I went to a special school from Grade 4 all the way up to and through high school. In grade school, they called it ‘Five Talents’. When I went to Brebeuf, they just called it ‘Gifted’. After I transferred to Sacred Heart, they called it ‘Pace’. Either way, it wasn’t normal. Being smart does not mean you don’t need guidance and discipline. As a matter of fact, it demands that you do. I know better now.
I didn’t finish this story, I’m not sure where to go with it from here. I was inspired by James Joyce’s ‘Araby’.
I slipped on my snowpants, put on my boots, careful to put them over and not tuck them in to my boots, wrapped my scarf tight around my neck and tugged and jerked and worked the zipper of my blue winter jacket up as far as it would go. A bit more work was required to get my toque on my head – my thick, winter jacket made it hard to get my hands up over my head. I put on my mittens – great grey things my grandmother knitted for me – put my bag over my shoulder and called out to my mom.
“See you at lunch,” I said.
“If I’m not here,” she answered. “Your lunch will be in the oven. Okay, honey?” She called to me from the top of the stairs, probably just poking her head around her bedroom door. Dad had called in sick and she told me she would spend most of the day taking care of him.
“Love you, Mom,” I said, and slammed the door behind me.
The radio had announced that school would be cancelled because of the weather but I didn’t see a reason not to go. I mean, if I was going to my other school and it was just any other day, I would have taken a snow day because waiting for two buses in bad weather would take half the day. Today was a day for my regular school and because it wasn’t just any other day, even if I had to take five buses just to spend ten minutes at school, I would have done it for a week. Today was the day I would tell Pia that I wanted to go around with her.
The snow got deeper as I walked and by the time I got around the corner and to the top of the hill to cross the street to get to school, it was already up to my waist. I squinted my eyes against the blowing snow and saw that there were kids playing in the yard and in the field. I stopped myself before I could cross against the light and stared at the stoplight, trying to make it turn red faster.
Rory stopped me with a snowball as I walked through the field to the yard. He called me a name and I stopped and waited for him.
“I thought today was your day at Special School,” he said.
“Naw,” I said. “I’m here today. I’m here tomorrow, too.”
“But then yer two days at Special School,” he said.
“You wanna go jump down the hill?”
“Excellent!” I answered, and broke into a run, starting a race between me and Rory that would end at the bottom of the hill.
The hill was all around the school field and was on at least a sixty degree angle and about thirty feet high. It ended at a tall chain link fence which stopped us from going into someone’s backyard. I don’t think I ever saw anyone or anything in that backyard except for a Canada flag that never came down and got really tattered over the years. The idea behind jumping down the hill was to run as hard and as fast as you could towards the hill then, just before the drop, you would jump as high as you could and land as far down the hill as possible. This was done only in the winter time and only when a teacher could either be distracted or not on duty. You could do it after school after all of the teachers went home but we didn’t find any fun in that.
We managed about six jumps, Rory beating me four-two, before the school bell rang and we noticed that we were the only two kids on the hill. We grabbed our bags and I beat him to the door by a good foot and a half, but when I opened it he leaped inside and declared himself the winner. I told him that was bullshit and that stopped us both quick, because the stairwell was empty and the bullshit echoed and we were sure to get caught swearing in school.
“Do you hear anyone?” I whispered.
He shushed me and put a gloved finger to his lips. We walked slowly up the stairs to the second floor classroom. Quietly, we unzipped our jackets and held our bags with our free hands. We couldn’t hear anyone until we opened the door at the top of the stairs. Not everyone was at school but everyone that was at school already had their coats off and were sitting at their desks and when we opened the doors, all of the students from grades five, six, seven and eight – it was an open floor classroom separated only by a wide aisle up the middle and a short set of bookcases flanking either side of the aisle – who came to school on what would eventually be called as a Snow Day, turned to look at me and Rory, soaking wet and staring dumbly. Everyone laughed. We went into the cloakroom, took off our snowpants, hung them separately from our jackets, and walked to the grade seven class and took our seats. I think they were still laughing. I tried not to pay attention. I looked around the room for Pia.
She sat at the front with the rest of her friends and I could see they were all laughing at me and Rory, too. I guessed about half the class was there. My teacher, Mr. Zarconi, sat at his desk writing in his notebook. The intercom chimed and the floor rumbled with all of the seats being pushed up so that everyone could stand at attention for the national anthem and the morning prayer. The new version of O Canada still tripped me up a bit but I managed the Our Father and Hail Mary without tripping up and still managing a glance at Pia.
“Will you give it up?” Rory leaned over and said. “I mean, really.”
“I like what she’s wearing today,” I said.
He rolled his eyes. “Give it up.”
Zarconi cleared his throat to get our attention. He directed the learning groups to break out into their lessons and he would start with the Beavers first and work his way to the Foxes, Bears, and Eagles later before stopped for recess.
“And remember it will be an indoor recess, people,” he said.
“Indoor?” I said to Rory. “Who said anything about indoor?”
“Mrs. Cziaraky did,” Rory said. “When she made the announcements.”
Cziaraky was the school principal. I didn’t hear her say anything like that.
“You weren’t paying attention,” Rory said.
“And Robbie,” Zarconi said. “You can do your own work and I’ll check it after recess, okay?”
I nodded and took my notebook out of my bag. Rory went to go work with the Beavers as I broke out my Inference, Compare and Contrast textbook to go with my notebook. I made sure that Zarconi was working with the Beavers before I flipped to the back of my notebook. I had finished the story I had to read and answered all of the questions from the first third of the text book between yesterday and last night because I was bored and really didn’t want to help Mom or Dad around the house. I wrote my notes for class in the front of my notebook then turned the book to the back and upside down and wrote everything else, so that when I was done, I ended in the middle, and could ask for a new notebook without anyone thinking I was doing it just for the feel of the new pages. I was as guilty of that as any other kid.
The back of my notebook was where I practiced my note to Pia that would get her to go around with me.
Pia was the reason why I went to a special school every other day. Rory told me she was going to be taking the test, too. They had seen her go to the principal’s office and walk away with an envelope that looked just like the one I had to take home to my parents. I didn’t want to show it to my parents because I knew it would mean more work. Dad carried that envelope around in both hands like it was a trophy and called all my aunts and uncles, like I had just won the hundred metre sprint or something. I thought that if I took the test and passed that it would be only Pia and me from my school that would go to another school every other day. I would have her all to myself. She would be sure to want to go around with me, then.
I studied the bus routes so that I would be able to answer her questions. I even took it a few times back and forth so I would try to get used to riding and the buses and maybe see if I could get to know the drivers on that route. I wanted to be able to get on the bus, carrying Pia’s bag maybe, smile knowingly at the bus driver, who would surely tip his hat and smile right back at me, and we would take our regular seats on the back of the bus and we would talk and talk and talk until we had to get off and go to school. Pia and I would be going around and everything would be right with the world.
I passed the test and my Dad made it known that I was so confident about passing the test that I had already bought a bus pass and gone back and forth to the school to pick out my desk. Pia didn’t pass. Pia didn’t take the test. She didn’t even give the envelope to her parents, I don’t think. There may have been something else in the envelope. Money, maybe. Or maybe there wasn’t even an envelope at all and my friend Rory was just playing a trick on me. But I ended up being the only one in my class who had to go to a special school for different kids every other day. And the bus drivers changed so often that I never got to know one of them.
But the note was more important to me than any of that. Pia was smarter than me, I knew that – smart enough to know it was better to stay with here friends at the normal school and not tell her parents about any test (I was sure there was an envelope even though Rory swore up and down that there wasn’t) – so I had to write a smart note to her. Something that would really get her. So I decided to study French. We had a French class every day from eleven to twelve with Mr. Mac Neil but that was more like knowing what to say when he spoke to you than having something to say when you wanted to talk to him.
“Bon jour, Mon Sieur Mac Neil.”
”Comment sa vas?”
“Je fais bien mer ci.”
Just with the right rhythm, five days a week, one hour a day, in the same room, for the first seven years of my school. In my notebook, I had a word that Mr. Mac Neil never taught that I thought Pia would know. Coup de foudre.