(C) Julie Boyd
The door groaned as if in pain, as it slid partially open. Two eyes, normally the softest brown, this morning filled with abject terror, peered around the gap.
‘Come in, mate. You look as if your morning’s been a bit rough.’
He fell into the plastic chair, his long adolescent body all bones and awkward angles.
‘I had a dream, ‘he stuttered.
‘About your sister?’ I asked gently.
His voice rasped with pain so profound I felt it reaching towards me like a knife.
‘I saw her, and Mum…’ It was 8am
Two days before, another face had appeared at my office door. Joe, the Year Eleven coordinator, glanced around briefly before sliding into the same plastic chair and spoke quietly.
’We have a young man called Sam coming back to school tomorrow. His sister died two months ago. She hanged herself and he found her. They took her back for a family burial and he caught dengue fever, so he wasn’t allowed back here until he was well again. What should I do?’
‘Come into the prayer room, Sam. We can talk in there.’ I put an arm around the trembling shoulders and guided him gently into the small room set aside for sick kids, or counselling, or private study, or for the Muslim kids to use for their prayers.
On a sofa which doubled as a foldout bed when needed, lies a beautiful quilt, lovingly handmade by a grateful mum whose son had found comfort there. I picked it up and began to wrap it around him while from the corner of my eye I saw another worried face appear around the office door.
‘Stay here, mate, I’ll be back in a sec. Just breathe. ‘ I shut the door- fortunately.
Puffing from running up the stairs, George, the Year 10 Science teacher, plonked down in the plastic chair and began, ‘I forgot to tell you. Young John is coming in this morning with his uncle. They’ll be here in a few minutes. His mum took an overdose on Tuesday night and they have to turn her life support off today. His dad committed suicide two years ago. He’s a pretty together kid, but his uncle sounds pretty cut up and doesn’t know how to handle all of this. What should I do?’
‘Ok, I have another issue I’m dealing with right at the moment. Give me fifteen minutes and then bring them around and we can talk to them together.’ It was 8.30am.
I grabbed the phone, punched in a number and breathed deeply as a voice said, ‘Hello.’
‘Tim, I have a crisis here. Is there any way you can come in and help me.’
My voice must have sounded worried as he replied, ‘Yes, I can clear my diary this morning if you need me to, but I need any kids I see to have seen a doctor first, remember? How will we do that?’
‘I’ll fix it. When can you come in?’
‘I can be there in half an hour.’ It was 8.45am
I took a breath and walked back in to see Sam. ‘Where’s your mum, mate. Can I call her?’
‘She’s in the car-park. We can’t go back home, so we’re staying at our cousins right now and Mum has to drive me to school.’
‘Do you feel up to going down to get her, or would you like me to? I’d like to have a chat to her as well.’
His face relaxed a little and he headed out the door. It was 8.50am.
The door opened again. Another face peered around. ‘Do you have a minute, I need to talk to you.’ ‘Sure mate, no problem. Come in.
’ A tall, strongly built Year 12 student sat down. The plastic chair hadn’t had time to cool. He began to unwind the thick scarf wrapped around his throat.’
‘Cold morning isn’t it,’ I started to say, until I could hear my own voice fade away at seeing the ligature marks around his throat, and the blood on his collar. It was 9am.
I fell back into my chair and tried to catch my breath. These poor kids, and people think that schools only have to deal with academic learning, as if that’s all that matters.
Thirty years ago, when I first worked as a psychologist, suicide was a rarity. Two in one morning was unheard of, and that was on top of the other six I’d stopped this week. It’s still a taboo subject, though. That hasn’t changed.
I was only filling in. The woman who normally deals with these kids was on sick leave. For her efforts, she earns less than a McDonalds manager.
It’s all in the eyes. They still haunt me.