The first day of my Freshman year I came to school and when I asked where my aid was, I was told that I wasn’t going to have one anymore.
So I started going to Content Mastery there were many other teachers and people that worked at the school that helped me and the other students who required differentiated educational strategies. There was also a room in my school called the “Content Mastery” room, where there were 3-4 tutors that helped with test taking and studying. If I had to take a test, I would go to this room, because if I wrote the answers myself it would look like chicken scratches on the paper and be completely illegible. My mouth has always worked extremely well, but my hands only half as well. So, the tutors in the content mastery room would write the answers that I would tell them so that I could take my tests without giving away the answers to all the other students in the class.
Because I had special needs in school, I built stronger relationships with the staff than the average kid would. I had an English teacher named Sharon Reep (Mrs. Reep). Toward the end of my freshman year, she told us that her siblings used to call her “Blondie”. I don’t remember how this tied into the lesson, but when I was leaving that day after class, I said, “See ya later, Blondie”. The rest of the class gasped, expecting her to be angry, but she loved it. She thought it was funny. We are still in contact to this day, and she has opened up to me that she was intimidated when I rolled into her class in my wheelchair. She thought that I was going to be a lot of extra work and she wasn’t sure what I would require. It took some time, but she realized that her preconceived notions were wrong. I was lazy, a loudmouth, the class clown, smart assed, but I was smart. Besides the chair and the less than agile hands, my brain operated as normal, and I was just as obnoxious, if not more so, than most other boys my age. I spent time talking with Mrs. Reep while she graded papers. I was friends with her sons Jason and Jared. In college, Jason brought me a signed baseball. I’ve had dinner at the principal’s house with his family. I had my economics teacher over to watch movies with me. Liz and I stayed in contact until she passed away in 2011 from lung cancer.
When I was in school, everyone liked me. I had wheels and nobody ever had a problem with me. I had two types of teachers. I had the teachers that didn’t know what to do with me, and I had the ones that liked me. The teachers that didn’t know what to do with me didn’t always like me, but they couldn’t find a way to give me a detention, because the principal always liked me, and would refute any punishment that was coming.
. I was bulletproof through school.
Some might say that the reason I was “bulletproof” was because of my chair. And in some ways, that is true. Most people I meet don’t want to be themselves around me. They hide their true thoughts, because they are afraid of offending the person in the wheelchair. If you say something mean to someone who is your own age and stature, that’s considered ok, but if you say something mean to a person in a wheelchair, you are suddenly a low life cripple-hater. I got turned down by a lot of girls in high school and college, and they would always attest that “it’s got nothing to do with the chair”. Of course it has something to do with the chair. It’s part of who I am. They just didn’t want to tell me the truth because of their fear. So, I digress, being “bulletproof” is a two-edged sword. People can be exceedingly nice to you, but it is difficult to know who is being true to their character and who is wearing a mask.
People that have come into my life that are honest, legitimate, and not intimidated by me are invaluable friends. These are the people you want to surround yourself with in life. They will help you progress and get where you need to be on your life journey. Expect there to be only few people that fit into this category. They are very rare and hard to find, but if you find someone that seems to “fit” like this, you should preserve those relationships at all costs.
Because of this, I was never afraid to approach my teachers. I wasn’t self-conscious like many developing adolescents are. I can’t speak for every handicapped person, but being in a wheelchair made me less self-conscious. If I had stopped to think about what other people were thinking about me, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I never really got self-conscious until I got to college. Looking back, I can see that high school was a lot more fun to me than college, and I think that it was largely because of my confidence at that time in my life. When we let our inhibitions about ourselves take over, it pulls us back from advancing and doing the things we want to do in life.
My freshman year of high school was literally the best year of my life thus far. Every day I would come home after school each day loving my life. Freshman year is supposed to be terrifying, scary, and difficult according to most advisors and school counselors. It’s described as a very difficult transition in one’s life. But for me, it was the opposite of that. It was my best year. One of the reasons I had a great year was because of Tracy in my speech class. She was a beautiful blonde who decided I would be her “puppy dog”. On our first day of class, we had a socialization exercise where we all moved around and got to know each other. I was in my wheelchair, so I had to move around the outside, not into the rows of student chairs. Most of the students were a bit “lost”, as freshman high school students are. Mingling doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Tracy approached me and introduced herself. She told me that she played volleyball and basketball, and invited me to come see her games. I was so enamored with Tracy that I could only nod. If I were standing, I would be weak in the knees. Tracy was nothing short of amazing. That year, I spent a lot of time with Tracy watching her games and hanging out with her in “puppy dog” fashion. In short, I had a huge crush. She had awesome upper class friends that I got to spend time with, like the quarterback on the football team. She liked to party, and was a fun, fiery girl full of happiness and spirit. This was 1994, and Cheryl Crowe had just come out with the record Tuesday Night Music Club, including the hit All I Wanna Do. Tracy loved this song. It became “our” song, even though we were only friends. As an adult, I can understand that she enjoyed playing and toying with me. We never dated, but at that time in my life I was in love, and that made it the best year of my life. Of course, I could have complained and depressed myself because Tracy and I were not lovers, but I was happy with what I had.
Because of Tracy, as a freshman I got to associate with upper classmen. As an adult this might not seem like a big deal, but for a 14 year old boy, this is huge. One of the memories that really sticks out in my mind from that year was when Dmitri, a senior and the quarterback for the football team, caught me in the hallway and motioned for me to come over to him. He was standing there with his girlfriend, who was also nothing short of a spectacular girl. She was a medium-height gorgeous brunette named Erika. Dmitri pulled a hundred dollar bill from his pocket. A hundred dollars was a lot of money back then. A hundred dollar bill is still a lot of money today. He said, “I’m going to ask you a question, and if you can give me the right answer, this $100 is yours.” I looked at the crisp bill questioningly. “If you had the choice, would you hang out with me, or my girlfriend?” asked Dmitri. “Well, duh!” I answered. “She’s hot! I would definitely hang out with Erika.” With that, Dmitri smiled and said, “I’m keeping my $100.” He stuffed the bill back into his wallet, which I found out later that day was a bill his mother had given him before school that morning. It was funny and a memory that stands out to me even now. Dmitri and Tracy both went to Eastern New Mexico University after graduating high school. What makes this memory special isn’t really the hundred dollar bill. I’ve seen other hundred dollar bills in my life since high school, but this one was special because of the memory of the people involved.
As I said before, I still managed to have a great time despite the lack of typical freedoms. I always got good grades and look back on my experiences with fondness.
Despite being in a wheelchair throughout high school, and spending a lot of time with a girl I was absolutely in love with who was not interested in me romantically, it was the best year of my life. Unlike most high school students, I never went to one high school party. I rode in a not-so-hot van to school every day, so that wasn’t really conductive to party traveling. I never had a real date. But despite all of these things, looking back at my experiences, it’s the positive memories that surface first. Sometimes appreciating our lives is more about seeing it for all of the good things rather than looking at all of the shortcomings. I never look back on those years with sadness or regret for what wasn’t there, but I remember them for what was there.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it though. There were some tough pills to swallow along the way. If you look back on your high school and early college times, you probably have fond memories of the freedoms allowed in your coming of age. You probably remember your first car, the ultimate symbol of budding maturity and newfound potential to rebel against the confines of traffic laws and parental control. If you had even a part time job, you suddenly had your own money to spend on anything you would like to purchase. High school is also a time of endless opportunities for adventure. Between the sporting events, school dances, mixers, music concerts, and festivals, the school made sure you were constantly entertained and had ample opportunity to leave your homes and not return until well after curfew.
I traveled in a van. My mother drove that van. This might be enough information to fully explain the situation, but I will go further. I love my mom, and I appreciate all she has done for me, but it’s really hard to pick up chicks with your mom hanging around with you playing the role of chauffer. There’s nothing suave about trying to whisper to your mom, “Hey, I’m going to roll off to the bathroom, ok?” The jobs I had were in school, and while I am secretly grateful that one must stand up to flip burgers, which forever eliminates me as a possible candidate for that position, it may have been nice to have one of those bottom-level jobs with an inherent lack of supervision so that I could have a little bit more freedom. I had friends in school, but like most young people, they were not confident in van-driving. Most teenagers are terrified behind the wheel, and the thought of driving a Ford E-150 to go out cruising doesn’t really set the scene for a wild and crazy night out.
I went to all the school dances and sporting events, so I didn’t miss out on the school’s entertainment, but for me, it didn’t provide the same levels of freedom that it does for most high school students.