• It was April 16 and a Monday morning, and I can hardly remember my own birthday, but this date is scoured into my mind. A year after I graduated middle school, I could not tell you what time class started, but I can tell you that it was third period Health Management when they called me to the office, and I can tell you I was sitting next to a girl with curly blond hair and a shirt too open and that we were studying nutrition and that I thought it was stupid because I was skinnier than every person in that room and didn't need to learn how to count calories. I could tell you all these things, for they are concrete, unmovable facts in the stream of time lost. But I can not tell you the feeling that quivered through me when my teacher told me my mom was waiting for me at the front office, because that was too personal, too deep into pathos, not logos. Nonetheless, I'll try.

    At that moment, when the word 'mother' was spoken, I felt a quake rush up my spine, so violent that my vision blurred. All at once, a thousand alarms were ringing in my head- banging, clanging, screeching, screaming. I had two 'mother's at the time, but my mind instantly went to the biological, and the panic that swarmed through me was like a thousand panicked bees fleeing from smoke and flames.

    It was with shaky, tentative steps that I walked the quarter-mile trek from portables to front-office. I was like a dog, beaten, being called to its angry owner, having to obey his call but knowing with every step that a raised hand waited for him. Despite my initial fear, I knew it could not be my real mother waiting for me; after her arrest, she wasn't allowed to take me from school, wasn't allowed to see me at all without supervision. So it had to be my step-mother, and that meant that I had to be in trouble, and, in my childish selfishness, this was my only concern. What had they finally found stored in my room that would lead to such severe reprimand that I had to be yanked from school? Maybe they'd found those magazines stored behind my bookcase or the websites I'd been going on, and maybe they now knew that I'd never be their perfect, little boy because I liked men and wanted only to be with men. Maybe they'd read my diary, and they now knew that there son was the school's plaything, that he would take any guy that would have him- straight, gay, single, taken.

    I never thought that something greater could be happening, that my microcosm of youthful naivety was about to be shattered. Even when I walked into the office, and I saw my step-mother standing there, her back rigid, face hard and blank, not saying a word to me even as I asked beseechingly for some explanation, I was oblivious to anything but my own fears. Even then my only thought was saving myself, trying to conjure some explanation for all the petty crimes I'd committed, all the while following at her heels out into the parking lot like an anxious pup.

    My father stood at the end of our car, his posture just as rigid as my step-mother's, and my pace slowed instantly, until I was just barely slinking forward with utmost trepidation, eyes lowered and shoulders dropped. I was terrified of him in that second, petrified that I'd done something to evoke his wrath; even my step-mother seemed frightened by him, hurrying into the back seat on the car so as to avoid the doubtless explosion that would be my father's confrontation.

    He took a step toward me. I stiffened, finally dragging my eyes up. His featured twitched, grimaced. The panic was fluttering in my chest again, my heart beating like galloping hooves and yet immobile beneath my ribcage. Yet even then, I could sense the slowly churning cogs of something greater; something was terribly wrong.

    I knew it as soon as my father opened his lips, that I was off the proverbial hook. Too bad I no longer wanted to be, because the anguish I saw contorting his features was like a blow to my gut. His eyes were growing teary, glistening in the strong sun of afternoon, and his lips were curling back from his teeth in his effort to compose his features.

    “You're mom died this morning, Alex.”

    And the tears started flowing, but not from me. All of a sudden, his arms were wrapped around me, his face buried into my shoulder though he had to lean far down to do so, and his entire body trembled against mine with his tears. Slowly, I wrapped a loose arm around him, petting my fingers along his back, so much bigger than my own but choking with his sobs.

    In comparison, I felt...numb. There was a coldness spreading all in my chest, keeping my breath tight in my lungs, but I felt nothing more. My eyes were dry, staring vacantly at the storage warehouse across from the parking lot. The old buildings, with their white paint peeling back and their crooked numbers, seemed so eerily normal compared to the man I now held in my arms. My father did not cry; I had never seem him lose his composure, and, yet, here he was, his tears soaking my t-shirt. Yet in the face of this phenomenon, the world didn't seem to care; those buildings were as they always were. Back in third period Health Management, children were still practicing counting calories. No other thing seemed to care that little Alex's mommy had... died.

    The first twinge of pain set in, tweaking the muscles of my chest, and my breath hitched, shooting pain down through my lungs. I fought down tears, even as the images of my mother were suddenly flashing through my mind. I remembered her in the summer, when she'd fill the inflatable pool in the front yard, and would sit their in her bathing suit, watching as we swam in circles amongst three feet of grass-polluted water. I remembered when, years before, she'd play music all through house, and we'd dance in the living room, and she didn't care at all that dancing wasn't supposed to be for boys. I remembered when, back in England, we'd roll around in the grass of the garden, and the smell of lavender would be so overwhelming that it would eventually cradle us into quite stupor, laying limp and content beside one another. I remembered being a scared little boy, lost in a pharmacy, and walking to the back to find his mommy in handcuffs, screaming and violent and angry. I remembered the agony of seeing her in the back of a police car, not knowing why, huddled beneath the glove compartment of our car to try to get away from the police men, but they found me anyway because I was crying too loud not to be heard.

    How could this person be gone? How could that person, so full of life, absolutely screaming and vibrant and jumping and dancing with pure, jubilant life, be dead?

    And then I remembered my brother and my sister who did not share my father, who were probably in that house with her when mother finally took her own life. And all at once, the tears I wanted to cry were dried up, and my features were hardened. I took a hand to my father's shoulders, pushing him away from me, though he looked confused and hurt by the action.

    “Thanks, dad, for telling me,” I said, taking a step back away from him. “But I have to return to class now.”

    He nodded, looking more confused than before, but I did not bother to take time to interpret his expression, turning over my shoulder and walking slowly back toward my school. By the time I returned, third period Health Management was over, and I slipped into the cafeteria for lunch. My friends, oblivious to my new life, sat at our usual table, their laughter loud and hurtful to my ears.

    I sat in the same seat I always did, but I did not feel like the same person. In the course of a few minutes, I had turned from a child and a son, to an adult and a mother to two children who would desperately need support in the following days, months, years, and lifetime. My friends took no notice of me sitting, quieter than normal, my eyes darker, and their laughter continued, and the drone of cafeteria conversation continued to buzz in the background. I didn't mind.

    A weight had been set on my shoulders that day, a responsibility that was mine to carry. My childhood had ended at the fragile age of fourteen. Yet I was not resentful, and I was not angry. Not for a moment did I think cruelly of my mother; in my heart, she was still my hero. She had endured more in her life then I could imagine; she had built a home for her family; she had built a career for herself; she had raised three beautiful children. And I was proud of her. Let her rest. Let me take over when she knew she no longer could.

    Ignoring the meaningless chatter of my table-mates, I opened my backpack, pulling out my school binder, beginning to work on next period's assignment. After all, I was an adult now; I had things to do.