It was 12:15 and the school yard was buzzing with activity. Girls were skipping, playing hopscotch and chatting about the latest Disney movie. The boys were more basic. Pushing, shoving and playing ball. Everywhere there was noise . . . and lots of it.
This was definitely not Eric’s favorite place. In fact he hated it. Every day he’d sneak off to his safe little corner and eat lunch. 2 slices of bread, 2 slices of baloney, no butter. Cheetos and a bottle of water. But today was different . . .
In Math Eric had received a note. Kevin Philips had written it and passed it to Sean Edwards. And with a tap on the shoulder Eric had his note.
Eric had NEVER had a note.
The cool kids like Kevin, Brian and Larry were always passing them. The girls too. But never Eric. He could barely control himself. His palms were sweating and he was desperate to read it.
He quickly unfolded the note and was amazed by the words . . .
Want to play catch ball with us at lunch?
Those 10 words brought joy to Eric’s heart.
He eagerly turned to Kevin and smiled with a big thumbs up. Wow, Kevin Philips asking ME to play ball. This is so cool.
Unknown to Eric, Kevin winked across at Larry Gates. He whispered to Randy Coulson “we’re on”. And sat back with a sly grin.
After what seemed like hours, the lunch bell rang. Eric stuffed his books away in a flash. He took a quick glance at Kevin who smiled back. This really was going to happen . . .
Eric excitedly took off to his normal lunch time spot. He sat under the shade of the tree and unpacked his lunch.
He set about his sandwich like a starving man; he didn’t want to miss the big game . . .
Kevin, Brian and Larry began throwing a ball in the school yard. Laughing and joking in the sun. A few of the girls sat close by – no doubt admiring Brian’s blue eyes and long blonde hair. How Eric wanted to be a part of it.
When will it start? When will they ask me over? It’s been 5 minutes now thought Eric. Maybe I’ve made a mistake. Perhaps the note was for tomorrow? Perhaps it was a joke? But wait . . .
Kevin glanced across and shouted “Hey Eric!”. He was waving him over. This was it . . .
Kevin stuffed the remains of lunch back in the bag. He raced across the playground.
“We’re gonna play catch now “ said Kevin
“Sure” Kevin replied and stood glued to the spot.
What do I do next?
Where should I stand?
Blind panic filled Eric . . .
He wanted to run but knew it’d blow the whole thing. He stood and waited, hoping for direction. Fortunately it came . . .
“Hey dork . .. sorry I mean . . . hey Eric why don’t you move over there”.
Brian pointed about 10 yards away. Eric walked over there. Strangely a crowd seemed to be gathering. It seemed odd everyone wanting to see this game of catch. But hey . . .
“OK here we go” said Kevin throwing the ball gently at Eric.
The blood pumped faster through Eric’s veins. I have to catch this, I have to catch this, he said to himself. With outstretched hands he grabbed it.
A few kids clapped. Weird, thought Kevin . . .
Who do I throw it to?
Do I throw it back to Kevin or should it go to Brian?
What about Larry?
If I get this wrong everyone will laugh, worried Eric. There’s no rules for me to follow. Help . . .
“Here throw it over” shouted Larry.
Phew . . . saved again. Eric pulled back his arm and let go. The ball sailed through the air. Larry had to run a few yards, but caught it.
“Nice throw” said Larry and again a few people clapped, and a few began laughing too . . .
The crowd was getting bigger now. Too many people. Too much noise.
Eric felt uncomfortable, but had to hold his nerve . . .
“This is my chance, I can’t blow it.”
Larry threw to Brian, who threw it on to Kevin. Then Kevin smiled at Eric
“Are you ready for this?”
Eric smiled back. Kevin extended his arm. But this time much further. And with more force. This doesn’t seem right thought Eric, but carried on smiling anyway.
The ball whizzed through the air in a blur. It smashed straight into Eric’s nose. Stinging him and making his eyes water. Cruel laughter engulfed him.
I’m hurt, so why are they laughing? wondered Eric sadly.
Eric slumped to the floor and felt the prick of hot tears run down his face . . .
He wished he was back in his quiet corner with his baloney sandwich. Kevin sauntered over . . .
Maybe it’ll still be OK. Maybe he’s going to say sorry. We’re friends now; it must have been an accident.
But as he got closer Eric knew something had changed. Kevin’s smile looked mean. He got closer, leaned over and yelled “sucker” in Eric’s ear. Then he pushed Eric in the back.
The crowd yelled too . . . “Go Kevin, Go Kevin”.
Eric’s insides were knotted up and ready to explode in pain. He put his head in his hands and sobbed uncontrollably.
Then he felt someone else touch his back . . .
It was a softer touch, slowly patting him. He looked up and saw Jessica. Jessica was a quiet girl in Eric’s class. Her blue eyes felt warm and comforting, and she smiled a kind smile. “Come on Eric” she said and helped him up. The crowd were still yelling and taunting. But it didn’t matter now . . .
Jessica walked Eric back to his favorite spot. Away from the noise. Away from the mean kids. She sat him down and opened his bag. She took out his sandwich and handed it to him.
Eric felt saved . . .
He ate some sandwich, and Jessica rubbed his back a little more. “Just ignore those stupid boys” she said. “From now on I’ll be your friend”. Eric smiled.
Despite the pain in his nose. Despite his nerves being torn to shreds inside. He smiled. He’d found a true friend and things would be OK.
This story is about the many children with Asperger’s who struggle in school daily. Yet who keep going to find friendships and success. It’s for the Eric’s, the Robert’s, the James’, the Michael’s of the world.
And it’s for their parents, siblings and the friends who love them. So on Autism Awareness Day I want to pause and honor all of you, for doing all you do.
PS – Please share or like on Facebook to support Autism Awareness Day.