What’s So Special About Special Ed?
I’m starting a new school today. It’s another “special” education school. That’s such a dumb thing to call it. Special, I mean. One of the kids in my neighbourhood calls it a retard school. He says it funny because of his Boston accent. It sounds like “re-todd.” Well he shouldn’t talk because he’s no so smart and he rode his bike into a mailbox once.
I guess it’s a nice place. They have a little pond with goldfish. I wonder what the fish do in the winter. I’m in Michelle’s homeroom. We call teachers by their first name, which is kinda weird. Michelle is really friendly and happy and she shakes my hand when I come in. She made nametags for each of us and put them on our desks. Mine has a tree on it.
“Hi Sam. Welcome to Bergman.”
“How was your ride?”
“Do you live far?”
“Over in Lexington.”
“Great, well take a seat and we’ll get started in a few minutes. Glad you’re here.”
She pats me on the shoulder. She talks a lot.
I sit down and start drawing. All the other kids get here and we all say our names and where we live and 3 things we like and dislike. I can tell I’m nervous because I’m tapping my foot and I can’t really stop it. I say I like drawing and reading and pizza and I dislike getting up early and sports and mean kids.
The other kids are Rob, John, Blake (she’s a girl), Tim, and Alison. I’ll draw pictures of them sometime.
First day went OK, I guess. We didn’t do much; went around to classes and met teachers. There was an assembly in the gym and some people talked about the new year and how it was going to be a great year. Some of the teachers did a skit, which was kinda funny. One of the guys wore a dress and a wig. They gave us ice cream after. They only had vanilla and there were no more cherries when I got mine.
I put on extra chocolate sauce and sprinkles, which somebody called “jimmies.” We sat at picnic tables. There were 2 kids and 2 teachers at mine. One kid was kinda big and got chocolate sauce all on his sleeve and face. “Can I have seconds?” he kept asking.
“We’ll see,” one of the teachers (the one with glasses) said.”
So it’s been about a week and I’ve got my schedule pretty well memorized. In the morning is home room time. Sometimes we get to talk or draw or play a game together and sometimes we have to write in our journals. Then is first period, which is science with Cheryl. Second is math with Chris. Then there’s break.
We have a student store and we can buy candy and snacks. It’s mostly healthy stuff actually, like oatmeal bars. That’s OK, I’m not allowed candy anyways. They also have school supplies like pencils and gluesticks. There’s this neat pen that I want to save up for. They let the older kids work at it. With a grown up too. There’s always a grown up around.
After that is art with Jen. That’s my elective, which means I wanted to take it. I mean, I want to take my other classes, but I got to choose this one. Then reading and lunch. After lunch is group activity, where we have to play games together. The sarcastic kids call it group therapy. Then socials studies and PE/heatlh. We end the day in homeroom.
I have the schedule taped to my binder. I don’t know all the kids in my classes yet. A lot are the same so I think they have us in groups. I think I’m with the smarter kids for most things. They don’t really tell you because they don’t want kids to feel bad who aren’t as smart. But it’s not hard to tell.
I decided that lunch is too short. I have to eat fast and even then I’m usually the last one. Maybe I chew my food more. We have recess and it’s short too. I guess it’s not called recess anymore when you’re in middle school. There’s not a playground or anything. We can go outside or stay in. Outside kids play basketball or baseball or just stand in groups and talk.
I went outside for the first time today because it was sunny. And also the air conditioning wasn’t working and it was super hot inside even with the windows all open. Kids kept saying it was “wicked hot.” In some rooms there was stuff dripping from the ceiling.
So I go outside.
I’m not sure exactly what to do. I don’t really play basketball or any sports and I don’t know many kids yet. I should’ve brought my drawing things outside, but I don’t want anybody to ask me what I’m doing and make fun of it. I sit on a bench and watch.
There’s a group of boys and a group of girls and they keep laughing. One boy, I think his name is Drew, goes over to the girls, says something, and goes back. Then the girls send someone over. Her name’s Erin. I used to think that was just a boy’s name. She has short hair like a boy. Well, not exactly like a boy. I mean, it’s short, but she still looks like a girl. It’s nice. She’s in my reading and social studies and art. She’s wearing a shirt with a monkey on it.
Maybe it’s a game they’re playing, like spying. If it’s not a game, then I don’t get why they don’t all stand together. I pick little pieces off the bench and watch.
A dodgeball to the head
I’m not sure if I like PE or not. I like playing some of the games, but I’m not very good at sports. I try hard. We’ve played scooter soccer, sharks and fishes, and freeze tag so far. We’re supposed to do health too, but we haven’t. That’s fine. I had it at another school and I didn’t like it. They made us talk all the time and it wasn’t interesting.
Today we’re playing dodgeball. Actually, it’s doctor dodgeball. One person is the doctor and they can tag kids who are hit and make them back in the game. I’ve never played like that. And we don’t pick teams. That’s good. Jake, the PE teacher, picks them. He’s bald. He puts all the balls on the middle line and we stand by the wall.
“OK, ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!”
He blows his whistle and we run. I don’t get a ball, so I run back to the wall. Someone tries to hit me. I pick up the red ball and throw it back and he catches it. I have to sit.
“You throw like a fag.”
It’s not loud enough for Jake to hear. I think the kid is named Trent. The doctor, Paul, tags me a minute later and gives me a ball. We’ve got 4 people left, they have 6, including Trent.
“Hold the balls,” the doctor says. “They only have 2.”
The other team is holding there’s too.
“On 3 throw at Besty. She’s their doctor. 1-2-3!”
We all throw them. Betsy screams and ducks, but 2 hit her. I missed. Trent grabs one and hits Paul in the face. He drops down.
“Trent! Penalty box! Now!” Jake shouts.
“No head shots! You know the rules! You’re out!”
“But I didn’t…”
He kicks a ball and goes and sits on the stage.
“Crap, I think I lost a contact,” Paul says.
“Stand up slowly and brush yourself off,” Jake tells him. “Alright gang, time out. We’ve got a contact MIA.”
“It’s OK if we don’t find it. They’re the kind you throw out.”
“Hey,” Jake says with a smile. “We never leave a man behind.”
I get down on my knees and look for it too. A minute later I see it.
“Hey, I think I found it.”
I pick it up and give it to Paul.
“Alright teams, back to your corners. Trent, you’re in. Keep it below the neck tough guy.”
“Hey Joe, listen to this.”
Rob puts headphones on me. It’s really loud and there are lots of swears. I think it’s rap music. Rob smiles and bounces his head and has a red discman in his hand. I take off the headphones.
“That’s some hardcore shit, a’ight? Some dope sounds from the West Coast. Straight gangsters, money and hos yo!”
He’s probably making fun of me because I don’t know what he’s talking about.
“You’re not down with hip-hop, are you? What you like, country music? That’s cool.”
“I don’t really listen to music much.”
“I hear you bro, keep it real.”
He puts out his fist. Does he want to fight me?
“Make a fist.”
“Just make a fuckin’ fist.”
He doesn’t say it in a mad way. I do. He hits my fist with his.
“Now do it to me.”
“Yeah, you’re my dawg.”
“Rob, are you bothering Joe?”
“No Mrs. B., just teaching him stuff. Stuff you can’t read in the dictionary. A’ight Joe?”
“Yeah, I guess. Sure.”
“Well, why don’t you sit. We’re going to start in a minute.”
Big Tim is standing next to my desk looking at my drawing. It’s of knights in the future. This is the first time Tim’s talked to me in a couple days.
“What is it?”
“Well, it’s knights on robot horses and their lances shoot lasers and they activate a force field with their gauntlets. Gauntlets are like armor gloves.”
“I’m gonna be a robot when I grow up. There’s a special operation.”
Tim can be really weird sometimes.
“How did you learn to draw good?”
“I don’t know. I just do it a lot. And I like to. I didn’t learn or anything.”
Tim slowly sits down.
“I wish I could draw good.”
He opens up his backpack. It’s huge, like a suitcase, and it’s full of magazines and papers and tons of stuff. He starts taking it all out and putting in on the desk. He pulls out an open pack of Oreos and a sock.
“Maybe you should empty your bag.”
He shakes his head.
“No. I need it all.”
I go back to my drawing. I think I’ll add a robot dragon. A robodragon! A few minutes later, Tim pokes me with a crunched up piece of paper. Oh, it’s a drawing.
“I did this.”
It’s pretty messy. The guys are mostly stick figures and there’s lots of crayon scribbles and ink puddles. I think I see a spaceship.
“Oh, it’s good.”
He shakes his head back and forth.
“It’s not like yours. The green guys are aliens dressed up like real people and the real people are the other guys. The guys who aren’t aliens are…”
He stops and closes his eyes and rubs his forehead.
“But only the guy with the Uzi gun can tell because he captured an alien and took his…took his thing that picks up aliens. Do you think alines are real?”
“Um, not really.”
“I do. I’ve seen pictures of secret underground places in the desert where they keep them and cut them up and stuff. I might hunt aliens when I get older, like the video game ‘Alien Hunter Z’.”
He takes back his drawing and stuffs it in his bag.
“Maybe I’ll draw more like you.”
The new assistant teacher’s name is…Shoot, I forgot. She hasn’t been in my class yet. Each assistant is assigned to a homeroom, but then they move around too. It’s only her second day. She looks nice. I hope she doesn’t quit. One of the kids was saying that like 5 people quit last year. Last year was crazy, she said. Loco. I don’t think it’s a job I would like. Because you have to talk a lot and kids don’t always listen and do silly things and swear at you. I like telling people what I know though. Maybe older kids are easier or kids who aren’t at schools like this.
Well, maybe tomorrow she’ll be in one of my classes. She looks interesting. Unique, which means not like other people.
We’ve been doing lots of writing in English. We had to write about our summer and then a paragraph or two about ourselves. Alison asks if we know what it’s called when you write about yourself. Kids guess essay, personals, real, first person.
“Autobiography.” I say it quiet.
Erin is sitting next to me and looks over.
“Say it louder.”
I shake my head. I don’t want to show off.
She raises her hand.
She writes the word on the white board.
“Joe said it. I heard him. I’m just louder.”
She looks at me and smiles. Everyone’s looking.
“Well Joe, our little wordsmith, you should speak up. Do you know what the 2 parts of the word mean?’
“Um, auto means self and I think bio is life, like biology. They’re maybe European words?”
“Greek. Very good Joe. It’s a pity they don’t teach Greek and Latin anymore because knowing them helps you figure out many English words.”
I’m probably blushing. Someone pretends to sneeze and says “nerd.” That’s why I don’t raise my hand much.
The new assistant teacher comes to my art class today. We’ve done some drawing and a little painting. Now we’re working on mobiles. The art teacher brought in a box of stuff and we can make what we want. I like her because she doesn’t really tell you what to do. She did show us some pictures of this mobiles by a famous artist named Alexander Caldor. I didn’t know you could be a famous artist by making mobiles.
She does kind of tell us what to do, like it has to be a painting, but you can paint whatever. We have a lot of flexible wire, which is neat. I’m hanging keys from an old computer on mine.
“That’s cool,” the new assistant teacher says.
I didn’t see her and I jump a bit. She laughs and puts her hand over her mouth.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
That’s a good word, startle.
“Oh, that’s OK.”
“It looks a bit like a satellite.”
“Yeah, I guess. A messed up satellite. It’s not really supposed to be anything. Just a thing that looks interesting.”
“Well it does. Your name is Sam, right?”
How’d she know?
We shake hands.
I’m minding my business, like I always do. The teacher is out of the room for a second. They usually don’t leave us alone. Rob unzips his backpack. It’s a cool backpack. I don’t know what it’s made up, but it doesn’t look like normal ones. And there’s a monkey hanging from the zipper. It probably costs a lot of money. I’ve never seen one in the stores we go to. He gets out some envelopes and starts handing them out.
“What’s this dawg?”
He puts his fingers to his lips. “On the d.l., yo. Having a throwdown at the crib.”
“Oh, you mean your parents’ house?”
“Shut up Erin. Why you hating?” He gives her one anyway.
“I think I’m cleaning the waffle iron that night or day or whenever it is. Sorry.”
“You don’t even know when it is.” His face is getting red.
“Oh, right. Well, there’s lots of waffle iron to be cleaned. It might take all month. See we’re Belgian and it’s national waffle month. It’s like a holiday.”
He hold up three fingers and tells her to read between the lines.
She rolls her eyes, but still puts the invitation in her folder.
I’m real surprised when he gives one to me. He also gives one to Trevor, another kid who isn’t popular. I’ve never been invited to a party. I mean I’ve gone to birthday parties and stuff, but not any other kind.
The teacher comes back and Rob quickly sits.
“What were you up to Robert?”
“Aw, my butt fell asleep, so I got up to wake it.”
“It’s gonna be sore instead of tired if you don’t finish your vocab.”
“Whoa! That’s totally unsafe! That’s a threat. I’m gonna call my dad the lawyer. Abuse! Abuse! Attica!”
Ted looks up over his glasses. “Spare us the mock outrage Mr. Dietz.”
I open the invitation under the desk. There’s nothing in it. Maybe he forgot. I look over at him. He’s pretending to work, but he’s smiling.
Oh, wait. I get it.
I didn’t want to go to his stupid party anyway.
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Portland Fiction Project
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