Humans Are Too Human

January 18, 2013
Jonathon frowned to himself as the car drove through the streets. His father babbled on from the front seat, oblivious to the child’s insecurity. It was illogical and unusual behavior for him to be nervous for this kind of meeting; after all, school is just a place where you sit in a desk and listen to an adult drone on and on for hours... Well, at least that’s what his sisters told him. The car pulled into the parking lot while Jonny stared at his toes.
“Have a wonderful day, son!”
Jonathon nodded. “Yes, Dad.”
“The entrance is right over there, by the pillars.”
“Thank-you, Dad.”
“Go enjoy yourself. The therapist said that this’s the kind of experience that you would have no problem with. Go with confidence.” Jonathon nodded one last time before he hopped out of the car and shut the door behind him.

The classroom dulled Jonathon’s expectations of learning. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever been in a group with thirty other people, but it felt like a hundred beings occupied the room. Children threw paper airplanes, balled-up homework, pencils, markers, at anything that moved and some that didn’t. The teacher sat behind her desk, ignoring the chaos. He approached her calmly, taking careful steps. Don’t worry about the other children. You take care of yourself, he thought, remembering his mother’s words. The peppiness of the class made him a little sick.
“Excuse me, Ma’am?” he asked the teacher.
She glanced up instantly. “Are you the transfer student?” He nodded. Who else could I be? “Your desk is right over there,” she said, pointing to a dingy corner in the back. It would’ve been unused under normal circumstances, but here it was condemned by three sides of clumsy, noise-making monkeys.
He retreated to his seat. Once upon a time it had been smooth, pale, lacquered wood that lifted up to reveal a compartment for books, but now children’s names and drawings carved up the top and sides. A mystery substance obstructed the hinge, keeping it from closing all the way, and the storage space already contained someone else’s supplies. Jonathon didn’t unload his backpack into the desk; he set it beside him and paid attention to the front of the room.
When the second hand on the clock passed the twenty-third tick mark, the eight o’clock bell rang. The teacher got up from her position of ignorance and faced the children as if someone threatened her with a whipping if she didn’t.
“Good morning, children. Welcome to fifth grade. As I hope you all know, I’m Mrs. Davey,” she said, fake enthusiasm making her voice flat and her smile false. She picked up a stack of papers and started distributing them to the rows to be passed back. “I expect this form signed and turned in by Friday. It’s a slip that talks about classroom requirements and such for your parents to read.”
Once everyone placed the paper into their backpacks, she continued. “I guess, because this is the way the schedule’ll go for the rest of the year, we’ll start with at least a half-hour of math,” she said, mostly to herself. Mrs. Davey turned her back to the class and started to write on the board. Jonathon watched her hand so he could be the first to know the problem. Be eager to please, his mother had told him. Always be eager. The previous chaos resumed.
The first question started to look like a multiplication problem. One thousand two hundred fifty-six times forty-seven was the only one in Jonathon’s line of sight, the teacher blocking the rest of what she wrote. Hah. This posed no issue. Numbers danced in his head before he crunched them consciously. Fifty-nine thousand, thirty-two, he thought. Isn’t school supposed to be challenging? His mother had led him to believe it wouldn’t be like this. An exponent and a division problem covered the other half of the dusty, color-stained whiteboard.
“We’re going to start with review. Who can answer these questions?” Whew, it’s only review. Maybe it’ll become more difficult soon. I’m here for a challenge, not wasting my day.
“Jonathon? Jonny? Can you answer the first question?” the teacher called absently. He glanced at her, but then the window caught his attention. His gaze drifted. She trudged over to his desk. “Are you okay? Do you need to go to the nurse?”
He looked up at her then. “Fifty-nine thousand, thirty-two,” he said. “That’s the answer to the first problem.”
“Where’s your work, Jonny?”
“Jonathon. My name’s Jonathon,” he said compulsively.
“Where’s your work, Jonathon?”
He shrugged. Mrs. Davey walked back up to the front of the classroom. “Pay attention now, Jonathon. I’ll show you how to solve this problem.” She drew a diagram on the board and started filling it with numbers. “Look. You see? This is the tens multiplication...” His attention broke away from the teacher; he noticed the other children’s stares for the first time.
The kid sitting to his left nudged him. “So, where’d you hide the calculator?”
Jonathon stared at him blankly.
“Sorry. Here, I’m Blake,” he said, offering his hand.
Jonathon looked past him, entranced by patterns on the carpet.
“Did you use a calculator for that problem?” Blake repeated. “Teachers never like it when you do that. It’s always ‘show this work, show that work’,” he said, poorly imitating a teacher voice.
The sound of his name tore his focus back to the front of the room. “Jonathon? See how it’s done?” Mrs. Davey way saying.
“Yes, I see now,” he muttered. The teacher appeared satisfied and turned to the exponent problem.
“Now, I bet none of you have seen this before,” she said, as though she was a student giving a speech; she looked at the back wall. “Can any of you tell me what it—?”
Jonathon cut her off, a bit fed up. “Five to the fourth is six hundred twenty-five.”
Heads swiveled around to look at Jonathon, and his gaze instinctively shied away, turning to his hands. It became all too obvious that he didn’t use a calculator for this.
“How’d you know that?” the girl in front of him asked. Jonny didn’t reply.
“Hey!” the kid on his diagonal left shouted in his face. “Answer her!” He grabbed Jonathon’s arm roughly, trying to get his attention.
“Don’t touch me!” Jonathon shouted louder. Hold your ground calmly, rang Mother’s advice in his head. “Leave me alone,” he said, quieter.
The kids began nudging each other, eyes never leaving him, and then roared with laughter.
“Ugly! Cheater! Freak!” they chanted in unison.
Jonathon stared at them, a horrified look creeping over his features. How could people ever conduct themselves in such a manner? His eyes glanced to the teacher for help, but she wouldn’t make eye contact. Any noise he tried to make became lost in the chant.
“I’m not!” he shouted, his voice muffled by the crowd. “I’m not,” he whispered.
Finally, his face blushing bright red, he ran to the door, opened it, and dashed down the hall, away from his peers. People stared at him as he hurtled through the corridor, but no one tried to stop him. Multicolored floor tiles flew by as he ran with all his might.
Jonny’s breath came in short huffs by the time he reached safety under a tarp-covered, upside-down table. He curled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around himself, holding the fetal position. The children’s taunts echoed in his head. Ugly, cheater, freak. A sickening feel grew in his stomach. Are all schools like this?
Long minutes crept by. After Jonny calmed down, he noticed the ticking of a clock behind him and began to count the minutes. He watched shoes walk past on the floor, noticed four red and two blue. He stared up through the holes in the fabric covering the table and counted the specks on the ceiling that were visible from that position, two thousand, five hundred and twenty-eight. When he shifted another way, it added another two hundred and fourteen. He looked at the shoe streaks on the floor, determined the relative force it would have taken to put them there. He sank back into his comfortable den of numbers.
While he stared at the ground his teacher’s shoes came into sight. They stopped in front of the table, their pointy, red tips turned directly at him. Though it made a quiet scuffing sound, he turned around and faced the wall.
“Jonny?” Mrs. Davey called out.
He didn’t want to answer, but his body forced him to. “It’s Jonathon.”
He knew she felt a false hope at his speech.
“Can you come out from under there?” He didn’t move a muscle. “Can you at least turn to face me?” The tarp moved without warning to clear the teacher’s vision. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
Jonny could not bring himself to speak. He began rocking back and forth in the comforting manner that he thought he’d discarded years earlier and began reciting the Fibonacci sequence.
“One, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen...”
“Thirty-four, fifty-five, eighty-nine...”
“Jonathon.” This time it became a command, and she pulled him out by his arms to meet her eyes. He looked past her, through her, as unreachable and untouchable as a star. The numbers consumed his thoughts.
“Jonathon. Wake up.” She slapped his face gently, pinched his bare, bony arm. “Jonathon. Jonathon. Look at me.”
She tilted his head up to meet her eyes. The counting stopped. “Don’t pay attention to them,” he said, reciting his mother’s words to himself once more. “They want you to be like them. They only care about themselves.” This time he did look at her, straight into her eyes, and she shivered.
“Come on,” Mrs. Davey whispered. “You should come back.”
Jonny offered no more words, his eyes downcast, reluctantly allowing her to lead him back to classroom. One hundred, seventy-nine more days of this.

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