special-class1I have some sort of mysterious, undiagnosed developmental disorder. Or, rather, it was diagnosed, but said diagnosis has been hidden from me for the past several decades of my life, ever since I was in 2nd grade and found myself going to a special PE class just for me and a few other kids.

Which was actually, I would come to find out years later, a special class. You know, for kids who have something wrong with them or whatever. Only no one told me that at the time, so I just bounced along, happily thinking I was getting out of class for an hour or so every few days to go play on a janky teeter-totter and some weird-ass plastic thing with a ball in the middle.

But what I was really doing there was working on my penmanship.


According to my parents – two people who I love dearly, but who would also, without question, be safely categorized as Unreliable Narrators in the Story of My Life – I was enrolled in the class after my teacher, Mrs. Wenner, suggested it because she felt that I was a stupid kid who couldn’t write good.

Ok, maybe she didn’t use those exact words…

It also had to do with me having trouble telling left from right and tying my shoes, and really just being kind of goofy and clumsy, because I guess the diagnostic criteria for General Nerdiness hadn’t yet been defined back in the early ’80s, so everyone just figured I suffered from some kind of mental illness, rather than simply being a gangly stick figure of a boy, with a bowl cut and an unhealthy obsession with computers.

Well, they probably thought it was unhealthy, anyway. Them. The Powers That Be.

So, just because my handwriting was awful and I liked science fiction, I found myself enrolled in some sort of “coordination class” since I couldn’t be trusted to walk across a room without tripping on my own elbows or something.

I actually liked the class, though. We played all sorts of different games, and we almost always got to have time with THE PARACHUTE – which was always a highlight of gym class in elementary school – but we didn’t have to share it with the unclean masses of normal kids. It was just us weirdos, so we could totally spaz out and nobody would punch us later or push us into the urinals when we were trying to pee.

Because that tended to happen.

A lot.

This is actually from third grade, but it's close enough. The happy, smiling kid is the one I'm not.

This is actually from third grade, but it’s close enough. The happy, smiling kid is the one I’m not.

Looking back, I think maybe my teacher just needed a break from me for a while, every few days. If she could send me off to the special class, then she could have herself an hour free from my constant questioning, horribly unclean desk (I had (have) a hoarding problem), and general disregard for the social rules of the classroom.

She called her class The Apple Core for some reason, and one of the things she would do is give everyone a little construction paper apple she’d cut out. We would pin them onto a construction paper tree that was pinned onto the classroom bulletin board, and every time we did something good, our apple would get a “nibble” – which was really just a hole-punch. From a standard hole puncher.

After we’d accumulated so many nibbles, we could exchange them for things like computer time or extra recess and stuff. I always went with the computer time, because most of the other kids didn’t give a crap about them, and I’d spend my recess inside where I was safe amongst the glowing phosphors of an Apple ][ monitor.

Which also meant I was alone in the classroom a lot. Which meant I could go up to my apple and punch a few extra nibbles in it without anybody noticing, which I could then trade in for more even computer time later after I hadn’t done anything to deserve it except circumvent the teacher’s authority.

I liked that part. (More on that here.)

But I was still weird and annoying, so she probably hated me. I know she hated me the day she made me stay late, after tipping out the entire contents of my desk into the middle of the classroom floor while all the other kids watched and laughed. I had to throw almost everything I cherished away and “get organized” like a good little cog. OR ELSE!

She also hated me when I threw together a science project at the last minute (because I always did (still do) projects at the last minute), and ended up winning at my school, then later at the district-wide science fair…

I built a robot.

Which probably sounds a lot more impressive than it actually was. All I did was spray paint a shoebox silver that I stuck it on top of a remote control car I had. I glued another box vertically onto that one and stuck the guts from a couple of Intellivision controllers to it because they looked cool and all electronic-y.

I used toilet paper rolls in the sides where his arms would come out, then fashioned a little mechanism with a servo from one of my dad’s model airplanes so they’d move up and down. I used some kind of building toy I can’t remember the name of off hand for the arms themselves, but it was kind of like opposite Lego. They were little flat pieces of plastic with holes in them that you’d join together with little plastic rivets. They were fun.

I built a robot.

I built a robot.

Anyway, one arm was functionally useless. It went up and down, and that’s about it. But for the other arm, I attached an electromagnet I put together from a battery, some old wire and a rusty ass nail I found in the garage. It could pick shit up. Totally rad.

The head was just a styrofoam ball we picked up at whatever passed for a craft store back in the ’80s, with some funky metal coil things I got from somewhere jabbed into the sides and a face hastily scribbled on the front with a magic marker.*

*Sidenote: The head would’ve been silver, too – but it turns out that silver spray paint is basically fluoroantimonic acid to styrofoam. It ate right through the first head as soon as I pushed down the nozzle on the can. Literally, it just sort of melted. I’m not sure if the same thing would happen today, though. There’s a lot more concern with not poisoning children with death cancer paint these days, so I imagine modern spray paint is a bit more on the mild side.

Anyway, that was my robot. I called him 2-KAB after my own initials because I was an egomaniacal little bastard. All he could do was wheel around the room, picking up paperclips and bumping into shit. But I was pretty sure I was kind of a genius.

But I don’t think she liked that I was successful with my crappy little project. I was, after all, one of those kids. You know, the kind of weirdo that has to be dealt with before He Becomes A Problem.

My parents obviously felt the same way, or they’d never have allowed me to be enrolled in the special class to play with the weird plastic thing with a ball in the middle. They were just trying to do what everyone was telling them was right, I guess. Which I appreciate, but it didn’t work.

I’m still weird.

In order to further help me assimilate into the armies of mediocrity, Mrs. Wenner (or maybe one of the teachers from the special class) also suggested to my parents that they could help me overcome my shyness and aversion to social situations by buying me a little black boy to play with.

Wait. That sounds wrong.

This was the early ’80s – the early 1980s –  a full 120 years or so after the Civil War ended. And yes, we lived in Texas, but it wasn’t like that. The little black boy was actually a dummy.

Ok, stop. I feel like this is going all wrong. Let me try again.

special-class3My parents bought me a ventriloquist dummy on the recommendation of some authority figure, with the reasoning being that, by learning to speak through the dummy, I would overcome my disdain for ever having to actually talk to people. So my parents took me to the toy store, and the dummy I picked out just happened to be black. THAT’S ALL.

His name was Willie Talk, which I guess was supposed to be a clever take on “Will he talk?” or something, but I just called him Willy and never did very much with him.

Mostly, he just kinda creeped me out. But I played along and made a show of trying to master a skill that would SURELY expand my social circle, because who doesn’t love the dude who whips out his wooden dummy at parties? Amirite?*

*Technically, he was plastic.

The sad news is that, even after all their efforts to normalize me, I stayed weird. I still liked books. I still played computer games. I still pretended, well past the age when you’re supposed to stop. (I still play pretend, only now I can hide behind my kid and call it something like Encouraging His Creativity or whatever. Makes me look like a responsible parent.)

Looking back, I kind of miss that special class. That was probably the first – and to this day, one of the only – times I was ever with my own kind. The weirdos. The freaks. The square kids who will never be squeezed into your round holes, no matter how much of their souls you try and carve out to make them fit.

I wear contacts now, so I'm totally cool.

I wear contacts now, so I’m totally cool.

Years later, I’m finally – and slowly – learning to acknowledge my insecurities, and to embrace being an introvert. All my life, I’ve had to pretend that I enjoyed the things other people enjoyed. That I could make small talk. That I was interested in anything normal people are fascinated by. And it’s been draining.

But I’m finding my pace. My people. My tribe.

And I’ll always be weird.

© 2015 – 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.