Last year, on Saturday, March 14, 2009, Josh took the SAT's at a high school in Loudoun County. He could not take them in Fairfax County as he had been suspended and could not set foot on Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) property. A few weeks after his death, his scores came in the mail. When I saw the envelope, it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach - another reminder of our loss.
How did he do? This is what is so baffling. As compared to the average SAT scores of college bound seniors in 2008, Josh scored as well in Writing (490 vs 494 ave.), better in Critical Reading (530 vs. 502) and much higher in Math (620 vs. 515). In fact, this math score was better than 80% of college bound seniors the previous year.
I only bring this up to say, how can a kid take a four-hour college entrance exam on a Saturday morning and be dead by his own hand only four days later? When I say that going over everything in my mind those last few days does not reveal any clues about the impending doom, this is what I mean.
A year ago today, Tim and I took Josh to see an attorney. Someone who "specialized" in youth incidences that involved the school system. We had a disheartening discussion as she confirmed what we had felt; this was Josh's second offense and in school system with a Zero Tolerance policy, two strikes meant out. We did talk about alternatives with the attorney so Josh knew we were already looking at other school options for him.
We drove in two cars as Tim had another appointment after this meeting. Josh drove back with me. It was a quiet ride. He put his chair all the way back and closed his eyes. What did I do? Bit my tongue so I wouldn't yell at him because I really wanted to. I was mad at him - for making dumb choices that got him (and us) in this situation. Mad that he did not learn from his mistakes. Mad that he was making a mess of things again. I didn't say anything because I knew he felt bad and sorry. And that if he could, he would've done anything to change the situation. In retrospect, I'm glad I kept my mouth shut for if I had yelled at him, I am sure the guilt would be exponentially worse.
But as I think back on this time, why didn't I say something else? To let him know it would be alright? That his dad and I would stick by him and help him any way that we could? That we would get through it together. That although it is horrible to be expelled from school, "this too shall pass". And that some good could come out of it. What really haunts me is this: could he have been thinking those dark and fatal thoughts at this time? During our silent car ride?
When we got home, he pulled himself together and actually completed four homework assignments. So again, why would a kid do this if he knew there would be no point? If he was certain that in 48 hours, he would be dead? You see, Josh was the type of person that if it was not going to make a difference, he would not do it.
So a year ago, Monday night, he was alive. We ate dinner and talked about the upcoming School Board Hearing which none of us were looking forward to. His counselor was going to attend and be an advocate as well as a buffer for Josh, in case the hearing officers became hostile, like they had done previously.
He seemed okay; albeit resigned to what was going to happen. We all were. Sometimes I think back to that dinner and ask myself - why didn't I just say, "Forget FCPS. We are not going to the hearing. We are not going to subject our son that that kind of treatment. We are going to figure it out without them." I would say and do this now. But back then, this option did not even enter my mind. I wish it had. Would he still be alive now?
"Hindsight is 20/20" is a true saying and in my case, a cruel one.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, a year ago, is the last day that Tim and I saw our beloved Josh alive.