It started as any other day did; alarm clocks, fights over the bathroom, the rush to get out the door in time to get the kids to school. Holly decided to walk and was hoping to leave with enough time to go to "Squid's" house and walk with Haley and the rest of the gang. Fate decided that she wouldn't get going fast enough, so she and Jesse headed straight to school.
I was reading homework assignments and trying to keep the world from spinning; I had been experiencing vertigo for almost a week. I had to sub at the high school in the afternoon, and was trying to get my bearings. Another trial to go through, but by the end of the day it would seem so trivial. Skye, my youngest was butting heads with me again over her commitment phobia; she had promised a friend she would sing a duet with him for the "Mock Rock" but failed to show for the auditions. We had a huge fight over consideration and promises and how important they are; we ended up both being right, she had a valid reason for failing to show, but neither of us wanted to give in.
We drove to Ray's house to pick up her guitar and I tried to talk her into making it right. As I pulled in the driveway, my son came running out to the car.
"Holly needs to be picked up from school NOW! She's hysterical. Something about Squid's brother dying?"
Skye exited the car and ran in the house to find out what was up and I raced to the high school to pick up Holly. As I turned down the road toward the school, five cars, all with teenagers in them, came toward me. Those cars with their windows down revealed crying teenagers, sobbing and devastated.
The final stretch to the high school lot looked like a scene out of a school tragedy, and my first thoughts were that someone brought a gun to school and shot someone. Lucy, the school officer liaison was standing outside and there were at least thirty students milling about, all in a daze and most of them crying. The Indian Summer sun was blackened by the somber mood permeating the area, and as I leapt from the car the scene became surreal.
"Mom!" One of my daughter's friends shouted.
They ran to hug me and through their sobs I got some of the story.
Whatever was left of the sunlight was extinguished at that moment. Ryan was a bright, handsome, energetic and athletic fifteen year old. A classmate of Skye's and the brother of Holly's friend Squid, he was a freshman at the high school. On the JV football team, he, like the other freshmen, were awaiting their first homecoming and first real high school dance. Ryan was the All-American kid brother and somehow he was gone.
As I entered the building, the confusion became more intense. Teachers from the other area schools were picking up their kids, students were mulling about aimlessly and the sounds of sobbing were violently present. The whole building felt as though it were weeping. One of my friends who teaches there stopped me and told me that Ryan died in his sleep the night before. The teachers met before telling the students during the 3rd hour. Students who wished to go home could do so after seeing a grief counselor as long as they had someone to stay at home with them so they wouldn't be alone.
That was when the world froze. My vertigo became amplified with the feeling of walking in one's dreams, a nightmare at that. I ran toward Holly who actually let me hug her, and we both cried tearlessly, unable to command our bodies to work properly. I signed her out and returned silently to our house, still unsure if what was happening was real. The streets of Harrison were bustling with parents picking up their children and people milling about the main intersection in a fog. The heat and bright light of our beautiful last breath of summer was lost in the moment, almost blinding at times to a whiteout of pain.
There was so much to do. I had to make sure that the fight between Skye and I wouldn't leave her more vulnerable to acting negatively; I had to make it up to her and quickly. Their friends started phoning and they wanted to go to Squid's house and console him, be with their friend, try to make sense of this madness. Why was he dead? He was so young, so happy, so "normal." How could he be gone? He was supposed to open in the Homecoming game against rival Clare and the JV team this year was unbeaten. What about his girlfriend and the Homecoming Dance? He had just picked up his suit. Heck, he had just turned 15 last week, he couldn't be dead!
Unfortunately, it was true. All that horrible night as family and friends descended upon Squid's household - even the School Superintendent visited to offer his condolences - we tried to make some sort of sense out of the day. Why would a just God take such a young man and leave his family in so much pain? This question has been asked a million times, with each death of a child, yet no one has ever been able to come up with a rhyme or reason for the passing of a young person.
If any good came of the day at all, it was in the realization of Ryan's friends that life is so very short. We never know when our time here will end and all those petty things that we obsess over are so meaningless in the big picture. As the town came together, I witnessed the most incredible compassion. From the Superintendent's visit, to the many, many people who crowded the house, yard and even street to give support to the family. Area restaurants donated food for the masses gathered at the house, even though most people could barely touch a bit. Another business is printing T-Shirts with Ryan's name and jersey number for all the students to wear on picture day. By the evening following Ryan's death, the town had completely come together, gathered around each other and exhibited a love I have never seen. And to think, it all started like any other day.