Barcelona’s new winter is caught between moods as a young boy, frail and slacken beneath a mop of brown hair, aimlessly walks the halls of his junior high school, eventually trailing off toward the administrative offices where he sits in an isolated chair outside a weathered, brown door. Minutes later, as he’s nervously tugging at his sleeves, worn wrinkled by his obsession with their length, the door opens, and a girl still wiping her cheeks’ dried tears leaves down the hall, defeated. Lionel goes in.
“Hi, Leo. Thanks for coming. How is everything, good? Oh, no? Well, I’ve heard from some of your teachers that you’ve been a little upset again and I wanted to let you know my door is always open. I’m not just a guidance counselor; I’m a friend.”
Leo sits on the green couch in the middle of the room; its high back that faces the door making it impossible to see who’s from the other side.
“I know we’ve talked before, and I just wanted you to know that I remember what you said, and I understand. You were frustrated with this school. You didn’t like how the teachers were treating you. You were sad because your classmates had to transfer to different academies. You thought you were outgrowing us. I remember, Leo. We talked a lot. Do you still feel that way?”
Leo hasn’t looked up from the small scars on his knees where he’s long picked at the scabs he earned on the playground. As his eyes drift down to the thin ridges left on his calves by his shinguards, he gently nods his head. He’s felt this way for years.
“Oh. Leo, I completely understand. That’s why I’m here. As much as we love you, not everybody can feel loved all the time. You’re a growing boy.”
He wasn’t a boy, he thought, as he pulled up his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks.
“No, you’re not even a boy anymore! The young man I see before me makes us all so proud. It’s completely understandable that you want to see more of the world.
“But remember what we talked about last time? Sometimes the change you want is the change you regret. You might go your friend Francisco’s school and find the teachers are even worse. And the classrooms aren’t the same. And you don’t like playing for that coach. And the weather … you already know about the weather. Cesc’s school sounds great, but that’s partly because you’re not there.”
It’s a speech he’d heard before. The first time, he believed it. He decided to stay home. But the next year, he wanted to leave again. And the next one. The schools he eyes change each fall, but he’s always wanted to go.
“You know, Leo, nobody’s perfect, and no place is perfect, either. Schools make mistakes just like people do. Sometimes we have bad days and take our best students for granted. But that doesn’t mean you’re not loved. And that doesn’t mean the place you’re tired of now, the one that doesn’t seem as good as where your friends are, isn’t still the right place for you.”
The second time, fine, but the third time you hear a speech, it’s old. The fourth time, pedantic. Fifth, infuriating. But the sixth time you’re called into your counselor’s office to talk about the same problem? It’s patronizing. His mind was already on practice that afternoon.
“Oh, Leo, you’ve come so far here. And you’ve done so many great things. We’ve never had a student as clever as you. When we talk to other teachers at other schools, they tell us how lucky we are to have you. And we know, Leo. We realize it every day, even if there are times we do things you might not like. Even when we have to make you sad, Leo, we still care about you very much.”
“Make you sad?” Who talks like this? It was the wrong thing. Every time Lionel reconsidered, somebody talked down to him. He didn’t want to leave, but this was more than sadness. Any time it turned to his mood, he felt the urge to go.
“I would just hate for you to make a change and regret it, Leo. There are a lot of great schools out there, and some of them may be as good as this one. But none are better, Leo, and while it seems like it’s worth the risk of changing places just to experience something new, there are so many people my age who regret the times they turned their backs on something good.
“Family is important, and here, we are family. You know that, but you also know what you want. Follow your heart. I would just hate for you to throw away everything just because your heart is bored.”
“And I would just hate for you to realize that I’m so much more than bored.”