Devante knew he couldn’t tell her the truth when his mother asked, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
This was it. They had finally arrived at his school. They were parked in front of the main entrance, just like so many times before, just like nothing had changed. Sleepy-looking teenagers streamed in from every direction. They were getting out of their parents’ cars or crossing the overpass and coming from the ‘L’ train station, bright kids drawn from all corners of Chicago to this magnet school conveniently located near a major expressway. Some carried backpacks weighed down with complicated textbooks, some carried lunches, some struggled with cumbersome science or art projects, others lugged musical instruments. Some wore headphones so they could listen to music, others were talking to the friends they walked with. A few wore ROTC uniforms. Some others even wore business suits.
Who are they again? Future Business Executives of America or something? He tried to remember. His school had lots of clubs like that for future leaders, future soldiers, future doctors, future lawyers...
Devante no longer believed in the future.
Across the street from the high school, the cadets at the police academy—future cops—were lining up in the parking lot, preparing for their morning run. For all of them, these hopeful students looking to the future, it was just another day at school. Just another Friday morning. It was amazing that the lives of those around him continued to go on, while for Devante time seemed to stand still.
“Look at me,” his mother urged him.
She was insistent, but she didn’t sound angry. Just worried. In the past few weeks, it had become hard for him to make eye contact with anyone, even his own reflection.
“Look at me,” she said again as she cupped his chin in her hand and turned his face toward her.
His eyelids seemed to weigh a ton. It was as if all the tears he refused to cry had collected in them. Still, he couldn’t let his mother know how much the events of the past month had affected him.
“I’m fine, Ma. Really. I am.” He grabbed his bag quickly and hoped he could get out of the door before his mother realized that everything he had just said was a lie. He flung the heavy door open and rushed out of the car so fast, the cold March air scarcely had time to come in. He slammed the door shut and was startled by the sound.
With slow, measured steps he approached his school, the place he’d been trying to avoid for the past three weeks. He turned around and saw his mother pulling away. She had driven him here herself this morning because she wanted to make sure he went back. And he had gone because he thought he would be able to pretend he was okay.
I can do this, he thought as he reached the entrance. Swarms of kids were beginning to fill the halls. He could see them through the large front windows. Hopefully they wouldn’t notice him. Maybe they would avoid him, just as they had after the funeral. So far he was in luck. He didn’t see any familiar faces...until he noticed a big poster on an easel outside the principal’s office.
It was a portrait of Monica.
It was the photo they showed on the news and in the papers, the one they had used in the programs at the funeral home. Her eyes and smile were forever frozen, looking out at him in tragic stillness. And now he was also still, standing by the front door, realizing that the numbness he’d felt the past few weeks was wearing off.
He was wrong. He couldn’t go in.
He saw a couple walk by, holding hands as if they were the last two people left on earth, or the last ones left at Whitney Park High School. They were the kind of couple that would have showed up at homecoming in matching rayon shirts from Merry-Go-Round. Their smiles mocked his misery. He and Monica had been like them once, sauntering through the halls, sharing headphones, cocooned in a private world of music. Seeing that couple was a harsh reminder that he could never return to that world. He stayed on the outside, looking in, alone, and realized he was no longer like the other students.
How could he pretend he was still one of them? How could he smile or laugh when nothing seemed funny anymore? How could he act like anything still mattered? How could he and his parents meet with the school counselors this afternoon? What good would it do now that everything had permanently changed? He didn’t have a reason to go to his classes. He didn’t have a reason to study. He didn’t have a reason to graduate. All he had was a reason to die.
©2016 Tiffany Gholar