I don’t really know Carson. I mean I know him, everybody knows him but he’s not my friend. It used to be that I wouldn’t be caught dead spending time with him. Now… I dunno, I wonder if he’d take me.
Carson is one of just three retarded kids at Robert F. Kennedy High School. The rest are too retarded for public school; they go to Strathmore Academy which is a “Special School” just up the street from where I live.
First there is Jonah Ellmore, or Spaz as he is not-so-affectionately called by the kids in my class. Spaz’s famous trick is that whenever he’s doing any kind of assignment in class, if he makes the slightest bit of a mistake or doesn’t understand the littlest piece of something he has a full on fit. Flips his shit and goes on apologizing and saying again and again that he’s “confused” and screaming and crying.
Then there’s Carrie Furelli: Wheels. She’s Wheels because she’s got this big high tech wheelchair that she’s in pretty much all the time when she’s not being picked up or dropped off from school. She’s like, physically deformed; her face has its features all pinched up in the center and she holds her hands at weird angles like claws. I don’t think she can talk much. She’s mostly quiet, because really, how much can she do like that, but sometimes, in the cafeteria or whatever she’ll get pissed off and start howling and striking out at her handlers and stuff. I think she just gets fed up with all the things she can’t do, you know? We leave her alone mostly, because she’s so laid up. Plus we’re kinda scared.
Carson is what they call “higher functioning” than the other two. He’s usually tracked with us, though in the slow classes mostly. He goes around the school with this clueless grin on his face, or else with his brow screwed up in confusion. He’s got the speech pattern of a little kid with the beginnings and ends of words cut off into mushy pools of vowels. He doesn’t understand much of what is taught to him but he nods his head and scribbles in his notebook along with the rest of us. I suppose he gets by.
It’s because he’s around us more than the others that he started getting shit. I don’t know why he got by for all those years and then suddenly didn’t anymore. Things come in fast. Bored kids, bored in only the way high school can bore you, will do almost anything.
I’m with Carson in math (after two years of miserable wrestling with algebra I surrendered myself to being a math retard and fell into Basic Track) and one day I noticed that when Carson left the room to go to the bathroom (“Cawn I gowe to duh Batroom Mrs. Levitz?” and then one of those, like, shit eating grins when he got it) I’d hear a chorus of imitations; kids with flapping faces and screwed up lips, then snickering.
Pretty, catty, bitches in the halls started whispering when he walked by: “Look at the little retard hurrying. Don’t you just love his little duck walk? He’s in a hurry, he’s got to stare at a blackboard somewhere!”
Julie Hirsh would do an impression of him after he left the cafeteria. I think she got off on the attention of making people laugh.
Nick Morrison got to where he answered almost any question with Yeas teatchow! That was a big hit too.
Mostly I didn’t get involved. Most times I was going somewhere, Mock Trial, Tennis Team or home, that one was my favorite: my bed, hideous music, Black Ops and just, unplug. Shit. Besides I didn’t even know the kid.
He talked to me once. Ran up to me in the hall. He shouted my name too loud and several times, like I was a celebrity and he was the paparazzi trying to get a smile or a quote. He clumped up to me holding some worksheet tightly in his hand and smiling big that I’d stopped. I turned to him, kinda smiling a little bit, but mostly wondering to what-the-hell I owed the honor, you know? I mean, he was acting like we were friends. “Do you nouw how tou doo“—he held his worksheet up at arms length to his face— “Tangent Praublims?” he read and then his face took on that blank look it had when he was trying to understand something.
I knew people had heard him call out to me. Nobody was looking at us but I could feel some of them not looking at us and I fidgeted under their not looking and Carson’s vacant stare.
“Na, Carson” I said quickly “I’m a math reta—I suck at math,” I finished catching myself.
Carson looked downcast for a moment. Then he changed. “That’s okay,” he said and smiled so broad and pleased it made my skin crawl and the hair stand up on the back of my neck “I’ll ausk my maum.” He turned around sharply and charged off down the hall towards the big doors that let out into the real world. “Ok then, you do that!” I said loud enough for people to hear. Than I laughed, just a little.
That, and sometimes he’d say hi to me when we passed. “Houi” he’d say, lengthening out my name.
Steven Brosner didn’t think Carson was funny. Brosner was (and is) a shithead. Walked around like he was king of the fucking castle. Mean too. That’s the only way I can account for him. The kind that always needed to put you down to make himself feel big. Like a lot of kids these days, more’s the shame.
Whenever people were making fun of Carson, Brosner would just scowl and mutter to himself: “Stupid little fagoty-ass bitch.”
I don’t know how much Carson noticed the change. He’d look into people’s faces in that hopeful way he had, and when he saw bottled up laughter there, he smiled right back. Maybe he thought they were laughing with him.
One day, I was walking through the hall heading for math class, thinking nothing in particular other than that I had only one class to go in the day and eighty minutes is a very long time to stare at a fixed point on the wall while someone drones on about the goddamn cosign. As I got near the room I saw a crowd gathered and heard the sounds of a commotion. As I got nearer I saw that Carson was at the center of the crowd. Brosner held Carson’s blue bookbag over Carson’s head and when Carson grabbed for it he’d jerk it away and toss it to another of his stupid thug friends in the circle. All the onlookers were laughing hard. Kids were doubled over with red faces and tears streaming down their cheeks and each time the back pack got passed again and Carson doggedly turned to snatch at it again the laughter would redouble. “I can’t take it,” they shouted.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’ve gone this far so I’ve got to tell you that for a moment there I came close to laughing myself. There was something funny about the way he fell for it each time just like it was new. And the way he spun quick around, this way, that, in random directions along with his bag; it was like he’d been wound up.
Then I saw his face. He didn’t look mad or scared. His eyes had this look of quiet unsurprise. They said this is what happens and I don’t ever expect it to stop.
A charge ran up my spine. My breath would only come in short little huffs. Something is going wrong here I said to myself. I have to stop this.
With this single thought bouncing around my brain I was just a little less shocked than everyone else when they hit him. The next time he turned a goon grabbed his shoulders and threw him to another, who threw him in another direction who threw him to Brosner. Brosner caught him with a fist buried in his stomach. Carson groaned and sagged over like a rag doll.
I have to stop this. I saw myself stopping it. I had a clear vision of myself in some kind of white light stepping boldly in, decking the fuck out of shitbird Brosner and wrapping my arms around Carson, crumpled and small, and pulling him out of there.
I stood. I stood and they kicked him whimpering on the floor. I stood and they tore open his book bag. I stood and they ripped open his brown bag lunch and smeared the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and orange slices his mom had packed for him all over his face. I stood and he crawled to his feet and ran off down the hall leaving his bag and making a noise like a little child that’s been hurt in some secret place and will never be put right. I stood and they walked away.
I can’t imagine what I do on Monday. I can’t imagine what I say. To him, to anyone. I don’t want to see his eyes. I don’t want to see what’s there now. What the fuck have I done?
I walked home today. The road home is not really a road made for walking. It’s kinda isolated and sleepy once you get out on it. There’s nothing but trees on both sides. There’s no sidewalk and it doesn’t get a lot of cars, but the ones it does get take it fast so you have to hug the shoulder, and walk right up against the guardrail, which is built up against the bushes and woods and stuff, so you’re poked and scraped the whole time. As I was walking (not thinking about anything, just left foot, right foot) I saw something brown and bloody by the side of the road up ahead. It looked like it could be a baby fox. I didn’t look straight at it, just caught it in my peripherals because I knew what it was. I’d done this enough times before. There were no guts, which was good, just a red streak.
I walked that way on past it, neck as stiff as if I’d been wearing a brace, even as I ducked to avoid low branches. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw the thing move, just a little, and it made a little cry. It cried again, and for a moment to me, it was Carson; that little sound he made, so hurt and violated.
I stopped walking and stood, staring off ahead of me and letting the intermittent rushing cars blow past me as though they’d blow me over.
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