Maintaining eye contact with me, Mr. Jennings walked directly over to my desk. Leaning down and in, close to my ear so the other kids wouldn’t overhear him, he softly whispered, “Mr. D would like you to accompany him to his office.”
Apparently the teachers couldn’t pronounce Mr. D’s name either. “What’s this all about Mr. Jennings,” I asked warily.
“I think you’d better let Mr. D tell you that son,” his voice quavering ever so slightly. When he called me son, I started to wonder what the heck was going on.
Seeing that I wasn’t going to get anything out of the usually loquacious Mr. Jennings, I got up and started the long walk down the green mile, towards Mr. D and the doom that awaited me. As I slowly dragged my suddenly leaden feet through the classroom, I could feel the entire classroom staring at me, as well as hearing the little sniggers and snide comments coming from my supposed friends. I couldn’t just let their derision go, so I twisted my head slowly around like a cobra, appraising the rogues gallery that was my class, and gave them the most withering stare that I could manufacture. It didn’t really have much effect though, but what the hell, it made me feel better.
Three things happened next, and if you ever asked me if I thought they were possible, I probably would have stared at you like a third eye had just grown out of your forehead, things like this just didn’t happen.
First, when I had finally finished my funeral march across the classroom floor to Mr. D and my impending doom, he didn’t say a word to me; which wasn’t the odd part. He could probably stare at a prisoner for days without uttering a word, until you’d finally just crack, turning into a blubbering wreck; you’d confess like some God forsaken sinner to all the bad things you’d done in your life, whether you’d done them or not, all the while just hoping to get those terrible glasses to stop staring through you, stripping your soul bare, leaving you with an empty, hollow feeling inside.
Nope, this is how the first one went down... When we stepped out into the hall he did speak to me, and it scared the crap out of me, not because of what he said, no, it was the way in which he said it. Laying one of his enormous hands on my shoulder, causing a cold shudder to run through my body, all the way from head to my toes, Mr. D spoke to me with a solicitude that I didn’t think the big man was capable of.
“I want you to come with me son,” was all he said.
Believe it or not, I swear that I noticed the same small quaver in his voice that I had heard when Mr. Jennings told me I was to accompany Mr. D to the office; and he called me son as well. I was starting to get a really bad feeling in my guts; my illusions of the giant school principal were crashing down all around me. If the great man whom I thought was unflappable in any situation was showing signs of emotion, then surely the apocalypse couldn’t be far behind.
I wanted to know what was going on, but I didn’t, if you know what I mean? I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, so whatever he had to tell me I was sure couldn’t be good news. In the end my curiosity got the better of me and I squeaked out a question. “Um, Mr. D, could you please tell me what’s going on, I don’t think that I did anything wrong today.”
He looked down at me and said, “I think we should probably wait until we get to my office Max, ok?”
I nodded in agreement, while shaking my head in disbelief at the same time. What the hell was going on here that he couldn’t at least give me some inclination of where this was all heading, and he knows my first name, whoa… not good, not good at all.
We finally made it to the office where Ms. Hoover was waiting to greet us, and that’s where the second sign of the apocalypse reared its ugly little head. Not only did Ms. Hoover not even look up from whatever she was doing, to give me her usual sardonic half-smile. Mr. D ushered me straight into his office, bypassing the chair and it’s 15 minutes of hunched over, splinterrific-pain, ‘OH GOD,’ what have I done?
Mr. D offered me a seat in front of his desk, which I immediately took for fear of passing out if I waited to long to sit. The air around me seemed unusually thick all of a sudden, and I was having some trouble breathing. My skin was awash with the sensation of a million needles poking into me all at once, and I felt really dizzy. I don’t think I’d ever been this nervous in all my life to receive the news that was about to be handed down.
To make things worse, Mr. D didn’t go straight to his seat to give it to me. He walked over to his office window and just stared out at some unknown object off in the distance for a minute or two. It had the feel of a man trying to collect his thoughts before he could speak, or a man who just plain didn’t know what to say. I’ll tell you what though, it wasn’t doing my nerves any good, but I knew better than to push the man.
I didn’t think it would be possible for me to be any more nervous than I was, but when Mr. D finally took his seat behind the desk, I was a lot more nervous. You see, Mr. D seemed to shrink a little bit when he sat down in his chair, his shoulders were slumped, he leaned forward a bit and placed his elbows on the desk, and he lowered his head into his hands, then ran his fingers through his hair. It kind of felt like he was nervous to tell me whatever he had to tell me, which an hour ago would have seemed impossible, and that’s when it happened, the third sign.
With his hands still on top of his head, Mr. D inclined his head up, as he did so his hands lowered to the frames of his glasses pulling them off as his head came up and he looked at me for the first time without the glasses on. It was then that I saw the torture and pain in his eyes, they were the eyes of a man who would rather be anywhere but here, bloodshot and red around the edges like he’d been crying recently, and then he spoke.
“Son, I don’t know of any good way to give news like this, and believe me I’ve been trying to think of one, so I’m just going to tell you and hopefully you won’t resent me later for being so blunt. The truth is that there’s been an accident involving your folks.” He gave me a moment to digest this.
Reading the answer all over his face, I still asked, “Are they ok, what happened?” My body was now starting to shake.
Taking another moment to collect himself, Mr. D took in a deep breath and gave it to me straight, “They were on the interstate access road this morning after they dropped you off. Apparently they were just getting to the point where the speed limit increases to 55 mph, and it starts to go uphill, when a car traveling in the opposite direction at a high rate of speed crossed the center line and moved directly into your parent’s path. He hit them head on Max, and knocked their car over the embankment and into the river.” I could see the tears starting to form in his eyes, even through the blur that was fogging my vision.
He got up from his desk and started walking around it towards me, “they never had a chance son, I’m so sorry,” his voice straining to get the words out.
I just sat there in utter disbelief of what had just been laid on me, all I could do was shake my head back and forth while uttering no over and over again. Could it have been only a couple of hours ago, that my parents had dropped me off at school, smiling and waving goodbye, telling me to have a great day? Hot tears were burning their way down my cheeks and I was blowing snot-bubbles out of my nose. This just couldn’t be, not my kind, gentle, loving parents, and that was when it really hit me. “I’m all alone Mr. D,” I spluttered.
I never thought the big man could move so fast, but he was around his desk in a flash, picking me up out of my chair ever so gently, just like he was my father taking me out of my crib after a morning nap. He wrapped me up in a gigantic bear-hug, and I just let it all go at once, my body wracked with sobs. “What am I going to do?”
“Lets not worry about that right now, son.” At that moment Mr. D was all the family I had in the world.
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