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FEATURED STORY / SPRING 2014 ISSUE
Chapter One: Fork or Spoon?
I always fiddle with something in my hands to keep me distracted in school. I need a way to ignore Mrs. Murphy, my teacher, who wears high heels and prescription glasses that make her look like a bug splattered on my windshield. She has a blue and yellow hair elastic, Mickey Mouse pen, and old, contorted, rusty paper clips all perched on her desk. It has almost become a game to me, getting caught and then giving her that queer side smile as I count the endless knick-knacks lined up that at one point all belonged to me, but were confiscated. Now I am playing with a spork I got in my Lunchable. I bite on it, twist it, do whatever I can to get her a little hot-headed. Then I count in my head, “…1 Mississippi…2 Mississippi…” and she turns around, “Benjy, are you serious? Honey…” I hate when she calls me honey, it makes my skin curl, so I take a spit ball, place it in my spork, and fling it so it lands directly between her eyes.
“BULLSEYE!” I scream as loud as my insides let me. She just freezes and gives me the usual eyeball through those bright, yellow-framed glasses. I know she’s disappointed, once again; I assume I must have done something wrong, so I just hang my head. She walks over with a wrinkled tissue she pulled out of the store brand, blue box on her desk and confiscates my spork. I tear up a little but then I remember how Momma told me I am a big boy, so I ignore the temptation to cry.
As I look around the classroom, I see a young girl walking by. The girls here are so pretty, and I don’t understand why they are not in my class. I watch Mrs. Murphy as she scribbles what appears to be upside down, sideways letters and numbers that are supposed to be math problems. I think that woman thinks she is an artist, pretending the marker is her paint brush and the board is the canvas. She goes and goes and forgets I’m here!
I scream out, “Mizz Murphy, Mizz Murphy! I no get!”
“Benjy! Try saying, ‘I don’t understand’ But anyway, hun, what don’t you understand? We have been learning this all year!”
I look at her, flustered, and the temptation takes over: I begin to cry. I hate that word, hun. “Mizz. Murphy, I just don’t get it!” I break my pencil in half and watch it roll to the ground. Then I remember what Momma said, “You were born this way Benjamin, just accept it and try your best.” I cry even more and then I see my spork in the trash, and my mindset changes and I begin to chuckle to myself and wonder, Who ever thought to mash up a spoon and fork to make a spork?
Chapter 2: Mouse With No Way Out
Sometimes during school, I get to play outside. On the way outdoors we get to walk through a very big building; I call it Super Maze. There are stairs and walls with all different colors and tiles and buttons! I see pretty girls everywhere. They are all my girlfriends and I tell Mrs. Murphy, but she’s too busy trying to get me to keep walking. These kids are much taller and skinnier than I am, they are very beautiful, but all have the same look on their faces. They used to whisper, but now they just smile, as if I am a baby fresh from the womb, as if I am a foreign creature to the world, but I like it. I like the attention, as if I am a superstar making my way down the red carpet, all the way to the playground. As soon as I get out there, I run for my favorite spot. Another sequence in today’s episode of Pirate Benjamin and, today, I need some buried treasure since Mrs. Murphy always confiscates my knick-knacks. Today I go straight to the sandbox and take a running dive; I find a treasure immediately –– a shiny, yet rusted toy car is face-first in the sand. The poor souls inside the car probably didn’t like the way they crashed…
As we walk back inside again, I am swarmed with pearly whites and just give everyone the same big grinned wave that I always do. They all look so much younger than I am, but I know we are all the same age because we all go to the same Super Maze! When I approach my classroom, Mrs. Murphy makes me take a bathroom break; I never have to go but she always forces me so I stand there and stare at the writing on the wall. I am not a very good reader, but I understand the words, just not the meaning. The words “Good time?” are painted and then a bunch of numbers. I don’t really know what a good time would be: 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock? People are crazy. I make my way back to the room, but of course Mrs. Murphy sends me back because I didn’t use the turning-on water fountain. Finally, I go back and make my entrance.
The day is almost over, the only reason I know this is because all the slamming begins. Out in the hall each pretty girl and boy gets a square in the wall and then they all slam them! I block my ears and squeeze the blue ball Mrs. Murphy gave me, but finally the banging simmers down. I get my sack and head down stairs. Out the window, I see a big yellow blob filled with my pearly white pretty friends, and I wave but they don’t see me! I wonder what it is like inside those yellow blobs, but then my minivan pulls up and Bruce tells me to get in.
Bruce drives me to my house every day and always gives me pixie sticks. On top of my minivan, there is a triangle sign that reads, “School Bus.” Bruce told me he likes it better when I call it the taxi. As we pull up to my house he hands me one more pixie stick and yells, “Good luck, kiddo!” I don’t know what that means, but I slug inside with my sack dragging behind me anyway.
Chapter 3: The Big, Small Day
As soon as I get home, Momma says, “Benjy! Get in the car we’re going to your sister’s house!” My sister, Lisa, is one of those pretty girls. She also has two pretty kids, one boy and one girl. When we get to her house, she runs right to the door.
“Benjy! Are you excited for today? I’ve missed you! Come inside and get some pizza!” I still don’t know why I should be excited, but I love me some pizza so I give Lisa a big hug and a kiss and zoom right past her so I can choose the first piece! Momma tells me I can only have one because she wants me to eat healthy. I pick it up and let the cheddar yellow cheese ooze down my throat and GULP! Everyone chuckles as I chow down on my pizza. I don’t even leave room to swallow; I vacuum it all down at once.
“Benjy! Slow down!” Momma yells. “You’re going to get yourself sick!” She has said this at least three times, but I ignore her requests, and when she’s not looking I slurp down a second, third and even fourth slice of pizza pie. Suddenly Lisa looks and giggles and says, “Oh Benjy! Did you finish the pizza?” I think for a minute. My cheeks turn a flush magenta and simply say, “No.” They nod their heads and laugh, ask me a few more times and then continue in conversation with one another. As I sit there and brace myself for the lump of pizza in my stomach, my mom and Lisa begin to chat. They are unaware of my capability to hear everything, but I fail to respond or grasp any of it. Lisa looks at my mom and whispers question after question, “So he’s starting work today? How have things been on his IEP plan? Do you think the medication is working? Have you considered a group home?” My mom answers each question with short blunt answers; I know she doesn’t like to get into these details. I watch her as her face ages by the second. I wish my mom didn’t have so many lines in her face. I know each one is a line from something I did. When I fell down the stairs, Momma grew a wrinkle. When the doctor said it was Downs, Momma grew a wrinkle. She hasn’t hunched over yet like the other old ladies, though. She still stands tall and proud and wraps her arms around me and gives me a squeeze when I’m not feeling like myself.
Suddenly Momma goes in the kitchen and comes back with a silly smile on her face. She says, “Benjy, are you ready?” She takes the deep blue apron and puts it around my neck, I fidget but just let her do her thing, because my Santa belly of pizza has immobilized me. She stands up, hugs Lisa, and assists me out to the car. I give her a glance, but I never question where we are going. Then we pull into Piggly Wiggly. This is where Momma gets me snacks! I love it here! She brings me in and blurts out, “Benjy, welcome to Piggly Wiggly. This is where you will be spending your afternoons. They will give you money and all you have to do is put groceries in a bag. How does that sound?” I look at her as if she has four eyes, but Momma looks serious, so I just nod. Suddenly she leaves me and I am stranded with a man who looks like he just woke up and braided his beard. He shows me the clear bags with a pig snout on them and puts some items inside; he gives me a lecture, and then leaves me by the metal counter. He says, “Alright bud! You’re on your own. Holler if y’all need anything!” But in reality, when have I ever known what I need?
I watch as my momma walks away and the man with the long greasy beard with a braid trudges off. My mom looks back at me and holds her hand over her special place on her heart to let me know she loves me. I do it back and turn around. I know that all I ever need in life is what my momma provides for me, like the carrot sticks she packs me every day for lunch with my favorite ranch dressing. I turn around and shoot my first customer the grandest, happiest chin to chin grin he has ever seen, despite the fact that I am completely unaware of what I’m doing and throw his eggs in a bag. I smile and make the best of it, like I always do.