What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Wednesday, March 20, 2019; After School
The meeting didn’t go quite the way Kevin had assumed it would.
Dr. Ranse was friendly and pleasant, and he liked her as soon as he met her. She explained that even though her title was Doctor that she wasn’t a medical doctor, she was a licensed psychotherapist with a Ph.D. She said what she did was personal counseling and it wasn’t anything like psychoanalysis. She started by asking him for background information and took notes as he answered her questions.
She asked about his parents and siblings, and he told her they had been killed and that, as a result, he became emancipated.
She asked where he lived, where he went to school, what grade he was in, if he liked school, what were his favorite classes, was he involved in sports, did he have plans to go to college after high school, what did he want to do with his life after college, and so on.
She asked how long he had been out of school, were his friends being supportive, did he have a best friend, did he have a girlfriend or boyfriend — and that was the first question that caused Kevin to stumble when he answered.
“Everything I tell you is one hundred percent confidential? That you won’t tell anyone what I say?”
“Yes, that’s correct. Everything you and I say in our meetings is confidential and will not be disclosed by me unless there’s a court order requiring me to disclose specific items. Of course, you are not limited, so anything you want to disclose to anyone else is at your discretion.”
“Okay. I’m… gay. I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m totally in the closet. No one else knows. My parents and brothers and sister didn’t know. My attorney doesn’t know, either.”
“Have you been dating girls? Or going out with them without it being a formal date?”
“Only when there’s been a group of us going out — you know, several guys and several girls, just a bunch of friends doing something together. Like going to see a movie.”
“Are there any girls who you’ve been friendly with, but without going out with them on dates?”
“Yes. There’s a girl in my Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class, Laura. I’ve known her for a long time. Then there’s my lab partner in chemistry, Donna.”
“You’ve never asked either of them to go out, even casually where it isn’t a date?”
“Kevin, is it possible that some of the kids you know at school have guessed that you’re gay?”
“I don’t think so. Why?”
“If you had a friend at school who never went out on a date with a girl, don’t you think that you might have at least questioned that he might be gay?”
Kevin stopped and thought about her question. “Yeah, I would. You’re saying that some of my friends at school might have guessed about me?”
“Yes, I think that’s a possibility. I bring this up because you need to be ready to discover that one or more people you know think that you’re gay. Would that be a problem for you?”
It took Kevin about fifteen seconds to think it over and answer her question. “No. I don’t think so.” He shrugged his shoulders. “If it comes out, it comes out. I’m glad you brought it up because now I’ll be ready if it happens.”
Dr. Ranse smiled. “I find that if a boy who’s gay begins telling his best friends first, then doesn’t hide it if he’s asked by others who he knows, that’s the best way to ease himself out of the closet.”
“Yeah, I can see how that could make it so it’s more under my control.”
“I’ve heard that Edison High, the administration, and the students are accepting of gay kids, boys and girls, and that there’s not a lot of homophobia. Do you agree with that?”
Kevin nodded. “Yeah, I agree.”
“I assume that you know that there is a GSA group at Edison. Have you ever thought about going to one of their meetings to see what it’s like?”
“No, not really.”
“Since GSA is the Gay-Straight Alliance, there are both gay and straight kids who go to the meetings. The reasons straight kids go to the GSA meetings vary. Maybe they have a friend or relative who’s gay. Or they are studying gay people in a sociology or psychology class, and they want to find out more about gay kids. Or they want to support the gay kids at Edison High, and they want to find out what the GSA is all about. Or they’ve heard that the GSA has interesting topics and speakers at their meetings.
“One way to begin easing out of the closet is to go to a few of the GSA meetings. As a start, you can find out who the faculty advisor for the GSA group is, and meet with him or her and get information about the GSA and talk about any concerns you might have about attending its meetings. Remember, teachers also have to keep the personal information you tell them confidential.”
“Okay. That’s a great suggestion.” Kevin smiled for the first time since he’d said hello to Dr. Ranse at the beginning of their meeting.
He began mentally reviewing all the things that she’d said, and he began to frown.
“Is there a problem, Kevin?” she asked.
“Yeah. You said I could come out of the closet by telling my best friends first. I don’t have any best friends. I did, but everyone seems to be staying away from me. Since my family was killed, I don’t have any friends anymore.”
She saw that he looked like he was about to cry. She wasn’t sure if that would be better sooner or later in the counseling process. She decided on sooner.
“Kevin, let me tell you a story. I was counseling a teen who had lost her parents in a plane crash. She was the only member of the family that wasn’t on the flight. She wasn’t able to go on the trip because of final exams. It was her junior year, and she had to get good grades so she could get into the university she wanted to attend. When school started in the fall, she discovered that her friends were avoiding her, and she didn’t understand why. Does that sound familiar?”
“Yes. My friends have been avoiding me since I stopped going to school. No texts, no phone calls, no emails.”
“This girl and I talked about the problem and what was causing it. Let me ask you a question that I asked her.
“Let’s say a friend of yours, your best friend, was in your situation. Do you know what you would say to him when he returned to school?”
Kevin sat thinking about that question. After almost a minute he looked up, tears in his eyes, and shook his head.
“I don’t know what I’d say to someone. I don’t know what I want my friends to say to me, either. God, this is such a mess!”
Kevin started to sob quietly. Dr. Ranse placed a box of tissues on the edge of her desk near where he was sitting.
“You need to make contact with your friends,” she said. “They are like the kids in my example. They either don’t know what to say to you or are giving you space to recover. You need to look them in the eye, smile, and say ‘Hi’ and that will start a conversation. They’ll probably ask you how you’re doing, and you’ll reply. What do you think you’d say?”
Kevin thought for a few seconds, then replied, “I don’t know!”
“How are you doing, Kevin?”
He thought for almost a minute, trying to decide how he was doing.
“It’s been tough, really tough. But I’m starting to feel better. The worst thing is, I’ve been so lonely. Now I need to get back with my friends.”
She smiled. “That sounds to me like a good way to respond to your friends. What do you think?”
Again, Kevin thought about what she’d said — and what he’d said about how he was doing.
“I think it’s alright. It’s accurate.”
“Who would you want to have this conversation with first?” she asked.
“Jeff. Or Laura. Someone who has been one of my best friends. They are at the top of my list.”
“How about calling one of them on the phone?”
Again, Kevin was silent for a while as he thought about what Dr. Ranse asked.
“I don’t want to do it by calling someone on the phone. That’s… that’s sort of creepy and not at all personal.”
“What if someone calls you?”
“That’d be okay. Then they’d have to start the conversation. Maybe with ‘How are you, Kevin,’ and I could reply with what I said about it has been tough. Do you think my friends would call me even if I hadn’t talked to them at school?”
“I think that when some of your friends hear that you’ve talked to other friends and that you are reaching out, they will talk to you at school or phone you at home.”
Kevin thought about that for a few seconds.
“That makes sense. It’s going to be difficult. When I start to talk about it, about my family, I might get emotional.”
“That would also make some of your friends gather you in and hug you, especially girls. It might embarrass other friends who couldn’t figure out what to do or say. So, I suggest that you focus on getting caught up with your closest friends at school first. Talk about how you were out for seven weeks, and you have work to get caught up on, and that’s going to be hard. You might find that some of your friends will offer to help you study. You can even initiate that conversation by calling a friend about homework or studying for a test. That wouldn’t be creepy.”
“Yeah, maybe. I can see that happening. And I can ask them to help.”
Dr. Ranse smiled. Kevin was starting to come up with his own ideas.
“Did any of your friends bring you your assignments?”
“No. The teachers send me assignments on the School Loop system we use at Edison High. That’s on the internet.”
“Did you complete those assignments?”
“Yeah, mostly. There were some I couldn’t do without hearing the lecture in class. When that happened, I’d send an email to the teacher telling them that I didn’t understand the material and couldn’t finish the assignment. Some would send me links to material I could read online. Others said we’d wait until I got back to school full-time and they were comfortable if I just worked on current assignments.”
“How long have you been back?”
“Today’s Wednesday and yesterday was supposed to be my first day back. But I spent yesterday and today going over some legal stuff about being emancipated with the admin people and making sure I’ll be in the same classes that I had before. I’ve kept up with most of my classes except Chemistry, Algebra 2/Pre-Calc, and Spanish 3. Mostly I’ll be getting into where each class is now. I’ll talk to some of my teachers during collaboration period tomorrow morning, and I’ll talk to the rest during academy period. Then I’ll figure out what I’ve missed and how to finish the assignments I didn’t understand, when I can take tests, do chemistry experiments, and so on. The biggest problems are going to be making up the chemistry experiments and doing the in-class assignments in Spanish 3.”
“Are you finding going back to school a problem?”
“Yeah.” He didn’t add anything.
“Has the school or your teachers suggested that you get tutoring so you can get caught up?”
“I guess I should ask for that. Hmm. I’ll make sure to talk to my counselor.”
“Who is your counselor at Edison? I know some of them.”
“I know him. I think it would be an excellent idea for you to meet with him tomorrow. You can talk about the classes where you’re behind and which classes you’d like tutoring to help you catch up. Would you like me to call him and suggest that he set up a meeting with you?”
Kevin nodded. “It would be great if you’d do that. That way I’ll have someone to talk to who sees the whole picture instead of individual teachers who are focused only on their own classes.” He looked up and smiled.
“Okay, now let’s do something I think is useful in situations like yours,” Dr. Ranse said. “We’ll run through some scenarios where I’ll make comments or ask questions as if I’m your friends or just other students at school. Then you respond, and I’ll respond, and so on. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, that’ll be great.”
For the next half-hour of Kevin’s session, that’s what they did. It was like play-acting, and Kevin enjoyed it.
When Dr. Ranse told him that the session was over, he asked, “When can I come back?”
“How about Friday afternoon, same time?” she suggested.
“I was thinking about coming to see you tomorrow, but waiting until Friday is probably better since I’ll have been to all of my classes. Also, I’ll have talked to more of my friends and more than once with some of them. It’s sort of like practicing tennis against different opponents. I’ll get better at what I can say to people and how I can answer their questions. So Friday at three-thirty is good.”
“Then I’ll see you on Friday. I can see things working out for you at school over the next few days. In our next session, I will want to talk about how things have been going for you, and two things that we haven’t talked about — losing your family and being depressed.”
Dr. Ranse stood and smiled. They shook hands, and Kevin left. He felt so much better that it amazed him. He walked to school, unlocked his bike from the rack, and went home.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019; Early Evening
The things Dr. Ranse wanted to talk about at the next session scared Kevin. He didn’t want to talk about losing his family. He never talked about it. But he knew that he’d have to talk about it some time. He wasn’t sure whether he had been — or was currently — depressed. He didn’t know very much about depression. Maybe he had been. Maybe he still was. But maybe not. The next session was definitely going to be intense.
As soon as he got home he went into his bedroom, then slipped off his backpack and pulled out the books he needed for his homework.
He also pulled out his cellphone and took it out of Do Not Disturb mode. He’d set that mode while he was in his session with Dr. Ranse. It would have been embarrassing if it had started playing his ring tune during his session. He checked to see if he had any calls. There were two, which surprised him. One was from Laura, the other from his counselor, Robert Langer. Dr. Ranse must have phoned him.
Kevin checked his voicemail. There were messages from both Laura and Mr. Langer; he listened to his counselor’s message first.
“Kevin, Dr. Ranse called me and asked if I could set up a meeting with you tomorrow, Thursday. I’m available right after school, at three-thirty. Otherwise, we could meet either Friday morning during collaboration period at seven-thirty, or after school at three-thirty any day next week. It’ll take about an hour to go through your classes with you, and we can review where you need time or tutoring, and then we can talk about setting up tutoring sessions that you can have during academy period Wednesdays and Fridays. Please send me a message on School Loop letting me know if that time tomorrow works for you, and if it doesn’t let me know when you’ll be available. I hope I’ll see you tomorrow at three-thirty in my office.”
Kevin turned on his laptop and logged onto Edison’s School Loop system. He looked up Robert Langer under counselors and sent him a message that the day and time he’d suggested for them to meet was good. Then he went to the calendar app on his phone and added the appointment and checked the box that he wanted a reminder notification at five minutes after three, the end of the school day.
He listened to Laura’s message, but all she said was, “Hey, Kevin, please call me.” He decided to get something to drink before returning her call. He thought about her call on his way to the kitchen and back to his room. Dr. Ranse wouldn’t have called Laura; she didn’t know her. He hadn’t mentioned her last name, and Laura was a relatively common first name for girls, so if Dr. Ranse had the student list from school, it would be unlikely she’d pick the Laura he knew. That made it probable that Laura had decided to call him. It was an interesting coincidence.
He popped open the top on his can of root beer and pushed in a straw, then found Laura’s cell number in his contacts and placed the call.
She answered. “Hi, Kevin, thanks for calling me back. I saw you at school today and wanted to say hi, but we were both going in separate directions on our way to our classes, so I didn’t have time to stop and I didn’t see you at school after that. So I thought I’d give you a call. Are you okay? How are you doing?”
Kevin chuckled under his breath. Laura had a reputation as a motormouth; that was definitely true. It sounded like she hadn’t even taken a breath until she finished talking.
“Hi, Laura. I’m glad you called. I’m not quite back in school yet. Getting reregistered to come back turned out to be a BFD. I spent yesterday and today getting it straightened out. I can tell you about it sometime later. Anyway, tomorrow will be my official day to return to Edison High School. I’ll start going to my classes tomorrow morning. So, I’ll see you in our first period Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class. I wanted to check in with you and see what’s been going on. And there’s no one at Edison better than Laura Wilkes to provide the inside scoop.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls!”
“No way. You’re my only bestest. So, how are you?”
“I’m doing fine except for old lady Arnold’s Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class. And, hey, that’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about. I discovered a textbook, not the one we use, and the problems at the ends of the chapters in that textbook are where she’s getting a lot of the problems she puts on her exams. We can use it to prep for them. Isn’t that cool?”
“Does it have the detailed steps along with the problems?”
“No, unfortunately. All it has is a discussion of what techniques to use to solve each set of problems, and it ties back to the pages in that textbook where it’s explained. But that’s better. The two of us can read their explanations, and each of us can do the problems and see if we came up with the same answers. If we don’t agree on the answer to a problem, we can work together to figure out what we think is the right answer. That’ll teach us how to solve equations on our own and get the right answers to the problems we have for homework, and all that will help us prep for tests. And, in my humble opinion, we won’t be cheating! Anyone could find that textbook and discover that it’s Ms. Arnold who’s cheating by copying the problems from a different textbook and using them on our tests.”
Kevin laughed. “You know, I think that you’re right about how we won’t be cheating. So remind me, when is the next Algebra 2/Pre-Calc test?”
“It’s this coming Monday. You haven’t been at school so you wouldn’t know that Arnold decided to schedule exams on Mondays from now on. She returns the graded exams on Thursdays.”
“No, I didn’t know that. I’m surprised that she didn’t put it on School Loop. I’ve gone back through the assignments I missed and done all of the homework that she posted, so I’m mostly up-to-date with that part. But, I haven’t taken any of the tests I missed. I’m meeting with Mr. Langer, my counselor, tomorrow at three-thirty. One of the things we’ll talk about is when I can take the tests I missed, including those in Ms. Arnold’s class.”
“Then you need to do some serious studying for those tests. I have the test problem sheets, but I guess that she’ll come up with new problems for you to solve since she knows you’d be able to get the tests you missed from anyone in the class. So, can we get together to study sometime this weekend?”
“Sunday would be best for me. Any time that day is okay. Well, not any any time. I don’t get up early on Sundays. How about eleven? Or sometime after that?”
“Eleven is good. We can have lunch at around one, so don’t eat lunch before you come over. I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches. Is that okay?”
“That sounds delicious.”
“It’s been a while since the last time you were here. If you remember, my house is at 1024 Linden Lane. It’s a yellowish-white stucco house with a rock wall along the street. It’s uphill from the street, so look at the mailboxes for 1024. And the rock wall. Okay?”
“Laura, I haven’t been away that long! I remember where your house is. I’ll ride my bike. You’re not far from where I live.”
“You know, I wanted to call you and talk to you, but I didn’t know what to say. I went to the funeral; a lot of kids from school were there. But we could see how sad you were. My mom said that we should leave you alone to grieve. I saw you were in the office yesterday and I assumed you were coming back. Then this study thing came up, and you’re my only friend who’s in Algebra 2/Pre-Calc with Arnold first period, so I decided I’d give you a call. I’m really glad I did. I’ve missed you, Kevin.”
“I’ve missed you too, Laura. On Tuesday I was supposed to register to return to school. I ended up being given a thick stack of forms to fill out. Then I had to meet with Vice Principal Parks today to go over a bunch of legal stuff about my status that they didn’t understand. Tomorrow will be my first day back.”
“Legal stuff? Your status?”
“Yeah. I’ll tell you about it, but it’ll be easier in person. How about at lunch tomorrow? Let’s see, the first through third period block is on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, then lunch, then seventh period. Tomorrow’s Thursday, so lunch follows third period.”
“You and I had English 2 with Mr. Sommers third period. Do you have the same class schedule as before?”
“Yup, it’s the same. We can go directly to lunch from English 2.”
“And you remember about block scheduling?”
“Fantastic. It’s going to be great to have you at school again, Kevin. I’ve missed you. And I know Jeff has; he’s been asking about you. And the rest of your friends ask about you, too. We’ll all be at our usual lunch table.”
“I’ve missed you. And Jeff, and everyone else, too,” Kevin told her.
“Say, do you need to know what chapter we’re at in Algebra 2/Pre-Calc?”
“I know already. The schedule’s on School Loop and I’m keeping up the best that I can. When I meet with Mr. Langer, I’m going to talk to him about having tutoring for the classes where I need it, like figuring out how I can make up the chemistry experiments I missed.”
“I’m glad I’m not taking chemistry. Well, I’d better get to my homework. You should get to yours too, Kevin. And I’ll see you in class first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks for calling, Laura. I need a friend I can talk to, and like I said, you’re my bestest. See you tomorrow.”
Kevin ended the call, thinking that it had gone remarkably well. In fact, he couldn’t believe how well it had worked out. Dr. Ranse would be happy to hear about Laura’s call and their discussion.
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