Friday, January 27, 2012


Ted was kind of your classic Special Ed kid.

Always smiling, always hugging, often drooling.

He wore a special cuff on his wrist that he was supposed to use to wipe the drool off of his chin.

I don't want to gross you out; that has never been my intention.

Let me just say that Ted's cuff was frequently heavy with moisture, and did not smell like goodness or truth.

Ted loved to show people his room.

His mom had paid a lot of money to make sure Ted had his own room at the group home, and she had decorated it with great love and obsessiveness.

Ted's mom, Lauren:

Lauren looked like she was hewn from some stone perched eternal on the desolate cliffs of Denmark.

A life spent squinting at the dark in fear of Grendel had left her with a massive brow that longed to crush the softer bits of the rest of her face.

She always distrusted me because she popped in one time for a surprise visit, and I had not cleaned Ted's room to her exacting standards.

Then things got worse.

I was young; I was nervous; I gave Ted someone else's medication.

Nothing a little trip to the hospital couldn't fix.


I didn't know Ted was allergic to bees.
What a good sport he was.

Even when I accidentally knocked him off a stage.

We were up there practicing our Christmas play, and I backed up without looking behind me.

There was the sensation of pushing against a slightly denser patch of air, and then nothing.

How do you fall off a stage?

Do you flail about in an effort to halt your descent, hoping to get it together enough to brace for impact?

Do you take ukemi and come up throwing ninja stars?

Ted falls off a stage like this:
I think there is something to be learned from watching how Ted falls off a stage.

Don't fight what life brings you; let it come.

Let it come up to meet you, like a gym floor, and do nothing to soften the impact.

Permit the waves of concussion to wash over you, own them.

They are yours.

As we all hunkered down for the long winter, things just kept getting better.

And then, time slowed.

Bodies began to slip and contort as if in some underwater dance of clumsiness and transformation.
And none danced higher or more beautifully than Ted.
I ran to help him, my heart in my throat.

But he bounced right up without complaint.

Hours passed.

After dinner, I told Ted to put his chair on the table like always.

Yes, on his journey through the snow, Ted had broken his arm.

I had no answer.

When the warm weather returned, you can see why I felt confident enough to take thirteen developmentally disabled boys to the zoo, by myself.

What lunacy compelled me, what captive animal so desperate was I too see, that all sense, all reason, from my mind deserted?

Dumbly then, did tweedle twee.

To the crowded Reptile House we came, and from the other side emerged, with a Ted-shaped hole in our procession.

I turned and did a headcount, only to see I was one short.

For love of all that is holy.

I had just lost Ted at the zoo.

I imagined Lauren's granite fists closing on my throat. 

They pressed me to the floor, and in her eyes, nothing but soulless fury.

"Hate you forever" she spits, and crushes down till my candle is extinguished.

A shroud of panic descended on me.

"Ok, everyone sit down. Now." The twelve remaining boys sat on the grass beside the reptile house.

I had to go back in and see if Ted was there.

That meant leaving the boys unattended, something I absolutely did not want to do.

We are not talking about nice little poster children for Special Olympics, or candidates for one of those Impaired and Adorable calendars.

We're talking about a guy who stabbed his roommate in the head with a fork and ran off into the sunset, buck naked, proclaiming himself to be J-J-Jesus.

We're talking about a nice little fellow who would manually remove his teeth when angry, or consume his feces when nervous.

The two minutes it took me to scour that Reptile House were heavy with the dread of what I might see when I re-emerged.

Thankfully, nothing had happened.

But no Ted, either.

I flagged down a passing zoo employee, and we proceeded to fail utterly to facilitate successful communication.
I am not exaggerating. 

This conversation went on and on.

This man, this noble keeper of caged wildlife, was incapable of understanding what Ted looked like.

He just could not get it right.

And behind me, the other boys had begun to deteriorate.
I felt the situation slipping away from me.

It could not be reeled back in; Ted was gone, Lauren would make sure I went to prison, and my life would be only smashing big rocks into little rocks while singing gospel songs in beautiful harmony with my fellow prisoners.

An old-timer named Preacher would offer me words of comfort, his weird gnarled fingers poking his Bible and then poking me in the chest.

I could feel that poke in the terrible thudding of my panicked heart.

But hope does not always abandon the bald, the fat, the stupid.

Almost an hour later, a little green Zoo jeep roared up with Ted in the passenger seat.

Have you ever been so relieved to see a special ed kid that you impulsively hugged him tight, felt his drool cuff gush gush into the small of your back, and whispered in his ear, "Don't tell your mom?"

I have.


  1. Sorry MOV - I got this first. Hate to break the news to you.

  2. Why are zoo employees always so cool and snarky and aloof? Is it like that all over the world?

  3. Oh man. I totally felt the panic! Where's Ted? Did a snake eat him? Do snakes like drool cuffs? ARGH!!!

    My favorite bits: "A life spent squinting at the dark in fear of Grendel had left her with a massive brow that longed to crush the softer bits of the rest of her face."

    "But hope does not always abandon the bald, the fat, the stupid."

    Words to live by. Word.

  4. I once lost a kid at the beach.
    A kid that I was not supposed to let out of my sight, except I couldn't follow him in to the toilet and he was a sneaky child.

    He was found, with no harm done (or so we thought) on the pier.
    When we got back to the home it turned out he had managed to somehow 'acquire' a large bag of change, several bags of sweets and was heard boasting to the other boys that he had met a young lady. Although if what he was telling them was true she wasn't much of a lady.

  5. Things I have taken away from this post: when I next fall, I should not try to stop it. It's not what the universe wants me to do.
    Also, I want a drool arm band. That would come in very handy!

    1. When I go shopping and see something I like, I drool uncontrollably. Maybe I could get one to match my new handbag!?

  6. I think this is the best one yet. I think you secretly love your job so you can tell these stories. If anyone else told stories like this about, say, fellow employees at the airlines or hotel check-in desk or high-end kitchen store, then the aforementioned fellow employees might hang the author or at least kick her and beat her senseless. I am assuming (sorry to assume) that the special ed kids do not read your blog, and may not in fact read at all.

    Poor poor Ted. At least he was very good-natured about it all. I think I used to date a guy like Ted once, he always went to whatever movie I picked, even the really girly sappy love stories that no man worth his testosterone would ever admit to. I woke up on day and thought, maybe it would be good to be with a man who laughs at my jokes because HE GETS THEM and not just to be polite BECAUSE HE DOESN'T.

    ha! (and sooooooo loved the snow scene you drew with Ted's head poking out)


    1. Thanks MOV. Some of the kids can read, but they have no interest in my boring grown up stuff.
      They would rather read about Twilight and Justin Beiber.

  7. So much treasure in one post!

    The broken arm nearly made me do a little wee.

    I'm deep like that.

    1. Thanks for reading! But don't do that thing with the wee and the pants; it is unbecoming of men.

  8. Unfortunately, yes. Yes, I have.

    Your descriptions of the students you work with actually makes my heart melt. I had one child with severe autism who would lovingly spit in my face and then cackle like a demented hyena. I've had a drooler, a poop eater, and a chronic masturbater. I've had biters, hair pullers, pinchers, scratchers, kickers, hitters, screamers... I miss them all terribly.

    Reading your blog is a little bit like taking a walk down Memory Lane.

    Thank you ;)

    1. I figured anyone who had worked in special ed could relate to this post. Thanks for reading!

  9. Lovely story!

    I was thinking Ted had left the zoo and you had to search for him around town lol

    Oh and Lauren's description and the Grendel line was awesome too!

    1. That would have been really bad, but fortunately he was not that ambitious.

  10. but.. how did you not notice his arm was broken for 7 hours? :( did he tell his mom? what did he end up doing? were the other boys happy he was back?

    1. How did I not notice? Oh Feryx, have you not learned by now that I am not smarter than the average bear?
      He did not tell his mom about getting lost. The other boys were crazily ecstatic, but i got tired of drawing pictures

  11. I have similar stories just working with run-of-the-mill 3rd graders. They don't let me stop for a moment.

  12. Between your description of the drool cuff and my puking post, we could make the whole blogosphere barf.

    You weave a fantastic tale Mr gweenbrick. :)

    1. Ooh I have to read your puke post, I'll have to click over

  13. "Don't tell your mom." I guess we never really grow up. My entire childhood was filled with "don't tell your mom."
    I need to step away now because I can smell the cuff, oh yes, I can.

    1. It is definitely a smell that marks one for life

  14. Oscar's birthday is at the end of July. You've just given me the PERFECT idea for the party. I'll only have 10 kids with me though. And they're all about 13 or 14. It'll be a snap.

    Also - Oscar's school takes EIGHTY special ed kids away for THREE nights. I figure they do this as it gives them plenty of time to find the lost ones.

    1. I cannot imagine taking that many kids for that long-it is mind boggling to me

  15. Please pass me a screen cleaning wipe. I just splurted coffee all over the screen. Through my nose, I might add. Thanks Gween... You made my day!

    1. Thanks for reading, I am glad you sneezed on your computer

  16. Beautifully expressed, as always. As I said good night to my son tonight he said gravely "I'm going to dream that you get killed by the bad guys. But don't worry!". We all have our crosses to bear. I'm dying tonight, apparently. Bad guys. Again.

    1. Thank you. I am sorry the bad guys are going to kill you again.

  17. I suspect the zookeeper was being deliberately beligerant - animal people (i.e. those who like animals, not a half-man half-cat thing. Though that would be cool, apart from the man size litter tray) do tend to be pretty unempathetic toward fellow humans.

    Still, at least Ted was ok, and had no further broken appendages. Result!

    1. That could have been the case here, but I also think he was drunk

  18. Great story. For your sake, I hope Ted complied.

    1. Yeah, that was one incident that never made its way back to Lauren

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. I noticed that the second word of your story is was, "Ted was ...", question: Is Ted still alive?

    I enjoyed your story, especially the Shawshank Redemption moments.

    I'm sorry, I somehow missed the update blog list notifier thingie and went 22 hours before I noticed that you had a new post, please forgive me.

  20. Reference to Beowulf: awesome. "Let it come" drawing = full out belly laugh. Description of zoo employee incompetence: been there. You need to write an illustrated book. NOW. It could be the special ed version of "Waking the Dead." Please get on it. Then again, wait until after the new baby is sleeping through the night or your wife will hate you. Trust me. "You're working on the goddamn book of yours when I haven't slept in 2 months??" Yeah, that could get ugly.

  21. This is exactly why I don't work in the field anymore. This stuff makes me angry. The fact is, shit happens, and is more likely to happen to the differently abled. Putting 13 guys prone to falling into shit piles in one place, and having one person responsible for cleaning up the mess? Well, it's just not fair to anyone, especially not the people who end up with shit caked in weird places for days because no one noticed it sooner. Not that life is supposed to be fair, but ...

    In any case, zoo outings are guaranteed to produce stories that get retold for years, even when the "normal" to helmet ratio is 3:10. We had a guy break into a head slapping, "I WANNA WIDE THE TWAIN" screaming tantrum in the midst of a group of preschoolers. It was awesome.

  22. My father once had a zoo worker experience in good old McDonalds. I still don't know the whole story but here's how I think it went.
    dad-"I asked for no cheese this cheese burger has cheese!"
    He was having a bad day.
    manager-"I'm sorry sir we will have this fixed right away(then to the cook)One cheese burger with no cheese!"
    cook-"but how is it a burger without any cheese on it?"
    manager-"Just don't put any on!"
    cook-"But that doesn't make any sense!"
    manager-(to my dad)"Sorry for the inconvenience do you want a free shake?"
    dad-"No I just want my cheese burger!!!"
    This went on for about 20 minutes before it was fixed.
    PS. sorry for the extra long comment

  23. I just woke from a dream. I had been left in charge of my sister in law. She wouldn't leave the presents alone under the Christmas tree, slowly ripping them open. I "had" to karate chop her, she attacked.

  24. Ted falling off stage, with related life philosophy is probably my favorite thing you've posted to date.

    For future reference, if that stage were a bit higher Ted would have landed on his back instead. How much higher? I'll leave that as an exercise.

  25. I imagined an Uncle Sam poster with your words, "You'd better do what I say or I'll ...", only itza Gweenbrick with a beard and a hat. That'd scare at least half the terrorists away.

  26. (first of all, do you even read the 47th comment????)

    I hereby bestow to you the MOV award for blogging excellence. (I know what you are thinking, "Is this just another deranged fan's excuse to talk to me and have me, like, answer and stuff?" Oh, Gweenbrick. YES.)

    Go get your award.


  27. Since you did this a little while ago, you likely won't read this comment, but I had a special student running and somehow fell and skidded on the TOP of his head on asphalt. Like your Ted, using hands/arms/anything to stop a fall seemed beyond him. Sweet kid, though.

    When we went to the zoo, one of the chimpanzees came up to the window and proceeded to masturbate.

  28. The depiction of Ted falling off the stage was absolutely hilarious =D

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