Pull You Through

By: Kaylee Ryan
To those who have served, are serving, or will serve, and their loved ones who pull them through.

WHEN CLASS IS INTERRUPTED AND I’m summoned to the office, I know it’s bad news. I feel it deep in my gut. There are two weeks of school left. Two more weeks of enduring high school, and then I’ll be free of the drama of this day-to-day shit.

Grabbing my books and keeping my head down, I slide out of my too-small desk and stalk to the office. The receptionist gives me a sad smile and my anxiety ramps up even further. From the look on the receptionist’s face, it’s not good, whatever I’m being summoned for.

I assume I’m here because I was late, yet again. Tardy they call it. Gram was having a bad morning, and I couldn’t just leave her, not until her friend Sheila got there. Sheila spends the day with her while I’m at school.

“Slade, you can go on in,” she says, pointing to the principal’s office.

Stepping into the room, I don’t bother knocking. I’ve been here before, and he’s always expecting me. This time though, this time it feels different. I can’t quite put my finger on why or how, but there’s a look on his face I haven’t seen before.

“Slade, have a seat.” He points to the chair across from his desk.

“What’s going on?” I ask. He’s never one to beat around the bush. It’s usually, “Slade, are you aware you were late again?” or even, “Slade, you’ve missed too many days. I know about your gran, but you have to get here on time. I can’t keep them at bay.” “Them” being the state. Apparently, it’s illegal and referred to as truancy. I get it, I do, but Gran is all I have in this world, and no way am I leaving her when she needs me.

“I got a call,” Principal McCreary says cryptically.

“Okay. Look, there are two weeks left. I’m doing the best that I can,” I explain. “Sheila was running late today, and I can’t leave her alone. She’s not well.”

“Slade, Sheila called. I’m so sorry, son.”

“What?” My stomach drops as my head swirls with confusion. “Sheila? Why would she call? What are you sorry for? Listen, it’s two weeks, can you please just overlook this? Don’t report it. Two weeks and I get my diploma. Please,” I say, begging. I’m so fucking close to getting that piece of paper that I promised Gran I would get. It’s something my dad, her only child, never accomplished.

“Slade.” He stands, then takes the seat next to mine. “Your gran, she had a heart attack,” he says gently.

I stand abruptly. “Which hospital?” I ask.

“Slade, sit down,” he says, his voice stern.

“Look, I get it, my attendance sucks, but we’re all the family each other has. I have to go to her. I’ll just get my GED. It’s the same thing, right? Or take summer classes or online classes. Hell, it doesn’t even matter right now. Which hospital?” I ask again, my voice rising.

Mr. McCreary stands, and walks toward me. He places his hand on my shoulder, his eyes somber. “Slade, she’s gone. It was fast. The paramedics announced her… at the scene. There was nothing they could do.”

“No. No, no, no, no….” It’s too much, and nothing makes sense. I saw her this morning. She couldn’t have gone, have left me. “No. She was having a bad day, but nothing we haven’t dealt with before. No, I don’t believe you.” Panic rises in my chest.

“Slade, I’m so sorry.”

Turning, I punch the wall, over and over again. I barely register Mr. McCreary placing his arms around me from behind to stop me. My focus is on the pain, my throbbing hand, the jolts rushing up my arm. It’s the only thing that’s real.

“Can I call anyone?” the receptionist asks.

“No, Gina, I’ve got this.”

“There is no one to call,” I sob. The tears, no matter how hard I fight them, fall freely. “She’s all I have.” Twisting out of his hold, I drop to my knees and bury my face in my hands, one of which is now battered and bloody.

Heat registers on my shoulder. I don’t have to look to know it’s Mr. McCreary’s hand. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t try to tell me it’s going to be okay. He doesn’t offer words of wisdom. He just lets me be me.