You and I
Author's note: Dedication J., I see your eyes everywhere I go, a pair of startling stars blinking... Show full author's note »
First Glance3 Months Later . . .
It was an ordinary morning–well, as ordinary as a first day of school begins. I hadn’t slept at all as per usual, and I was totally bummed about the summer being over. Good-bye hot summer days and cool, icy pink lemonade; hello trucks of homework and awful headaches.
I could never understand those commercials with the parents screaming and jumping animatedly while their kids inspected the school supply aisles looking for the quote on quote “Back to School” deals. Personally, in my own family, my Mom was always devastated when my younger sister, Sabrina, and I, were forced to return to the so-called jail; in other words, school. Hell, school was a swear word; no one uttered the dirty syllable unless they wanted to be glared at stonily. It wasn’t that I performed poorly in school. In fact, I did quite well. Some called me a nerd.
The truth was that I just didn’t like school. Halfway through the year, I would always get into such a rut of waking up, going to school, talking to the same friends, coming home, mulling over my homework, and then going to bed. I couldn’t see the point in spending a quarter of my life holed up in a building and poring over what seemed to be nothing but nonsense.
So, as Sabrina and I stepped out of my Mom’s car and onto the cold grey pavement, I bit my lip with worry and gave a short good-bye. Before I could blink, Sabrina was already hurrying inside. She was such a social butterfly; she’d fit in really well. Why shouldn’t she? She had the personality, the good-looks, and she was anything but dumb. I could already imagine all of the eyes that would be on her as soon as she loped inside as a freshman. Her frame was long and limb like a dancer’s. Sleek, flowing chestnut brown hair streamed down her back like an enchanting waterfall and her wide, large brown eyes were honest and true. Conversely, I was short and average with wavy dirty-blond hair. We were nothing alike, and yet completely the same. You see, she and I appeared different on the outside and our personalities were night and day, but we were the same within: our values, beliefs and dreams were in sync. She was my best friend, and yes, I was envious of her deep down. Sabrina was everyone’s best friend. I was just wading through the water, testing and teasing, and not really sure where I was heading at all. When Sabrina saw something or someone she wanted, she went after it. I hung back.
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and glancing up at the long two-storied high school, I put one foot ahead of the other and made my way inside. The newly renovated building was teeming with students. Shoving my way through the crowd, I managed to make it to the bulletin boards covering the wall across the hall like a giant cobweb. Finger tracing through the list of names, I finally found my first period: Room 101–CLP Classroom. As usual, my name was right near the bottom of the daunting list. I guess that’s what happens when you have a name like Winters.
I’d find my friends at lunch, I reasoned as I hastened down the wide, twisting hallways. The warning bell had already sounded throughout the building, but most students around me seemed unfazed by its shriek. I picked up the pace and took hurried glances at the room numbers I passed until my eyes locked on 101. I refused to be late. In fact, I liked to think of myself as a punctual person.
I literally had to stop at the door to gather myself and my thoughts. Peering through the glass-paned window in the door, I took a final gulp of air and nearly stumbled back at the sight I found. The room looked chaotic with kids running around everywhere, and several women darting across the room.
Suddenly, I could feel my stomach bunch up inside of me like a cat curling in on itself. God, I thought. What have I gotten myself into?
A shrill scream pierced the room as I pushed my way inside. My body instantly clamped up inside, fingers clenching into shaking fists as I feebly struggled to reign in my alarm. What on earth is going on? The shout broke off suddenly as I heard a rush of feet and the abrupt close of a door. I was too stunned to move for a few seconds.
When I managed to drag myself further inside and into the then empty section of the room, I realized that the area branched off into several other adjoining rooms. It was huge. Upon entry, I could see that to my left there was a large kitchen, which occupied the entire wall with a long, wooden table in the center. I was surprised to find a washing machine and dryer nestled in the far left corner; the machine was spinning clothes around and around in a strict mechanical fashion. Directly to the right, I peered into another room, which appeared to be a mini-office of some kind with one of those chairs that swing around in lazy circles and a long mahogany desk sporting a typical telephone. The desk was a haphazard mess, covered with what appeared to be student planners and bright yellow sticky notes. As I took a quick sweep of the room, I could see a door at the end. Perhaps the area was for storage, a bathroom even? I didn’t dare step inside; I understood the boundaries between teachers and students. However, I was admittedly curious.
It wasn’t long before another shout erupted from somewhere in the maze-like rooms. I didn’t jump this time, but uneasiness was clear in my trembling body and flip-flopping stomach. Without much thought, I sprang forward and into another adjoining area which was even larger than the first. I immediately caught sight of the source of the screams: a small, thin boy seated at a single desk. He yelled out at the sight of me, and I jumped back with a small, frightened sound.
“Henry!” exclaimed a high voice as a woman briskly made her way over and scolded the boy. She was tall and thin with a short, boyish mop of brown hair. “That’s no way to greet our guest!”
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” I whispered, my eyes locked on Henry’s as I took in his features. He had short red-orange hair and small blue eyes. He was thin as a rail and dressed in navy sweats with a striped pullover shirt. I would have guessed him to be about twelve years old if I hadn’t seen his face. There were many more years of experiences behind those two small pools in the centre of his face. In all reality, he must have been about twenty years. He looked at me wonderingly, his eyes crinkling softly in the corners. He let out a small groan, and I caught the hint of a smile in his face.
“He’s curious about you,” said the young woman with a faint twitch of her lips.
“What happened . . . ?” I ventured, wondering why he had been so alarmed only a few moments ago.
The woman shook her head of hair and shrugged. “He doesn’t like school much. First day is always hard for the kids.”
“So, he wasn’t in pain or anything, right?” I asked, not entirely relieved yet. Henry seemed to have calmed down, but he did look uncomfortable. His one hand was awkwardly clasping his other and his legs were trembling.
“No, he’s simply communicating his frustrations. He can’t speak. He can’t walk well either.”
I felt a deep pang somewhere deep down inside of myself. He was just a kid, a helpless victim of a disorder that I couldn’t even begin to understand. He had to be in some kind of pain–if not physical, then emotional, at the least. I thought I had problems; I didn’t have any at all. I’d never realized what I had. I could walk. I had a voice. I could express myself in any way I chose.
The woman suddenly reached out her hand to mine, saying, “I’m Mrs. Graves. You must be Casey. Correct?”
Jarred from my quiet thoughts, I gave a curt nod of acknowledgement, and shook her hand absently. I began to take in the rest of the room, unsure of what I was expected to do.
“Would you like to take a tour and meet the students? Most of them are in the other room, although a few are in the bathroom, and, of course, some are yet to arrive.” She gestured to another door on the far side of the room. “I’m just going to get Henry set up with an activity. You go on.” She gave me a reassuring smile and pushed Henry’s chair against his desk.
“It was, um, nice to meet you, Henry,” I whispered. Did he know what I was saying? Surely he could hear, right? How much could he understand? Suddenly, I just didn’t know. I didn’t have any of these answers.
I thought of touching his hand to say good-bye, but I couldn’t bring myself to the task. I was afraid he may yell out; this boy, he frightened me to the core. Admittedly, I felt ashamed of my fearful response. I was struggling to understand this new reality.
Without further contemplation, I turned full-circle and pushed open the door gently, only hoping I’d do better this time. Inside, I was greeted by multiple turning heads. I smiled faintly, biting my lip hard. There were so many of them–the kids. They were all different shapes and sizes. None of them yelled or shouted out at my appearance.
“Hello! Welcome to our class.” I looked up, startled out of the silence as I met the face of an older woman with bright blue eyes and layered greying hair.
“Hey,” I managed to murmur. The teacher smiled full-on as she pulled out a seat for me next to a skinny blond-haired boy.
“I’m Mrs. McGuire and these are my excellent students. Class, do you think we could introduce ourselves to our Peer Supporter?” Words of agreement and excitement flooded the room. “She will be helping us reach our personal and academic goals this year.”
I shrunk back under the newfound gazes of the students. I couldn’t help but notice that while some stared at me directly, others seemed lost and far away.
Before I could say anything agreeable, Mrs. McGuire gestured to the student closest to her–a shy-looking girl with wavy strawberry blond hair, who was wearing a One Direction tee. The girl gave me a wary look and shook her head fiercely with disapproval.
Mrs. McGuire stepped in to say, “Amelia is new to us this year. We have a lot of grade nines.”
“Amelia,” I tried. “That’s a pretty name. You like One Direction, I see. I do too.” I watched the girl smile faintly and then cover her face with embarrassment. Inside, I felt my heart flutter briefly. I had made that smile. Me.
I noticed right away how Amelia looked like any other girl. She had bright pink mascara smudged across her eyes, a long silver chain around her neck and in-style clothes. She was a teen just the same as everyone else in the rest of the building. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as difficult as I’d thought.
The boy sitting to the left of Amelia was a different story. He had short curling black hair and a pair of hazel eyes behind big, round glasses. That wasn’t what startled me. It was the chair. He was strapped tightly in a wheelchair, his hands trembling in his lap and his head shaking so badly I didn’t know whether or not he could focus on anything at all.
“I–I’m Carlos. Carl,” he struggled to say.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied automatically. He looked at me curiously, and then glanced at Amelia with a smile that I couldn’t understand the meaning behind. Amelia giggled in response, her eyes trapped on his for a split second, one that I almost missed.
The introductions continued in a similar fashion. There was Jeremy, a boy who appeared as far as I could fathom, well, normal–if you could say that. I mean, in all actuality, what was normal? There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of psychological disorders alone and everyone is said to have an abnormality. Who was I to judge? Who was anyone?
Jake, another boy, was on crutches, though I figured that wasn’t why he was in the class. Andy has short black hair, glasses, and he seemed to be a very sweet young man–he smiled at me and laughed good-humouredly. Riley, a girl with long black braids and chocolate brown eyes, was also introduced. Bailey and Bethany were in chairs, like Carl. Other names followed until we came to the boy seated next to me.
“And what is your name?” Mrs. McGuire inquired of the boy. I had a feeling she knew; she wanted him to tell me. The boy turned to look at me and then made a high-pitched squeaking sound. I didn’t flinch. Mrs. McGuire tried several times until the boy seemed to awaken from his reverie.
“Braden,” he said awkwardly and then turned away, absorbed in something I couldn’t see.
Mrs. McGuire smiled to herself and began to hand out notebooks to each of the students. Without even thinking, I moved towards her and she gave me half the pile. This was a solid, concrete task, and something that I knew I could handle perfectly. Once everyone had a book, I was directed back to Braden.
“Please help Braden write his name,” Mrs. McGuire said. I nodded and handed Braden a pencil.
“Can you draw your name for me?” I asked the boy curiously. He glanced at me; blue eyes on my hazel ones. We stared at each other for a few moments of complete silence, my tongue stuck frozen inside my mouth. “Please?” I urged. He didn’t move, his eyes staring into mine. I could feel them staring through me. “Braden,” I tried again, my tone slightly more forceful. His body seemed to take a jolt, and his eyes truly found mine. I didn’t know what I had done to grab hold of his thoughts. I patted the notebook, saying, “Write your name, here.” His eyes widened as he glanced from me to the pad and back again. “Here, Braden. Your name goes here,” I repeated. His pencil slid across the paper in surprisingly neat black script. I smiled in spite of everything; I had helped him succeed.
After twenty minutes, Braden had written his name numerous times, each better than the last. There were times when I had to urge him and give him that extra push in the right direction, but he was doing it and I was . . . proud of us–him for giving me a chance; me for taking the leap of faith.