I’ll always remember the look in Mr. Zook’s eyes that day he came to pull me out of class; when I think back on it now unshed tears must’ve been blurring his vision. I knew something was terribly wrong when he finished searching the faces of my classmates and his eyes stopped on me – I knew something serious was about to happen.
His voice was firm, unshaken, belying the palpable sadness written on his face. “Ryan, can you come with me to my office? I have something I need to tell you.”
I rose silently from my desk and allowed myself to be ushered from the classroom. “What’s wrong Mr. Zook?” I asked.
“Let’s get to my office. This isn’t a conversation for the halls.” He strode purposefully through the school – I had to rush to keep up with him.
The walk through the school to Mr. Zook’s office were some of the longest moments of my life; I had yet to experience anything truly traumatic. At sixteen years old the majority of my life had been happy – my father had left when I was fourteen, but I was never very close to him; he was always too busy with work.
“Sit down Ryan,” Mr. Zook motioned to the over-sized, high-backed, leather chair across from his similarly over-sized desk. Mr. Zook’s office looked like what I imagine Sherlock Holmes’ house looked like; books strewn over dark mahogany furniture, no attempt at organization – all his things scattered all over the room. Mr. Zook himself seemed like a television version of a professor; leather elbow pads and all. His balding head and kind eyes made him appear welcoming and intelligent.
I was shaking with anxiety as I crossed the room to the chair and took a seat. “What’s wrong Mr. Zook?” I asked again. I was wavering on the verge of panic.
“Ryan, there is no easy way to say this,” Mr. Zook knelt down beside the chair and took my hand, “your mother has passed away.”
I stopped breathing, I didn’t know what to say. The world seemed to shrink down to a pinpoint hovering in front of my face. “How?” I asked through clenched teeth.
“An accident on the road. She was hit by a truck on her way to work this morning.”
The tragedy of the whole situation came crashing into my life like the truck that had just killed my mother. I screamed. I screamed that kind of animal scream that comes from a deep, primordial place in the human soul left over from a time before we climbed out of the trees.
I’m not sure how long I sat crying in that chair while Mr. Zook rubbed the back of my hand. He didn’t say anything; just stared into my eyes, held my hand, and listened to me cry hysterically. I’m not sure what he could’ve said; I was inconsolable.
Whether it was hours or minutes later, I will never know, but eventually I calmed myself down enough to form words, “What now?” I asked between chest heaving sobs.
“That’s a good question Ryan, and there are lots of people working on that for you. We need to know if you have any family in town that you can stay with. Where are your grandparents?” Mr. Zook removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the tears from my cheeks.
I sat, staring at Mr. Zook, unable to understand his question. My Grandparents? I knew that such things existed; other people had grandparents. My mother had only mentioned her parents once, telling me that her family had been killed in a fire the day after she left for college. My father had never been very specific about where he came from. Only ever saying that he had come from somewhere in Africa; talk about his family had never come up and the omission had never really bothered me.
My mother was my everything – literally my whole life. I had never spent much time concerning myself with the lives of other people. The complex motivations of other individuals baffled and frightened me; I was never sure about the ‘why?’ in my interactions with others. My mother was the only person I was capable of understanding. Without her my life couldn’t possibly make any sense. With her loss I truly had no one left – my life had been spent lost in my books and computer games – without my mother, I was set adrift, nothing left to keep me from being lost at sea.
“I don’t have grandparents.” I replied.
“Well, Ryan, you need to know that there are a lot of people looking out for you right now. You’re not alone. When you think you’re ready, I’ll take you to your house to grab some of your things. Then, we can both figure out where you’re going to stay tonight.” Mr. Zook smiled at me sympathetically, “If you’re not ready, we can stay here together. We can sit here as long as you want.”
“Why can’t I just stay at my house?” I had just lost my mother, and now I had to lose my home?
“I would love to let you do that Ryan but, because we can’t locate anyone to watch over you, you’ll have to stay at someone’s house. Social services are looking for any relatives that you can stay with.”