With Drawn: Part 4 — A Mouse in a Maze

Continued from: With Drawn: Part 3 — Connect Away

JMouse 2acob Grist and John Berkley sat in the Mystic Island Middle School’s art room. The room’s walls were covered with works by many different artists like Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali.

Some of these paintings were very unrealistic and confusing. One by Salvador Dali had melting clocks, and a Picasso had musicians that looked like they were built with Lego blocks, and a Van Gogh had what looked like twirling stars in the sky. But Jacob liked them. He knew that the paintings were confusing on purpose. And Jacob liked the fact that he was not the only person that didn’t understand them.

The art room was a very large room with high windows to give good natural lighting. Shafts of afternoon sunlight streamed down onto long wooden tables. Jacob was sitting at one of these tables. He was sketching in his sketchpad. Mr. Berkley was sitting across the room from Jacob, Mr. Berkley sitting at an ancient, banged up teacher’s desk. He was finishing up some paperwork.

When John Berkley was finished with his paperwork, he stood from the desk and he walked over to Jacob. Jacob was, as his mother would say when Jacob was concentrating intensely on his drawing, “in the zone.” So Jacob didn’t even notice Mr. Berkley walk up behind him, and he didn’t notice Mr. Berkley looking over his shoulder at the drawing on which he was working.

The drawing on which Jacob was working was a perfect rendition of Principal Cooper. In the drawing, the principal was sitting on a toilet, the principal straining, sweat pouring from his forehead, veins popping from his neck. In a thought bubble above the principal’s head were these words: “I’m so full of shit, I hope this toilet is big enough!” And printed across the top of the page was this title: THE COOPER POOPER.

Mr. Berkley stifled a laugh with his hand.

The reason that John stifled a laugh was because he thought the drawing was very funny, but John could not let Jacob know that he thought the drawing was very funny. This is because the drawing was what Principal Cooper would call, “inappropriate.” Although the principal might have a stronger word to describe this particular drawing.

Jacob suddenly realized that his teacher was behind him. Jacob flipped the drawing over to hide it from his teacher’s view. Jacob did this because he also knew that the drawing was considered inappropriate, even though drawing it made him feel a lot better. Jacob pushed the sketchpad over to the other side of the table, as if by increasing the proximity of the drawing from him would absolve him of any guilt for drawing it.

John sat down beside Jacob. The art teacher handed the boy a clean sheet of drawing paper. The teacher also took a fresh sheet of drawing paper for himself. Teacher and student then began sketching on the clean sheets of drawing paper.

After a moment, John said to Jacob, “So I promised Principal Cooper that I would talk to you about the drawing of Tommy Rogers that landed you here in detention.”

Jacob didn’t look up from the drawing on which he was working. Jacob didn’t even pause from his drawing. He only said, “Uh-huh.”

John said, “I know that you’re a good kid, Jacob. And I know you try hard to do the right thing. And I know that it’s not always easy for you to understand certain situations that might arise in your day. It must be confusing for you to keep finding yourself in trouble like this. It must be frustrating for you.”

Jacob shrugged and continued to work on his sketch. Jacob responded like this because his teacher was right, but Jacob didn’t really want to talk about how right his teacher was. The drawing that Jacob was working on was of a small mouse inside a large, square structure. The mouse looked so real that Mr. Berkley could almost swear he could see it quivering in the nervous manner known to the animal.

John said, “I know how hard it is to fit in at middle school. Believe me, I remember from my own middle school years how hard it can be. I wouldn’t go back to being in middle school for all the money in the world.” John paused a moment. He glanced over at Jacob’s drawing. He noticed that the box that the mouse was in was becoming a maze. John continued on with what he was saying, “And it probably made you feel good to do that drawing of Tommy Rogers. And as inappropriate as some may have found that drawing, it really was an amazing piece of artwork.”

Jacob stopped drawing for a moment and he looked up at his teacher. Jacob worked his teacher’s statement around in his mind, confused for a moment as to why his teacher was praising something Jacob had done that others had deemed inappropriate. Jacob was able to figure out that his teacher was being sincere. Mr. Berkley was saying that he thought the drawing was inappropriate, but that the actual artwork of the drawing was of good quality.

Jacob returned to his drawing.

John said, “You really do have a gift, Jacob. And I realize, probably more than anyone, how little other people appreciate such talent.”

Jacob, not pausing from his drawing, said, “Mr. Cooper said that my drawing was a threat.”

John said, “That’s just because it’s Mr. Cooper’s job to say that. He’s supposed to keep things running smoothly here, and you, like all great artists, are going to rattle people at some time or another. Especially the people that are in charge.”

Jacob added more detail to the maze, creating dimensions and textures to the labyrinth walls. Jacob said, “Dennis, he’s my mom’s husband, he says that my drawings are weird and that I’m a freak.”

“You’re certainly not a freak, Jacob.”

“I don’t care if I am a freak. At least I’m not an asshole like Dennis.”

John didn’t respond to Jacob’s statement right away.

Jacob stopped working on his drawing for a moment. He looked over at his teacher to try and gauge Mr. Berkley’s reaction to Jacob’s use of the word: asshole.

John said, “It can be hard having someone different come into your family like that.”

Jacob, gauging that he was not in trouble for using the swear, returned to his drawing.

John said, “I had a stepfather come into my life, too.”

Jacob said, “Dennis isn’t my stepfather. He’s my mom’s husband.”

John said, “Is there a difference?”

Jacob stopped drawing and thought for a moment. He then said, “The word stepfather implies parenting.”

John considered Jacob’s statement and then said, “Wow, that was pretty profound, Jacob.”

Jacob didn’t respond, he just went back to his drawing.

John said, “Well, then I guess I didn’t have a stepfather either. But my mother did marry another guy. I was really young when she kicked my dad out. I never even knew why she did kick him out. I still don’t know why to tell you the truth. But the next guy she married, Stan was his name, he was a cruel man. I never could figure out why my mother gave my dad the boot, only to settle on a guy like Stan.”

Jacob said, “Why didn’t you just go and live with your dad?”

“I have no idea. Like I said, I was really too young to ask those kind of questions or make those kind of decisions. And when I was old enough, Stan was just there as part of my life.”

Jacob said, “Dennis was my dad’s best friend. They grew up together. They went to high school together. They were going to go into the army together, but Dennis couldn’t get into the army because he said that he had vertigo. When my dad died, Dennis was around all the time to comfort my mom. Then my mom just married him. Why would my mom do that? You know, marry him like that?”

John didn’t answer Jacob’s question. John figured that Jacob’s question was meant to be rhetorical. This means that the question had no real answer. But Jacob’s question wasn’t meant to be rhetorical. Jacob was really looking for an answer. But the only person that could actually answer the question was Jacob’s mother, and even she really didn’t have an answer. So John, instead, asked a question of his own. He said, “How did your father die?”

“He died in Afghanistan. It’s a country in Asia.”

“How long ago did that happen?”

Jacob put the finishing touches to the maze in his drawing, and then he began to add more detail to the mouse. Jacob said, “He died four years ago. He was a war hero. He was blown up by a missile fired from a U.S. Predator. That’s a type of drone airplane. He was in the house of an Afghani family. He was trying to save them by warning them to get out.”

“Wow, that is heroic.”

“That’s what I thought. But Dennis said that my father was a coward and a traitor for warning the enemy of the airstrike. He called it, ‘giving aid and comfort to the enemy,’ which is considered to be a treasonous act. But they weren’t the enemy. They were a family.”

Jacob stopped drawing and he inspected his work, twirling the pencil in his fingers like a baton.

John glanced over at the drawing. Upon closer inspection, John realized that the mouse now had a human face. The face was a perfect rendition of Jacob’s own face. John said, “That’s an amazing drawing. But maybe you’d rather put yourself in a place like in my drawing.”

John pushed his own drawing closer to Jacob. John’s drawing was of a sweeping, sloping, grass field. The field overlooked a harbor full of lobster boats. The sun in the landscape was setting, darkening and lengthening the shadows and reflections.

Jacob said, “Your drawing isn’t how I feel right now.”

John said, “But maybe you’d feel different in a place like the one in my drawing. Wouldn’t an open field be a better place to be than in a maze?”

Jacob looked at his teacher’s drawing and he considered his teacher’s words.

Continued in: With Drawn: Part 5 — Win-Win

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