This story is by Sue Moreines and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I was always anxious and moody a few days before school started. My parents assumed it was about leaving summer behind, but that wasn’t it, exactly. Besides homework and studying, it had more to do with having to face Amon’s meanness, which began in first grade. Everyone hated him because he was also rude, obnoxious and a bully. He had threatened to punch us if we told anyone, and teachers weren’t even aware, since he was so good at keeping his behavior under their radar.
By fourth grade, Amon had perfected his destructive skills, and you could see the pleasure on his face when he upset or hurt someone. I felt powerless to stop him, fearing what he might do to me.
Despite having no use for him, I still felt bad for Amon. He had no friends, sat alone at lunch and hung his head as he walked home. I often wondered what made him such a miserable, angry kid, but I wasn’t going to ask him.
Teachers expected us to give the ‘what we did over summer vacation speech’ on day one. Amon made sure he went first, delivering 15 minutes of drama. His parents took him to exotic places, where they ate things like tuna eyeballs, crispy tarantulas and jellied moose nose. Amon was so self-absorbed, he believed we were fascinated by his stories.
Mr. Gregory was our sixth-grade teacher who seemed different from the rest, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. While he took the roll, he made sure to say something positive to everyone.
At the same time, Amon found a way to make direct eye contact with each of us. The silent message he delivered was clear: I’LL BE WATCHING YOU!
Mr. Gregory was about to ask for a ‘summer vacation’ volunteer, when the door opened. A new student appeared, followed closely by Principal Jackson. They moved to the back of the classroom where the principal helped him get situated. Although everyone turned to have a quick look, Amon stared intently at the boy sitting behind us.
Before leaving, Principal Jackson said, “I’d like you to meet Max.”
Mr. Gregory replied, “Welcome Max! I’m Mr. Gregory, and I know you’re going to enjoy being in this class.”
We introduced ourselves, with the exception of Amon, who leaned under his desk pretending to tie his sneakers. That did not go unnoticed. Mr. Gregory made him sit up and say his name, then told him to show Max around school during our mid-morning break. Everyone shifted in their seats, while Amon’s ears turned beet red. I got the feeling Mr. Gregory had Amon’s number, and wasn’t going to allow his horrible behavior to continue in his classroom.
While walking toward Max with a piece of paper in his hand, Mr. Gregory said, “I hope you’ve all come prepared to share some of the more interesting things you did this summer.”
“I’ll give you a minute to go over this outline Max. It should give you an idea about what to tell us,” said Mr. Gregory, smiling.
I assumed Max had problems reading, since he used his finger to point at each word on the page. When he finished, he looked up, smiled and said, “I’d be happy to go first!”
Amon’s notebooks fell to the floor in a thud, and he grumbled under his breath.
Mr. Gregory asked, “Did you have something to say, Amon?”
Amon shook his head no and bent down to retrieve his books, then stared at Max again. I couldn’t figure out what was going on behind his piercing green eyes.
Max didn’t flinch, and in an excited voice said,
“I always dreamed about going to Atlantis. Well, this summer my wish came true, thanks to my parents. We got to the airport early, and I loved watching the planes takeoff and land while waiting for our flight to Florida. When we boarded, I sat by the window so I could see the entire city turn into a speck before we disappeared into the clouds.
After landing, a bus took us to a cruise ship. I stood on the top deck and watched the dock fade away as we headed farther out into the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually, while looking over the bow, I saw Paradise Island in the distance. The pink buildings of Atlantis rose into the sky and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest.
We spent a week swimming with dolphins, snorkeling and gliding down dozens of water slides. We walked for miles on white beaches, letting the warm sand slip between our toes. This was the first summer I was able to do absolutely anything and everything I wanted to. It was a trip of a lifetime!
Before we even got home, my parents asked what else I had on my bucket list. I can’t wait for next summer!”
We all sat in stunned silence. I wondered how it was possible for Max to do all of those things. And, what was going on inside Amon’s head?
Mr. Gregory asked, “Does anyone have any questions for Max?”
I shot my arm up, along with almost everyone else.
Mr. Gregory called on Jake, Mark and Kate, who asked if Max was allowed to touch the dolphins, if there were sharks in Atlantis and if he saw coral reefs and sunken artifacts. Max thoroughly enjoyed the attention, as well as the chance to talk more about his awesome holiday.
Before I could ask my questions, Mr. Gregory suggested we take our break early, then pick up where we left off. Without even being told, Amon got up and took Max for a tour of the school. That did not go unnoticed, leaving the rest of us to whisper and wonder what was going on.
Immediately after we all returned, I raised my hand, but Mr. Gregory said, “Michael, I know you have questions, but Amon has something he needs to tell the class first.”
Standing next to Max, Amon said, “First, I’d like to apologize for being such a terrible person for so long. I felt I had good reason for being mean, but after what happened today, I realized I was wrong.”
Everyone’s jaws dropped, and no one made a sound.
Amon continued, “Not only has Max been paralyzed since birth, but he’s blind as well. Needing this wheelchair limits him in ways we can’t begin to imagine. Up until today, Max and I shared terrible sadness and overwhelming anger. When Mr. Gregory handed him that message written in Braille, it told him to say what he ‘hoped’ he could have done this summer. It gave him the opportunity to be free, to do and see things without any limitations, at least in his mind.”
Everyone clapped and cheered, and Max couldn’t stop smiling.
Amon added, “What you don’t know, is that both of my parents have disabilities. I had to learn early how to do the laundry, mow the lawn and shop for groceries. We’ve never gone on vacation, and like Max, I made up my stories. It made me feel better at the time, but I was still furious and took it out on all of you. And for that, I’m truly sorry.”
After letting the news sink in, we all stood up, walked past Amon and gave him a high-five, before doing the exact same thing with Max.
To say the least, I was shocked to learn that secret about Amon’s life. Sharing his story and apologizing to the class was a relief to him and the rest of us. I was happy to hear Max and Amon talked about their problems and would be a support to one another.
“Do you have any questions Michael?” asked Mr. Gregory.
While inconspicuously wiping away a tear, I answered, “No, Amon answered them all.”
Right before the end of the school day, a loud knock on the door startled everyone. Principal Jackson walked in and announced, “I have great news! Next week, you’ll be going on a field trip to Inclusion Island!”
“What’s that?” we all asked.
“It’s an amusement park designed for people with special needs and for the able-bodied,” Principal Jackson answered.
“That’s incredible,” screamed Amon and Max in unison, just as the final bell rang.
As the class streamed out, I looked at Mr. Gregory and said,
“You are different from all the rest. You’re the most thoughtful, caring and observant teacher we’ve ever had. Thank you!”
Mr. Gregory smiled, gave me a high-five and we walked to the door together.