Crossing Borders

January 11, 2012

Today started out like any other day. I slept thru Mr. Kelly’s class and all that jazz. I worked on my biography and Americanized Athena during Creative Writing. I went thru Chemistry class completely clueless. But, in newspaper, I delivered…. Newspapers. Now, one would think delivering newspapers isn’t particularly profound, or unexpected for someone whose on the newspaper staff. This was only the third time I’d delivered papers and only the second time I’d delivered papers with Marisa and Amanda. But, this was the first time I’d ever ventured into the downstairs A hall.
My hands were covered in print. My knee hurt from all the walking we had done. The chair with the papers on it wouldn’t roll straight. My ears were ringing from the ridiculous clack of the rolly wheels on the boring tile floor. The chair was too short to push so I had to drag it behind me. The smell of fresh ink was surrounding the chair, like maggots on rotten meat. My boots clicked across the tile as I followed Amanda and Marisa into the downstairs A hall.
“Okay, here’s our first stop!” Said Amanda, sliding up to A-105.
She adjusted the stack of Crossing Borders in her hands and opened the door. Marisa went in first. I held the door and Amanda went in. I waited at the entrance, hesitant to go in. At the table by the door, there was a little (well, not little) black boy sitting in a school-blue plastic chair. His eyes were glassy and unfocused and his mouth hung open. Lime-green silly putty was stuck to his protruding bottom lip, the upper part of his jeans, the table, and the floor.
“Oh, Bear,” said a teacher in an ugly, oversized stero-teacher-ical Christmas sweater.
She wiped the putty of his face and cleared up the rest on the table. Another teacher in a black t-shirt came in thru the door behind me and I moved farther into the classroom. Amanda and Marisa were talking to some boys. They all seemed to have the Downs, but their smiles were so genuine as they listened to Marisa and Amanda show them the newspaper. I watched them as they looked at our paper like it was a piece of priceless art. I noticed Addy Buck huddled in the corner, playing with children’s blocks.
“Hey Addy!” Amanda said.
I saw Amanda’s eyes turn in the direction of putty boy. I turned my head and saw both the teachers huddled over him.
“Oh, Bear. Come with me and I’ll get you a change of clothes.” Said the teacher in black. She held Bear’s hand gentle in hers and helped him up.
I assumed she was getting him new pants because of the putty stain. But then I heard ugly-sweater teacher call out “Can I get something to clean this up?”
And that’s when I noticed- Bear’s chair was wet. The floor where his feet had been was covered in three little yellow puddles. T-shirt teacher led Bear to the door, and I saw that the seat and the entire left leg of his pants were completely soaked. Even though he had just peed his pants, he followed his teacher like a doped-up puppy. His face had not changed, he just obeyed his teacher like an animal. My stare was interrupted by Amanda.
“Let’s go to the next room,” she said.
I pushed the chair over the doorstep and led the way into the next classroom. It was an adjoining class room, with a door leading into the one where we had just been. The first thing I noticed about this room was a pimply ginger boy strapped to a wooden bed. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was watching real life and not an episode of Locked Up Abroad. An older teacher with snow white hair and new balance tennis shoes was undoing the ginger’s school-blue restraints. He gentle set the gingers feet on the floor, and lifted the boy into a sitting position. The instant he sat up I realized that I was looking at Ryan Davies. Constricted by a neck brace, he struggles to remain upright in the old man’s arms. I pried my eyes away from Ryan. Amanda and Marisa were talking to two girls-possibly sisters- with the Downs sitting in some desks. I recognized one of them. Last month she had waved at me when I was going to chemistry class even tho I’d never met her before. I walked up to the other girl.
“Would you like a newspaper?”
“Yea!” her face lit up. She flipped thru, smiling. She touched the pictures with her short pink fingers.
“Do you like the pictures? You see, that one’s a pretty horse,” I said, pointing to Amanda’s photo of Cobalt the horse.
“Yea, he’s cute,” she smiled.
Out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but notice Ryan had finally made it into his motorized chair.
“Hey Ryan! How are you?” Amanda said, obvious cheer in her voice.
Ryan mumbled something indistinguishable. Amanda handed him a newspaper.
“Thanks for the papers girls!” One of the teachers said.
And with that, we left.
I don’t really know what to think about them. I honestly haven’t seen a kid soil their pants in school since kindergarten, much less a grown high school teenager. It amazes me how Bear could treat an ordinarily traumatizing experience like it was just another homework assignment. It amazed me how amazed the other kids were with something as simple as a student published newsmagazine. It really amazed me that Marcus High School has a torture instrument. It amazed me how kids like them lived. I wasn’t there for more than 5 minutes, but that’s all it took. I hadn’t been exposed to special ed kids since third grade. My private school was only for the intellectually gifted, and the one special kid at my middle school was full functional brain-wise; he was just chair-bound. It amazed me how kids like this can live with themselves, being socially incapable of functioning like a normal teenager. They would never try smoking a joint just for fun, they would never go dirty dancing with their best friends, they could never flirt with hot potential boyfriend/girlfriends. They can never excel at a sport like mine. They will always have to be taken care of; never will they be completely independent. If they tried to be like me, that would be like signing their own death certificate. I’m so bluntly normal, boring even. My life may not be perfect, but it’s still a thousand times better than theirs could ever be. I’m lucky to be just another teenager. I’m lucky to be average.
I’m not sure how Bear and the other kids affected my life. It’s like Matt and Jackson all over again. They immediately impacted me. But, it’s going to take some time and soul searching to figure exactly how and what. I’m okay with that. I’m so glad to add Bear the putty boy to my list of life changing people. Today, I crossed a border. Hopefully, this one I will be able to cross again.

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