird about it, but hey, that’s her. The principal was very adamant about me returning to school immediately, as was the security officer that was in the office.
Leaving Ken for only a moment in the care of the office staff, I went immediately to my primary place of solace: The band room was where Ken and I always left all of our stuff, and his backpack and jacket were right where he’d left it that morning - beside the drum cabinet. I grabbed my varsity jacket and then went to get his. Mrs. Smith knew what was going on; Nicole had told her. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have friends like her or such an understanding band director. I knew I had other caring friends in there, but I couldn’t bear to look any of them in the eyes.
I walked Ken out to my car, holding his hand all the way… it didn’t matter if people saw us, even if I wasn’t out yet. Delivering him safely home was the only thing in my mind at the moment. We got in the car and drove to his house, silent the entire way. When we got there (as always) he had to put his dog away before I walked in. He came back out and opened the door and we just stood in his doorway in a powerful embrace for the longest time. Next I helped him take his hoodie off (he couldn’t do it on his own right now) and guided him to his bed. We both lay down on the navy colored sheets and got into another embrace.
I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. My eyes were glued across the room to where Ken and Ron sat together, yet so far apart. Then it came, as it habitually did in Mrs. Green's class as of late. Ken shook and took sharp painful breaths. She couldn't see his face but she knew it was contorted in pain.
Ron was sitting behind Ken, glancing sideways hoping no one else in the class would notice. I caught his eye, only for a moment at first, but soon turning into a stare and exchanged desperately frightened glances. We looked for solutions in each others eyes, the normal brightness of Ron’s eyes was absent, along with it the constant sense of knowing exactly what to do. Mrs. Green caught Ron’s eye, they had some kind of exchange and he answered out loud “probably not”. He then went up to her desk, there was some more rapid, silent exchange and he returned to his seat. Hours (in reality only minutes) later, the bell rang and the class fled as usual as if nothing had happened or was still happening.
"Do you want me to stay?" I asked, making the short journey through the rows of desks to where my two best friends were.
"No...I...I'll be fine. I may need you later though."
Neither took their eyes off Ken as they spoke. They were acutely aware of Mrs. Green's presence. I put my hand on Ron’s shoulder.
"Wake him up." I almost pleaded.
"I will. Go to class, and tell Mrs. Smith”
The normal trek to the band room involved a short walk down the main hallway then a right turn amongst plenty of laughter, complaints about homework, and time for friends. Today’s trip was in silent meditation. Entering the room that held so many of my fondest memories now felt like a cage…no worse than a cage, she couldn’t even see what was happening on the outside of it.
Scales, warm-ups the monotony of it all was killing me.
What was going on?!?
Were they still in Mrs. Green’s room?
About half way through the class Ron finally rushed in, a composed face to the untrained eye, I could see pain and desperation simmering underneath. He and Mrs. Smith exchanged glances; so much was said between the teacher and student who were more like friends than anything else. He grabbed his varsity jacket then rushed to the percussion cabinet where Ken always left his. All but ignoring the glances of his other caring friends, he was gone within seconds of his arrival.
I could hardly stand it, sitting here playing my clarinet like a fool. Each moment that passed was another moment I wanted to fly out of the band room, speed down Lake Rd. and make sure everything was alright.
As was always the truth, the band room was my first stop after returning to school grounds. Mrs. Smith suggested that I go to the office to make sure they realized I was back. I went to the office to report back in and Ms. O’neil, who had recently arrived, took me into her office. She was by far my favorite counselor at the school, and for good reason.
“Ron, is Ken alright by himself at home?”
I guess the secretary had filled her in.
“I honestly don’t know.” Saying this made me realize exactly how true it was.
She said that despite the fact that it was against the rules, she thought I should go back and be with him… so I did, I left right then… but officer Shultz caught me in the parking lot and made me go back inside. I didn’t even care that I was missing pre-calc, so I went in the band room and sat by myself with the lights off.
It couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes when Nicole walked in and put her arm around my back…
Lunch was torture. I didn’t eat. I just sat in the band room, doing nothing.
Thankfully, pre-calc was all about something I already understood and had finished. My concentration troubles, already soaring in the higher math class were made exponentially worse by the current situation. I raised my hand knowing I would be permitted to “use the bathroom”, fleeing the class for wherever my feet took me. A beyond trusted member of the student body I was free to roam the halls but, not to a whole lot of surprise, ended up right in the band room.
The door’s squeak only intensified the way the dimly lit room seemed to capture all that was ricocheting about her mind. In desperation I looked around the room and found Ron, slumped in the corner. His shining terrified eyes, still a beautiful blue despite everything, met hers and with out a word she hugged him. This was a simple gesture the two shared frequently but this time, it was different. They sat and clung to each other. Ron cried heavily on my shoulder, this must have been the first time I had ever seen him so upset. I felt numb, I knew I had to be strong for him, but for the first time I couldn’t cry, speak, or comfort. The only thing I could feel was an oncoming of anger.
The bell rang and Nicole and I walked to our final class of the day: Choir. The next hour at school was pure agony. I was in a constant state of worry about him. I finally gave up trying to leave him alone and texted him. I said that I’d be coming right after the final school bell rang. He replied that it couldn’t come soon enough. In choir that day we were taking a test in the auditorium; I think it was naming chords or some s***. Obviously I finished in like 10 seconds. I always finished early. I wanted so bad to ask one of the G’s to let me go early, but I knew that they couldn’t do that. Even if they wanted to they would probably get into trouble. Over the next 45 min or so, I felt hopeless, sitting in the middle of the auditorium… just waiting for time to pass more quickly. The bell finally rang and I literally ran to the band room to grab our coats and then to my car. I sped all the way to his house, I may have reached more than 70mph on that stretch of Lake Rd. that is only posted 35. I walked into his house, and heard silence which worried me beyond what you could imagine.
As I whipped my varsity jacket off it got stuck in the door, damn, you’d think I’d have closed the door before taking it off but I was so worried, and there was still no sound coming from his room where I had left him just hours before.
My shoes were being a pain in the ass, too. Why couldn’t they just slide off my feet like they do on so many other occasions? Still no sound.
This portion of time had to be less than a minute but I swear my senses were more acutely alert than they ever had been. The calendar with the days that Sam’s nursery or whatever he went to during the day had finally been changed to January, but I couldn’t remember if that had been since I left the house earlier that day or if it was still unchanged then also. The picture of him that didn’t really even look like him was hanging up near the calendar, his sleeveless shirt making me wonder exactly what he was like earlier. How this all ran through my mind while I was taking my coat and shoes off I don’t know, but I remember distinctly thinking each of these things.
As I walked the couple of steps to the door, I observed that nothing and everything had changed about his room from a couple of hours previous. I walked in the doorway and there he was.. sleeping? God I hoped that he was sleeping. The room was in its normal disarray, the desk piled with books to damn near eyelevel, the box from the new macbook he had gotten still casually placed under the chair, the water-stained, black and white, senior picture of Kim pinned to one of the shelves. The dark blue paint on his walls was more ominous than ever as I realized that maybe things weren’t exactly how they were when I had left, something was different, I just couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. Dune was on the floor next to his hand dangling off the side of the bed… he was somewhere in the middle of it. He inhaled sharply, thank god. Now that I knew he was alive I began to think of other things. His face was held in a sickening grimace as I stood over him wondering how scared he was going to be when I woke him up this time. I sat down next to him and touched his shoulder, he instantly turned over and sat up and kind of yelped. I moved my hand to his knee trying to calm him down to no avail, he threw his head rapidly from side to side, presumably trying to figure out just exactly where he was. I was so scared. I tried to look him straight in the eye, but his head was moving too fast. I told him that it was just me, that I’d come back. I continued with things like “it’s alright, settle down I’m here”.
He clutched me, there was more fear in that hug than I’ve seen or realized in any other person at any other time in my life. He just held on to me as if I was the last thing he would ever be able to touch in the physical world. … It started to become painful but I just squeezed back, unable to let him know of my pain for fear of him not getting every bit of comfort he needed from our current embrace. I loved him, more than I know how to possibly describe, it was a deep burning passion for his and our well-being, seeing him hurt made me hurt just as much as he did… it tore me up, and it was that love that kept me holding him for what must have been more than an hour without any movement at all aside from his rapid breathing, and the both of us coming closer to tears.
He started to release some pressure in the embrace, and the atmosphere changed from that of sheer panic to that of imminent disaster. I have never been more worried about someone ever before in my lifetime up to this point.
I ignored the calls from my mom that regularly came around 5:00 wondering where I was that night, and stayed at his house until both of his parents were home. I was so ridiculously worried about him. Not a whole lot was said that day, but I remember thinking that he must have taken some comfort in me holding him for those hours.
Ron eventually went home that night. He didn’t want to, but his parents would have been too worried for him to just stay. He talked to Nicole on the way home. The memory of the day’s events would haunt Nicole, Ken, and Ron for years to come.