The Bottom of This

That afternoon my son’s principal called me at work and said he’d like me to get to the bottom of this. I said what did he mean? He said, “I think you know what I mean.” I told him I’d be there in half an hour.

“Make it fifteen minutes,” he said.

When I arrived at my son’s school, I could see that most of the children were already standing in the parking lot. Teachers barked instructions through megaphones. A crossing guard marshaled preschoolers across the sidewalk. When I tried to enter the visitor’s lot, a police officer motioned for me to turn around.

I rolled my window down and said, “He’s my son, officer.”

The officer peered into my car and gave me what seemed a pitying look, his eyes masked behind mirrored sunglasses. “Then I hope you can get to the bottom of this,” he said.

When I entered the main office, the administrative assistant hurriedly got off the phone and offered me a false smile. “How can I help you today?” she chirped. But her voice was shaky.

“I’m here,” I said.

She handed me a pass and said, solemnly, “The principal wants you to meet him outside the multi-purpose room.”

Outside the multi-purpose room, the principal was stringing a chain lock through the doors. “To be on the safe side,” he said, and then handed me a length of chain. Behind the doors, I could already hear Jeremy crashing into things. A stack of lunch trays or books or sporting equipment fell like a thunderclap. He was whistling, the way he sometimes does when he’s nervous.

“Let me talk to him first,” I said.

“That’s the idea,” the principal said, and chained the door behind us.

It only took me a second to see what the problem was: they’d installed skylights in the multi-purpose room ceiling. “We’ve got to get him away from those,” I whispered, but at that moment Jeremy flew by. His sneakers had already fallen off, his socks revealing holes I hadn’t noticed before. He soared toward the skylights. “Open the fire exit doors!” he shouted, the moment before he smacked into a skylight. “Please!”

We opened the fire exit doors. But Jeremy only battered against the skylights again. A moment later he swooped across the lunch tables and perched atop a basketball backboard. “I think we’ve all done our best, Dad,” he said. “You, me, Mom, Principal Stephens, everyone.” His breath heaved in his chest. His hair was slick with sweat. “But sometimes things get so overwhelming it’s like I don’t know what to do anymore. Do you know what I mean?”

I thought about the security bars across Jeremy’s bedroom windows. The handcuffs and leg irons we hid whenever guests stopped by. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, son,” I said, but Jeremy only flew through the multi-purpose room, through the fire exit doors, and into the afternoon sky, and we never did.  

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