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Dear God, This is the first day of school; and I am a good girl. I have never done anything to hurt anyone, at least not on purpose. This one time please do not let my brother come over here, or even look my direction, usually he does. I don’t want this to be a “usual” circumstance. Thanks, Juliet.
I am not religious. I never have been, but this time, the only one who really has power over Alan, is God, whoever and wherever he is. I wasn’t even paying attention to the girls around me. Their gossip was just white noise, like foreboding background music in a horror film, just adding suspense.
The embarrassment hadn’t hit me yet. I hadn’t even mentioned the weirdo was my brother. The teasing usually occurred seconds after I confessed. It wasn’t getting that bad yet, at least not compared to the “DC years.” We were in upstate New York now, things would be different, or so I thought.
In DC, I was expected to be just like my older brother, immature, inappropriate, naïve, and just plain odd. It took a thick skin to be my friend, especially a close one.
Other kids have called him a retard; a thick head and sometimes they’ve even thrown things at him, if he was really acting up. I remember one time, this especially nasty bully called him a mental faggot and he got the whole Special Ed chess club up against him...
I was jostled from my abstraction as I realized that the popular girls that had asked me to sit with them were talking about Alan. “Gosh, what is that freak doing? He’s like bagging on peoples’ eating habits, he’s causing a scene!” “OMG, I would me so embarrassed to like know him!” That sent a pang of disappointment rapidly rushing through me. “I can’t even imagine,” I murmured softly. But I could. I can.
Like a movie you watch over and over again – I knew exactly which scene was playing: Alan was holding forth loudly, pushing his fake Harry Potter glasses up his nose. The ones with no lenses, the wire rims bent out of shape from all the times he’d dropped them or kids had yanked them off his face and smashed them on the ground. He still wore them, proudly, nonetheless.
His face was getting redder and redder as he grabbed a half-eaten Oreo from a blonde girl’s hand and shoved it in her bewildered face.
“Don’t you realize,” he barked, fiercely, right in her ear, “That there are 160 calories in the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies. If you choose the Chocolate Fudge Mint Covered Sandwich Cookies instead, you would save about 100 calories! And that’s not to mention all the niacin and iron in the Fudge Mint icing.”
“That dude is never getting a date,” a handsome boy I’d noticed in my Algebra class whispered to me.
“I know, right…” I nodded, meekly. Then I added – “What a loser.”
I really felt bad about lying about my brother, a tender subject, especially considering the circumstances.
Later, I got my bag and rushed out of English, heading toward the bus. I felt like an ex-convict running from the police. Only the police weren’t even around, I felt guilty. I pulled scratched Nokia cell phone out of the front pocket of my navy blue bag. I immediately called Hallie, the friend I knew I would always have no matter what. Of course she wanted to hear all about my first day, since she was back in DC.
“Hey Jules, what’s up? How was your first day at Belleview?”
“I’m not sure…. Alan was giving people lectures, and shoving stuff in their faces, being the smart aleck he is. I felt embarrassed... I mean people don’t know he’s my brother, but still. I’m not sure if I even have to mention it; you know that he’s autistic. What should I DO?”
“I wouldn’t keep such a big secret from them. It’s like a band-aid, pull it off now, it might hurt, but you won’t pay later. Right? What’s the scene like there? Are you just going to be like the lone cowboy like us at Marymount or what?”
“Well, the group that seemed to be the popular kids asked me to sit with them. I really am not sure how shallow they are, I don’t want to be talking down an empty well, if ya know what I mean.”
“Yeah, call me back tomorrow, play it cool, see how things are. I have to go start homework. Love you.”
“Thanks. You too. Later.”
I started down the cement corridor, and slid my phone back into the navy blue pocket. Coming from a private school in DC to this, a large public madhouse was definitely going to need some getting used to.
I quickly opened the front door, to find a labyrinth of moving boxes and plastic covered furniture.
“Hello?” Mom? Dad?” Hello?!”
“We’re over here Jules!” A familiar voice put me at ease. My mom, one of the only sane people in our family, besides me of course.
I pushed my way through the branches and vines of half-opened boxes, covered furniture collecting dust, and books and CDs bent and sprawled across the wood floor.
“How was your day sweetie? It doesn’t look like Alan fit in very well. Its not like he said it, I can just sense it nowadays.”
“Fine…. I guess Alan’s going to need some help. People don’t know he’s my brother yet. I’m good for a while. I might have made a couple friends, no one like Hallie though.” I looked up at my mom’s gold ringlets, her warm hazel eyes, and perfect infectious smile. People say I look just like her, yeah, I get that a lot.
“Go check on him, darling, for me.”
“Alan?” I called softly, Alan??”
“What? What do you want dingbat?”
“Can I come in?”
The brass knob slowly turned in my reluctant hand. He hates loud noises. A perfect line of clearly marked boxes, Property of Alan Beckley: if touched, trespasser will pay, no Miranda Rights given.
“How are you? Rough day?” I asked sweetly.
“I’m fine. I don’t know why you didn’t speak to me today. I’m mad.”
“I just—I don’t know. I can’t be there all the time to help you. I have no effect on people’s feelings. Or even what you do.”
“Can you just go?” I didn’t leave right away.
I walked around his room, my hands crossed. Not really looking for anything; not going anywhere.
“Bye!” He said, shooing me away with his hand. He definitely needed his privacy.
The next day at school, I sat with the same people who had asked me who asked to sit with them the day before. Alan was trying to make friends; I was watching him from the corner of my eye. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, for possibly the first time since swimming lessons, about a year ago.
“Hey, new girl,” one of the girls asked. I spun around, realizing she was talking to me,
“Come to our sleepover on Friday, it should be fun.”
“Sure, I’ll check with my mom.”
Wow, I hadn’t even really talked to them and they were already inviting me over. I didn’t even think I could remember all their names. The girl who had asked me was Gracie, the one next to her Alana, across from her Jessie, and next to her was…
A shrill, piercing scream filled the cafeteria. Alan. Again, one of his tantrums. The ones caused by seemingly nothing at all. He was kicking as the teachers were trying to drag him across the hall. The principal was called; Alan was taken to his office. I wanted to comfort him, be a sister and say everything was all right. I could just imagine what was going on in his mind, fury, panic, stress, and exasperation, maybe a mixture of all four.
After school, I had realized I hadn’t talked to Hallie. I would call her later; I had some unpacking to do.
I slammed the door, to find uncovered furniture, more then half of the boxes un-packed and my mom sipping a cup of tea and talking to my brother.
“I understand you’re trying your best. We might need to find a therapist here, to help with the tantrums and anger. Like Neal, only here.”
“But—I’m trying, it can’t get any better, it’s them that needs the therapy, they just don’t understand!”
“Well then, let’s look at it another way, maybe you need the therapy to help them understand.”
Alan was already on the run, to take a safe refuge in his castle of perfection and order.
“Hi Mom. I have to unpack. Oh, by the way, can I have a sleepover Friday? These girls I’ve been eating lunch with asked me.”
“Oh that’s great, of course you can, I told you you’d be making friends in no time. Speaking of friends, you should call Hallie. She called while you were at school.”
“I’ll call her later mom. Thanks.” I sighed and walked to my room, I needed a break from my family, and I wasn’t even going to go near my brother.
The next day at school, Alan wasn’t in the lunchroom. I didn’t see him anywhere. I got some time to talk to my new friends before the sleepover. “So, what are you guys in to?”
“Shopping, makeup, boys and playing tennis at the country club,” Lizzy said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I am too,” I said, trying to sound the least bit convincing. I would risk anything to be one of them.
When Friday finally arrived, we all met up after school. An enormous SUV Escalade pulled up on the curb. A tall, dark haired, young woman walked out of the car. She looked almost identical to Gracie, only a couple years older.
“Hey mom! We have someone else today, this is Julia,” she said, nonchalantly.
“I’m Jennifer; call me Jenny,” she reached over and shook my hand, “Come on girls, get in.”
Everyone from the lunch table was there, Gracie, Lizzy, Jessie, Alexa, and Britney. A girl I didn’t recognize was talking to Britney. She turned around and looked at me.
“Hi. I’m Juliet I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Molly. I’ve never seen you before. I don’t go to Belleview. Well I did, but I’m home schooled now, I got expelled,” she announced her expulsion with a tone almost showing pride.
Later that afternoon, Gracie decided we should all go swimming; I hadn’t brought a bathing suit. I found myself in a tight Dolce and Gabana black bikini, the seams about to burst.
The girls cannon-balled into the finely tiled pool one by one. “So, new gossip this week, me first. That weirdo Alan, he’s new, something’s like wrong with him. He’s a retard, like he has issues. Mental issues.”
I felt like jumping out of the pool and running as far away as I could, but something stopped me. I felt a queasy feeling in my stomach; I swallowed hard and tried to ignore it.
“We could play a prank! Ohmigosh we should teepee!” Lizzy exclaimed, like she had just solved the answer to all of our prayers.
“Teepee?” I asked; obviously I was unfamiliar with the way these girls behaved.
“Like toilet papering his room, you know making a mess of his stuff.”
“You sure? I mean it’s a little uhh rude. You know? He seems nice enough.”
I was praying they would listen to me, as meek as it sounded. Alan hates disorder and needs his personal space. I needed to be there for my brother, this time; they were going a bit too far.
“No, its funny! Besides, we won’t get caught, I promise. Come on, let’s get out and get dressed.”
We filed out of the pool after Gracie; I was last, pretty hesitant.
“I’ll stay here, it’s fine.” I said, trying to sound cheery.
“No! You’re the new girl; you got to learn the ropes. I’ll go get the roster to look up his address; we can walk or Alex, my new chauffeur, will drive us. It’s no biggie!”
“I’ll just stay in the car then, I don’t really feel comfortable…”
“Suit yourself,” Alexa said looking back at me. I had stopped. Dripping wet and cold; hesitant even to take another step. As they were leaving I ran to catch up to them.
“Wait! I’ll do it…”
“Good choice,” Lizzy said almost sarcastically.
“Ohmigosh! I have the address right here! Alex can totally drive us!”
We were all dressed in about ten minutes, and in a limo, a real limo. They were talking all around me; I was looking out the window counting the seconds. I barely could take it. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The yellow craftsman house I had barely gotten to know was in full view. The rose bushes, the large oak tree, all seemed different now, less comforting. We got out of the car, trying to be as quiet as possible. The car usually in the driveway was gone.
We walked to the back of the house; they were peeking through the windows. Finally they found his room, the pills on his night table, the perfectly lined up books, the backpack in the corner, the smoothed over bed sheets.
“Wow, ohmigosh I feel like a criminal!” Lizzy said, the tone of her voice showing excitement. Gracie put one hand on the window; slowly it slid up. I held my breath. Carefully, she pushed herself on the ledge and climbed in. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening to me, in my house. This was what popularity was about? This is what was “accepted?” I wasn’t mean. I knew I shouldn’t be a part of this. I had that gut feeling, the feeling you get when you know something is wrong and you can’t help it. My mind was set on staying, I wanted to run, I wanted to not be part of this, but I had to. My legs wouldn’t move; I had to stay.
Gracie was now hoisting us up, one by one. Lizzy slowly opened her bag and got out a roll of toilet paper.
“Here,” she handed it to Jessie and she started to roll it out. Placing the end on the back of a chair, she tied it and rolled it across the room, to the bed.
Molly went to the bookshelf and started to pull books off the shelves. I just stood there. Watching them do this to my house. My brother. Me. I wanted to scream, my throat wouldn’t let me, I wanted to run, my legs too stiff. I opened my mouth, nothing came out.
Suddenly, footsteps. Mom’s high heels. “Alan? Alan are you in there?” Closer. I hadn’t noticed the sound of the car pulling into the driveway, none of us had.
“Quick, hide!” Gracie whispered urgently.
But there was no time. I stood frozen, the other girls scampering around, trying to find a hiding place. The handle turned, my face paper white. A scream. A long high-pitched scream. She turned and saw me.
“WHAT IN HEAVEN’S NAME IS GOING ON! JULIET, I WANT AN ANSWER, NOW!”
I realized what was going to happen. She was going to blow my cover, just like DC, like Arizona before that. I’m going to be a loser, and be judged for my brother’s problems, I am going to be hated for my family. I wish I had called Hallie back. She would have had the right advice, so none of this would have happened.
The girls were confused. I knew it. “What?! You know her?!” Gracie had the guts to talk back to a grown-up, nonetheless my mom.
“I KNOW HER? I KNOW HER? I BIRTHED HER! SHE IS MY DAUGHTER! DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO TALK TO ME THAT WAY? WHY IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU IN MY HOUSE? IN MY SON’S BEDROOM?! WHO ARE YOU AND WHO IS YOUR LITTLE POSSE OVER HERE? ARE YOU THE ‘'FRIENDS’’ MY DAUGHTER CLAIMS TO HAVE?”
“I-I-I guess this was a misunderstanding, we should go.”
“ONCE MY DAUGHTER HAS EXPLAINED THE SITUATION, I WILL BE CALLING YOUR PARENTS. NO FRIEND OF MY DAUGHTER HAS THE RIGHT TO—“
But they were gone. They scrambled out of the window as fast as they could, my mom still turned in their direction. Too scared to stay. It was awkward. Mom at the door, hands on her hips. Me, still pale, looking down at my sneakers. The room, partly damaged, toilet paper rolls, books off the shelves, Lizzy’s bag on the floor from when it was dropped.
“Your room. Now,” she said calmly, but I could tell she was mad.
“What exactly was going on? What in god’s name were you THINKING?”
“Well, ever since we got here, I wanted to be popular. For once I wanted to be separate from my brother. I made some mistakes, I befriended people I shouldn’t have, and I wandered too far from myself. I’m sorry.”
“Just tell me the whole story from beginning to end.”
I did. Everything.
“I see. I would listen to Hallie,” she suggested.
I think she understood now. “It might be a good idea to tell your classmates about Alan, maybe you could even educate them a little on the effects of the disease. It’s sad how uneducated and shallow this generation is becoming it might help. He’s seeing a therapist now, things should be getting better,” she hesitated. “I really understand what you were going through, you know you could have talked to me, or called Hallie back. It’s only been a couple of days, but I can just imagine how much is going on in that mind of yours.”
We talked for about an hour, it comforted me. I didn’t have to be alone; I didn’t feel the urge to run or to scream. I knew this wouldn’t be easy, but I would try.
By the time lunch came the next Monday, I was ready. I was scared but I had talked it over with my mom and I knew exactly what to do. I got my lunch and scanned the cafeteria. Gracie and her posse were giving me the evil eye, trying to fill the spots at their table; their expressions spoke a thousand words. Alan was by himself. He knew what had happened. I didn’t know how he felt, but I knew by the helpless look on his face, he knew. It’s going to be hard for him to make friends here.
I cleared my throat loudly. I put my tray down. People turned their heads, eyes from all directions. I started to speak.
“Over the past couple days, I haven’t been honest. My name is Juliet Beckley, and my brother is Alan Beckley. I was in a new city, a new school. I just wanted to fit in.”
The entire cafeteria gasped in disbelief; I swallowed hard and continued. They didn’t know what was coming.
“When he was three, Alan was diagnosed with autism, and he has had it ever since. ‘Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three that adversely affects educational performance.’ That’s how our doctor defined it when we were at his annual check-up eleven years ago. It has not only affected him, but it has also affected his family and those around him. It’s not his fault he needs order and routine in his life. It’s not his fault he has a short temper and has social and developmental problems. That doesn’t make him any different from the children all around the world fighting the disease. It’s not fair he’s treated this way, it’s not the way things should be, but it’s life, and I see him trying his best everyday. That’s all I ask for, and that’s all I could ever want. Please do not tease him, he deserves a break, why stoop that low? I’m sorry for being so selfish Alan, I love you, you should be my first priority, and you need my support.”
Silence filled the room. Alan slowly got up and walked over to where I was standing. He gently put an arm around me and whispered a soft “thank you” into my ear. I smiled, realizing what I had done. Something I always have wanted to do. Something I have never had the courage to confront. But I did, for Alan.
He tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around, he was smiling, a Chocolate Fudge Mint Oreo in his hand.
“Want a piece?”
“Sure.” I took a small piece from the cookie and smiled.