Perceived Threat

“I think your son risks becoming a social pariah.”

Her tone betrays the rehearsal of this sentence.

“Can you give me some specifics about that?”

“We can discuss it at the conference, but I strongly recommend he see a neurologist.”

I get off the phone, not bothering to tell her we’ve seen three neurologists. Obviously, Sam’s not had a good day, but this is the first I’ve heard about a future of doom. Until now it’s been “trouble adjusting.” The worst part is that I liked this teacher and now she’s another person in the critic column.

There’s this dreadful email that comes to your inbox after people learn your kid isn’t normal. It’s about traveling to Italy and ending up in Holland; the moral is that while expectations are shattered, it’s still a lovely destination. I have landed in war-torn Congo, lost my passport, and have been kidnapped by guerilla warriors.

Radio chatter gets me all the way to the school parking lot without tears. As I walk toward the first grade clump of kids, Sam breaks ranks and comes over to stand on top of my feet.

“We made hand turkeys.”

“Very cool.”

We’ll be alright. I’ll take him up to the clinic, make them give us a diagnosis, and start therapy. We’ll focus on violin. When I look down, my reassuring thoughts are interrupted.

“Where’d you get those shoes?”

He’s wearing sneakers with star wars space ships on them.

“I don’t know.”

I am scanning little feet now. “But those aren’t your shoes.”

He’s staring at his hand turkey. Not speaking.

“Where did you find those shoes?”

The teacher is now hovering behind me like a helicopter gunner.

“I found ‘em.”

“You don’t just find shoes. These belong to someone.”

I turn to her. “Where’d he get these?”

She looks thirty five, but she can’t keep a seven-year-old from taking the cool shoes.

After a step back, she shouts, “I need everyone to form a line.”

They comply, and I see Sam’s shoes on the feet of a kid that’s crying. The teacher moves to the child and takes the shoes off without words.

“Take those off,” I say to Sam, “they belong to Eric.”

Now Sam is crying. “He gave them to me.”

I am bending over to remove them. “I don’t care.”

He kicks me with the foot I’m holding, and his teacher puts her white-knuckled hand on his shoulder.

She says, “You will give Eric his shoes or you will not be welcome in class.”

I see him consider her threat, and then he kicks off the last shoe, throwing it to the edge of the parking lot. She retrieves it, trades shoes with me in silence, and leaves to console a weeping Eric. I grab Sam’s elbow and drag my son, in stocking feet, out to our car and into our uncertain future.

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