“There are monsters biting at my brain,” Becky told us.
She was five, maybe six. “They won’t go away.”
“At night? In your dreams?” I asked.
“No. In the day.”
“When in the day?”
“Just sometimes in the day.”
“What do they look like?”
“They have teeth all over.”
“Can you tell them to go away?” I asked her. “I mean, look
right at them and yell at them to get out of there?”
“I tried that. I even put up signs in my brain saying GO
AWAY! FUCK OFF! CLOSED DOWN FOREVER! But it didn’t do any
We were sitting at the kitchen table. Rodney and I looked
at each other and burst out laughing. What a kid. Where
did she get the idea to do that?
“Well, that certainly was a good try,” I told her. I
wondered if there was any connection between “biting her
brain” and the fact that she is “brain damaged.”
“Can you draw us a picture of one of the monsters?” Rodney
asked her. We got her a pencil and paper and she drew a
shape with teeth all over it. She said the monsters were
“I have an idea,” Rodney said. “Let’s make some cookies
that look like your monsters. Then, every time they come
into your head, you can take a cookie and eat it. Shall we
Becky considered this plan, and said yes. So Rodney made
some cookie dough and cut out monster shapes using Becky’s
drawing. Then he put cornflakes all over them for the
teeth, and put them in the oven to bake. When the monster
cookies were cool, we put them in a big glass jar on a low
shelf so Becky could reach them.
A few days later, she took a cookie and ate it. The
monsters never came back. We finally threw the moldy
Pushing Me On
At the school meeting before ninth grade, my math teacher
announces he can’t give me extra time for in-class tests.
He refuses to change the way he teaches. My mother tells
him that it is the law, and he has to make reasonable
accommodations. He doesn’t care. He’s not going to change.
I groan in silence, knowing that he is the only one who
teaches advanced honors algebra. All the other teachers at
the meeting say they are okay about having me in their
I am the only one who comes here on a school bus, a
special bus for disabled students. When we stop at a red
light, the driver leans on her horn until the light
changes. When a certain commercial comes on the radio,
she’ll sing along. Sometimes, the bus is late getting me
to school. This becomes a point of contention between me
and my first-period teachers. When my mother and I tell
the bus driver that I need to be at school on time, she
complains about our streets being too narrow.
I try to start a club for students with disabilities. I
have an idea for a disability awareness day. Some of my
teachers think it’s a good idea too. I put out a call on
the daily announcements for interested students to meet in
a certain classroom. While the announcement is being read,
I hear sneers from the students around me, like, “Who
would want to go to that?” I keep my mouth closed. I am
the only person who shows up at the meeting. This is the
one wheelchair-accessible high school in the county. I
know I’m not the only student with a disability. If I
were, I wouldn’t have even tried to start a club.
My problems with the other students intensify this year.
When I drive my scooter through the halls, I hear “Missed”
from someone who has thrown something in my direction. One
day as I sit on the grass to eat lunch, there are students
on the roof of the building throwing gummy bears at me. I
get up and leave.
One such lunch time, I go into my academic counselor’s
office. She gets me all excited about a biology class that
focuses on ecology. Three biology teachers will co-teach
it. I come home feeling something good is coming out of my
loneliness, and I share this excitement with my mother.
Many things go wrong with the biology class. One teacher
has a habit of asking math questions (e.g., what is the
name for one followed by a hundred zeros?). I am often the
only student who knows the answer or at least the only one
who raises her hand. Because I raise my hand so
frequently, the teachers ask the principal to tell me not
to ask questions in class. My speech is too slow and takes
up class time. If I have something to say, I should wait
until lunch time. (This sets many things in motion,
including the addition of speech therapy to horseback
riding as another weekly extra-curricular activity for
me.) The principal tells this to the aide who works with
me, and the aide tells me. I am furious about this because
I don’t get a lunch break anyway. When the teachers “lose”
two of my weekly assignments and give me an “F” for the
first half of the semester, that is the final straw.
I switch to a different biology class taught by the only
other biology teacher at the school. After I change
classes, the two papers are found. The new class works out
just fine. When the teacher announces that she’s not going
to teach biology next year, I am stuck. In order to
graduate, I would need to take another biology class next
year. What am I going to do? I don’t feel like taking one
of the other teachers’ classes, but they are the only ones
who will be teaching it.
While all this biology stuff is going on, I am having
problems with other teachers as well. My Spanish teacher
wants us to work in groups. One day, she hands out a
worksheet and tells us to get into groups of two or three.
I start out by asking the people who are sitting by
themselves. They say they want to do the assignment alone.
Then, I ask people already in groups and they say no. When
I tell the teacher this, she announces to the class: Becky
doesn’t have a partner–does anyone want her in his or her
group? The whole class goes completely silent. This
incident prompts the Resource Specialist to go into all of
my classes and give talks about disability awareness.
My first-period class is California history. We discuss
Mexican history and the Native Americans as well as the
early explorers. I like the slant in this class. One day,
the bus makes me late and the teacher comes to the door
and literally pushes me out of the classroom saying that
he is giving a surprise quiz, and I can’t come in because
I am late.
I like to think that he and the other teachers pushed me
all the way to Cabrillo Community College. I left high
school after the tenth grade.
The lunchtime crowd had left, and it was too early for
dinner, so we were the only ones on the restaurant’s patio
overlooking the creek. It had been my idea to come here. I
needed a drink. As I sat with my hand around my glass,
Becky looked straight into my eyes and told me, in that
serious way she has, that she was quitting school.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. We had just come from
a meeting at her high school, and I can’t remember now if
it was the meeting I called because her biology teacher
told her not to ask questions in class because her speech
was too slow, or the meeting I called when her history
teacher pushed her back out of the classroom after the
special bus dropped her off late, or the meeting that was
set up because her Spanish teacher had said to the class,
“No one picked Becky for their group, so who will take
her?” and no one had answered.
“I’m tired of being the trailblazer,” she told me, her
brown eyes wide and sad. Her word for herself made me
think back to the time ten years earlier when I had
watched her go eagerly into her first-grade classroom, her
walker drawing curious looks from the other children. She
was filled with excitement and expectation, and the
innocence of a six-year-old.
“Okay,” I said, knowing what she had been through in her
first two years of high school. That is, I thought I knew.
It would be years before I found out things that neither
Becky nor Anna told me at the time. “What do you want to
“I want to take the high school equivalency test and go to
Cabrillo,” she said. “You can do that when you’re
I looked at her, and imagined her going to our local
community college. I smiled.
“Let’s drink to that,” I said, and clinked my margarita
against her lemonade.