Sunday, May 7, 2017
Charlie's Choice 1.2
"God, Brad. What am I gonna do? He seemed so miserable this morning. So shut off."
"Man, I think it's time you accepted that something really is wrong. This isn't just going to go away on it's own. It isn't going to just... disappear."
"Fuck. I know that. But I was hoping that over time that he would start to open up again. Start to feel like he could just be a kid." Running my hands through my hair, I could just feel more of it turning gray.
"I wish I knew what to say."
"I know. I do, too. I'm excited and terrified to get him from school."
"How did the teacher react?"
"Oh, she was great. She's an older lady, but not OLD. Probably in her 50's. She tried to cut me off when trying to tell her his name." I chuckled.
"Well, that may be for the best. Maybe what he needs is for someone to get to him."
"I hope so. I don't want her to push him too much, but she seemed to understand. The first set of conferences will be at the end of next week, so I'm sure we'll have a great deal to talk about then. I thought about asking her to stay over today to discuss our home life. I want her to understand and know he isn't impaired or abused. Because that's a fear of mine. The last thing I need is Family Services showing up on my doorstep."
"Sounds like a plan to me."
"It's almost 2. I think I'm going to go ahead and head over there. I may have to wait around a bit, but hanging out there is as good as here."
"Well, before you go can I ask you something?" Brad and I had been friends since our own kindergarten years. I knew he was serious when he asked if he could ask.
"If you can't, I don't know who can."
"Well, here's the thing. Do you remember that girl you talked to a few months back? The blonde who worked over at the factory in the office?" Ah. It was becoming clear now. Brad, too, was single. Except he was single by choice. Other than a few girlfriends in high school and college, he had remained mostly a bachelor. We joked often about how with his good lucks, he should have kids in every county. He was good at his job and adventurous, to boot.
"Yeah. Can't think of her last name now, though. First name is Becky. Why?"
"Did you, ya know, hook up with her?"
"No. At the time, 'hooking up' was the VERY last thing on my mind. She didn't offer, I didn't ask. We just went out once or twice, talked, and hung out. In the end, it was too soon for me and really, it felt more like friendship."
"How anyone could look at that woman and think only of friendship, I have no idea."
"Well, I did, " I laughed. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I uh.. sorta ran into her the other day. Literally. And she's pregnant."
"Did you just mow her down or actually speak to her?"
"I spoke. Apologized and offered to take her to lunch. That's when she said I wouldn't say that if I could see her belly. Then she burst into tears. I felt so bad, I just hugged her. That was all. I held her for a bit then she stiffed up like a tree trunk and took off. I got it in my head then that maybe it was because I was friends with you. And well... from the looks of her, or rather the lack of, the timing would be about right. She doesn't even LOOK pregnant, ya know?"
"I thought so, too."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"Probably something stupid like look her up."
"Alrighty then. You have fun with that."
"Hey, tell Charlie boy I said hi. I'll see ya later."
I felt like a teenager on a first date I was so nervous. My palms were sweating. The ol' stomach was rolling around like a world class roller coaster.
"Might as well go on up," I said to myself, opening the car door. As I was walking up, I saw another parent standing at the K doors waiting. I guess I wasn't as early as I thought. But it was no great relief; I knew that my kid's day probably had been very different from her child's. She turned as I came to a stop, and smiled. I stood stunned for just a moment. Ashy blonde with porcelain skin, she was a beautiful woman. And looked vaguely familiar. Her face was open and her smile was sweet. As I got closer, I could see her eyes were blue.
"I see someone else was anxious."
"Yeah. I'm busted. I couldn't even stand to sit in my car any longer."
She smiled again and said, "I can understand that. First time parents almost always feel anxious for the first few days. Especially if your baby is a crier. I've seen a lot of that this year."
Just like that, I felt like I was going to be sick.
"Are you ok?"
"Not really. We've had a crazy year and I'm really hoping that there was no crying. Would they have called me? They wouldn't just let him cry, would they? They would let me know if he was really upset, right?"
"Well, yes. But it's pretty normal for a few of them to cry. They've never been away from their parents so they get a wee bit emotional. No need to worry. This school is great about working with the kids. I would even say that they many times work outside of the box so the kids get what they need vs. just what the state says they are required. You looked a little green there for a second."
"Sorry. Like I said, it's been a trying year."
"That's the first release bells. The K kids aren't available to be picked up until the second set of bells."
"You sound like an old hand at this."
She laughed. "I guess I am. My mom is a teacher here. I work here some assisting when I'm not at my own job. And I have a son here in the 1st grade."
"OH. That makes perfect sense then. You probably think I'm being silly. Who is your mom?"
"No, not silly at all. If anything, sweet. Most dads aren't very involved. Some due to work, some due to attitude. So, it's a nice change of pace to meet a guy who's active in his child's life. My sweet Momma is Ms. Cantrell."
"No. Why?" She looked confused. But it rang true to me. She DID look like a much younger version of Ms. Cantrell. The same open demeanor and face shape. Even the hair was similar. The difference was the blue eyes.
"That's my son's teacher."
"Oh, that's great! He'll love her. She's amazing, even if I do say so myself."
"Good to know."
Other parents were starting to walk up. I hoped this meant that soon, the next set of bells would ring so we could go in. Talking to daughter Cantrell, I had finally caught my breath and didn't feel quite so much like passing out. But I was still a bundle of nerves.
RING RING RING RING!
"Are you coming?"
"Oh yes. Just glazed over for a second," I said smiling back. And in we went.
Walking down the hallway, to Charlie's room, I worried about what I was going to find. I worried about his day, how I should react, if he ate his snack, or if he just sat at his desk all day with his head down. When I stepped into the room the last thing I thought to see was my Charlie. Standing over by the windows, holding hands with another boy.
"Yes, Ms. Cantrell? How were things today? Is everything alright?"
"Oh, yes yes. I was just hoping that you had a few minutes this afternoon to sit and talk for a few. I know you are probably a busy man, but it would be wonderful if you were open."
"Actually, that's great. I had hoped that you wouldn't mind."
"Wonderful! Let me see to getting the other students settled and out. Probably about 20mins or so and we'll get to it. In the meantime, Charlie can just hang out and you are welcome to look around the room with him."
Ms. Cantrell stepped away, spoke a few words to her daughter, then went about the chore of getting eighteen 5 and 6yr. olds out the door with anxious parents. As she went about her job, I watched her some, appreciating her kind smile, her easy going attitude, and how patient she was. I realized that her daughter had the same kind of qualities. She was alongside her Mom, helped to push up chairs, put away books, and clean up little messes. Efficient and neat. As she moved, her hips swayed, she had a soft smile on her lips, and I couldn't help but notice her soft hum. I kept being drawn to it. All the while watching Charlie out of the corner of my eye with this other boy. He had yet to acknowledge me. I wasn't sure if I should go and say something or continue to stand there. I was almost afraid to intrude. Inevitably, my eyes would be drawn back to the daughter. Why was she here? Where was her child? Would she be here every day?
"Ok, Mr. Gibbs. Looks like the horde has moved on. Would you like anything before we get started? Water? Juice?"
"No thanks," was all I could mumble.
"Ok, so, I wanted to talk to you about Charlie."
"I wanted to speak with you, too. I've been worried about him. We had a rather," cough, "traumatic year. He went from being an outgoing and energetic kid to... whatever this is. He rarely speaks. He keeps his head down. I kept thinking he was going to snap out of it, but so far, he hasn't. I keep hoping school will help."
"Mr. Gibbs, the reason I wanted to speak with you is because we feel like Charlie has shut down. Emotionally, if you will. If it isn't too much, do you think you could tell us what has happened? I'm not sure we're equipped to help him, but we want to try to make things here as smooth as possible. See how it goes. See if he is able to come around to attending a public school or if he needs specialized help."
"Oh. Sure. I think it would actually be good to explain considering the paperwork I had to fill out. Because otherwise, I'm sure you would wonder." I took a deep breath, ready to go into it right then.
"Yes. We noticed he has a ban on his file. One or two of our students in the past have had this, mostly due to violent and abusive situations."
"Well, no violence or abuse here, but possibly neglect. You see, almost a year ago, his mother up and disappeared. Out of nowhere. No warnings, no notes, nothing. I came home from work one afternoon and Charlie was in the house, in his room, alone. Anything and everything that had been my partner's was gone. Except Charlie. She just up and left. She left a 5yr. old boy at home alone."
"What happened after that?"
I looked back on that moment trying to remember all the details. I remember picking Charlie up. He had been stone quiet except to ask where his Momma was. I had hugged him to me as we walked through our apartment, looking for anything that could explain where she was. I had checked every room, every door, every drawer, and even our storage space. Everything that had been hers, including her child trunk that we had taken all over with us, was gone.