I Am Not a Sailor
I want to be a sailor. They get to see the world and meet new people. They ride in big boats and have friends everywhere. Sailors get respect.
And aren’t laughed at.
And aren’t called names.
And aren’t disappointments.
Because every time I have to walk into my class with everyone else like me, it reminds me of how much I’m not like everyone else. All of the students baby talk me, and all of the teachers talk down to me-like they don’t know I realize what they’re doing, that they’re treating me differently.
We are all grouped together.
Ryan has Down’s syndrome. He’s really nice. If it weren’t for his looks you wouldn’t really think differently of him. The severity of his handicap isn’t nearly what it could be. He gets me the most. He knows that people treat him different. He knows that no matter what he says to try to stop it, they will hear his slight slurred speech, and see his short stature, and answer with a slower than usual “sorry” and pat him on the head.
If we were sailors, when we’d walk through the hallways we would be saluted. People would cheer for us, and throw us flowers.
Rebecca has autism. She’s actually a pretty girl, but is severely socially awkward. She makes noises to herself. When she tries to eat she just kind of drops it on herself. The popular girls are really nice to her. It’s cool that they are, but for some reason every time Rebecca is around them she feels the need to ignore me.
When I was younger I dreamed of being a sailor. My grandpa was, and he would always tell me stories from his time in the Navy. He never had to shoot a gun in combat. He and the other sailors were stationed in Japan, and would socialize and trade with the local people. He told me he wanted to marry a girl he met there, but he couldn’t find her after he left. I’m not supposed to tell my grandma. He doesn’t tell me Navy stories anymore.
I think my parents told him to stop.
Since it was my dream.
And my dream was impossible.
I don’t know why they call it “Special Education.” None of us are special. If anything, we’re un-special. I know that I’ll always be a burden to my parents, and they know it too. Sometimes after my mom showers me and feeds me and gets me to bed I hear her cry. Then she comes into my room and tells me she loves me. I act like I don’t hear her so she doesn’t feel bad.
I have Cerebral Palsy. I was born with it. No one could do anything about it. I’m stuck in this chair all of the time. My brain works fine. I can still learn. About a month ago my speech started going. Everyday I get closer to complete physical silence. No movement, no speech, and no personality.
People will walk by me and stare like they do, but I won’t be able to crack a smile. My mom will tell me she loves me, but I won’t respond. I’ll see my reflection, and it will reflect no truth about me.
I want to move to the ocean so I can sit on the beach and listen to the waves. They will crawl up the beach towards my feet. I want to be here so I can pretend. But I’ll never be a sailor.
more by TYLER CLIFTON
photograph by Lukasz Szmigiel