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Fitting the Deck This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Today is first day of school number six. Even though I've been to five other schools within the past four years, those first few steps onto the cool tiled floor are always tough. The first few breaths of air laced with lemon-scented detergent always sting your lungs painfully. Even worse is the pounding of basketballs or lacrosse balls or soccer balls slamming between hands as jersey-clad boys toss them down the hallway. With each pound, the chaotic vibrations set me on edge. All the voices speak of last night’s game, the wicked party on Friday, who went out with whom on Saturday night. No one anywhere gives me any reason to be here. I can’t blame them though, seeing as there’s only one reason why I am here, why I chose this school out of a dozen possibilities.
My parents’ grips on either elbow corral me straight down the main hall and toward the office. They are two perfect lenses, providing a clarity that my near lack of vision cannot. My dad points out that the state has a vision-impaired tee ball league, and that he’ll help me practice if I’d like. I ignore the comment and toss it from my mind as we enter the office. He should know better by now.
Handshakes are exchanged along with my medical papers and school records, which are all that my previous eleven years of school have boiled down to. I am awkwardly excluded until I extend my own hand into the unknown, toward the largest foggy grey blotch - the principal himself. “Laurence Jacobs,” I say firmly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Well, hello, Mr. Jacobs, it is great to meet you, too.” He speaks slowly and simply, as if he were addressing a small child. My ears and brain are just fine, I want to say. The cuff of his starchy wool suit jacket brushes my hand, and I get the impression that he is just as stiff as his coat. He assures my parents that this school will not be like the last one, or the one before that, or even the one before that. I tune out the rest of the conversation as the principal shows off the many amenities and accommodations the school has made, apparently just for me, but everyone in the small airless room knows that these so-called accommodations are only a state-enforced formality, like the wheelchair ramp that feeds out of the main doors for the single student who needs it.


On cue, a boy my age trudges in, and the principal introduces him as Josh White, my go-to friend for anything I may need. I nearly scoff at the use of the term ‘friend’ as I hold out my hand again to shake his. Instead of rigid wool, this time I feel the swishy mesh of his lacrosse jersey and a chunky class ring. His grip is limp and bored, and a non-committal grunt is all that I receive in return. I’m sure he’s been told or has noticed that I’m nearly blind, but I doubt his thoughts are much more sophisticated than the jokes he’s making in his head about me, the ones he’ll later repeat to his friends over the lunch table. I already long for the day to be over so that I can see if this whole school transfer ordeal has been worth it. All of this for the smell of rusty clay and modeling dough, and the warmth radiating from the kiln room.
Instead, I calmly nod as the principal gives me a handful of packets about extracurricular activities that I inevitably can’t participate in or even read. I smile politely anyway and exit the office with Josh and my parents, finally managing to free myself from their snug grips. My hands run vertically down the grainy door, and my search eventually produces an icy, metallic handle leading to the halls outside.


The moment the door opens, we rush into a sea of sound. The homeroom bell hasn't rung yet, so the students are still free to roam about the halls and talk by their lockers. Josh mumbles something that I miss, unable to distinguish his primitive grunting from the rest of the idiot boys in this school. I manage to navigate the first hallway well, but as we turn into the tighter space of the science wing, I become distracted by a strange mix of formaldehyde and a subtler staleness that reminds me of my grandmother’s house. I turn in its direction to see if I can distinguish the smell as a bobbing grey splotch. With my senses overloaded, I smash headlong into the wall in front of me. The pain shatters out from the point where my forehead connected with the wall, and soon a dull headache is pulsing through my mind like the scent that caused it. I rub the warm skin where I can already feel a lump forming as I try to identify Josh’s voice again in the crowded hall. Eventually I find him. He tells me to watch where I’m going. I don’t bother to respond.


Finally we arrive in a chemistry classroom, where the instructor, Mr. Collins introduces himself and hands me my special textbook that is written in Braille. The cover is familiar, cool and slippery in my hands, like wet clay, and I am told to take good care of it. I’m used to these judgmental first impressions; the teacher has already set me apart.


The class gets into pairs to begin the lab, and I sit in the back doing the book work that I was assigned. No one speaks to me, but they all speak of me. The girls whisper, and as a teenage guy, it’s not in the way I’d like them to be talking about me. Mr. Collins must have forgotten to preface my arrival, because the students wonder far too loudly why I am not expected to experiment with the same dangerous chemicals as they do. Either they don’t know or they think it’s funny to not care. I hear a girl ask another if I came from a correctional facility or a "special" school. Apparently those background details haven’t become a part of my identity yet, haven’t been measured as one of my stats.


I am nothing but a face and name, like on one of my father's baseball cards. The rest of the students begin to analyze the information they’ve compiled about me. I take the same coursework as them, but it seems as though it is a favor being done to me, making me feel as though I am one of the rest of them. Some seem to have heard that I opted out of Gym and Humanities for Advanced Sculpting and 3-D Design. The fact that I’m an artist has apparently snaked through the halls as rumors do, in tidbits and snippets. A girl asks how I can do art if I can’t see what colors I’m using, or what it looks like when I’m done. Josh comments that I give off that pretentious artsy person vibe, as if anyone could manage to be more pretentious and self-centered than Josh himself. Josh, who did nothing but ignore me the moment that one of the guys approached.
In the hallways, several boys call out to him, and I learn his stats as well: made varsity soccer and lacrosse as a freshman, only keeping himself off of academic probation by copying from the many girls who flock to him. Josh seems to have realized that I am hurting his image already and I am ditched after Chemistry. He runs out the door the moment that the bell rings.
In many ways, I’m glad. I feel as though if I lay low, I can get through this alive. At least no one will directly acknowledge me, and if they don’t see me, they won’t give me any trouble.
After several other uncomfortable encounters with new teachers and new classes and numerous greasy, meaty smells wafting from the cafeteria, the bell rings cheerily and the day is over. I clutch my books to my chest with one arm, running the other hand down the barbed brick wall to keep myself oriented.


When I first heard about this school and its nationally accredited art program, it became obvious that it would become the sixth and hopefully last high school that I would attend. I came to sculpt, the one thing I’ve always been allowed to do like a normal, able teenager. But earlier, as I sat at lunch with the rest of the kids with who couldn't find their niche or who had no one better to eat with, I finally got it, after all these years. I am the blind boy, and I will always be the blind boy. Never the sculptor, the artist, or even so, I will be the blind sculptor. It is the position I play; I am a baseball card, to be analyzed and traded off.
Now as I step into the art studio after school and meet the teacher Mrs. Wilson, or Libby, as she prefers, my card changes form. She offers her hand to me first, snaking her fingers across my palm to help me find hers. I can almost hear her smile. I pray that I have pitched a no-hitter.
We sit down at a large table, smooth but blemished by scraps of clay left behind. I scrape the bits off carefully with my nails, refusing to let their impurities into my new, fresh clay.
The excess water squishes through the canyons of kneaded clay alongside my fingers. I am nearly content as we continue working. I begin to form something thick and sturdy in my hand, but it soon whittles down to a thin, frail frame. I squish it back into a blotchy lump, feeling the raised patches of what it had been. I’m not sure what to make, what will impress Libby, what will convince her that I’m not just the blind sculptor. I’m not sure that anything will. But I hope that we can pretend.
As I struggle to form some unknown masterpiece out of the bit of earth in my hands, Libby passes me a flat tool, one that is more exacting than my fingers. Made of stone, the tool is thin and sharp, like the edges of my card.



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ClarinetPower said...
Jun. 30, 2012 at 9:11 am
This was so good! I loved it because most books I read use imagery, and not sensory details, and this was a refreshing change. Keep writing!
 
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