My son just called a little while ago. He called to tell me that he had just finished his last test as a high school student. He's graduating now, and with a 4.0 GPA. I should be happy. I was happy. For a few minutes. And then something hit me out of the blue that I hadn't expected to feel, at least not on this level.
See, my son attends one of those out-of-the-ordinary high schools, one of those where the students work on computers and progress at their own pace. That's why his graduation comes at such an odd time, just mid-day on a Wednesday, without much advance notice. At his school, when you're done - you're done. It's just like that. Snap, you're finished.
He didn't always attend a school like this (not that there's anything wrong with the kind of school it is - there have been many benefits). He used to attend a regular high school - one with football games and "spirit weeks", school dances and social scenes and all that jazz. And the superintendent of the district for that high school was a woman who had been my best friend for 31 years.
My son is mentally ill. I haven't talked about that much here; I may have alluded to it, but honestly I don't remember. He only recently gave me permission to talk about it publicly, and I haven't done a blog post specifically about that issue yet. Some of you know about some of the other things he's been through in recent years, but I haven't touched much on that being an added weight on his shoulders.
I just had to throw that bit of info in, because it's relevant to this story and why I'm feeling the way I do today.
I feel angry. Bitter and resentful and betrayed. It will pass, but I feel it right now and that's why I needed to vent.
Originally, my son attended the same high school that my daughter had attended, as had several of my "strays". It was a place I trusted, and it was run by a friend I trusted. She'd known Jeff (my son) since he was born - obviously, since we'd been friends for 31 years. She knew he had issues. She learned of them, basically, just as I learned of them. It all developed over time, as discovering mental illness will, and she'd been there every step of the way. She knew my son well, and by the time he reached high school, she knew of his worsening fragility. She encouraged me to entrust him to her school; they'd take care of him there, she said. They'd look out for him. She'd look out for him. He'd be safe there.
That was all well and good until she promoted a certain man to the position of principal. I was on the school board at the time, had been for about five years, and this certain man was someone with whom I took issue. His ethics were problematic for me. We'd sparred in board meetings, and when he became principal of the high school, he saw an opportunity to get back at me via my son. His harassment was subtle and slick, but my friend - the superintendent, his boss - she saw it. She knew. But here was the problem: This guy was getting a job done that she wanted to see done - he was weeding out the problematic students (technically illegally, but getting it done) and he was making the school fit the image she'd wanted, an image of a superior school filled with excellent students. This was accomplished by hassling parents and students who were in any way difficult or needed special attention, but this man was not going to let a pesky little thing like ethics get in his way. If he (or my friend, the super) wanted you out, you were out (I was actually asked NOT to attend an expulsion hearing once, being told, "I want this kid gone and I don't want you here to talk anyone out of it.") This left the school with just the students that were "wanted", and it gave the appearance of success.
I digress, sort of. The thing is, once this shift in attitude took place, my son became a target. And in December of 2010, my life and the life of my entire family changed forever when my son came home from school and put a gun to his own head. I had a SWAT team at my house that night. I don't want to tell the whole story right now, I just want to say that from that moment everything changed.
And here is why I feel anger today: My son never got to go to a high school prom, never took a date to a homecoming dance, didn't get to engage in any high school socializing, and won't even have a yearbook. He lost most of a year to hospitalizations, and after that he had to be enrolled in an alternative style of school so that he could catch up. Today, although I am so proud of him (he actually graduated early after everything), the finality of it hit me. He will never get these years back. He started out high school as a football player and a national-award-winning cheerleader. He loved his school, and he especially loved cheer. He lost all that. No, it was stolen from him. To this day he refuses to even go to a store in the neighborhood of his old school, because the feeling of loss is too painful. He cannot look at the building. He rarely logs on to his own Facebook account because he can't bear to see all his old friends.
I realize this blog post has probably rambled and been all over the place. There's so much more to this story than I can get into now. I just needed to rant for a moment, and I appreciate anyone who's "listening".
I'm proud of my son. Have I said that more than once? I am so proud of my son. He is an Eagle Scout, a pianist, a volunteer firefighter, a certified life guard who works at a Boy Scout summer camp and will be promoted this summer to working at the camp's medical facility. As I said, he's a 4.0 student. He is amazing. Amazing!
But I'm just hurt today at the unfairness of all he's been through. Life isn't fair. I know. Stuff happens. Everyone goes through bad things. But he's had more than his share, and the fact that so much of it could have been prevented, should have been prevented... I'm just going through this right now, that's all. I will be okay. He will be okay. We will all be fine. It's just this moment, this feeling I didn't expect.
Thanks for letting me get it off my chest.