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A Notebook and Colored Pens
It was the first day of senior year. I hadn’t been this nervous since, well, the first first-day-of school, but even then, it was more excitement than nervousness. I put on this white and pink blouse my mom had bought me specifically for today. It wasn’t my style, but the colors were soft and subtle, and I knew it would make my mom happy to see me wear it, so I didn’t complain.
I got to the bus stop only three minutes early, hoping that wouldn’t give any one enough time to talk to me. I had a brand new notebook and a pack of colored pens in my backpack in case that did happen, in case a person around me wanted to talk. I was worried that my peripheral vision wouldn’t be enough to see their lips move, and they’d think I was ignoring them, so I looked ahead instead of down. I could tell I was one of the only seniors who still rode the bus, as everyone who filed on looked younger than me. Even though we lived in a nice area, my family only had two cars.
Stepping off the bus, I looked at my schedule and map and went directly to my classroom. The door was locked and a young guy with an ID around his neck was standing outside waiting. I decided to be bold, as I had promised myself I would be, but doubted it would really happen. “Hey,” I waved to him, “are you my interpreter?” He looked confused and pointed to himself. I nodded, though I already knew my assumption was wrong. I saw him mouth “sorry” and a few other words that I couldn’t make out. “It’s fine,” I mouthed while I signed. He looked older than he was.
I walked a few feet down the hall, sat down, looked at my phone, and realized there was still eight minutes before the bell would ring. I sighed and texted my mom: I just confused a student for my interpreter. Already embarrassing myself. At that moment I wanted to cry. I didn’t, but I sure wanted to. I missed my home and my friends and the school where everyone spoke my language. I was worried my interpreter wouldn’t show up, or she’d be brand new and not very skilled, or something. I’d never had an interpreter for school before. If they don’t sign well, my grades could suffer.
All the time I was thinking about this, I hadn’t noticed the boy who I had mistaken for a signer had sat down a few feet from me. He was staring at me, probably trying to figure out if he had seen me before. I turned to him, gave him a quick smile, and promptly looked back down at the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him rifling through the front pocket of his backpack. He waved at me, unknowingly signing “hey” while mouthing it, and held up a pen. He said something like, “do you have some paper.” Wow, I thought. Someone who’s not afraid of communication. I nodded, took out my notebook, and gave it to him.
“So you are deaf?” he wrote. “What is your name?”
“Yes, I’m Deaf. My name is Addie. Yours?”
“Matthew, and only Matthew. There are too many Matt’s around here, so I don’t go by that. You new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“This is my first day. My family used to live in Virginia, but my dad got a job transfer.” I really kind of resented my dad for taking that transfer.
“Oh, I understand. I moved here the summer of my freshman year, so I know how you feel. You miss your friends and your house and the familiar things, right?”
“Yeah, exactly. I don’t even know where the mall is around here. Are you in Mr. Jones’ 1st hour?”
“Yes, I got here early because I like to pick my seat.”
“Do you think I could sit with you, since I don’t know anyone?”
“Ma’am, it would be my pleasure.” When I saw that, I guess I must have giggled a little, because he wrote, “You have a nice laugh… Can you speak at all?”
I began to explain that yes, I can speak, because the Deaf school I went to before focused much on speech therapy AND signing, but the bell must have rang because Matthew stood up, walked a ways, and then gestured “C’mon” to me. I followed him to a table in the middle of the room. That was going to be a problem.
He sat down, but I kept standing. He pointed to the chair next to him and mouthed “sit” with a lot of emphasis. I wrote, “I have an interpreter, so I either need to sit in the front or the back; I’d like to be in a corner.”
“Oh right!” He put his palm to his forehead. “That seems so obvious. Ok, how about the back?” I gave him a thumbs-up, and we moved just as everyone else was coming in, including my interpreter, a woman about thirty, who would be following me around all day.
I got through my first three classes perfectly fine. Two of the teachers had had a Deaf student before, so they knew how it worked. I didn’t really talk to anyone else. One act of random friendliness was enough, right? Matthew wasn’t in my 2nd or 3rd hour, but that was fine. My interpreter was friendly and her signing was pretty good, so I was content.
At lunch I decided to go to the library to escape the awkwardness of finding a table. Matthew was there, but he didn’t see me; he was extremely focused on this huge book. From a safe distance, I could make out three hands that spelled ‘ASL’ and the word ‘Learn’ in front of them. Suddenly I was wishing that today would end and I could be going to first hour again. My job this week: give this kid a name sign.