Excerpt from Face Your Fears, my first novel arriving in July. Nate McGuire is now 14 and his first day of high school did not start well. The bus didn’t show. His grandfather dropped him off at the wrong entrance, holding up school bus traffic. He missed his first two classes until his full time aide situation was cleared up. At last, he’s on his way to class. Everything should go perfect. Right?
We arrive early at Western Civ, the door closed, lights off, the halls quiet. I wheel over by the large hallway windows overlooking the sports fields to wait. She asks me what I need help with and what former aides have done that worked well and didn’t work well.
“Miss Cindy, some aides have quit on me, partly because of my big mouth, and partly because I got mad at them for doing too much for me.”
She nods, but with a questioning look on her face.
“So, if I spout off in class, say something dumb or like I’m trying to be smart, you’re not responsible. Okay?” She grins and motions to go on. “However, if we’re doing a multiple-choice quiz and I tell you to mark C, but you know the answer is B, so you mark B, or later go back and change it to B. Don’t do that. Or, if I don’t say it right, but you write it down correctly, you’re doing my work for me. Okay?”
Miss Cindy nods with a half-serious look on her face. “Makes sense, Nate. I’m glad you told me this. Zajebiste!”
I knew I’d like her.
Principal Walker jogs up, wearing a bright, almost neon, blue polka-dot bow tie over a light blue shirt, a brown corduroy jacket with elbow patches, blue jeans and the latest Michael Jordans. “Hi, Nate. And you must be Miss Cindy Johnson. I’m so glad to meet you. I understand there was a mix-up. Mrs. Dillon feels bad that it was her fault. Are you two all right now?”
“I’m better now,” I say. “We’re waiting to start our first class together, then we’ll find out if Miss Cindy can actually deal with me.”
Principal Walker shakes his head. “Nate, over the past year, I almost got used to not having a McGuire in my school. Now? I’m beginning to think I needed a longer break.” He glances at Miss Cindy who looks surprised. “Miss Johnson, I have known this family a long time and dealt with Lacie, his sister, for four long, horrendous years of harassment and torture. Now I’m facing four more with another McGuire. God help us all.”
“Mr. Walker, you need to remember your own words,” I tease. “A, A, A, T. Remember, you taught us them at orientation?”
Laughing, he drops to one knee, reaches in and shakes my right hand. “You’re right, Nate. Acknowledge, Accept, Adapt, and Thrive. Who else knows those words better than you and your family? Now, I must move on. You’re not the only student with problems this morning. Miss Johnson, again, my thanks to you. Say, if you last a semester with him I’ll nominate you for sainthood.”
“Even if I’m not Catholic?” Miss Cindy asks with a straight face.
“I think you two are made for each other. Have fun and triple A plus T.” Principal Walker checks his oversize Mickey Mouse watch and rushes off.
I notice the lights flicker on in the classroom as the teacher enters. Miss Cindy holds the door as I wheel into my first high school class—Western Civ. We’re the first students in the room. As Miss Cindy walks to the front to introduce herself to the teacher, I notice there is no obvious space for my wheelchair. I start nudging some desks and chairs out of the way near the back. Pushing them around with Mack, using my foot rests, kind of like a bulldozer. I’m trying to be slow and careful. The chairs scrape and squawk. Other kids walk in, stand and stare at me. One of the chairs crashes over. My face flushes. Didn’t the teacher, Mrs. Trotter, know she would have a disabled student in a wheelchair? Didn’t anyone tell her? Did they simply assume a space for a wheelchair would magically appear?
“Must we have all this commotion? Can’t some of you students help rearrange these chairs and desks? You’re in high school. You need to assess new situations and help out.”
Mrs. Trotter reminds me of my mother, tiny and fierce. I think I’m in trouble already. She marches down the aisle like a controlled tornado, rapidly rearranging chairs, telling students to sit down. “Quickly, quickly, we don’t need any distractions.” She stops in front of me.
Before she can speak, I say, “I am not a distraction. I’m Nate McGuire, I have cerebral palsy, I’m a quadriplegic. Do you have any questions about me or my condition?” A tall, olive-skinned guy with a soft Afro snickers. He’s the one who picked up the chair I knocked over. Miss Cindy stands behind several students with a look that says she’s wondering what she got herself into.
Mrs. Trotter stares at me, but it’s a thoughtful stare, not an angry one. “Nate, we will all introduce ourselves in a few minutes and if anyone has any questions about your condition, they can ask at that point. Now, as a special needs student…”
I interrupt. “Excuse me, Mrs. Trotter. We all have needs. Acceptance, food, clothing, shelter, and, and sex.” I pause and grin at the snickers and giggles. “My needs are different, not special. All of us have different needs. Don’t you think? Like I need to have a space for Mack, my chair, in this classroom.” My face flushes. Did I just say all that in my first class of high school after bulldozing chairs around?
The whole room is quiet, the students look at Mrs. Trotter, waiting for her response. “Nate, I never thought of things quite that way. Thank you. Students, we will be studying many civilizations, how they were different, how their cultures adapted to meet their needs, and, some of their subcultures. You were just introduced to an excellent example of a different subculture within our own classroom. Can anyone think of ways we can adapt to meet a different need?”
Everyone looks around, afraid to speak up. After all, it’s the first day of high school in a freshman class. Mrs. Trotter waits. I like that about her.
Finally, some boy mutters, “Well, if he, I mean Nate, would be patient and not act like Rambo, maybe some of us could move a desk or two when we first come in.” I wonder how patient he’d be if he lived in a wheelchair.
“Excellent idea. It’s settled. Now let’s quickly introduce ourselves, then I will go over the syllabus for this semester. What? Some of you look like you don’t know what the word syllabus means. It’s…”
“It’s like an outline of what we will study from week to week,” I kind of yell out. Well, not kind of, I yelled.
Mrs. Trotter shakes her head. “Nate, one of my needs is not to be interrupted, especially so loudly. If a student has something to interject they may raise their hand and I will call on them when I’m ready.”
“Umm, Mrs. Trotter, I can’t raise my hand, but I do have a flag I can wave, I just didn’t tell Miss Cindy to get it out for me yet. I’m sorry.”
She shakes her head. I can’t tell if she wants to laugh or scream. Afro-guy snorts and looks at me like he can’t believe I exist. I think the guy is cute, even if I can’t tell if he likes me or not. His name is Jamal. I keep quiet the rest of the class. Though, when we’re dismissed, I shout out, “Hey, everybody. Thanks for meeting some of my needs. I have more. Feel free to ask me about them.”
I think I’m going to like Western Civ and Mrs. Trotter. I also hope I can meet Jamal-Afro-guy. Right now, he’s laughing at me.
Out in the hall, Miss Cindy says, “Nate, I may turn Catholic. Sainthood is sounding better by the hour.”
I wave my flag at her.