“Once upon a time” is a phrase often used to start fairy tales. A fairy tale is a story where a main character has a bunch of bad things happen to him or her, but everything is made all right in the end through some extraordinary or magical intervention. Whether this is an actual fairy tale is debatable, but this is a story about a boy named Jacob Grist, who had a bunch of bad things happen to him, and his only way out of them was pretty extraordinary, if not magical.
Now, fairy tales generally take place in fantastical places, such as medieval castles or haunted forests. But this tale starts in one of the most unfantastical places one can imagine. This tale begins in a conference room in a middle school. The conference room was blindingly bright due to the overhead florescent lights, as if everyone was caught in a perpetual camera flash, and the room’s orange carpet was very worn and smelled of countless boring conversations. The long, wooden table had several swears etched into the edges of its table top. The room sometimes served as a detention hall, and students, often bored or angry, or bored and angry, would alleviate that boredom and anger by writing unkind words and statements on the edges of the table.
By the way, the adults sitting at the conference table at this time just happened to be talking about Jacob Grist.
Sitting at the head of this conference table was a man named William Warner. William Warner was the head of the Special Education Department at the Mystic Island Middle School. The Mystic Island Middle School is where Jacob Grist went to school. William Warner looked like he might be a used car salesman.
Used car salesmen are often well dressed and well groomed because they are trying to convince someone that they are knowledgeable and trustworthy, even though often these people are dishonest and not knowledgeable at all, and these aspects sometimes leak through their façade. This is why if a person seems dishonest, but one can’t quite put a finger on why he seems this way, he will be described as a used car salesman.
William Warner had thinning hair that was kept slicked back with a shining ooze of pomade. He had strikingly white teeth and a thin pencil mustache. His face had jowls that distracted from a once prominent cleft in his chin.
William Warner said to the people gathered around the conference table, “We are here for the three-year reevaluation of Jacob Grist’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP. It is our job here to reassess Jacob’s eligibility for special education services.” William Warner flashed a crooked, ultra-white smile and he gestured to the group of people at the table as if they were a used Corvette on a showroom floor. He said, “I thank you all for coming to this meeting. You are all integral pieces to Jacob’s success. And, as is tradition at the beginning of our IEP meetings, I ask that each member of this team now introduce himself or herself.” Warner motioned to the woman seated to his left. “And we can start here with Jacob’s mother, Joanne.” Warner’s crooked, ultra-white smile widened and he said, “Whoops. I suppose if she is to introduce herself, then I shouldn’t do it for her.” William Warner laughed like a gobbling turkey, but no one joined him in the laughter. He cleared his throat and gestured to Joanne Walsh again, saying, “So, take it away, Ms. Walsh.”
The woman seated on William Warner’s left was indeed Jacob’s mother, Joanne Walsh. She had a different last name than Jacob because Jacob’s father had died and Joanne had married another man with another last name. Joanne Walsh was a very pretty woman. Once, some may have even considered her beautiful, but it now looked as if life had worn away a great deal of vitality from her features. She had long, chestnut hair that she wore in a haphazard ponytail, and she no longer bothered to wear makeup. Joanne allowed what some might call a Mona Lisa smile to creep across her lips.
The Mona Lisa is a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a painting of a woman with a mysterious smile. The smile is considered mysterious because one can’t quite tell if it is a happy smile or not a happy smile. Joanne’s smile was like this.
Coincidently, Joanne’ son, Jacob, also had a problem telling if people’s smiles were happy or not happy.
Joanne’s dark eyes seemed to have a touch of shame and embarrassment in them as she looked at the other people seated around the table. She said, “I’m Joanne Walsh, Jacob’s mother.”
Joanne then looked at the man that was sitting on her left. This man had thick black hair and a horseshoe mustache that ran down the sides of his mouth. The man was rugged looking. He could be called a blue-collar type.
This did not mean that the man actually had a shirt with a blue collar. It meant that he looked like the type of person that made a living working in a physical job. The man did, at one time, work in a job that was considered blue-collar. The man used to be a roofer, which meant that he would put new roofs on houses. But he didn’t do that anymore.
This man was Jacob’s stepfather, and Joanne had looked at the man to prompt that it was his turn to introduce himself. But the man did not introduce himself right away. He wanted everyone at the table to know that he wasn’t going to do something just because the others expected him to do it. He would do it when he was damn-well good and ready, so he glanced around at everyone at the table in silence to illustrate this point. And then when he was damn-well good and ready, he said, “Dennis Walsh. Stepfather.”
Dennis did not bother to look at the woman to his left to prompt her for an introduction. Truth was, the woman on his left disgusted Dennis. The woman was a large slab of a person, and Dennis apparently took the woman’s extreme girth as a personal affront to him, as if she had one day decided to become obese just to piss off Dennis Walsh. The woman spoke in a high, squeaky voice. Some have described this woman’s voice as being like fingernails down a chalkboard. This is because when fingernails are pulled down a chalkboard, they will make a high, squeaking sound. This woman said in her squeaking voice, “I’m Martha Dell. I’m Jacob’s math teacher.”
Ms. Dell looked to her left so that the man seated there would know that it was his time to offer an introduction. This man was tall and thin. He was dressed casually for a teacher. He had shaggy, brown hair and a couple of days’ worth of growth on his chin. This man was Jacob’s art teacher.
Dennis Walsh regarded the art teacher with disdain as well. But Dennis did not have disdain for this man because the man was fat like Ms. Dell. Dennis had disdain for this man because the man was what Dennis thought of as a pussy.
“Pussy” is a term used for a weak man. It is also a term for a cat or used as a slang term for the female sex organ. Most likely, weak men are called pussies due to some sort of similarity to the female sex organ rather than to cats.
The man said, “I’m John Berkley, Jacob’s art teacher.”
Sitting on John Berkley’s left was a very attractive, young, blond woman. This woman was the school’s psychologist. John Berkley looked at the woman to prompt her introduction.
Dennis Walsh looked at this woman, as well. However, Dennis did not look at this woman with disdain, like he did poor Ms. Dell or that pussy art teacher. In fact, Dennis could do nothing but stare dumbly at the considerable and exquisite cleavage revealed by the young, blond woman’s low cut shirt. If Dennis had been able to look past the woman’s exquisite cleavage, he would have seen that the woman had striking ice-blue eyes and a warm smile.
By the way, her smile was not actually warm in temperature, nor were her eyes cold like ice. These are expressions meaning that her eyes were a pale blue color that might be associated with ice, and her smile was friendly.
The woman said, “I’m Amanda Lansing, the school psychologist.”
There was no one for Amanda to prompt for an introduction, because the introductions were completed, and it was William Warner’s turn to speak again. And William Warner rarely passed up an opportunity to speak. He said, “Okay, good, now that the intros are done, we can get down to the business at hand. That business being the reevaluation of Jacob’s IEP. And because this is the three-year reevaluation, we retested Jacob for a better understanding of his cognitive and psychological makeup. And it was our esteemed colleague, Ms. Lansing, here—” William Warner gestured toward the school psychologist as if she was another Corvette on a showroom floor “—that did the testing. So, without further ado, let’s hear what Ms. Lansing has to say about our friend, Jacob.”
Amanda Lansing opened a file and took out a report. Amanda paused a moment, glanced around the table with her warm smile, and then she began to read the report. She said, “Jacob Grist is a thirteen year old male attending school here at the Mystic Island Middle School. Jacob is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Jacob’s parents are concerned that Jacob’s lack of focus is greatly interfering with his academics.” Amanda paused again and glanced up from her report to look at Joanne Walsh.
Amanda did this to see if Joanne agreed with what Amanda was saying, but Joanne felt that Amanda Lansing was judging Joanne’s parenting skills. Joanne then saw that everyone at the table was looking at her. Ashamed, Joanne looked down at the table. Joanne saw that a statement was etched into the edge of the wooden table. The statement was this: PRINCIPAL COOPER IS A DICK.
The term “dick” is another word that can be both a derogatory term for a person as well as a slang term for a sex organ. Only in this case, it is a term for the male sex organ.
Amanda Lansing continued with her report. Amanda saying, “Jacob’s parents are also concerned that Jacob is having problems with the social dynamics of school. And that he may be the target of bullying.”
Joanne looked up from the table and said, “He may be?” Joanne said this in a tone that is known as sarcastic.
Sarcasm is when someone says something that, in a regular tone, means one thing, but when the tone is changed to sarcastic, it means the exact opposite. Joanne used this tone to illustrate that she felt Jacob was definitely being bullied. Which was the case. And that the school administrators didn’t seem to know how to stop the bullying. Which was also the case.
Amanda Lansing did not respond to Joanne Walsh’s sarcasm. Instead, the school psychologist continued with her report. She said, “The testing shows that Jacob is highly intelligent, but easily distracted.”
Dennis Walsh flashed his bitter glare at Amanda Lansing’s cleavage. Dennis saying, “Easily distracted. Is that shrink jargon for lazy?”
Some might have called Dennis’s tone sarcastic. But his tone was actually just mean. Dennis was being a dick.
Amanda Lansing’s ice-blue gaze snapped to Dennis, forcing his eyes from her cleavage. Amanda said to Dennis, “Often those with Asperger’s Syndrome are easily distracted. And I certainly found in my testing that Jacob was having great difficulty focusing on the tests.”
“Did you wear that shirt when testing him?” Dennis asked the school psychologist.
“Excuse me?” Ms. Lansing said to Dennis. Her tone was a mix of shock and anger, and she arched her right eyebrow in a way that was meant to show just how offensive she found Dennis’s statement.
“I’m just saying,” Dennis said, “some might find that shirt distracting.”
William Warner’s car salesman smile flashed across his face. But the smile was not a happy smile. In fact, it was the opposite. William Warner said, “Okay. Okay. Let’s stick to the report here.”
“I thought we were,” Dennis said. “I’m just questioning the test’s authenticity.”
“I don’t see what my shirt…” Amanda Lansing began to say, but William Warner interrupted her.
William Warner said, “Okay. Okay. Like I said, we need to stick to Ms. Lansing’s testing results. So please continue, Ms. Lansing.”
William Warner then glanced at Dennis and gave him a very slight, sly grin. He gave this very slight grin to illustrate to Dennis that he agreed with Dennis’s assessment of Amanda Lansing’s breasts. But the interesting thing is this: Dennis wasn’t that far off about the testing results. Jacob did find Ms. Lansing’s cleavage far more interesting than the tests on which he was supposed to be focusing.
Amanda Lansing took a deep breath, her considerable and exceptional bosom rising and lowering in her distracting, low-cut shirt. She cleared her throat and said, “What I do find interesting about Jacob is that, although many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have poor motor skills, Jacob is an exceptional artist.”
Dennis muttered, “No, He’s an exceptional doodler. He doodles when he should be doing his homework.”
John Berkley said, in what Dennis would call a pussy tone, “Jacob has a gift. I have never seen an artist like him. His sketches take on an almost life-like quality. When the light hits them right, you would almost swear that the drawings move. And he certainly has great focus when it comes to his art. It’s almost trance-like.”
Dennis looked over at the pussy art teacher, Dennis’s lip taking a slight curl of disgust. Dennis saying, “Yeah, you’re right, Mr. Art Teacher, trance-like is a good term for it. When Jacob is supposed to do his homework, he goes into a trance. When Jacob is supposed to do his chores, he goes into a trance. It’s called selective hearing. Jacob is lazy. And he’s weird.”
Joanne placed her hand on her husband’s forearm. Joanne saying, “Dennis, please.”
Dennis took his forearm from under his wife’s hand, Dennis saying, “No, it’s true. All these people talk like they somehow know Jacob more than we do. They talk about these—” Dennis made what are known as air-quotes with his fingers, “—‘trances’ like they’re something other than a kid just being lazy.”
By the way, air-quotes are another way of illustrating sarcasm.
Dennis then said, “What Jacob needs is a swift kick in the rear to wake him up.”
Amanda Lansing said, “People with Asperger’s Syndrome are generally hyper-focused on some things, while at the same time, they can be completely unaware of other aspects of the day-to-day world. Aspects that we take for granted.”
“And you know, that’s another thing,” Dennis said. “Who even says that Jacob has this Asperger’s thing?” Dennis gestured toward Amanda’s cleavage. “You even said it yourself. These Asperger’s people can barely write, never mind draw like Jacob can draw. Have you seen him twirl a pencil in his fingers? You call that a lack of motor skills? I don’t buy what you’re selling here, lady.”
Amanda said, “Twirling the pencil is known as a stim, or a self stimulatory behavior, and…”
“Uh-uh, no,” Dennis said, shaking his head. I don’t buy it. He’s just a weird kid.”
Joanne flinched at her husband’s statement. Dennis glanced at his wife, Dennis saying to his wife, “Sorry, Honey, but he is. And he’s lazy. And it’s nothing to do with Asperger’s or autism, or any of these other ADHD, QRST, whatevers. He’d just rather draw than do his work. Hell, there’s things I’d rather be doing than working, too.”
Joanne said under her breath, “You’re not working.”
Dennis shifted his bitter glare toward his wife. For a moment, it looked as though he may actually have wanted to strike her. Joanne looked down at the carved sentiment about Principal Cooper being a dick again. Dennis looked around at the others at the table, Dennis saying, almost apologetically, “I’m out on disability.”
John Berkley said, “Mr. Walsh, Jacob is gifted like no one I’ve ever seen before. We need to foster that gift.”
Dennis raised his eyebrows in a mocking way, and he looked at the man he thought of as a huge pussy. Dennis saying, “Foster his gift? At what price? His not being able to function in the real world? Jacob needs to learn to fit in.” Dennis glanced again at his wife. Dennis saying to Joanne, “You said it yourself. He needs to fit in. Right?”
Joanne looked up from the table and she said, “I just want my son to be happy.”
While Joanne was saying this in the school’s conference room, across the school, in a classroom, students were seated in rows of bicycle desks, each student bored to death, each student pretending to listen to a dusty, old teacher that was prattling on about history. The dusty, old teacher’s name was Ms. Washington, and she was tall and built like a column, her feminine curves long since diminished by time.
Now, I need to explain that Ms. Washington was not actually covered in dust. Saying that a person is dusty is just an expression. It means that over a long period of time, things tend to gather dust, and Ms. Washington had been around for a long time.
Ms. Washington was reading from a textbook. She was teaching the class about the Roman Empire. Try to picture this in your mind: seated five rows back, nestled almost in the back of the classroom, was Jacob Grist. Jacob had a slight build, thick nest of dark, curly hair, and eyes so dark that it was sometimes difficult to locate his pupils.
Unlike the other students in the classroom, Jacob Grist was not even pretending to pay attention to the teacher. The other students at least made it look like they were listening to dusty, old Ms. Washington prattle on about Rome, but Jacob wasn’t even looking in the teacher’s direction. Instead, Jacob stared down at a sketchpad open atop his desk. If someone had been walking past Jacob at that moment, he or she might see that the page of the sketchpad Jacob was looking at was blank. But it was not blank to Jacob. Jacob could already see a drawing on that page. And it was time for Jacob to bring that drawing into being.
Jacob exhibited a habit when looking at blank pages in his sketchpad. Jacob’s mother called this habit he did a “stim.” But Jacob could not quite understand the difference between a habit and a stim. Jacob’s mother bit her fingernails. This was considered a habit. Jacob, on the other hand, twirled his pencil in his fingers like a baton, the pencil dipping and dancing between each finger before twirling around his pinky and up through his digits again. This was considered a stim. Jacob’s pencil would spin faster and faster until, without breaking pace, Jacob would put the pencil’s point to paper and bring a picture into existence. This is what Jacob did in Ms. Washington’s class.
While Jacob drew his picture, Ms. Washington continued her lesson about the Roman Empire, relating stories from a textbook sanitized of any unpleasantness, telling the students about how the Roman Empire was tolerant of other religions.
This information was not entirely accurate. The Romans were famous for occasionally feeding one religious group, the Christians, to wild animals. Not because the animals were necessarily hungry, but because the Christians were Christian. They liked to nail Christians up on crosses, too.
But it wasn’t entirely Ms. Washington’s fault that she left the whole feeding Christians to animals and nailing them on crosses part out of the story. She left these parts out because the writers of the textbook had left them out, too. And Ms. Washington taught from the book, because she assumed that the book would have gotten the story straight.
The students that were sitting in the desks close to Jacob were beginning to crane their necks to see what it was that Jacob was drawing in his sketchpad. Some of the students had expressions on their faces that one might describe as looking nervous. They had a disbelieving quality in their wide eyes and their eyebrows were raised and their foreheads creased. Some of their mouths were slightly agape. Other students had looks that could be described as amused. They were smiling, and their eyes had a more knowing quality in them. A small current of giggles came from the amused group. Gasps from the nervous group.
The students sudden activity brought a halt to Ms. Washington’s lesson. She strode over to Jacob Grist’s desk and she looked down at the drawing in his sketchpad. Ms. Washington now gasped, and it was this gasp that broke Jacob from his trance-like state.
Jacob looked around the room, noticing the students gathered around him. And then he looked at Ms. Washington standing over him, her hand covering her mouth. And finally, he looked down at the drawing on the desk before him.
The drawing on Jacob’s desk was of a giant gorilla with thick, coarse hair, bulging muscles, insane eyes, and maniacal teeth that protruded from a frothing, rabid mouth. In one of the gorilla’s giant hands was one of Jacob’s classmates. The classmate was a wiry, compact kid with freckles and gelled hair. His name was Tommy Rogers.
Actually, it might be wrong to say that the gorilla held Tommy in its giant hand. It held Tommy’s torso in that hand. Tommy’s head was in the gorilla’s other hand, as if the gorilla had popped Tommy’s head off like a child popping off the head of a dandelion. Blood poured from Tommy’s neck, and the expression on Tommy’s decapitated head was one of wide-eyed, cartoonish confusion.
Continued in: With Drawn: Part 2 — The Principal’s Office