Part two in the four part 'Brandon' series
Before Sarah even opened her classroom door, she could see the twinkling of red blinking on her phone through the small window by her keyhole that allowed passers-by the privilege of knowing that what Miss Lofton was doing with her fifth-grade children was completely kosher.
Great, Sarah thought. How can I have a message on my phone this early on a Monday morning?
The first-year teacher opened her door and put her things on her desk, dreading what could possibly be waiting for her so early in the week. She sat down at her desk and punched the necessary buttons to retrieve her message. A few seconds later, she heard her principal’s voice. The message had apparently been left only five minutes before she had arrived at school.
“Hi, Sarah, George here. Hey, I wanted to give you the heads up on a new student, a transfer from
Sarah heard several seconds of papers riffling before Principal Stockton continued:
“Ah, yes, he’s, uh, autistic. I think Lynn Bradlee had one of those last year. Shouldn’t be too much trouble. Apparently, according to
Great, Sarah thought. Another SPED student. She had had three already this year, but they were either learning disabled or mildly mentally handicapped, stuff she could handle and knew at least a little about. Sure, she had a little exposure to some of the other disabilities in her teaching practicum and a few of her other courses, but as a general ed teacher, she didn’t really think that she would have to deal with anyone other than a severe case of dyslexia. She thought she would have even preferred someone with Down syndrome. Her sister had a son with Down syndrome and Sarah had always thought he was the cutest little thing. But someone with autism? Somehow that seemed just a little too different for her liking. Didn’t they make a movie about that disease, one her mother had told her she loved?
Sarah took out a sticky note from her desk and wrote in big, bold letters—“ Brandon Rothman. AUTISTIC.” After leaving it on a prominent location on her desk with a listless sigh, she began to ready her classroom for the day.
As far as Mondays could go, Sarah thought she got through this one relatively unscathed. She only had to send one person to the office (Billy Corgan for putting glue in Emily Feltzman’s hair), there were no fights on the playground (save for a couple of name-calling wars between a few of the boys), and no parents had called in to complain about missing homework or how unfairly their Johnny or Janie Angel was being treated in her classroom. In fact, she was feeling so good about the beginning of her week that she nearly overlooked the sticky note she had written to herself nearly seven hours earlier. She reached out and wrinkled the note into a wad before grabbing her notepad and heading to the conference room. Better get this over with, she thought.
When she arrived at the conference room, she was not really surprised to see she was the last one there. Everyone in there she recognized, including their school psychologist, Tim Hodges. At the far end of the table was a young woman, maybe not much older than she was, who Sarah assumed must be the mother. She looked pleasantly pretty, but at the same time, there appeared to be dark circles forming under her eyes, as if she had not slept in years. Sarah offered a quick, perfunctory smile, and took a seat next to the school psychologist.
“I think it’s appropriate we review
Oh, great. Not only autistic, but has a behavior plan, too. Sarah was just beginning to think her day was never going to end. In fact, as the case conference went on, the newest teacher in the third grade at Valley Elementary could practically feel herself sinking further and further within her seat, and if she could, she probably would have preferred to have dissolved through the entire floor and out of the entire school.
The next bullet to strike Sarah was when she vaguely remembered hearing the word “nonverbal.” Her daydream trance of thinking of where she would rather be right now (grading papers, shopping, and walking on coals were just a few that came to mind) was suddenly broken as their school psychologist was explaining how Brandon had not really uttered any words since he was close to three years of age. Apparently the first few years of his life were described as fairly, what was that word they used as a euphemism for “normal” Sarah was wondering? Oh, yeah—neurotypical. Sheesh! Give me a break! Anyway, around the age of three or so,
“I’m sorry, Tim, but can you explain how I’m supposed to teach someone who can’t talk,” Sarah interrupted. Normally she was rather laconic at these meetings, but as the strikes were starting to come in, she felt her self-control ebbing away.
“Ms. Lofton, that will be between you and Ms. Bradlee to discuss. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to move on to the behavior plan, and then there’s the issue of least restrictive environment, which is the only reason you’re in this meeting.”
Sarah, already sunken as low as she thought she could go in her chair, sank another inch or so as she let the school psychologist’s rebuke work its sting a little deeper into her ego.
Although the rest of the conference only lasted another twenty minutes in real time, to Sarah it seemed to drag well into the later afternoon. As Tim Hodges stood up, ostensibly ending the meeting, the woman that Sarah had espied in the beginning with the bruised- and puffy-looking eyes approached her quietly. If it had been socially acceptable for Sarah to run screaming from the room just then, she would not have hesitated one bit.
“I want to thank you for being a teacher to my
Sarah did the equivalent of a mental double take. She was just his teacher, not his priest.
“Well, I’m just doing what I can,” Sarah said with her best forced smile.
“You call me if you need anything, Mrs. Lofton. Anything.”
“Well, I certainly will keep that in mind,” Sarah said, turning to go. Before she could turn halfway, Mrs. Rothman reached out and gave her a hug. This was almost getting to be too much, she thought.
After holding on for a few seconds, she released her son’s teacher and walked out without saying another word. Sarah was beginning to wonder if she was going to need a priest the way
After gathering her notepad and pen from the conference table, Sarah exited the small room, more than ready to end this strangest of Mondays. Little did she know what lay in store for her Tuesday.
As Sarah approached her classroom door early the next morning, she was almost afraid to look in through the thin window, lest she see another red blinking light on her phone again. She let out a thin sigh of relief when she saw her room was completely dark, just the way she had left it some fourteen hours ago.
As she started to arrange her classroom for the day, she glanced down at her planner and was reminded that her newest student would be coming shortly after until lunchtime, essentially when she was teaching math and science. She took little comfort in the fact that Brandon Rothman would have an aide with him. In fact, she thought, if he needed an aide, why bother bringing him all the way down here to my classroom?
Fortunately for Sarah, her morning was eerily calm and the first two hours of the day went pretty much without incident. She was pleasantly surprised when most of her students had actually remembered to bring back their signed writing assignment (a five-paragraph essay on what they would do if they were mayor for a day; most were clueless before the assignment on what exactly a mayor was, God love ‘em).
Shortly before , she paused her teaching to announce that they were going to be getting a “part-time” student that would be joining them for a couple of hours every morning. She thought about whether or not to go into the whole autism description, and then thought better of it. If they didn’t know what a mayor was yesterday, how easily do you think they would grasp a mental disorder that most Americans weren’t even aware of, she thought. Instead, she simply said that he didn’t talk much (which was the truth) and that if he did anything “unusual” to just ignore him and that she would take care of it (and if they believed that, then she had some prime real estate just south of Vegas that she was willing to offer to the highest bidder).
And, just as she finished her last statement, as if they were waiting for her to finish her mea culpa statement for all those not in the “norm,”
Sarah, nor her class for that matter, didn’t know what to expect. In their heads, as people are often inclined to do about the mysterious and the unknown, often forge images that are many times far more gruesome than what the reality of the situation is. If the special ed aide had walked in with a leash and on the end a four-legged creature with bright pink antlers was walking beside her, neither the children nor the teacher in room 103b would have blinked or thought anything differently about it.
Instead, they were greeted by a boy small for his age, even by third-grade standards, with blonde, curly locks of hair that fell in cascading bangs over his forehead just above his eyes that seemed to sparkle with an intensity that Sarah had never seen before. Indeed, had she not noticed his right arm that was slightly curled up next to his shoulder, she never would have guessed anything was wrong with him. Indeed, that was the first time Sarah caught herself with regard to how she would come to describe
The rest of her class, seeing that
“All right boys and girls, so you see, if you forget to carry this number to the tens column, then your answer will be way off,” Sarah said, sitting back down beside her overhead projector. She turned back up towards the pull-down screen in front of her blackboard to get her bearings back.
“Okay, can anyone tell me then what the correct answer should be for twenty-six times forty-three?”
A few moments of silence, and then:
“That’s right, who said that?” Sarah said, trying to adjust her eyes from the light nearly blinding her from the overhead projector. When she looked back at her class, all she caught staring back were twenty-one blank stares and two or three with rather quizzical looks on their faces.
“No one’s brave enough to come forth in front of their peers, eh? All right then, let’s try another.”
Sarah erased the problem and wrote sixty-seven times fifty-two on her overhead projector.
“Okay, two minutes everyone. Let’s see who can come up this answer.”
Sarah stared up at the projection screen, attempting to mentally calculate the answer herself. After a few minutes, without looking back, she queried:
“Okay, who’s got this one?”
“Come on, don’t be shy, we’re all friends here.”
In an unfamiliar voice, she heard:
“Okay, who said that?” Sarah barked at her class. Soft tittering was all she heard in reply in addition to the same blank faces she saw as last time. Sarah stood up so as to avoid the bright light coming from her projector.
“Okay, someone in here has come up with correct answer twice in a row, and no one wants to own up to it?” she asked.
By this point, Sarah could see that her class was near the breaking point of howling with laughter. Just when she was about ready to lay on another scolding, she caught the smallest twinkle of light, and the barest of a grin to match, coming from the countenance of her newest student. Between
“All right, all right, that’s quite enough! I can see that this math lesson is over for the day. Everyone put away your math books and get out your science books and turn to chapter four. We still need to finish up our unit on the solar system.”
The rest of the morning went pretty much without incident. Apparently, Sarah’s students were much more in tune with objects thousands of miles away from them than the basic skills required here on terra firma. Most of them could spout off the names of the planets like a sportscaster running down the latest plays in a Colts football game. Even when she started quizzing with the tougher stuff, like where the Kuiper belt was located or for them to name three of the largest known asteroids, it seemed that nothing could stump them, much to her chagrin. What Sarah was hoping for was another moment of ignorant silence so she could test what some part of the back of her brain, the one that refused to acknowledge the illogic of it, that just possibly one of her newest students had somehow, inconceivably as it sounded, sent her an answer through some whacked-out form of telepathy.
Unfortunately that moment never came.
Just as a rare lull was beginning to occur in her classroom, the lunch bell rang. Twenty-one dutiful students immediately got out of their seats and began either putting on their jackets to go outside for recess or gathering their lunch boxes if they were cold lunch. Brandon’s aid was already escorting him out the door when, just over the chorus of her regular student voices, she thought she heard the faintest voice, just like the one that answered the math problem a couple of hours ago:
“Good-bye Ms. Lofton. See you tomorrow.”
Sarah instantly swung her head to see where the voice was coming from. By the time she found
For the longest time, Sarah was fairly well convinced she imagined the whole thing. Every time
It was during a science lesson this time, and Sarah was getting materials ready for the students’ first lesson in chemistry while they were finishing up a math quiz. She was getting test tube bottles out of one of the cabinets, her back turned to the classroom, when a very distinct young boy’s voice, one that she would have remembered had it been a hundred years later.
“Ms. Lofton, Jacob’s cheating.”
The third-grade teacher whirled around to see who the source of the voice was. Surprisingly, not one of her students was looking at her though. She looked over at Brandon, who was busy working on his own quiz with the help of his aide.
“He’s been doing it for the last ten minutes,” came the voice again.
With all the subtlety she could muster, Sarah turned back to unloading the test tube bottles from the cabinet, but oh-so-carefully tilted her head so she could look in the direction of where Jacob Littleton was sitting. Sure enough, every few seconds she caught him raising his head like a some sort of hound dog on the trail of his prey to look at Misty Logan’s paper.
“Jacob Littleton, bring your paper over to me please!” Sarah barked out so loud that have her kids nearly jumped out of their seats. Jacob looked as though he had forgotten to wear underwear that day and just about everyone knew it.
With lackadaisical precision, Jacob got out of his seat and sauntered over to his teacher who was holding her hand out like some poor beggar on the streets of
The rest of the students, after witnessing the humiliating defeat of one of their own, quickly turned back to their quizzes, eyes markedly fixed on their own papers lest they suffer the same fate as Jacob.
As Sarah continued to get the rest of the materials out of the cabinets, she did the same sly maneuver of twisting her head back around to see her class, but this time her line of sight was aimed directly at her newest student. What she saw next took her aback so much that she nearly dropped a box full of microscopes.
About as noticeable as a drop of a single grain of sand,
Two weeks later, Sarah’s class was doing the highlight of the year, the annual trip to the Adler Planetarium in
“Oh, that’s okay,” she quickly piped in. “I’ll make sure he stays with me.”
Ms. Bradlee’s aide looked a bit like someone had just slipped some cod liver oil in her morning Wheaties, but she quickly recovered herself and told Sarah that she would inform Ms. Bradlee of the change.
The first hour of the trip,
Just as she was just about ready to see what the latest commotion that was coming from the back of the bus was all about, she heard, again very clearly, that same voice that had alerted her to Jacob Littleton’s cheating endeavor.
“I like you, Ms. Lofton. You’re not like the rest.”
She turned to look towards Brandon, who was now very clearly reading some book called Finnegans Wake. However, his head was at a low angle, not even looking up at her or anyone else, merely fixated on the words before him.
Feeling rather stupid, but not knowing what else to do, instead of talking to
Without even looking up, or batting an eye:
“Yes, Ms. Lofton, that was me.”
“How d-did you do that?” she said, finding it hard to believe she could actually stutter in her own mind.
“I don’t really know, Ms. Lofton, but I’ve been able to do it for a very long time now, for as long as I can remember, really.”
“Can you do that with everyone?” she asked.
“No, just certain people. People whose auras are just right.”
“Yeah, auras. You see, in addition to talking like this, whenever I look at people, I can see their aura, as well. It’s kind of like if you shined a spotlight on someone and flooded them with light, except instead of shining the light on them, people seem to give it off by themselves.”
“What do these, uh, auras, look like
Sarah could absolutely not believe she was having this kind of conversation with her student with autism, and could not care even less now that all sorts of shenanigans were starting to take place now in the last two rows of the bus. As far as she was concerned, she and Brandon were much like the Little Prince and the Pilot talking on their own little world from the fabled book by Saint-Exupéry.
“Well, they’re all different, really. It just depends on what type of person you are. And how you’re feeling that day. Most peoples’ tend to be normal colors: reds, oranges, yellows, and blues, and some even are mixtures of all those. However, some have rather nasty and dingy colors: ugly blacks and browns, mottled greys, and ickiest greens you could ever imagine. And it’s not just about color, either. Most people who tend to be nice most of the time have rather soft edges around them and they glow fairly nicely. But the mean people, the real nasties, like that bully Brian Colligan, his is all twisted and contorted and is colored mostly a bluish-brown most of the time. But if you could see what he’s thinking about, the you’d understand why.”
“You can read his thoughts?” Sarah asked in her mind, slightly exasperated and wondering if she had been picked over by her student before.
“Oh, yeah, but I don’t like to do it too much. You see, I know I’m different than most, and it’s only validated when I peer into their thoughts. They’re not very nice, let me tell ya, and so I tend not to do it anymore. Why bother confirming what you already know?”
It was all Sarah could do to hold back a tear from her eye, and instead, she rubbed the golden locks of her newest favorite student, who flipped a page and kept on reading.
The rest of the winter, and indeed, for most of the rest of the school year, the bond between Sarah and Brandon grew to almost maternal strength. The highlight of Sarah’s day was the arrival of him in her classroom, and when he left at lunchtime, a sullenness came over her that was not easily abated. They would carry on conversations galore, often on topics as esoteric as to who they thought was going to win the next American Idol contest to late nineteenth-century French poetry, a personal favorite of Sarah’s. It was also due to
What frustrated Sarah probably the most was that despite the fact that she could carry on the most extensive of conversations with this amazing young man, she still couldn’t see these supposed auras that he kept referencing. It puzzled them both, really, and after a while she let it go. She felt, quite frankly, that she should be content to even be able to do the wildly fantastic telepathic conversations that she had been doing all along, but if
Near the end of May one day,
“Nothing’s bothering me, Brandon,” she said, and not all that convincingly. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, to be quite honest, your aura has been not as well, cheery, shall we say, recently. It’s been getting darker and darker over these couple of weeks.”
Sarah hesitated, knowing full well that he could have peeked into her thoughts at any time to find out the real reason for her change. She didn’t have to look far herself.
“I understand, Ms. Lofton. You’ve been wonderful to me as well, and I don’t think I will ever forget you.”
“Nor will I, you, Brandon. Nor will I, you.”
On graduation day, the weather outside seemed to fairly well fit Sarah’s mood. The first real spring storm had risen up early in the morning, and she had to rush in through raging streams just to make it into her own school.
Later that morning, in an overcrowded gymnasium that would make just about any fire marshal nervous, Sarah found her place amongst the other teachers on the bleachers and sat down next to one of her fellow fifth-grade teachers with program in hand.
For the speaker, the principal had chosen a pastor from an up-and-coming parish that was in the same neighborhood as theirs, whom Sarah thought could have cut his speech short by a good twenty minutes and still been not nearly satisfied enough.
Finally, the students all rose and were called one by one to walk across the stage, shake hands with the principal and his assistant, and receive their elementary diploma. When it came time for
A single tear escaped from her left eye and fell down, bouncing off her cheek, and onto her program. It would not be the last time she cried at one of his graduations.
“Come on, Mom, you were the one rushing us, and now we’re going to be late,” Kaitlin said to her mother, who was trying to adjust her pantsuit as she was walking. She knew she was stalling, but that didn’t seem to matter.
Kaitlin’s twin sister, Ashlee, finally went back and grabbed her mother’s wrist to hurry her up. Kaitlin grabbed her other wrist, and between the two of them, Sarah had no choice but to finally be led into the halls of Bridgeport High.
It had been almost exactly seven years since she had seen him, and she wasn’t even sure if she would recognize her former student. She had thought much of him in the years since, and were it not for an unexpected invitation from Brandon’s mother in the mail a couple of months ago, she never would have known her student prodigy was now graduating from high school.
Indeed, they were late, and had to fight to make their way up to the top row of bleachers just as “Pomp and Circumstance” was beginning to play. Several rows of students wearing green and white cap and gowns obediently made their way like soldiers to the stage in the gymnasium that was now, according to Sarah, starting to feel much more like a sauna or a greenhouse.
After about ten minutes of frantic searching, she thought she finally spotted him. To be sure, he was a young man now, but there was also no mistaking those rich blond curls hanging out from under his cap. As he made his way to the stage, she thought she noticed something else, but couldn’t quite be sure. Maybe it was a trick with all of the lighting in the gym.
However, after a few seconds of peering as closely as she could at Brandon, who was winding his way onto the stage, she knew for sure what she was seeing was not a trick of lighting at all.
It was his aura.
There was certainly no mistaking it now. It was a rich, velvety blue and indigo that seemed to shine with a thick luster more and more brilliantly as he made his onstage. Indeed, by the time he was about ready to receive his diploma from his principal, Sarah was fairly amazed that not everyone in the gymnasium was shielding their eyes from the intensity of it.
Then she remembered. Oh, yeah. They’re not supposed to be seeing it. But if they’re not supposed to be seeing it, then why can I?
All at once it hit her, like some sudden gust of wind that had been loosed within the confines of this vast gymnasium. She had remembered shortly after the birth of her twins that there were moments in the hospital when, just like now, she had thought for sure she had seen what looked like images from the northern lights hovering around her baby girls, but only when they were together. Could this be it? Could the experience she had with
Before she could ponder it anymore, her thoughts were broken by an all too familiar voice, if not a little deeper.
“Hello, Ms. Lofton. I’m so glad you could come.”
“Yes, I know that now, and your theory is correct. You have some very special girls there, Ms. Lofton. Very special indeed.”
A short pause, and then:
“I didn’t forget you, Ms. Lofton. Just like I told you.”
“Nor did I, you, Brandon. Nor did I you.”
By this time, Sarah’s cheeks were fully immersed in her own tears. Her daughters thought about asking why she was so sad, but in the end they thought better not to.
They seemed to know, with all the wisdom in the world, that some things were better left unspoken.
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