In my twelfth summer, I was yet again coerced into attending summer school. I endured the classes as well as I could, and when freed for the day, relished my emergence into the sunshine and fresh air. It was my habit to head over to a nearby bakery, where I would reward myself with a chocolate eclair.
My schooling was a bit of a charade. Being hearing impaired, I missed much, if not all of what went on in class. Usually the teachers became aware of this, or semi-aware. They were busy people with jobs to do, and many other students to consider. One of the classes that summer was in creative writing, and in that class, I was more motivated to seek out the teacher's assistance. At least, I was able to find out our assignments. I remember putting together a folder of poems with some pictures I cut out of magazines, and his scribbled comment: "You have a nice creative sense."
But there was a problem. Right behind me, sat a boy who would frequently and annoyingly kick the back of my chair. I didn't know what to do about it. I was the proverbial deer frozen in the headlights. I didn't feel able to confront him, speak to the teacher about it, or even move to a different desk. I felt I was under the thumb of a malevolent boy out to get me, and all I could do was hunch in my seat and wish he would stop. It didn't help that he was black - I'd had little personal contact with any blacks in my life up to that point, for the simple reason that our area was overwhelmingly WASP, but I was certainly aware of the history of racism.
Kick, kick, kick. I wondered if he considered me the enemy because I was white. I retreated even more within my shell. Perhaps I thought if I made myself small and hid out well enough, he'd stop. There were lulls, but then it would start up again. Kick, kick, kick.
I finally got up the nerve to turn around in my chair and ask him to stop. To my surprise, he was not unfriendly, and he did stop. Well, mostly. Once in a while it seemed he would forget and the atavistic urge would kick in, until I again turned around and requested that he stop. I think I shared my poems with him — I would show my poems to anyone who would look at them.
Near the close of summer session, we actually conversed. His big brown eyes were soft as he asked: “How did you lose your hearing?"
I was surprised at the urgency of his manner, and there was a vulnerability and a depth of questioning in his face and eyes that told me this wasn't just idle curiosity. Perhaps he had been wondering about this the whole summer session.
"We're not sure why. Maybe because I hit my head, or had a high fever." This was true. The onset of my deafness at age seven was shrouded in mystery. And I now understood that this boy had been a mystery to me, too. He was not at all the tormentor that I thought he was. He was someone who cared.
And perhaps this was why he kicked my chair. He was interested in knowing me and this was the only way he could think of to get me to turn around and speak to him.
When class was over for the last time, we went our separate ways, but I was changed by the encounter. His sad, yearning eyes and question stayed with me, and as I ate my eclair that last day of summer school, I mused on the surprises and sweetness of life.