Thursday, February 9, 2012

Portraits of a Misfit Child

The following character sketches are inspired by children I've encountered through teaching, parenting, and just having once been a child. Again, there are no subtle hints of blame or judgment. Navigating the social world is often difficult for the eccentric, the highly imaginative, abused, physically-challenged or learning disabled child. Compassionate and highly motivated adults can sometimes help.

She sits at the very back of the class in the middle row of desks. By keeping her head bent over her reader and her long hair covering her face, she hopes to escape notice. Sometimes she wishes her hair were thicker so that  her ears wouldn't poke out from between the thin strands. The image of her protruding ears makes her think of a naked person lurking behind a bead curtain. When thoughts like that barge into her mind, she grabs them and shoves them into the Big Bag of Secrets. These days the Big Bag of Secrets takes up so much space in her brain that her other thoughts have barely enough room to squeeze past it.

She looks down at her reader, at the page full of ordinary fifth grade kids skating on ice skates and shouting to each other. She has no idea what the story is about even though, for the past fifteen minutes, people have been reading it aloud. People. Her classmates. Suddenly she hears her name. Her head jerks up involuntarily and she sees the teacher talking at her, talking right at her face. Quickly she lowers her head and lets her hair swing down, but her ears, her shameful, naked, ears are warming and turning red in front of everyone.  "Erika can you answer the question, please? Or, if you don't know, just say you don't know."

If she could just manage to mumble, "Don't know," the teacher would probably leave her alone, but her voice is stuck way down at the bottom of her throat. She looks at the picture of kids skating and imagines herself among them, skating so fast no one can ever catch her....

Skating like the wind.

                                                    *              *                *

Tony, seated behind him, is jabbing his back again with the sharp end of a pencil but even though it hurts, he doesn't flinch. He tries to concentrate on his reader so he can answer correctly if the teacher asks him a question. Jab, jab, jab! He bites his lip to prevent himself from yelling "ouch!" In  second  grade, and even at the beginning of third,  he used to tell the teacher when someone was hurting him. Now, he realizes, telling only makes things worse. "Fairy boy, fairy boy, little baby fairy boy!" He can still hear the taunts, feel the barbs of  laughter.

He does not  blame Tony for trying to hurt him. Or the others for laughing at him. Who he blames is his mother, the one who'd read to him about faerie dances, changelings, enchantments and marvelous hidden worlds. If only, during that fateful day in second grade, he had drawn soldiers or superheroes instead of butterflies turning into faeries and moths turning into dark elves.  He had been stupid. And ignorant, having been home schooled in first grade and kindergarten. Sometimes he wishes he could be home schooled again. His mother is working now, though, and doesn't have time to teach him.

Now he can feel Tony writing something on the back of his shirt, probably the word, "FAG," in big tall letters. He will need to spend all of recess scrubbing it off with water and soap. Even if it doesn't come out, he can maybe turn the letters into an unreadable smear.

That way his mother will never know what a stupid loser he is at school.



  1. I'll bet you're an excellent teacher.
    I never asked or answered questions, always knew the answer should be more complicated than what popped into my brain (well, not when it came to math) and hid behind my hair. I was only vocal when playing the class clown.
    Turns out.
    The answers were that easy, I'm an autodidact and it takes copious amounts of hairspray or a military barrette to keep my locks out of my eyes.
    I remember every fabulous teacher that ignored my nature, complimented my silent successes and pushed me to be more. There were three of them.

    1. Thanks! I confess I had to look up autodidact. I, too, had various barrettes attached to the soft, slippery strands of my hair. I usually lost them at some point during the school day. My third grade teacher and one of my high school English teachers were the two I remember who actually thought I had potential.

  2. That second one was a bit close to home. 7th Grade...what a terrible trial! Great post B.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Someday I'd like to interview people who loved every year of their school experience and were never the targets of bullying. I've never actually met any of those people but presumably they exist. I'd like to interview a few bullies, too, and ask them "What were you thinking?"