This story is by Andria Black and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They did it again. He hated this part. Just as things were finally starting to feel normal…whatever that was. He kind of had friends. He liked school, the weekend trips to D.C., and train rides. Day trips to Chipotle and walks through the National Zoo. It wasn’t so strange here. He liked his routine. He liked his patterns.
“We leave in two weeks, Son.”
They must have waited to break the news. They knew how much he hated change. How the mere mention of it made his skin crawl like nails on a chalkboard. But they would never really understand why he hated this change most of all.
No one would.
Luke knew he should look excited. That is what all the stories at school told him. This would be a new place with new friends (if he could make them) and a new school. But something in him knew it would be worse. After all, who wants to be friends with the new kid? Much less a kid who talks funny? Who wants to be friends with the kid who needs earphones to make it through lunch in the loud cafeteria? Who wants to be friends with the kid who can’t look you in the eye? They had called him a weirdo and freak.
“You will like this place. There are beaches and aquariums. We know how much you love animals. There is even a zoo that lets you go into the cage with sloths and kangaroos!”
They were trying so hard. Mom’s face was all smiles, but he knew she was scared. She was scared of how he would take the news. Would the next few days and weeks be full of steps back or leaps forward? She was scared of the inevitable phone calls from the new principal; of having to introduce him to more mean people.
Mom hated how Luke was treated especially at social gatherings. Last fall, Connor had a birthday party and invited the entire class. Everyone showed up. When Luke got there, no one noticed.
Mom had taught Luke to be a good guest. He brought a present (the newest Fortnight game…whatever that was…Luke wasn’t allowed to play – something to do with “sensory overload” and “poor messaging”). He said, “Hello. Thank you for having me,” to Connor’s mom. He even waited patiently for cake and presents. But of the twenty kids there, no one greeted him. No one played with him. Luke spent the entire party in the corner playing Lego alone.
Mom hadn’t fared much better. She preferred small gatherings to parties. Sometimes Luke thought she understood a little more about him than she put on when he watched her shrink into corners at events of more than ten people. When she asked for bear hugs he was pretty sure her joints felt as out of whack as he did. She would watch him at parties like a hawk, and he could see the struggle of her wanting to intervene with bullies and letting him find his own way.
She never told Luke to his face, but he knew. She was lonely. The other parents didn’t want to be her friend afraid he might want to hang out with their children; like his strangeness would somehow infect their kid. Luke couldn’t help but think it was his fault. If only he wasn’t so odd. If only he could have a proper conversation. If only he understood the humor. If only…
But what did it matter now? They were moving. They were starting from scratch…again. Luke knew the truth. No matter where they moved or how long they were there, it wouldn’t change the birthday parties. No matter how many invitations, no one would come to his. This move wouldn’t change the fact his eyes would roll into his head sometimes and he blew on his hands to calm down. His “quirks” would always peg him as the “crazy kid.”
These new kids would be like every other bunch of kids. They would say, “Hi,” in class, and snicker down the hallway. It wouldn’t matter he could outdo them on an IQ test – Lord knows he taken enough of them. It wouldn’t matter he could create art like Michelangelo or make people laugh like Robin Williams. They always just see the same thing – a weirdo, a freak.
“Disney World is not far away. We can go hunting and fishing whenever we want.”
Luke loved Dad. He was always trying to help Luke out – even though Luke got on his nerves. Dad was Luke’s hero and he loved spending time with him. He loved how silly Dad was when they danced to Anaminiacs or how Dad would sing with him to the soundtrack of a Goofy Movie. He loved that Dad’s job was saving the world. He hated Dad’s job made them move all the time.
Dad was looking at him with…expectation? Discouragement? Sadness? Luke always had such a hard time figuring out faces. He knew Dad worried. Dad had just come home from two weeks away house hunting in sunny Florida. He had heard the conversations with Mom on the phone about “room for Luke’s needs” and “sensory yard.” Dad was always trying to find ways to make Luke’s life easier (often at Dad’s expense).
This was the part of the conversation he knew he was supposed to look excited. He was supposed to hear words like “Disney” and “aquarium” and all his fear and worry were supposed to magically disappear. Isn’t that what the social therapists had been teaching him?
Dutifully, Luke put on a brave face. Dad had been teaching him how to be a man. Something innate in him knew this was a moment to “man-up.” He smiled and nodded.
There were no words for what he was feeling, even if he could speak correctly. Luke wanted so badly to please his parents. He didn’t want them to have to worry about him. He didn’t want them to have to feel like he was a burden. He didn’t want them to think he couldn’t handle this.
“Ok. Can I go now?” he asked with what he thought was a smile on his face.
With trepidation in their eyes but smiles on their faces, his parents nodded. Sometimes Luke just wished people would say what they felt. He did. Why couldn’t they say they were scared? Why did people pretend to be happy when fear was clearly there? Why couldn’t he define the difference between anxiety and excitement or fear and determination? Why did faces not always match words? Life would be simpler with Luke’s view of the world.
Lego was a retreat; a place to process the big things in life. His best ideas came from creating masterpiece Lego collections. Luke started to work on his newest creation to “Brickwood” (he needed a glass jail in the sky to lock up bad guys).
As he built, Luke scripted to his favorite movie Peanuts. He loved the part where the Flying Ace fought the Red Barron! Scripting out the story word for word from start to finish helped him think. Focusing on something unrelated gave him time to process the big stuff.
The Flying Ace was brave. Plain old Charlie Brown had friends, even when he didn’t see them. Linus carried his blanket to think and feel secure and the other kids looked up to him.
Hmmm…. maybe this could be a good thing. After all, he did love the beach, sandcastles, and fish. You can’t be a marine biologist without animals to study. And who doesn’t love Disney? Maybe there would be better happier people? Maybe he could make some friends like Charlie Brown and find love with the Little Red-Haired Girl?
They had said it would be a rural city. Luke thought that meant farm town. Maybe he could become a farmer! That would be a cool way to past the time. Maybe there would be more time with Mom and Dad? Luke thought back to the looks on his parents’ faces as they told him the news. He knew how much they hated the big city with traffic and rude people. He knew they would be happier in the quiet rhythm of beach life. Didn’t Mom say she used to study on the beach during college?
Maybe he wasn’t alone. Maybe all he needed was his family to face the unknown. Maybe they did know how he was feeling? Maybe Florida wouldn’t be so bad after all.