I left the gym, I had to, because the music made me uncomfortable. I stood by the door.
I waited. I turned toward the door to the gym, and I saw a classmate burst through the door, an aide inches behind him. The aide grabbed a strap on his vest and stopped him cold. The student struggled. Aides thronged at the little windows.
I know what they saw.
They didn’t see someone asking to be taken for a walk. They didn’t see him begging to have some space.
They saw an escape attempt. A noncompliant escape attempt. A student trying to outsmart the teachers, to get his way.
They saw someone who didn’t understand the point of P.E.
They saw a runner.
He pulled away, and the aide pushed him back through the gym door, shouting “In we go! In we go! In we go,” his hands pulling and pushing as the student dug his heels in. Everyone else “encouraged” from the sidelines. I saw too much happening.
I saw an apraxic struggle. I saw a nonverbal student being pushed through a door in a frenzy of movement, everyone shouting at the same time, bent over with hands thrusting at his back, pushing against the doorframe and struggling to stay upright. I saw too much, too much.
I saw a blur of movement and sounds coming at me from every direction, I saw the ceiling the doorframe the floor somebody’s hands everyone shouting. I saw the final thrust through the door, met with bright lights and cheering, everyone applauding the nice save!
I saw dizzy and disoriented.
I saw what he saw.
I saw a classmate who couldn’t respond to prompts because they were coming too fast, and who couldn’t comply because everything was being thrown at him at once.
He slumped against the gym wall and slammed his head back. The act was met with a sharp reprimand from a bystanding aide. And I know what they saw.
They saw defiance. Headbanging behavior. A tantrum.
I saw a student trying to block out external input. I saw. Everyone else gawked and chattered as the other kids did the warm-ups. I stood by helplessly.
I saw a humiliated man sitting against a wall in a corner, helpless and outnumbered, with no way to communicate.
I saw what he saw, the flash of students flying all around me and I saw people surrounding me, cheering, cheering for the aide as though it was some big victory to drag a student back into a classroom. I saw the world whirling around my head and it hitting the wall just to drown out the noise.I saw that nobody was asking themselves how he might feel. I didn’t just see the defeat, though, the lack of dignity or respect; I saw humiliation. Oh, yes, I saw. Pain.
I watched in horror. I felt for him. I felt with him. An aide, concerned that I had left, asked me if I was ok. Then she smiled at me knowingly. Chuckled, “He’s having a little fit.”
No. That’s not what I saw.
I saw an overwhelmed student trying to escape a hostile environment. An attempt to find a safe place, or a bathroom, or some water.
I saw a hasty and disjointed “rescue” that fried his emotions and ability to think. I saw visual, auditory, vestibular and tactile input slam him like a truck. I saw vestibular upheaval, and I saw desperation and fear and frustration because nobody understood, not one of them.
They saw a fit.
They didn’t see what I saw.
I know, I mouthed across the aisle. It’s ok. I know. He smiled back at me.
The bus engine rumbled, and we began to pull out of the lot. They were still talking about him, imputing motives based on their own experience. I knew that he could hear them. That they didn’t really care. That it wasn’t my place to correct them. To try and educate them. Not the student’s place.
I saw the look on his face, and I knew that nobody understood.
He sat alone, leaning against the vinyl of his seat, his expression fraught with distress, his eyebrows knit. I knew that they were fine, and they could sit there and casually theorize about it, but that he was still coming down. I saw the look in his eyes. I didn’t know what to say.
I saw his hand, resting on the seat. Hesitating, I leaned into the aisle and placed mine next to it. I didn’t know how else to say I support you.
His thumb wrapped itself around two of my fingers, and for a moment it was like that. Then he lifted his hand and took mine in it.
I squeezed. I know.
We stayed that way for about a minute. The bus rumbled down the street, curving around the corners, my hand in his.
They said I helped calm him down. Sometimes people underestimate what it means to acknowledge someone’s humanity. To see it. I don’t know what they thought my gesture was, but we knew what it was. A show of solidarity. A quiet one, not a trumpeting fanfare, but a whisper. I know.
This is what I saw. Very different from what the teachers saw.
I don’t know exactly what he saw. I believe that it was terrifying.
But I hope . . . I hope . . . that after the terror . . . I hope that he saw a friend.