CSMS Magazine Staff Writer
Reggie stared off into oblivion, the cool morning wind at his back, swings in the playground yard blowing back and forth. He sighed heavily to himself. Lost in where he was. Reggie was 14 years old and going on 40. Life was as hard as it was shallow. Meaningless, without cause, without purpose. It was just there, and so was he.
He attended the public school where he currently sat, his classroom in fact just to his right, the door to the bungalow closed, yet the alleged sound proof doors still betraying anarchy from within.
“I SAID SIT DOWN ?!?!”
Reggie sighed again, glancing unintentionally at the school banner, flying high above the main office building. “Hope High School,” it said. Hope indeed. Reggie hadn’t felt hope in a long time. Longer than he could remember, even if he wanted to. Remembering the good times of old only made the sadness of today more profound. There was everything that was the opposite of hope in these over wrought classrooms, with tiresome, irritable teachers, and Reggie’s peers, who seemed to bounce off the walls, around the clock without let up. Their life, their vitality, made Reggie weary. As if an old man shouting for the radio to be turned down. And so outside he sat. Meanwhile, Reggie kept to himself. Quiet, disheartened, lost. There on the bench. Invisible to the world.
He wondered what time it was. Doesn’t matter anyway, he resigned. But it was probably another few hours or so until he went home. Not that home was anything to look forward to. His mother and grandmother were both wheel chair-ridden, old and infirmed, largely stricken from life, and the home showed it. Fast food wrappers were piled high on the floor, flies whizzed to and fro in the living room, paint flecked from the walls, the cracked television blared static in the background. Home could be as depressing as school at times.
But in school, Reggie at one time believed. Teachers had told him since he was a little kid that the key to making it was education. Making it left undefined: but, education was the key to the good life, that’s what his teachers told him. And early on in his life, Reggie began to have hope. Thought maybe it was possible, maybe even probable. His teachers told him that people in his dilapidated neighborhood, who did not succeed, did not succeed because they had no education. And that the two were not a coincidence. Reggie hadn’t made his mind up on all that, but when he was beginning his schooling, in kindergarten and all the way through grade school, he believed anyway. Maybe because little kids need something to believe in. The alternative is despair. An alternative that Reggie had become very familiar with lately.
He had, early on, taken his education in stride. Peering for long hours into his books of math and science, scribbling formulas on scratch paper. Determined to succeed, that’s the word that his teachers used. And though to succeed, he tried, to succeed, he did not.
Reggie found that the words he read often didn’t make sense, that his mind wandered, and that he was easily frustrated. He looked around with great embarrassment at his peers, and was ashamed to see the ease with which they seemed to do the same that he struggled with so mightily. The struggle was painful.
And so Reggie went to his teachers, swallowing the lump in his throat, swallowing the pride in his belly. His teachers offered him privileges to get the answers right, told him to keep at it. I’m sorry, I have papers to grade, cant help you now. Just keep at it, when you get it right, you’ll get extra free time. As if he weren’t trying hard enough. Reggie didn’t know what to think. Only that he was different, lesser, wrong.
And so began his withdrawal from the world. His once lively and animated face grew flat, his eyes sagging to a certain hollowness. He shrunk to the back of the class, began to sleep through tests. Why not? Not going to pass anyway, he reasoned. Sometimes sleeping is easier than being awake.
And soon, he stopped even speaking except for when he had to. When he used to speak up at home, his mother and grandmother were often too delirious to have much of a conversation. When Reggie spoke up in class, he always seemed to give the wrong answer, and was then offered rewards for getting it right, feeling the eyes of his peers and teachers bear down on him, rendering him frightened and small. Humiliated. When he was silent, at least he was almost invisible. Easier than being awake, he was sleeping even when he wasn’t sleeping.
Nobody knew what to make of it. His mother and grandmother thought he was using drugs, his math teacher pronounced him autistic. Reggie didn’t know what that meant, just that it was bad. Somehow he just knew, and silent he stayed. He spoke so little in 6th and 7th grade that by 8th grade, his words became stunted and slow, difficult to grasp, put together coherently, and to make use of. He was sent to the school counselor, to whom Reggie said nothing. Why, so he can call me something else I cant understand??? Reggie thought to himself. He said nothing, and the counselor labeled him anyway. Resistant, that’s what he said. The names were piling up. Dope fiend, autistic, mentally retarded, and now resistant Reggie didn’t know why he even bothered sometimes. Why he kept going on at all. He was almost grateful that he lacked the energy to think up a real answer. And so on that bench he sat, quietly watching his life go by.
Note: Graham Danzer is a writer who lives in San Francisco. Mr. Danzer also holds a master’s degree in Social Work. He is Ph.D candidate in his field.
Also see There’s no place like home