The Calming Closet
By Kate, age 15, PennsylvaniaJeremiah is probably the weirdest kid I know.
You can tell just by looking at him that he's completely abnormal. Generally, his clothes are color-coordinated and would be cute if he was five years old. His hair sticks up in an unfortunate manner, causing him to look like a socially awkward mad scientist. Jerry's face is completely covered by acne, and he smells like he hasn't showered in years. The only cool thing about him is his iPad, which he shows off at every opportunity. I've heard upperclassmen joke that they are "watching the Jerry in his natural habitat, trying to attract a mate". It's unclear if the poor kid hears them. I've never really thought to ask.
To be honest, I'd never actually spoken to Jerry until one day in April. My school had organized an education-themed community service day for the tenth grade, which meant that I had to travel to a nearby Quaker school and half-heartedly play with children. According to one of the teachers, the school was chronically understaffed and the working-class children attending it needed help learning to use computers. I was assigned to assist them in their use of Google. This job was remarkably easy, as the teacher had vastly underestimated the computer skills of the students. My main problem was getting them to stop complaining that the school's computers were PCs, not Macs.
Once it became clear that we had nothing to do, everyone assigned to computers decided to go outside and play Capture the Flag. I should explain at this point that I have an aversion to any and all sports, unless the sport is soccer and I'm watching sexy European men playing it on television. Actively participating in sports is something that I haven't done since I was about seven, and even then it was because my parents were forcing me. I prefer to think of it as "athletic dyslexia", but I'm actually just really lazy. Anyway, as everyone else went to throw a ball or something (I'm unclear about the details), I was left with Jeremiah.
In all seriousness, I actually considered leaving him and awkwardly watching the game. This should impress upon you how shallow I am. However, I've spent too much of my life being left alone while everyone else plays sports. I can't actually do the same thing to someone else without feeling like a b****. Therefore, I reluctantly decided to make awkward conversation with Jeremiah for the half-hour until the bus to school arrived.
To my surprise, the kid was a good conversationalist. True, he had a thing about eye contact, which caused him to stare at the pavement as we spoke. He also kept sniffling disgustingly, despite my pointed offers of a tissue. Still, our conversation was a good one. It began like this: Me: "So where did you go to school before?"
Jeremiah: "This school for kids with learning disabilities. And then public school before that."
I tried and failed to picture Jerry at public school. He was probably put in one of those programs for "special kids", which inevitably would lead to being beaten up and bullied horribly. I don't mean to imply that everyone enrolled in these programs is treated horribly; however, the 108-pound Jerry was enrolled in AP Calculus at the time of this conversation. Short, skinny math prodigies don't really do well anywhere. Public school could have been a horribly traumatic experience for him. Knowing all of this, I tactfully asked him, "So what was public school like?" thereby forcing him to dredge up inevitably painful memories of his childhood. I'm tactful like that.
Luckily, tact is not Jerry's strong suit either. He didn't seem offended at all. Pathetically, he actually seemed to be pleased that someone was paying attention to him. Without making eye contact, he explained to me that he'd had a hard time in public school, primarily because his teachers had no idea how to handle his Asperger's. I even now continue to know nothing about Asperger's, so my next idiotic question should not be a surprise.
Me: "Asperger's? So did you, like, run around screaming and stuff?"
Way to go, Kate.
This caused Jerry to go into a detailed account of his public school days, which were completely horrifying. At the slightest provocation - sometimes without any warning - Jerry could succumb to a fit in front of his classmates. He would hit people and objects, shriek, and run in circles aimlessly. His teachers became used to it and devised what they felt was a suitable solution. At the first sign of an episode, Jerry would be locked in the room, alone. He told me that he would sometimes be there for hours at a time. I was shocked.
Me: "Oh my God!"
I realize that this is technically taking the Lord's name in vain, but it's still the most appropriate thing I've said throughout this conversation, so bear with me.
J: "It wasn't that bad. They put comic books in there. It was only bad because it was so small."
Me: "How small?"
J: "Oh. Well, it wasn't really a room; it was actually a supply closet."
The whole thing reminds me of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in which Harry is locked in a cupboard under the stairs. Luckily, I chose not to share this thought with Jerry. I'm not sure exactly what I did. Most likely, I muttered some vain attempt at a comforting thing before getting on the bus to leave. Don't hate me.
The truth is that I don't know what I could have done. I have a few friends, but I'm not so popular that I can really help Jeremiah. Until I was about nine, half the people I knew thought I was autistic. My mom secretly kept a book in her drawer about teaching social skills to children with special needs. (She still insists that she lost the book immediately after buying it. For the record, I still get suggestions based on that purchase whenever I go on Amazon.)
I'm ashamed to admit this, but I worry that I'm ruining my newfound semi-popularity whenever I speak to people like Jeremiah. I wish that I could selflessly help those people. But I'm not Mother Teresa, and that's probably never going to happen. Wow. I am a b****.