Last Thursday one of my students died.
That statement doesn't convey the gravity of the situation.
I had Trevor* in my journalism I class the first year I taught. He was this scared, shy kid whose older mom sheltered him in her love and admiration. He was the kind of kid who played bridge with the older women from his mother's church. He hadn't yet learned to interact with peers normally.
He ate lunch in my classroom with me everyday. And it wasn't like that was some party. He mostly followed me around and told me about his plans for the weekend, the most exciting of which involved visiting his dad's house where his older brother and sister-in-law lived. He thought the world of them and looked forward to any time he got to share in it. She was on a roller derby team and his brother played video games with him.
Trevor didn't have many friends. Mostly, he spent time with kids from his church, none of whom attended our high school.
It was painfully obvious to me how badly this kid needed a "home" at the school. He was bright and a very gifted writer. It made sense that publications should become his home. I took him in. He quickly became a beloved member of the staff. Though he tended to be shy and withdrawn, the other kids valued his insight. He was the brightest of them. They knew that.
Trevor began transforming after his freshman year. He chose veganism, but wasn't necessarily in it for the health aspect. He used it as a tool to starve himself. My concern for him led me to develop a close relationship with his mom. Well, close for a teacher-parent relationship. I called her a couple times a month to touch base about Trevor. During this time, Trevor earned his driver's license.
He was a responsible teen. His mom would travel for work and you'd never have known she wasn't there. He shopped for groceries, spending the money she left him wisely. He woke early for school and was on-time for class. Always. He completed his assignments. One of his top goals was to graduate highly-ranked in his class. He wanted to be in the top 10. And he would've.
Toward the end of Trevor's sophomore year, I made efforts to bridge a friendship between he and another of my very gifted students, a girl named Sandra*. A significant reason I tried to bond them was that Sandra's mother had just died and Trevor's mother was so full of compassion and love that I thought she might have enough for both kids.
I may have made a mistake in crafting that friendship. Rather than Trevor reigning Sandra into responsible behavior, she may have shown him the beauty of freeing oneself from restraints. She may have introduced him to drugs, too. I'm not sure where he found them, actually, but he did. He also informed his mom that he was gay. He was angry when she cried because she felt that he was chosing a very tumultuous life. His revelation didn't surprise me. I'd expected such, but was unsure that he did.
I pinpoint the moment I realized there was a huge problem as the first day of spring exams when Trevor, who aspired to graduate within the top 10 and had the potential to graduate in the top five, did not show up for his tests.
I called his mother. "Something must be very wrong," I thought.
She had NO idea that he had not shown up for school. He told her he was staying the night with a friend from work. The friend wouldn't say where he was. Trevor wouldn't answer his phone. His mom called me. I called Trevor. No answer. I tried to help her access his MySpace account. I called him again.
He answered my call.
He'd driven to a college town to meet a guy he'd befriended online. The guy told Trevor that he was in trouble. Trevor was the kind of selfless soul who would sabotage his work to help someone else. He begged me not to tell his very worried mother where he was. I told him I couldn't make that promise. He said he understood.
I hung up and called his mom.
She had him arrested and went to bail him out. She arranged, individually with each of his teachers, for him to be allowed to make up all of his exams. It took a lot of persuasion, but she advocated him relentlessly.
Later that summer she let the other boy move in with her and Trevor, despite her adversion to their romantic relationship. She loved her son that much. She wanted him to see that she accepted and loved him.
His relationship with the boy ended badly, but Trevor's relationship with his mother remained strained but stable as he began his junior year.
He called me early one September morning as I drove to school. I expected him to tell me that he'd was going to miss class to take his mom to the doctor as she'd told me a few days before that she'd felt sick at her stomach; he was considerate that way.
I answer the phone sounding chipper, "What's up, kiddo?"
"Ms. ______________? ... Um ... it's my mom. ... You know how she's been sick, ... right...?"
I failed to mention that he was a stammer-er. I pushed him to respond.
"Yeah, kiddo. What's going on? Did you call to tell me you're going to be absent today? You taking her to the doctor," I ask.
"Um... well, I think ... I think something's wrong with her ... I think she might be dead."
"You 'think'? Or you're pretty sure?" I still can't really believe I asked him that, but I did. I thought maybe she'd just slept through her alarm.
"I'm pretty sure," he said. My heart sank.
"Have you called '911'?"
"No," he stated. "I called you first."
I took his address and told him to call 911 immediately. I assured him I was on my way.
I had been en route to the school, so I was really just around the corner from his house when we got off the phone. I actually beat the EMS crew.
When I walked in, Trevor was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. He peered at me through watery brown eyes and said, "The lady on the phone told me to do CPR. But, Ms. __________, do you think it'll do any good at all?"
How could I tell him no. How could I rob him of the hope that his mom might still be alive? I couldn't. I said, "You want me to? I can do it." He nodded.
It was ten minutes between when we hung up and when the EMS crew arrived. I think I must have been breathing into his mother's mouth for at least five of that. She was already in rigor but I couldn't stop. Each time I blew air into her, her body would release gas through her mouth. Her tongue was swollen. Her lips were cracking and blue. I nearly vomitted.
I stayed with him after the ambulance arrived. I called his father to tell him the mother was dead. I stayed at the house until late morning. The experience was awful, but I felt that I needed to be there.
After his mom died, Trevor's psyche seemed to deteriorate. He refused to move in with his father. He continued living in his mother's house and spending her money. His attendance in school became spotty. By spring, he'd quit coming entirely. But he continued to call me.
I stayed in touch with his father, too. Between the two of them, I was convinced that Trevor was abusing methamphetamine. I tried to talk him into moving in with his dad. Every time it seemed like he was going to, but he'd back out at the last minute. I grew exhausted by his antics; he seemed frustrated by my interference. The time between our talks became more protracted. He'd call me at 3 am and I wouldn't return his calls because I'd assume he'd been high when he dialed.
I didn't want to enable him. I didn't want to be someone who tolerated that behavior. I expected more of him; I wanted him to realize that. I guess maybe he did. I'm not really sure.
Trevor finally did earn his diploma through an alternative school this year. He called to tell me. I congratulated him. We discussed his plans for the future. He said he wasn't ready to go to college yet. He said, "Maybe next year."
I'd hoped he would walk the stage this month. He told Sandra that he didn't want all the people he'd lost touch with to see him in such a poor state: his face was pock-marked with acne, a side effect of the drugs. He implied that he didn't want them to think poorly of him. So he didn't go.
Not even two weeks later, his father called me. I thought it'd be good news. Again, I answered with a chipper voice. This time, I learned Trevor dead. His father found him in the same house where Trevor had found his mother just two years earlier.
No one knows what happened. The family told me that wounds indicate Trevor fell and hit his head on the kitchen counter. But the medical examiner's report says that they cause of death is pending until the toxicology report comes back. I think we may eventually learn that his death was the result of an accidental overdose.
I don't really think knowing will make me feel less guilty that I didn't... I don't know, do more. That I didn't drag him to his father's and make him sit down and listen while I yelled at him. But I didn't think it was my place.
I'm hurting right now.
*indicates that names were changed