He got up early as was his custom, the air outside was cold, dew was still on the grass, the sun just making its way into the sky. With his ablutions finished he dressed for the cool morning and clicked the garage door that went up clunkyly and noisy. With one solid push the bike stirred forward.
He had three routes he could have taken. The central route which, at certain times united him with other students riding to school, the Northern route which followed a main artery Eastwards or the Southern route, which was much quieter and he could ride by himself and not be bothered to entertain others on the way to school.
Approaching Maplewood Center the building stood as a sentinel in the small neighborhood. He could see the mist still hanging over the field in the rear of the building. He locked his bike up and made his way to the entrance door that was manned by his favorite teacher, Mrs. Slevin. She was his English literature teacher, from the UK she was a true master of her art.
He had, in his pocket, a pass and a key! Those were his charms to get past the gatekeeper of Maplewood Center. Jerome had negotiated his way into school society by applying his abilities in the science department. And now, before any one had set foot in the school, he would find himself alone in this great big building, to set up the science department.
The gate keeper was wary of allowing him past her, though with a signed declaration of a rite of passage, she could not deny him entry into the world that awaited him. Through dark halls he made his way to room S-101, the science department teachers lounge.
It was his job to get papers graded in time for the start of class. He made coffee for the teachers, whom would be arriving shortly. He prepped biology labs and made copies of handouts on the old copy machine that used ink and rollers.
After getting the lounge set, Jerome made his way to the cafeteria because they served breakfast and he was the first one to eat each morning. He knew that one of his mentors would like food, as she always asked him to get her some, so expecting a request he took a tray upstairs with assorted goodies and cereals.
It was something to him to feel needed and appreciated. He gave himself to these adults, offering himself up to be adored. These relationships were tantamount to his growth as a young person. What he lacked at home was given freely and without question, here at school. His position in the science department would guarantee him an award never bestowed on another student in the schools history upon graduation. But he would not know this for some years.
One by one they came to the lounge, in various states of disarray, wakefulness and dress. Jerome knew their needs before they had to voice them, so all that was said was “thank you.” Day after day, week after week, month after month, Jerome made his way to Maplewood Center each morning. He had become the caretaker to the department.
The role of caretaker was something that Jerome would be forced into soon enough, yet that term would remain unidentified to him for many a year. With the state of affairs at home he had learned how to take care of adults while he remained a young boy. Living like an adult was normal for him. Making adult decisions came naturally.
Addiction and alcoholism were issues that he had to contend with at home, and in his second year at Maplewood, he would face his biggest challenge, family tragedy. Because Jerome held such a position at the school, everyone knew what had happened to him and to his family. When Jerome was taken from them for such a long period of time, they made sure he would not fall behind in his studies. It was as if the school was an extension of parental supervision.
He came home from school that day and the suitcases were in the living room, and one in his bedroom. “Pack” his mother told him, “you’re going to your grandparents tonight, there is no time to waste, gather your books and your games, your father will be home soon and you have an evening flight to catch.”
He was informed and prepared, but nothing would prepare him for what he would eventually see upon his arrival. Fainting at the sight, he fell to the floor, his head hitting the cold cement floor it was just too much for him to bear. The matriarch of the family had been taken from him, a disaster that would take Jerome on an odyssey of self awakening for the rest of his life, loosing crucial people in his life would be a common theme. This was ammunition for his father, used against Jerome to break his spirit and beat him into submission.
Jerome stood like a warrior against all that would befall him. Whatever evil was unleashed upon him, he always had sentinels to guide him, adults to love him, a God to forgive him and a religion that would teach him good from bad, right from wrong.
Maplewood Center would be his fortress and protection through the worst of times at home. He gave of himself every day. He studied, and served without question. He played sports as if they were salvation attaining. He hardened himself against the tide, and he survived. Although what did a boy know about survival?
Jerome had been given a gift by the matriarchs of the family. Gifts that he would have to realize would serve him well throughout his life, not only as a young boy. It is hard to maintain visions for an entire life when people are taken from you so early in life. but those early memories were all he had to hold onto. Jerome would see the value of the many lessons he was taught as a young child. For a few short years in his memory he was loved without abandon, he was protected from the evil in his family, he was shielded from the monster of addiction, though it was present every day of his life. As long as there were those he was protected by, he did not feel the wrath of evil upon himself.
This morning ritual was performed day after day. Funny, responsibility. Jerome knew what that was in the sense of being responsible for others, but that was one of the toughest lessons Jerome would learn – to be responsible for himself later in his life.
At school, Jerome was safe. He never spoke of his home to those at school, but by his actions, he spoke volumes. A child that is so thirsty for guidance and willing to do anything that was asked of him without question told them that “something must be wrong.” He was never abused at school, at home that was a very different story, many of the mentors in the department became mentors outside of school for him.
He mowed their lawns, washed their cars, did errands and took care of homes whilst they went on vacations. So Jerome had much to do on summer vacations, they kept him very busy and away from the evil presence in his life.
So it went year after year. Maplewood Center would be the most important time in his young life. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But Jerome survived and thrived. In the end they gave him the highest award for his service to the school, the American Legion Service Award given to him by the faculty of the school, it was one of the proudest days of his young life.