I Do It To Be Normal
"My mom is in a hurry, but that was okay because she usually is..."
My mom is in a hurry, but that was okay because she usually is. It doesn’t stress me out. I am late for class, but that was normal. I had given up trying to be normal when it came to getting to places on time. She drops me off and gives me a rushed hug as she opens my door, handing me my back pack and checking to see that I have my half completed homework and my special gluten free lunch.
“Have a good day, sweetie, I’ll see you at 3:00. Don’t forget you have a doctor’s appointment today, so don’t go play on the playground after class ok?”
I nod and run towards the building without saying goodbye. I haven’t quite mastered “goodbye” yet. It’s sunny out and I want to play, but I don’t. I know better than to do that before class now.
My class is just saying the Pledge of Allegiance when I walk in. Mrs. Wandike gives me the stern look that she always gives when I walk in late, and my heart sinks immediately.
I am a failure. I have failed my teacher. How could I do that.
I shuffle to my desk amidst the stares of other second grade students and half-heartedly place my hand on my heart to finish the pledge. We sit down and Mrs. Wandike begins by collecting homework. I pass my incomplete work towards her and can almost see those weird scary feelings rising up in front of my face. My doctor calls them anxieties I think. Those are different than the depression ones. Those travel downwards, from my shoulders to my toes, and just sit there. I’ve tried to tell them to go away, but they’re like those shoes made of bricks and won’t come off.
My anxieties sit, right by my throat, and whisper loudly while my teacher is talking. It’s rude to talk when other people are talking, so I try to brush them away, but they flutter back. Eventually I give up and try to hear my teacher over their high pitched whines.
Mrs. Wandike has very pretty hair and a pretty nose. Not everyone has a nice nose, but she does. I could stare at it all day. I don’t know what her eyes look like. I still have to practice making eye contact, but even when I want to, I can’t. She’s talking about multiplication, but I don’t understand it. I liked adding, but she won’t let us do those anymore.
She’s calling children to come forward and solve problems now. I watch William go up and solve 5 times 4. He writes a 20 with perfect handwriting and walks proudly back to his desk. I watch him sit down and neatly fold his hands. I try to do the same, but one hand really wants to draw a smiley face on my desk even though I’m not allowed to.
Mrs. Wandike writes eight times seven on the board. I remember that 8 times 7 is 56 because in the American Girl Molly books, Molly gets that one wrong. I raise my hand and Mrs. Wandike calls on me. I slide out of my desk and walk up, quickly— but not too quickly. The marker is a lot bigger up close. I stare at the white board and reach my hand up as high as possible to reach the “8 x 7 =” but I’m still too short. So I write it a little lower. My 5 is very small and my 6 is very large. That’s not normal. The anxieties are whispering very loudly and I feel my face turning very hot, but no one has laughed at me yet.
Mrs. Wandike says, “Very nice, Charity,” before taking my marker and rewriting my numbers properly and sending me back to my seat. I try to walk upright like William, but the depressions are pulling at my feet and I almost trip. I slide into my seat and sit on my hands, so I don’t draw a smiley face and get a time out.
The clock ticks right above Mrs. Wandike’s head, like a musical rhythm. I swing my head back and forth in time. We pass through multiplication and go to reading. I already read that “Magic Tree House” book, so I open my note book and draw smiley faces there.
A few chairs in front of me, Anne is passing a note to Jewel as usual. I want to pass notes. I try to rip out a piece of paper quietly, but it tears a little bit. That’s ok I guess. I draw my best smiley face with the word “Hi!” and fold it carefully before leaning slowly, just like Anne, over to Noah’s desk. Then I sit and wait, just like Anne normally does. A few seconds later, it is thrown back to my desk when Mrs. Wandike isn’t looking. I unfold it very carefully so as not to make the crinkly noise. There’s a big scribble all over my smiley face.
My anxieties are telling me that Noah hates me and my depressions are telling me that I am not good at passing notes. I fold it back up and leave it on my desk and decide that I won’t pass any more notes.
In front of me, Jewel is trying not to giggle at what Anne said in her note. They are probably talking about how cute William is, but I don’t think he’s very cute. He has very big nose. I don’t like to look at it for long or I start wanting to put my pencil up his left nostril. One time I tried to and he told Mrs. Wandike and she sent me to time out. I had put a pencil up my nose once and it didn’t hurt, and my nose was much smaller than William’s. But Mrs. Wandike said that’s not normal, so I don’t do it anymore.
I go back to drawing smiley faces in my notebook. Mrs. Wandike is still reading the “Magic Tree House” book out loud. I draw one smiley face with a really big nose like William’s and put a pencil sticking out of it. Then I draw another face with a perfect triangle nose like Mrs. Wandike’s. It isn’t as nice as hers though, so I scratch it out in very careful lines.
The clock keeps ticking and I keep swinging back and forth until the end of reading. We do some art and I make a mess and have to clean it up by myself. Then we check on the beans we are growing for science class. After the beans, we sit down and open up our “Great Big World” science book. I try very hard to listen, but I have paint on my jeans and it’s wet and cold and I want to cry now. I heard my doctor tell my mom once that I cry a lot because of my disability, so I don’t cry because I don’t want to be different.
Mrs. Wandike is telling us that Pluto is no longer a planet. A tear almost comes out of my eye, but I hold it in. I will hold a funeral for my favorite planet after class.
After science is lunch and then recess. While everyone plays tag and swings on the monkey bars, I hide under the slid and make a small hole in the wood chips for Pluto. I use a rock as a memorial. No one notices I’m missing because I don’t like playing with the other kids. I like to play tag, but I always get tagged and I’m too slow to tag anyone else. I’d rather play with the kindergartners because they always treat me nice, but my teacher says I have to play with kids my age.
I almost miss the call of Mrs. Wandike calling us back in for school. I wipe of my tears and get some dirt on my face, but that’s okay. I walk in the back of the line into the hall, and then into the classroom to my seat.
I sit through the next few classes and draw smiley faces until I hear the big bell. I walk out of the class and Noah is telling me that he has a pet snake. I nod and say “oh cool” like the other kids do, but I can’t quite look at his eyes. My mom is waiting for me right as I get outside. I had forgotten I had a doctor’s appointment. I don’t say goodbye to Noah. I still don’t know how to do that.
We drive to the doctor’s and I count the precise 26 buildings it takes to get to the big glass building. We sit in the big green chairs, and I want to play with the puzzles in the corner, but my mom says I’m too big for that now. When the doctor comes out, my mom greets him with a warm smile and shakes his hand. I smile, but I look at his chin and don’t shake his hand.
He leads me down a very bright hallway to an office. He’s talking to my mom about therapy for me. I look at the pictures on the walls of mountains and trees. We reach the door where I have always seen the doctor. It has big letters, “Autism Therapy for Children,” but I don’t know what that means just yet. My mom has to wait outside. I wave goodbye to her. That’s better than not saying goodbye at all. My depressions are hugging my feet, and my anxieties are singing in my ears. But I go in anyways, so I can be normal.