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Mr. TwiddleA Short Story by Jonathan Mitchell
"I am recommending to your parents that you start Faulkner this fall. I have no doubts that you will do just fine there," said Dr. Harold Dunne, the grandfatherly-appearing psychiatrist, to Bartholemew.
"I'm a bit worried, Dr. Dunne. I've only been in special ed. I do hate Beadreaux school though, it sucks."
Dr. Dunne smiled.
"Not to worry, Bart, I have only known you 15 minutes, but I know you will do well at Faulkner."
Bart replayed that scene in his mind. As he was doing so, he finally realized that he was walking on the school grounds. He felt he had to succeed in the regular public school in spite of his being autistic.
"Hey, Bart, high five."
The two boys slapped their right hands together. Kevin Wolsink lived down the street from Bart. He was one of the few kids in the neighborhood who did not pick on Bart, and he and Bart had become friends. Bart's autism caused him to make a variety of strange movements and this caused the children at Faulkner to harass Bart constantly.
"Kev, my class is with Ms. Cummings in E6, can you tell me where the E bungalow is?"
"Whoa, cool! We're in the same class. Just follow me, I am going there myself, obviously. We're lucky. Mrs. Cummings is the coolest fifth grade teacher in the universe." Bartholemew and Kevin walked together to class side by side.
"HEY, LOOK AT THE DILDO! What the fuck you doin' here with normal kids?
Bartholemew and Kevin looked up to see Jeff Milner, one of the biggest bullies at Faulkner, hanging out with some of his friends, and they were laughing at Bart. Bart and Kevin tried to ignore them.
"Leave him alone, Milner!" shouted Kevin.
Milner then shoved Kevin as hard as he could. Kevin was sent sprawling on the concrete school grounds for several feet by the hard shove. Milner and a couple of his friends started shoving and slapping Bartholemew around and obstructed his path when he tried to walk around them to get to his class.
"Move!" said Bartholemew angrily.
"Care to make me, you geeky retard?"
"I don't make shit, I flush it down the toilet," retorted Bartholemew as he was looking into the eyes of the sixth grader who stood about a head taller than he and outweighed him by at least 30 pounds.
Milner ran forward, grabbing Bartholemew and raised his right fist to punch him. In a deft judo maneuver, Bartholemew managed to use the larger boy's strength against him, grabbing his shirt lapels in both hands and kicking Milner in the solar plexus as hard as he could. He then went down on his back, using his right leg to flip Milner onto the concrete pavement in a maneuver known as a tomoenage--roughly translated from the Japanese as flying circle throw. Milner hit the pavement with such force that Bartholemew could hear his back bones crunch. With lightening fast speed, he pounced on Milner and started flailing the larger boy with karate chops to the head, neck and pressure points on the lower part of the body. Mr. Roberts, a third grade teacher, ran to investigate the commotion when he heard a bunch of boys yelling about a fight and Milner's cries of pain. He immediately pulled Bartholemew Storm off of Jeffrey Milner.
"What's going on here?" demanded Roberts. At this point, a somewhat psychologically stunned Kevin ran over.
"Milner started the whole thing, Mr. Roberts."
Roberts grabbed each of the boys in one of his hands, separating them. He then glanced at Milner and then at Bartholemew.
"Aren't you the new student starting here today?" Mr. Roberts asked Bartholemew.
"Yes, this is my first day in regular school ever."
"Yes, I know."
Roberts then turned to a bruised Jeff Milner, who was still gasping for air from the kick in the solar plexus. "I don't want you harassing this boy, or starting any more fights, is that understood?"
"Yes sir," replied Milner.
"Now get your ass over to the infirmary." "Looks like nurse Steele will have to put some ice on all of those bruises."
Roberts then walked off.
"Whoa, cool! You really kicked his ass, said a fifth grade bystander who had also been harassed by Milner in the past.
"How'd you do that?" asked another equally impressed boy.
"Oh, it was nothing. Just a little judo and Tae Kwon Do that I picked up", replied Bartholemew modestly.
Bartholemew then entered Ms. Cummings fifth grade class. The bell then rang, signalling the start of the first day of school.
Ms. Cummings was an attractive, pert brunette in her early 30's and the most popular teacher at Faulkner Elementary.
"Class, we have a new student today that I would like to introduce to you all. His name is Bartholemew Storm. Please come to the front of the class, Bart."
Bartholemew got up and went to the front of the classroom and stood next to Ms. Cummings.
"Today is Bartholemew's first day at Faulkner-----" Ms. Cummings was suddenly interrupted.
"Yea, he used to go to a retarded school," said one of the students in a mocking voice.
"Andrea Slavinski, you come up here this minute!"
Andrea approached Ms. Cummings as the teacher sat down at her desk, leaving Bartholemew standing in the center of the class. Ms. Cummings opened her desk drawer, and Andrea visibly grimaced as Ms. Cummings pulled out one of the familiar yellow slips and started writing on it. Mrs. Cummings then handed the slip to the chagrined Andrea.
"I want you to go to Mr. Warren's office and present this slip to him, please," said Ms. Cummings.
"But, Ms. Cummings, I----"
"No 'but Ms. Cummings' to me, Andrea. I want you to do this now."
Andrea then walked off without even looking back on her way to the vice-principal's office.
This whole scene immediately started a commotion in the classroom.
"Hey that's not nice, sending her to Warren's, that's uncool."
"What a bitch."
"Oh knock it off, Ms. Cummings is the coolest teacher at Faulkner. She wouldn't send anyone to Warren's office without a good reason."
Ms. Cummings then adroitly regained control of her classroom.
"That will be quite enough, class. I want you to all settle down. I want no further interruptions. I hope that is understood."
After the class had remained silent for a moment, Ms. Cummings continued from where she left off. "As I was saying, before we were so rudely interrupted, we have a new student in our classroom today. His name is Bartholemew Storm. He's been challenged throughout his life and has been deemed unfit to attend regular education. Today this is all changing. Today, he is going to be in a regular school in a regular classroom. The name of that school is William Faulkner Elementary School and the classroom is this one, taught by yours truly." Ms. Cummings then raised her skirt slightly, doing an old fashioned curtsy.
"Now, it is important that we all work with him and do our best to help him function in this new and unfamiliar environment. It is important that we don't pick on him or give him a hard time. Also, he may be a bit slower than you academically since the pace of his special ed program was not quite as rapid as the one that Faulkner has. For this reason, I think we should all try to work with him and not against him. That's all I would like to say. Do you have anything that you want to add, Bartholemew?"
"Yes, I would be happy to," replied Bartholemew.
"Okay," said Ms. Cummings.
"Well here goes. My first name is Bartholemew, however, I prefer to be called Bart, and that is what I usually go by. My last name is Storm. It is appropriate in this case because that is what I would like to do, take the fifth grade by storm. Well, not just the fifth grade, but the entire school as well. Today Faulkner Elementary, tomorrow the world!" said Bart in a somewhat facetious tone of voice. Bart then continued.
"Well, a lot of you think that school may be uncool, but I'd like to set you straight. There are some things people take for granted. None of you has ever been in special ed or ever been autistic. I have to tell you both of these things aren't any fun. Being autistic is hell enough; even when someone has a really mild case, like I do. It added insult to injury that I went to the Beadreaux School for the Educationally Challenged. It was really humiliating. Arnie Schnitt was my teacher. He was not nice and he was a really lousy teacher. We are all lucky to have a cool teacher like Ms. Cummings, and a really good teacher from whom we can all learn things. Not someone like Mr. Schnitt who spends all of his time badmouthing us and telling us we aren't good enough to go to public school. Well, I don't know how good of a teacher, Ms. Cummings is, but I am sure she's no worse than Mr. Schnitt, in fact, I am sure she is not half as bad."
At this juncture, the entire class, including Ms. Cummings, started laughing a little bit. Bartholemew wondered if they were laughing at him or laughing with him.
"So you see, if you had to go to a special ed school, you would realize that regular public school is cool. Yeah, sure, I love to swim, so I would rather spend some time in the pool, but regular school is still cool. So think of what it would be like to have been in my shoes next time you believe that regular public school is uncool. Course, it isn't always cool, cause you normal kids can often be cruel. In fact, today someone sort of challenged me to a duel. However, my name is Storm, even if I do have some behaviors that deviate from the norm. For that reason, I have to be in my best form. So, I made that jerk look like a fool, when he challenged me to a duel. Seriously though folks, I intend to keep my nose to the grindstone, and I think we can all get along and have a wonderful school year. Th-th-that's all folks!"
After this speech the entire class gave Bartholemew a standing ovation.
"Excellent speech, Mohammed Ali couldn't have done better," whispered Ms. Cummings to Bartholemew. Bartholemew now realized that the class had been laughing with him and not at him. He smiled.
"Now it's time for us to get the educational ball rolling. The first subject will be mathematics. We are going to study long division, and I am now going to write down this problem on the board."
Ms. Cummings then wrote down the complicated-for-fifth graders-long division problem on the blackboard.
"Any takers?" smiled Ms. Cummings.
After a moment of silence, Ralph Balfour timidly raised his hand. He attempted to solve the problem but could not do it. Then a couple of other students, one boy and one girl, attempted to solve the problem to no avail. Bart then raised his hand. With a confident smile, he walked up to the board and attempted the problem in spite of his poor handwriting ability.
"Looks like hieroglyphics to me!" said one of Bart's classmates. Bart ignored this barb and continued to work the long division problem.
"Enough of that!" snapped Ms. Cummings.
"I solved the problem, Ms. Cummings. Here is the solution, there is a remainder of 3 though."
Ms. Cummings quickly checked the work. "Excellent, Bartholemew," she said. "Guess you are now at the head of the class in math."
Bart smiled. His classmates stared in awe of this "geeky retard" who was more adept at math than they were.
The bell rang, signalling the nutrition break.
After having purchased his sweet roll and orange juice, he experienced something that he had never experienced before. It seemed that every single kid in the school wanted to associate with him. Previously, his autism had made it hard for him to make friends.
He went to a nearby table, expecting to sit by himself. He was absolutely stunned when the table became full of other kids trying to talk to him and being his friend.
"Hey can you teach me to flip someone like you did to Milner?"
"Where'd you learn so much about long division?"
"That was a really funny and bitchin speech you gave."
Bartholemew was pleasantly surprised as only a few days ago these kids would not have given him the time of day. He tried to talk to all of his new found friends between bites of his sweet roll and swallows of orange juice. He was indeed living up to his name and taking Faulkner Elementary by storm.
After the nutrition break was over, the next subject was reading. Ms. Cummings explained to Bart that the class was divided into three colored reading groups based upon reading ability which were lead by Ms. Cummings, Mrs. Rockingham, an elderly teacher's aide who worked at Faulkner, and an attractive student teacher in her early 20's of Scandinavian descent named Dagmar Thomsen. They were the green group, the red group and the blue group respectively in ascending order of reading ability. Mrs. Rockingham led the green group, Ms. Cummings lead the red group, and Dagmar Thomsen led the blue group which was comprised of the best readers.
Ms. Cummings said to Bart, "Since you may be a bit behind the other students, never having been in regular school, I am going to place you in the green group with Mrs. Rockingham. She will give me some feedback on how you are doing and then maybe when you become a better reader you can move into the red group with me."
The 14 least adroit readers in Ms. Cummings class, including Bart, sat in a circle around an oval-shaped table with elderly septuagenarian, Ms. Rockingham, in the middle of the circle. Artie Herald, sitting to the right of Mrs. Rockingham, was asked to read aloud from the fifth grade text as Mrs. Rockingham proceeded in her usual manner by having students take turns reading aloud from the text in a counter-clockwise progression.
Artie started to read:
Ttthe boy walked on the grounds of cape Kennedy where the sspa spaaa spaa "Spaceships", interjected Mrs. Rockingham.
Spaceships are. He w-a-t-ch-e-d t-h-e spaceships tag ooo-- ffff- on-by-on vroom vroom vroom w-e-n-t t-h-e- s-p-a-c-e-s-h-i-p
Artie continued reading the text to the best of his ability. The prosody in his reading speech was markedly changed from his natural inflection. His speech was slow and developed a tone that was typical of children with deficient reading skills when reading aloud. Mrs. Rockingham glanced around the table, inspecting the faces--particularly the lips--of her 14 charges, looking for any signs of either deficiency or proficiency in their reading skill. All of the children with one exception were moving their lips as they were struggling to read silently what Artie was also struggling to read aloud. The exception naturally was Bartholemew.
"Keep on reading the text with Artie," requested Mrs. Rockingham of the students. "I need to talk to Bartholemew for a second."
Bartholemew followed Mrs. Rockingham to the corner of the class where she had taken him aside.
"You're way too advanced for the green group, I'm putting you in the red group with Ms. Cummings."
Bart switched tables to the red group. It was not long before Ms. Cummings realized it was the same story in the red group as in the green group. Bartholemew was just too advanced for the middle group also. He would have to be placed in the top group with the student teacher, Ms. Thomsen. Ms. Cummings made a subtle motion with her left hand. On cue, Ms. Dagmar Thomsen excused herself, left the blue reading group and walked over to the table where Ms. Cummings, Bartholemew and the other children were sitting in their circle. The youthful, attractive 23-year- old student teacher walked up to Bartholemew motioning him with her finger.
"Sit in this chair, right over here," said Ms. Thomsen pleasantly, motioning Bart to sit next to her in the chair on her left.
"Ok, blue group, we are going to do something new today, we are going to show you how a real reader reads, so you can all learn something. Bartholemew, we left off on page 59, paragraph 3", smiled Ms. Thomsen.
Bartholemew proceeded to read the text.
Not long after, the bell rang, signalling the beginning of lunch period. The class ran out to the schoolyard screaming raucously.
Bartholemew opened up his brown bagged lunch and started eating. The lunch patio consisted both of lunch tables that were bolted down as well as the benches that were not bolted down; Bartholemew sat down on the latter. He was surprised that a number of other children immediately occupied the bench and started to strike up a conversation with Bartholemew.
"Please, only one person at a time," requested Bartholemew. "We autists have trouble with overstimulus and can only focus our attention selectively, that's why I need you to only talk to me one at a....." At this point Bartholemew was interrupted by a bunch of large boys surrounding the bench where Bartholemew and his newly found friends were sitting. They had heard about Bartholemew's fight with Milner and were sure that the witnesses were exaggerating what had happened.
"Hey you retard, you don't belong in public school", yelled the five boys who were the largest sixth graders in the entire school.
"GET OFF THAT BENCH, NOW, YOU GEEKY KIDS!"
All of the children, except Bartholemew immediately scurried off the bench like frightened squirrels. As Bartholemew stayed put on the bench, he noticed that one of the boys had an open bottle of orange juice.
"Thought I told you to get off that fucking bench!" said the boy with the orange juice who immediately threw the remaining contents of the bottle in Bartholemew's face.
The angry Bartholemew then not only complied, and got off the bench, but with strength that belied his young age and small size, he picked up the entire bench and smacked all five boys with it, knocking them down as if they were bowling pins.
Hearing the moans of Bartholemew's adversaries, Mr. Roberts once again came running up.
"Hey, I thought I told all you kids to leave Bartholemew alone. Now get your collective asses over to Mr. Warren's office right now! The five boys immediately complied, the bell immediately rang, ending lunch. Good thing they weren't saved by the bell, Bartholemew thought to himself.
Finally, the three o'clock bell rang, signalling the end of Bartholemew's very memorable first day of regular school.
Kevin Wolsink and four more boys invited him to Tommy Klessig's house for a three on three basketball game. Tommy had a large driveway with a regulation 10 feet high basketball hoop. Bartholemew, Kevin and Tommy were on one team. The other three boys comprised the opposing team.
"Winner's outs!" yelled Tommy. It was Bartholemew's teams' outs, and Tommy immediately checked the ball to Bartholemew who drove on the largest boy, making the layup and scoring the first two points of the game handily. Later on in the game Bartholemew intercepted passes, found an opportunity to make a screen so Kevin could make a reverse layup shot. As it was starting to get dark, the boys decided to call it quits when Bartholemew's team was winning 28 to 6.
"You know, autistic people are alright," Tommy said to Bartholemew.
Later, Bartholemew sat down to dinner with his parents and older sister.
"So, how was the first day of regular school?" asked Mrs. Storm.
"Fine, mom, just fine," said Bartholemew with a big smile on his face. Mrs. Storm was surprised to see her son smiling; she had always been so used to his frowning face and downcast eyes.
Mr. Storm then interjected. "Don't forget, Bart, you have a seven o'clock appointment with Dr. Dunne tonight." He made this evening appointment just for you, so you would not have to be taken out of school your first day in regular school.
Precisely at 7:00 p.m. that evening, Bartholemew found himself seated on the couch in Dr. Dunne's office.
"So, Bartholemew, I understand you had a really excellent day at Faulkner today."
"Yes that's right," replied Bartholemew, still smiling.
"Well, from everything I have heard from Ms. Cummings, sounds like you are off to a very propitious start in your new school," stated the grandfatherly-appearing psychiatrist. "Therefore, I think that this should be our last session. You have really proven that you don't need therapy at all. I knew you were a winner when I first laid eyes on......"
"GOD DAMNIT, BARTHOLEMEW," yelled Mrs. Storm. "HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO ONLY DO THAT IN YOUR ROOM!"
Bartholemew's mother had just interrupted the wonderful fantasy that he was creating in his own mind in order to self- stimulate parts of his brain's so-called pleasure centers. He had been so engrossed in his fantasy about succeeding in a regular school that he had almost believed it was really happening.
"Sorry, Mom, I forgot," said Bartholemew.
Bartholemew was standing in his living room in the house where he lived with his parents and his sister. He looked into his left hand which was holding a pencil and a shoelace. He then looked at his right hand which was holding a sole shoelace. He had been doing a behavior which he had always called 'twiddling'. This was an autistic self-stimulatory behavior. He would take a pencil and a shoelace in his left hand and just a lone shoelace in his right hand and shake them at a certain frequency. When he did this he would engage in any fantasy he chose. The behavior felt really good and gave him a very exhilarating adrenaline rush. Aside from the pleasurable feelings that twiddling elicited, Bartholemew had the world at his command when he did this. He could do or be anything he wished. So, even though he knew the activity was not only abnormal but maladaptive as well, he enjoyed doing it immensely, and spent hours on end doing it. It saddened Mrs. Storm to see her only son doing this activity. She had emphasized to Bartholemew that twiddling was a private activity, never to be done in public or her presence. Bartholemew was only to do it in his bedroom behind a closed door.
Mrs. Storm looked at her watch. "Bartholemew, it is 9:30, a half-hour past your bedtime. I want you to go to bed now. I just talked to Shirley Stone, and I got you into her carpool. You need to wake up early tomorrow so I can drive you to Mrs. Stone's house. She will be driving you to the Beadreaux School for the Educationally Challenged tomorrow; she agreed because it is not too far out of the way from Faulkner Elementary."
"But Mom", protested Bartholemew, "I hate that carpool. Jeff Milner and a bunch of other mean kids are in it, they'll pick on me."
"Look, Bart, you don't have to be in love with the kids in your carpool to be in a carpool with them. Now I want you to go to bed."
Obeying his mother, Bartholemew went to his bedroom.
Waking up the next day, he was driven three blocks by his mother to Shirley Stone's house whose turn it was to carpool a bunch of unruly kids in her aging Volkswagen van. Bartholemew now realized what sardines felt like as he was packed into the van. To add insult to injury, he had to sit next to his enemy, Jeff Milner. As Mrs. Stone approached the Beadreaux School for the Educationally Challenged, Jeff Milner yelled, "Look, there's a kid in a cage!" The entire van load of children, except for Bartholemew, burst out laughing.
"Why don't you just leave me alone and knock it off," said Bartholemew in an angry tone of voice.
Milner then grabbed Bartholemew by the hair and started slapping him. Bartholemew struggled to get away, to no avail. Mrs. Stone then brought the VW van to an abrupt stop.
"You are not to start fights in my van, Bartholemew Storm!" yelled Mrs. Stone angrily.
"Now get out! You are out of my carpool. I am going to tell all the other mothers, too. They will kick you out of our carpool for sure."
Bart exited the van and walked the remaining block to school. Bart entered the grounds of his private special education school, The Beadreaux School for The Educationally Challenged. He dreaded going to his classroom taught by Arnold Schnitt, the meanest and strictest special education teacher in the United States. He walked past one of the buildings which had been tastelessly spray painted in red with the letters RETARDS 'R' US by some taggers from the nearby high school to his classroom taught by Mr. Schnitt.
As he entered the classroom, the bell rang, signalling the beginning of the school day.
"Bartholemew Storm is tardy!" yelled Arnold Schnitt in a gleeful tone of voice. "Mark him tardy, Nina," said Schnitt to Nina Farelly, the teacher's pet who got to mark students tardy in the rollbook.
"But I got here when the bell rang," protested Bartholemew.
"If you are not in your seat when the bell rings you are tardy!" said Mr. Schnitt in a hostile tone of voice.
"Now sit down and don't give me any more of your back talk."
Later in the school day, in the middle of Mr. Schnitt's phonics lesson, Bartholemew got one of his uncontrollable autism attacks that he often got. He knew what the consequences might be, but he could not help himself, he got out of his seat and started jumping around. Arnold Schnitt immediately grabbed Bartholemew's arm and spanked him hard on the rearend.
"I see Mr. Twiddle is acting up again," said Schnitt nastily.
"I'll bet you even brought your twiddling utensils to school today even though you have been told time and again not to bring them."
Mr. Schnitt then jammed his hand inside of Bartholemew's right pants pocket and sure enough pulled out the pencil and shoelaces.
"Just as I thought," said Mr. Schnitt who then broke the pencil in two and threw the shoelaces out the window.
"Class, this sort of behavior is why most of you aren't yet ready to attend a regular public school. In regular school, they expect all students to remain in their seats. Bartholemew's behavior would never be tolerated in a regular public school."
Bartholemew struggled to hold back his tears. "I could go to regular school. No one will give me a chance."
"You go to regular school? That's about as funny as a fart in a submarine," replied Mr. Schnitt.
Then to the class Mr. Schnitt said, "Well, class, Bartholemew just talked back to a teacher. Getting up out of your seat and talking back to a teacher are boo boos that would never be tolerated in a regular school. Now class, tell Bartholemew what happens when a student at the Beadreaux School for the Educationally Challenged commits a boo boo."
"They get a boo boo award!" shouted the remaining 17 special ed students in the class in unison.
Arnold Schnitt, still holding Bartholemew firmly by the right arm, picked up a chalk filled eraser and whacked it across Bartholemew's back, producing a large rectangular chalk mark on the back of Bartholemew's shirt. He then whacked Bartholemew on the head with the eraser a couple of times, getting chalk dust in Bartholemew's face and hair.
"We also throw boo boos in the wastebasket," said Schnitt. He then picked up a wastebasket and dumped it on Bartholemew's head.
"Now wear that wastebasket and stand in the corner for 30 minutes."
Mr. Schnitt then went on lecturing the remaining 17 special ed students in his class about behavior.
"There are certain expectations that regular education schools have. There are certain standards of behavior that have to be adhered to. If any of you are ever fortunate enough to leave the Beadreaux School for the Educationally Challenged there will be certain things that will be expected from each and......"
For a brief moment, Bartholemew was mortified at having to wear the wastebasket on his head while standing in the corner. Then, he no longer was embarrassed. He was relieved that the wastebasket covered his face and muffled his voice so the other students wouldn't see him or hear him cry. He was also partially consoled by the fact that the tears were helping to keep the chalk dust out of his eyes.