They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To
by Wendy Maxon
Luna always knew Principal Leavitt would phone her one day to discuss Trevor. She figured if she prepared for it, she’d be able to tolerate the shame, keep it at a slow burn to avoid a searing jolt. When she’d attended Fairview High School decades ago, she’d been vigilant about preparedness; she grew used to the side eyes and sneers of her classmates. But today, when she steered her dented Ford Escape into the parking lot of her alma mater and slid into the only space that hid the clump of birdshit on the passenger door, discomfort seeped so low into her belly she feared she wouldn’t survive.
They had made it to May 12. Trevor surviving eight months without being reprimanded was practically a record. Luna was no stranger to administrators’ offices, cramped back rooms that few parents got to see. But something about the Fairview lobby drained her; its claustrophobically tall bookshelves were flanked by photos of grinning scholar-athletes, and in every picture, the kids’ white teeth shone brighter than the sun. Luna tried not to stare at the photos, terrified she might see herself in her soccer uniform, an image snapped twenty years ago when she could grin at a camera without a care in the world. The disconnect between then and now made her ache.
Trevor had a radiant smile too, not that anyone saw it anymore. It resembled Luna’s, as did his crooked nose and tiny ears. But his picture would never hang on that wall.
While Principal Leavitt guided Luna down the admin hall to his office, beams of light shot through the high-arched windows and spilled onto the hardwood floor. He unlocked his door and welcomed her inside, steering her toward his enormous cherrywood desk. Stacks of paper obscured the top, along with a Fairview yearbook from last June. The thick, brightly-colored tome sported a photo of Fairview’s CIF championship tennis team on its front cover. Their star player, a skinny boy whose brown hair flopped over his terrycloth headband, clutched his racket in one hand and a silver-plated loving cup in the other. Luna’s own MVP trophy, now collecting dust in the corner of the closet, had been at least two inches taller. She hated how quickly she noticed the difference.
“Thank you for coming,” Leavitt said.
She looked up. “Yes.”
“Would you like some water?”
“No.” Water was what you offered small children when they cried, and she had to be a rock today.
Leavitt sat her in a leather chair meant to be comfortable; its chemical smell grated on Luna. “I’m sorry to tell you this.” He extended his hand, and she wasn’t sure whether his gesture or the lack of dirt under his nails put her off more. “Trevor hit another child.”
She felt small on her chair, her legs dangling like a gyroscope. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry. Which child?” She wondered if Leavitt would specify. When Trevor was two and pulled this shit in the “Fishies” room at daycare, they never named names. He hit a friend, they always told her.
“Francois Frello. Another student reported that Trevor hit Francois in the jaw.”
“Is the boy—boy? Is he okay?”
“He will be, but the nurses had to send him to a local hospital for stitches.” Luna wondered how Leavitt’s gaze managed to be both pitying and punishing at the same time. “You understand the liability issue here.”
Liability. Whose fault was Trevor but hers? Luna had noticed signs of trouble when he was still in diapers, the way he’d smile when he twirled her hair until her scalp stung, or how he held that colorful plastic shovel 24/7, refusing to lie down in his crib without it, and having no trouble bashing it onto whichever party pooper adult tried to pull it away. She always felt for her son, or so she told herself. They were all so tired. So tired. She used to sigh whenever she rubbed the red welts along her arm, trying to imagine what a one-year-old who hadn’t slept in weeks must feel like, lying helpless without adults in the room, having gone long past the milestone for crawling. Why couldn’t she teach him to sleep?
“Let me guess,” she said. “He can’t stay at Fairview.”
“I’m afraid not. We’re tasked with ensuring the safety of our community, and we simply can’t have someone endangering our students or fac—”
She leaned forward. “There are only two more weeks before school’s out. If you let him stay through May, we could use the summer to find another school. The credits for this year would count. Please.”
“Of course it will still count, Ms. Felles. Trevor might have some make-up work to do, but it will be easy. His transcript will read that he completed ninth grade at whatever school he attends next.”
He might have some make-up work to do, easy. “It won’t be easy for him.”
Principal Leavitt looked at her like he cared more than she did. “We’re sorry, but our hands are tied. There are other considerations.” He slid a low drawer open, and her chest tightened. He held up a long, white paper in one hand and offered Luna a small pink post-it with the other. “Would you like to take notes?” he asked.
She shook her head. Why bother? The comparisons between her son and herself came fast and furious these days.
- GPA 1.9. 3.7.
- Six detentions for frequent tardiness. Class Treasurer two years.
- Two one-day suspensions for cutting class. Best smile.
- Two suspensions for aggressive behavior. Co-Pres, Community Service Club.
- One writeup for violent behavior, several student complaints. Required counseling, never attended. Subsequent detentions for tardiness, missed commitments. Most likely to succeed.
She and Devon had tried for a child several times before having Trevor. The first embryo slipped away from them, a burst of bright red on the bathroom floor at a Chevron gas station where they’d stopped on their way to Dr. Bill’s office to hear the heartbeat. They never figured out what went wrong with the second embryo. On the day of her D&C, just before Luna slipped under anesthesia, she mumbled to the surgeon that the baby’s body must be full of holes. After that, all she wanted was a child to repair the hole in her own.
Principal Leavitt pulled another sheet of paper from his doomsday drawer. “Here’s a copy of his transcript. His grades aren’t up to par with what is expected of a Fairview student. His teachers concur. One referred to him as ‘at best, a spirited child.’”
Luna couldn’t deny there was something about Trevor’s spirit. It had powered his fragile, fighting body through a pregnancy so high-risk she’d nearly bled out six times. Even with the complications and their consistently thinning wallets, she had created someone who refused to cave.
“Do you have children, Mr. Leavitt?” she asked. “You and your wife must know how awful they feel when they’re rejected. Sometimes the only way we keep kids afloat is to not turn our backs on them.”
A look of disdain crossed his face before settling into something softer. “I’m not married, Ms. Felles. We try not to make assumptions here.”
She shouldn’t have said that. Why couldn’t she stay quiet?
Leavitt leaned toward her. “There are always things adults can do to help. We offer several clubs and organizations here, which we look to as signs of talent and potential. But Trevor hasn’t joined any.”
“He tried, but…” But what? But he always came home in a bad mood. Grumbling about how he couldn’t understand the directions, and how that bastard Jackie laughed and elbowed him and called him slow. And that all the directions were stupid, and had she seen his Nintendo Switch? Was it charged?
Sometimes—who was she kidding, it was all the time—the two of them would sit on the couch, exhausted after a day of managing each task. She’d smooth the curls along his hairline, exact replicas of her own, and Trevor would reach for her hand and squeeze it. His fingers looked like hers, too but longer, softer, without the cracks and raw spots. He’d rest his palm on hers for several minutes before retracting it and grabbing his game console. Sometimes the gesture worried her, since other fourteen-year-olds didn’t cling to their parents. Maybe his brain was so far behind he’d never be able to catch up. But her heart still swelled every time they sat like that, staring in the same direction.
Luna wondered what Leavitt meant by wasted potential. Did it mean Trevor dreaming up all these stories, but forgetting to charge the electronic tablet so he could write them down? Twelve o’clock, Trevor. Don’t forget to charge your tablet at twelve o’clock or you won’t be able to do your homework. But the trash truck had come yesterday, and he’d been so overwhelmed by the noise that he just forgot. “It’s not going to do that every day, is it?” he had asked with his hands clamped on his ears.
Did it mean not using a pen because his motor control issues destined him to drop it and get frustrated? Deciding he didn’t want to write anymore because there was another sound outside and could that mean somebody was coming to take him away?
Or did potential mean hoping that someday he’d be famous for making movies? Given Trevor’s illegible handwriting, Luna had to transcribe his two-hour spec script for Timeslipping Martians Save The World. They worked late into the evening on a blustery night last fall; Luna let him stay up until one am because his joy overflowed, and the spindly, multicolored flowchart that she traced for him grew into not one, but three subplots. The first day Trevor showed up to movie club with his script in hand, brimming with excitement, he didn’t know what Mr. Gremble meant by “Write down your action plan,” and didn’t think to ask. He quit that club after the second meeting, because he couldn’t remember even half of Mr. Gremble’s list of confusing definitions. It was okay. Mr. Gremble was too busy chuckling at subplot #2.
All these failures didn’t indicate potential, she wanted to cry out. They were failures. And as Trevor’s mother, she must have failed, too. Wasn’t creating a self-sufficient adult the most important part of motherhood? Wasn’t that the whole point?
She’d never say it out loud, not to Devon or her friends or anyone else, but Luna was scared. She read the news. She knew the kind of violent deeds frustrated boys did when nobody helped them do anything else. Was that his potential?
An acidic smell, maybe from the sheer amount of glass cleaner required to shine all those windows, made Luna draw up in her chair. She snatched the pink post-it and rubbed it between her index finger and thumb. “What did Francois say to Trevor before he hit him?”
“Whatever it was, it doesn’t matter.”
He was right, she knew.
“We all tried to reach Trevor,” Leavitt said. “Every time I passed him in the hall, I advised him on how to get ahead. ‘Buck up,’ I’d say. I even called a special meeting to tell him what he was doing wrong and how to fix it. Did he tell you we were supposed to meet last Thursday at noon?”
“He tried to make it, but he just, forgot.” Twelve o’clock, Trevor. Don’t forget what you need to do at twelve o’clock. He had been so sorry, holding his ears.
Leavitt scoffed. “You have to try pretty hard to forget a meeting with the head of the school. Why didn’t he follow up and tell us? Why didn’t you?”
Her fingers rubbed the paper so fast she thought a flame might spark.
“Wasted efforts,” Leavitt said. “The amount of trouble your son has caused … it isn’t worth it to our school.”
Heat crept across her face and neck, down her ramrod-straight spine. She knew “it” meant “he.” He would never be worth it to them. But he was to her. No matter how awful Trevor was, how many times he pulled or threw or scratched or kicked, she would fight to have the soul inside him be seen.
Something came over Luna. Her fist flew out, cracked clean through two rows of veneers that must have cost Leavitt a fortune. His face caved around her hand, jowls ballooning over her knuckles. Blood streamed. A burst of Leavitt’s spittle hit the photo of the tennis team on the cover of the yearbook, landing just above the eyebrow of the magnificent, beaming boy. Spatters of blood fell in vicious stripes across the boy’s Bosworth racket.
Leavitt gaped at her. “Why, you loser bitch—”
She picked up the yearbook and smashed it so hard against the back of his head that something split. The sound snapped her back to reality. She yanked her hand away and froze. When the yearbook fell to the desk, the tennis boy on the cover landed face down.
Leavitt yowled. He grabbed his jaw and the back of his head, trying to contain the blood. “Sheryl!” he shouted across the room. “Get campus security on the phone. This woman just assaulted me.” He sneered at Luna. “You’re done,” he said through the curtain of blood that hung from his nose to his chin. “You and your son will never set foot in any school in this district again.”
She almost laughed. No, she imagined they wouldn’t.
“Did you hear me, Sheryl?” Leavitt screamed again at the door. “Call the police on Trevor’s mother!”
Sheryl shrieked when she saw Leavitt, then punched three digits into her cellphone. Luna looked at her plaintively, still in shock over what she’d done. Had she channeled Trevor? Maybe this was a small thing and the two of them could laugh it off, like they were recreating a scene from Timeslipping Martians Save the World. Neither of them would save the world now. Would they take her away? And if so, who would take care of her son?
She pulled out her own phone and dialed. “I love you,” she shouted to Trevor. “I love you more than anything.”
She couldn’t hear herself over the approaching sirens.
Wendy Maxon is a teacher in California who has published stories in Jersey Devil Press, Tales From The Moonlit Path, and City. River. Tree. In June 2020 she received her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert. She appreciates satire and cultural subversion and loves to design wacky school field trips.