“And he scores again!! Folks, Deshawn Teele just might be the best player who’ll ever touch this field!”. “Shawny, why don’t ya take a seat and grab some water.” Coach Warner said as he clapped me on the back. I sat down and closed my eyes for a second; the crowd’s cheering suddenly evaporated. I opened them again; no longer was I sitting on the steel slab of victory that was the Gramble high varsity soccer team’s bench. I was lying on my bed, the sun’s rays awakening me to yet another day of alienation and loneliness, the only excitement and camaraderie to be had in The Odyssey, sprawled open on my nightstand, looking dangerously close to finished. As I got out of bed and pulled out a light blue collared shirt and a pair of khakis, the mirror decided to remind me what I was; I was no pedestal-perched social elite, no great athlete about to take the world by storm! No, I was the fat, socially awkward, neurodivergent, neanderthalic outcast! A manatee in an ocean full of graceful seals and dolphins! No one ever commented on any of it, but I know what they thought. Everyone thought I was just some kind of freak!
I sluggishly oozed my way down the stairs into the kitchen, with Mom asking, “Would ya like some toast and eggs for breakfast, hun?” I mumbled, “Sure, thanks.” and went to sit on the couch. “Oh, that’s right, we got your report card this morning, and I must say, I don’t know where you got that brain of yours. My baby is straight A’s all the way.”. Dad was watching the news and greeted me as I walked into the den “Mornin’ Shawny! Amazing job on that report card again. Did you want a ride to school today”, again I mumbled a “na” back and plopped down on the couch. Mom brought me my breakfast a minute later, and I started eating. She asked me how it was. I put a weak thumb up in her direction. Both of them with their “fun and floaty” attitude annoyed the hell out of me, pretending like I never saw the withered and worried looks on their faces when no one was looking. After I had finished, I grabbed my school bag off the hook and walked to the bus stop. I waited for Charon’s ferry to whisk me away to my eternal damnation that was high school. Thinking about it, the river Styx didn’t seem so awful an alternative.
Finally, the yellow bane of my existence rolled to a stop in front of me. I sat in the seat closest to the front; more efficient to get off that way. I put my head down for a while. We stopped a few times, but I didn’t care to look up till a voice disturbed my staring contest with the bolts on the floor. “Morning Teele,” it said in a casual voice. I looked up to see none other than Kaden Adders, the actual Gramble Soccer varsity team MVP and probably the most popular kid in school, walking to the back of the bus. Man, that guy has got everything, I thought to myself.
I woke up to the smell of something burning. With a jolt, I leaped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to see what had happened. Mom turned around, a broken smile on her face and watery eyes. “I’m so sorry! I tried to make you a nice breakfast since it was the day of your big game…” she started to break into sobbing and curled up on the floor. “I’m such a bad Mom. I can’t even make a simple omelet with instructions!” she wailed. “We live in this godforsaken trailer home and I can’t do shit about it. I can’t even help you with your schoolwork; god, I’m so worthless!” I squatted down and put my arms around her, “Hey, listen, it’s alright. It’s gonna be alright. We’ll figure it out together, and you are NOT a bad mother! I wouldn’t trade you for anyone, you might not be a Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen, but Mom, you are amazing and kind and so, so strong. You are exactly the person I need you to be!”. She started to calm down and squeezed me. She whimpered, “Who raised this amazing boy that lives in my home?” between the receding sobs. “You did. Wonderful, amazing you.” I replied. She started to recover her composure and said, “You should probably go get ready for school. I’ll just fix you some cereal or something”. I blushed, remembering I was only wearing my boxers, nodded, and darted back to my room.
I looked around. What a mess, clothes everywhere except where they were supposed to be, my desk in the corner where I sat for hours pulling my hair out last night stood there silently gloating over my defeat. Several papers sat there as if mocking me, confusing equations, science stuff with chemical formulas and diagrams I had no hope of understanding, and a page of a book by some guy named Shakespeare that swam before my eyes like a school of fish. None of them were even close to complete. I took one last glance at it, hoping for some kind of revelation without success, and got dressed. I picked up some clean-looking shorts and a T-shirt off the floor, did a smell check, and threw them on. I threw my school stuff into my bookbag, wolfed down breakfast, and scooted out the door with a “Bye, Mom, see you at the game.”. I had just made it as soon as the bus pulled up. While I dreaded another day of sitting in classes in silent frustration while the teacher went on about some confusing topic or another, after the school day was over, it was game time! I got the bus on and saw Deshawn Teele, probably the smartest freakin guy I’ll ever meet, and he knew how to dress! I said, “Morning, Teele.”, and walked back to my seat. Man, that guy has got everything, I thought to myself.