Boarding School Story:
The car slowly turned the bend as my stomach dropped. The wide expanse of grass and daunting buildings grew in size and intimidation as the car moved closer. Why am I doing this? My mind questioned my motives as reality threatened to crash down upon me. The welcoming committee was standing at the ready as we pulled up the drive.
“Hello, I’m Derek. Welcome to Berkshire School,” he babbled animatedly. “What’s your last name?”
He’s cute. My mind registered as I quickly racked my brain for my last name.
“Ramsay,” I finally remembered.
He scanned the list; his bangs fell in front of his face, partially shielding his brown eyes. He glanced back up and locked his gaze with mine. “Alright you’re all checked in,” he informed me.
And I was in love.
“I’ll see you around.”
“Sure,” I stuttered.
“Hey, sorry, what’s your name again?”
I didn’t understand, I didn’t pretend to, but I found Derek extremely attractive despite the fact that we were both guys.
First days of school are always the same, until you go to boarding school. Usually first days of school are spent running around catching up with all the people you lost touch with over the summer, but as a freshman, this was not the case. As a freshmen, you had to go out of your way to talk to people half the time you didn’t even feel like talking to for if you didn’t you would be socially screwed for your boarding school career, or so I was told.
The first day of classes tended to be better, for me at least. The rigorous classes limited the social aspect of school which gave me a much appreciated break. Most of my classes flew by without a hitch, until I walked into English.
Mr. Knight strolled in with an air of importance about him. He walked with a slight limp in his step yet moved in such a lithe and youthful way that it could almost go without notice if one was less observant than I. Mr. Knight didn’t look a day over 30, and yet it had been rumored he was verging on 50 these days. He had grey hair, which suited him and almost made him look younger. He wore rectangular glasses that were constantly balanced on the end of his nose. He wrote on the board with long, practiced strokes, and then made his way to the center of the room.
The already silent class seemed to grow quieter; no one dared to breath. In the suffocating silence, I took a moment to glance around the room. I noted people I knew: Alex from Biology, Rodger and Tim from History, Sam from Spanish and some other kids from my dorm. As I scanned the front and final row I saw him. I could recognize his brown-blonde hair any day. My breath hitched in my throat, and I almost didn’t notice as the teacher greeted the class.
“Morning, Gentlemen,” He welcomed us. “I’m Mr. Knight and I will be your English teacher this year.”
“Shakespeare,” He announced gesturing to the word written on the blackboard.
Mr. Knight proceeded to win over the entire class in less than 30 minutes. I don’t know how he did it, but his charisma seemed too powerful to be resisted, even by the worst of kids.
At the end of the class I knew more about Shakespeare than I would have ever dreamed I could. As the bell rung, Mr. Knight announced our first big test would be at the end of the week.
The week went by in a flash and blur of colors. Friday crept up on me so quickly that if I had blinked, I might have missed it. I studied hard. For more than anything, I wanted to do well on this first major assignment of the year.
When Friday finally arrived I found myself sitting in class while the tests were handed out.
“Good luck,” Mr. Knight mumbled as he set the papers on my desk face down. After passing out the rest of the tests, he returned to his desk at the front of the room.
“You will have all class, 50 minutes, to complete your test. Keep your eyes on your own paper and you may begin.”
I flipped over my test excitedly. As I quickly scanned the questions, my stomach dropped right through the floor; I couldn’t remember anything.
That test was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. I had never had good grades; I wasn’t particularly good at any subject. My teachers never cared though. They would just ignore it and tell me to try harder next time. It wasn’t that I never tried. I just gave up when trying never worked, but I thought things would be different now. I had studied and taken notes and listened all week because I wanted to start the year with a bang, and yet there I was again, staring at a failing grade.
I was woken from my reverie by the bell signaling the end of the class. I shoved my binder into my backpack and slid into the swarm of people exiting the room.
I hear Mr. Knight call out over the excited buzz of conversation.
“Mr. Ramsay, could I have a minute with you?”
Confused, I battled my way out of the wild stream of kids spilling into the hallway.
“Yes Sir,” I panted, temporarily winded by the fight it took to get to his desk.
“About your grade,” he began
“It was not up to par as I’m sure you’re aware. Berkshire is a school of high standards; we do not attempt to educate slackers.” He informed me.
“With all respect Sir, I really did try, honest. I have been studying all week long for this test. I don’t know what happened.”
And so started Mr. Knights and my friendship. I would go to Mr. Knight’s house every night when I had the time. He would help me study, and it was one day, after a lengthy study session, that he broached the subject with me.
“James, I have a theory,” He informed me. “All this week you have studied endlessly, and yet every time I give a pop quiz in class you fail. I believe it isn’t your effort that’s preventing you from learning; I believe that you are dyslexic.”
I stared at him confused for a few minutes. “Dyslexic?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, confirming that I had indeed heard him correctly.
“But Sir, I can read,” I stuttered.
“Dyslexia isn’t always diagnosed just because one can’t read; sometimes it’s harder to tell. It might be that you have a form of Dyslexia that keeps you from retaining certain information,” he explained.
This is when things finally began clearing up. Mr. Knight took it upon himself to help me: finding ways that could help me learn and retain the information better. I spent my free time at his house or his classroom working to overcome this roadblock. Things progressed slowly, but they progressed. My grades slowly began to improve and with this my self esteem grew.
I tried my best to focus during class, but occasionally my mind would wander. It usually wandered to a certain person sitting in front of me, but I would eventually pull my attention back to the lesson. As time went on, life went on; it was beginning to feel like somewhat of a routine. I liked the routine. I liked the stability of knowing what was in store for me every day and being able to count on it.
Until one day in late May. Earlier that week Mr. Knight had assigned our final project for the year. We were to write a paper about something that made us who we are. As easy as that sounded at first, it was beginning to prove to be much more difficult than I would have guessed. I called Mr. Knight to ask if he was free to help me brainstorm a topic, but he didn’t answer his phone. This didn’t worry me at first. I simply decided to stop by his house later, and if he was busy I would go home again. I knocked on his door for a while but he didn’t answer. Now I was slightly curious why he wasn’t home. Just then, his neighbor leaned out his front door.
“Hey, boy, are you looking for Mr. Knight?” He called.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, jogging over to the other man’s porch.
“He was just taken to the hospital, maybe an hour ago,” He informed me.
I felt as though the air had been knocked out of me.
“Do you know why?” I gasped.
“No, sorry,” he replied.
“Oh, thank you,” I rasped as I took off back towards my dorm.
I called a cab once I got back. The cab took me to the hospital where I asked the receptionist how to find a Mr. Knight.
She asked if I was family to which I quickly answered: “Yes.”
“Alright, right this way.” She ushered me down a hallway, where we took a left, another left and a right. Then she pointed to a room three doors down on the left. I hurried to the door, which I pushed open gently.
There was Mr. Knight: he who had been a father too me. He who was the first person to show any interest in me; the man who made me into the man I am today. He lay pale and still in the colorless room as he resembled a dead man so closely I couldn’t breathe. The only sign that he was living was the incessant beep of the monitor.
I sat there for about an hour until he started to wake. He looked around as if not knowing where he was, his eyes finally pausing as he noticed me sitting in the overused armchair shoved in the corner of the cold room.
We sat in a comfortable silence until he drifted back to sleep. The next time he awoke the doctor came in to tell him what was wrong.
“Mr. Knight, I’m sorry to tell you that you have a brain tumor. It seems to have been growing for quite some time now. It will require immediate surgery or else it will grow too large, and you will die. The surgery is risky especially with a tumor of this size. We can’t say for sure if you will make it or not.”
But there wasn’t a choice. If he didn’t get the surgery he would die, if he did get the surgery there was still a chance he could die. This thought haunted the back of my mind all day until I returned to the hospital the next day to hang out with Mr. Knight before he entered surgery.
Walking into the hospital room, I was not prepared for what came next. Mr. Knight was sobbing uncontrollably on his bed. I cautiously approached his bedside and began to murmur soothing words until he regained some level of composer.
“James, live your life with no regrets. Do you hear me?” He nearly barked at me.
“Yes sir,” I replied sounding as strong as I could muster, it appeared to work.
“Okay,” he seemed slightly comforted
having heard me promise.
“You should know something James. I’m gay. I have been gay for as long as I can remember.
My father hated it when he found out,” Mr. Knight continued. “When my dad found out, he was furious. He hated me and never wanted to be anywhere near me. At this point, my mother was dead, so it was just me and my dad. My dad used to hit me and slap me if he were ever reminded of my homosexuality. He would try to teach me through violence that preferring members of the same sex was wrong. I still remember one day he got so mad he pushed me down the flight of wooden stairs. I shattered three bones in my leg. I went to the hospital but was never quite the same, to this day I still have a…”
“Limp,” I finished for him
“You’re very observant,” He complimented me
“Yes, to this day I have a limp as a constant reminder that my dad hated me for who I was, and there was nothing I could do to change that.”
“Because my father reacted so badly, I tried not to tell other people about it because I thought they would have the same reaction. Even today, I regret never coming out to my friends. The only person who ever knew was my father.”
“I don’t think I’ll make it through the surgery,” he confessed to me. “I have been having some problems for a while now, so I believe the tumor will turn out to be a lot larger than they believe it is. But that’s okay, because I’m ready. I know it’s my time. I just needed someone to know. I couldn’t have lived my entire life without telling someone who would care.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say for no other words came to mind.
We spend the rest of the day talking about his life, reflecting on everything he had accomplished. Mr. Knight was a great man with many accomplishments who indeed predicted his own death. Mr. Knight died that day on the operation table, but his legacy did not.
I finally had my topic to write about. I knew there wasn’t a point to writing the essay now that he was gone, but I wanted to anyways. I decided to write my essay on my homosexuality. I stared at the blank piece of paper and couldn’t put it into words. Aggravated, I slouched back in my seat, ran my fingers through my hair and tried to relax. I shut my eyes, took a deep breath, opened my eyes and…Derek’s brown gaze locked on mine.