Chapter 1 - Defense Mode
They say that everyone is really good at something. I’m not good at much, but I can fold an awesome paper airplane. And that’s where the trouble began.
Between classes, I had bragged to my friend Zach that I could make the best paper airplane. Zach and I were lucky to be assigned seats next to each other at the back of Mr. Cochran’s 8th grade math class. That’s where we were secretly making paper airplanes. I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t get the folds just right working on it in my lap in the shelter of the desktop.
Mr. Cochran was droning on about stuff that I learned on my own a couple of years ago, so I didn’t feel bad about not paying attention to him. If Zach missed something I could always explain it to him later.
You could say that Zach was my best friend. But then, he was my only friend. I don’t start conversations, so I don’t meet new friends unless they are like Zach. At the beginning of the school year, he came up to me and introduced himself. While his personality is totally different from mine, we both like video games, especially Minecraft. We are also both into electronics and other nerdy kind of stuff. He is very outgoing and has a bunch of other friends. Still, he makes time for me.
My plane was complete and so was Zach’s. Zach mouthed that we should throw them forward when Mr. Cochran turned around. This is crazy, but awesome, I was thinking. We watched. He turned. We lifted our planes. He turned back. We hid them quickly. Mr. Cochran gave a suspicious glance our way but went on talking and turned to write something on the whiteboard.
That’s when we struck. Both planes took to the air above the heads of the kids in front of us. As I thought, mine flew better and farther. Too far! Mr. Cochran turned around just as my plane came right at his face! He just barely dodged it and grabbed it as it bounced off the whiteboard. The room erupted in laughter. For a moment, I was in heaven. Other kids were laughing at something I did that was not embarrassing. Visions of sudden popularity flashed through my brain.
Mr. Cochran’s eyes blazed, and face reddened as he turned. “Silence! Who threw that?!”
The fingers pointed towards me were too many to count. Mr. Cochran stared straight at me. I swear I could almost see steam coming from his nose and ears.
“Mr. Clarey, you will head straight to the principal’s office! Do you hear me?” I’m pretty sure the principal could hear him from here. I imagined a roaring locomotive of words heading straight for me and I was tied to the tracks.
Perhaps I should explain something to you. I have what is known as High Functioning Autism or HFA. A lot of people call it Asperger’s Syndrome. I can tell you more about it later but what you need to know now is that my brain can get overwhelmed under pressure. Right now, Mr. Cochran was bringing on the pressure.
“I said, head to the principal’s office, NOW!”
I could no longer look at him. I buried my head in my hands and started rocking. Through my fingers I could see Zach get up.
“Zachary, sit back down! Mr. Clarey GO TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE!”
I heard the door open and close. Did Zach go get me help?
“William Clarey, this is your last chance. Get up and go to the principal’s office or else.” Mr. Cochran was right at my desk!
My thoughts were locked in a loop. I blew it. He’s overreacting. I can’t handle this. I blew it. He’s overreacting…
He grabbed my arm – the muscle part- just above the elbow like he was going to yank me from my seat. I locked my grip on the desk and kept my head down.
He tugged. “Move it! NOW!”
I gripped harder.
“Stand down Mr. Cochran,” came the calm but firm voice of Ms. Elliot. She was the special education teacher. Zach must have gotten her. I hate the term “Special Education” but right now, Ms. Elliot was an angel. “Continue with your lesson. I’ll take care of Wil.”
“He needs to be disciplined!” Mr. Cochran grumbled.
“He will be, appropriately.” She touched me lightly on the back. “I am going to pull up a chair next to you Wil and when you are ready, we’ll talk.” Then she just sat silently. She knew me well. She knew that, unlike a lot of people with HFA, I did not mind being touched by people I trust. She also knew that I would come out of my “defense mode” (that’s what it is officially called) once things around me calmed down.
With the attention off me, I was able to come out of it in just a few minutes. Ms. Elliot must have seen the change in me. She’s good at that. She tapped my shoulder, nodded towards the door and whispered, “ready?” I followed her out the door. Mr. Cochran kept talking – like Ms. Elliot and I were invisible. Sometimes I wish I really was. I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say I had to call my mom that day and she had to take me home early. I was so glad that it was almost summer!
Incidentally, Mr. Cochran doesn’t even know my real name. Neither do you and I am not sure I want to tell you. Let’s just say that I go by “Wil”, with one “l.”
Chapter 2 - Mom’s News
Just a little more redstone dust and this should work. It was two weeks after the little incident in Mr. Cochran’s class. I was at home after school and mom would be there any minute. I got my Minecraft time in before mom got home so she wouldn’t bug me about my homework. I probably spend way too much time on the game, but I have gotten really good at it.
I could vaguely hear my mom entering the apartment. She would have to wait. It was almost done. I just had to place one last repeater and get Steve, the main Minecraft character, into position. I gave it one last check - and hit the button. Instantly, Steve was pushed from the depths of the mine towards the surface. Up, up he went until - he stopped a little over half way up and plummeted back to the bottom.
“I said ‘Hello Wil’.” It was my mom’s voice Jennifer Clarey.
“Hi mom” I kept my eyes on the screen. I had worked for over an hour to make the elevator work, only to be thwarted by one miss-click.
“Dinner will be ready in about three minutes” came Mom’s cheerful voice, “Get your hands washed.”
“Just a couple more minutes, I need to fix this.” Adjusting a repeater, I hit the button again. The second attempt at lifting Steve was successful. I did a little victory dance in front of the living room TV. Zach would say that I’m nuts for building an elevator to lift Steve to the surface, but I’m funny that way.
I really like gaming and videos about gaming. I don’t really like school. I know, no normal kid likes school. But, for me, it’s worse. After what happened in Mr. Cochran’s class, mom made me apologize to him. I can’t say that I was totally sincere. I get really bored at school. I already know a bunch of that stuff and the rest I don’t see how I could ever need. Still, Mom insists that I go.
When I get bored, I fidget. When I fidget, I get in trouble. When I get in trouble I freeze up. Some of my teachers are good at handling that. They give me room to fidget and don’t get all in my space. Mr. Cochran has never grasped that concept.
I hate that they had to call my mom in after that problem in Mr. Cochran’s class. Mom has enough to worry about. It’s hard to make a living in Southern California as a single mom. My dad is not around. Mom has never told me anything about him. She works really hard. I don’t want her to worry about me.
I know she does anyway. I hear her talking on the phone about me to my grandparents when she doesn’t think I can hear. I try not to listen, but sometimes I can’t help it. Hopefully she won’t have as much to worry about since it is almost summer. Thirteen more days and then it’s just me and my games!
The small dining table in our little apartment had two very different dinners on it. Mom had a take-out plate with steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a salad. My simple plate had mac ‘n’ dogs. Mom had learned the hard lesson that autism does funny things to my taste buds making certain foods, well, nasty. She now chooses her battles wisely, not worrying too much about my diet as long as I keep up on my vitamins.
“I have some very interesting news!” Mom smiled.
“Interesting?” Was interesting news ever good? I wondered about the fancy dinner she brought home. I just figured she wanted to splurge for a change. Maybe she was celebrating. “What do you mean, interesting?”
“Well, I would call it exciting, but I’m not sure if you will find it exciting.” She paused like she was trying to build up the suspense. “I got a promotion at work today.” Another pause. “An amazing promotion. I’ll be making almost double what I do now.”
“Okay… Yay mom!?” I never really know what to say at times like this. I know I should be excited for her, but it just doesn’t come naturally. I must learn to try harder I thought, but then I dismissed the thought as soon as it occurred.
“There is a catch…”
Uh oh. Here it comes.
“I will be on the road for the summer.”
“What?! I don’t want to travel all summer.” I hate to travel. The thought of being away from our comfortable apartment all summer sent panic through my bones.
“You won’t be. I need to call Grandma and Grandpa Clarey first, but I am pretty sure they will let you stay with them for the summer.”
I was confused. I was mad! I was starting to freak out. “You can’t just do that!” I started pacing. I do that – a lot. What was she thinking? What am I going to do? This isn’t fair! Those were my thoughts as I tried to sort things out.
“I’m sorry to spring this on you so suddenly. I really don’t want to be away from you all summer but,” she paused. “I really couldn’t pass this opportunity up.”
But you could pass me up for the summer! I tried to imagine what summer on my grandparents’ farm would be like. I could not imagine. One word came to mind. Boring.
“I thought that a summer on the farm would do you some good too.”
I was not sure I could let that go but I bit my tongue, literally. How would you know what would be good for me?
“And you know that Grandma and Grandpa keep trying to get us out there.”
I stayed silent. That’s just an excuse so you feel less guilty. I felt betrayed. Is this how my dad ditched us? Of course, my mom never told me that. Maybe she was hiding something else. I was boiling inside.
“If you really don’t think you can handle it,” Mom paused for a moment. “I can call my boss…”
“No.” I stopped pacing. My thoughts settled, and I made my decision. “I’ll manage. I won’t like it, but I’ll manage.” Part of me wasn’t so sure.
Mom called Grandma and Grandpa Clarey. They were “delighted at the prospect” of having me there for the summer. They insisted on talking to me. I hate talking on the phone. Most of my answers to their questions were “Uh huh” and “okay.” Sorry, I’ll never win any “Conversationalist of the Year” awards. I finally was able to give the phone back to mom when I said I had to do my homework.
It was tough concentrating that night. Earlier I was counting the days till summer. A quick calculation told me that now it was 114 days until Summer is over!