June 4, 2006

Sometimes I feel like a gerbil running round and round on his wheel. I’ve been running round and round the bureaucracies of special education for seventeen years. I picked the major because I was the only guy in all of the class. Being a special education major helped pick up hotties who weren’t entering the field too. Just talking about the cute little kids in their wheelchairs was always met by cries of how sensitive I must be. But that was two decades ago, two very long decades ago.

Two decades of dating and breaking up, marrying and divorcing, and watching dozens of students pass through the system.  I became more burnt out with each passing day. It was before Timmy. I moved to Vermont after my second divorce and was assigned a room of teenagers with disabilities as diverse as my Introduction to Handicapping Conditions textbook. There was Jamal, 340 pounds and obsessed with pink dresses and there was Marissa who only spoke at home and then only in rhymes. Cheryl sat in her wheelchair and could only tell us what she wanted by blinking and Jeremy, well, Jeremy alternated between screaming curses at me and trying to sweet talk the high school girls in the cafeteria into holding his hand and touching him. Then there was Timmy always flitting around the edges of the room in his Hawaiian shirts and khakis with that goofy grin on his face.

Timmy had birth injuries but his mom always said his biggest disability was being from Alabama, always on Alabama time, moving at the pace of his birthplace’s drawl. Timmy walked so slowly he seemed like he was standing still and he talked so slowly all of the staff would look at each other and roll their eyes thinking, “Spit it out, Tim!”

Timmy showed me how to walk to the beat of my own drummer and he showed me how to set my spirit free. One day I was spinning in my wheel. My boss was asking for a report I had given her twice, Jamal had broken into the teacher's room and gobbled a dozen doughnuts before he ran out the door with Mrs. Henrick’s new pink Burberry raincoat. Cheryl had had a seizure while the nurse was out getting a coffee. I was leaving the room to see what sent Jeremy into the meltdown of the moment when I saw Timmy pick up a funnel, a bag of balloons and some glitter out of the art box.

“Don’t even think about it, Tim.” I said to him firmly over my shoulder.

When I dragged a kicking, screaming Jeremy into the room I saw Timmy. He took the blown up balloon from his lips with purple glitter sparkling on his chin, held it up and let go. The balloon careened through the air, spraying a trail of glitter behind it. Timmy started giggling uncontrollably and set off all the other kids, ending with Jeremy whom I finally released. The teaching assistants started laughing and then the nurse. Finally I gave in, I laughed harder than I had ever laughed in my life and I realized that sometimes you have to release yourself, give in and laugh.

I still have that balloon, encrusted with purple glitter, as a keepsake, in a box in my garage.


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