The new kid looked wacked-out.
Whether you wanted to call him retarded, cognitively-challenged, or the more politically-correct “developmentally-delayed”, you could tell something was wrong with him. I didn’t find out until later that his teenage mother had sniffed model glue and abused narcotics in her second trimester. The fetus’s cerebrum suffered profound insults in utero. A grade-four stroke would have seemed mild in comparison.
Dennis squatted on the hallway floor playing Leggos. Occasionally he would glance up at me and mutter something under his breath, like, “YOU BETTER STOP STARIN’ CUZ I DON’T WANNA LIKE IT AND IF YOU DON’T STOP THEN FREDDIE KRUGER WILL COME AND CHOP YOU UP AND HIDE YOUR BODY UNDER THE SAND IN THE PLAYGROUND CUZ HE WEARS RED AND WHEN I WAS A BABY RED JUICE SPILLED ON MY SHIRT AND THE STAIN WOULDN’T COME OUT AND…”
You get the picture. His speech was a stream-of consciousness that spilled into an ocean of verbal sewage. When ranting about something, he wouldn’t even stop for apostrophes or commas. The jeering singsong would continue for hours if you didn’t put a cork in his mouth or excise his vocal chords with a putty knife. I was assigned to be his one-on-one supervisor for the day. That meant I got to follow him everywhere and try to curb his unpredictable behavior, which included smearing feces on the wall and trying to cut himself with the sharp edges of Leggo blocks.
Dennis didn’t like to be watched. He was skinny, had a shaved head, and wore coke-bottle glasses that made his eyes protrude like a frog’s. I could relate; my glasses were just as outdated. I sat on a chair trying not to watch Dennis. He sat for a few minutes building a Leggo house, which he would then smash under his foot. He would laugh hysterically, his attention zooming in opposite directions like a homicidal mosquito. Eventually he would sit down cross-legged and start erecting a house again. This bizarre mind-loop could grind on ad infinitum.
I read a newspaper, watching Dennis out of the corner of my eye. If he saw me staring, he would jump up and threaten me. “DON’T YOU BE STARIN’” he would shout, assuming a pugilist’s stance. He would raise one fist and scowl, making me smile. “DON’T YOU BE SMILIN’ OR I KNOCK THAT SMILE CLEAN OFF YOUR FACE AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SMILE ANYMORE BECAUSE YOUR LIPS WILL BE ON THE GROUND AND SOMEONE WILL STEP ON THEM AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO EAT THAT FOOD IN THE CAFETERIA WHICH IS NOT GOOD BECAUSE MY GRANDMA BURNT IT ONE DAY AT THE PICNIC…”
I said, “Sorry, Dennis. I’m not watching.”
“Go ahead and play with the Leggos. I’m not watching you.”
“YOU BEST NOT BE.”
I decided to test him. “Why? What are you gonna do?”
“I WILL PUNCH YOU IN YOUR FACE AND YOU WILL NOT BOTHER ME EVER AGAIN.”
“Really? You shouldn’t threaten me, Dennis. All I’m doing is making sure you’re safe.”
“I DON’T CARE NONE ABOUT WHAT YOU SAY.”
“Well, you need to be less rude. I don’t exactly enjoy following you around all day, like a stalker.”
“THEN DON’T. I DON’T WANT YOUR UGLY FACE IN MY EYES EVERY TIME I TURN AROUND.”
With this, Dennis kicked some Leggos across the hallway.
“Don’t do that,” I said.
“I DO WHAT I WANT AND YOU CAN’T SAY WHAT YOU WANT BECAUSE MY EARS WON’T LISTEN.”
“Do you want a time-out?” I asked.
This was my first mistake. He didn’t care about time-out, and probably couldn’t process why I would give him one. His mind was locked on auto-pilot, obsessing over my intruding vigilance.
“TIME-OUTS WON’T MATTER BECAUSE I DON’T DO THEM AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE BECAUSE THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT ME.”
“Forget it. Just sit down and relax.”
“YOU SIT DOWN AND RELAX. YOU IS THE ONE WHO ARE BOTHERING ME.”
Now I felt a need to assert my role as disciplinarian. Like giving him a consequence for his defiance would actually change his future behavior. This was my second mistake. If I had ignored Dennis, he would have ignored me. But I had to prove my authority over him under the guise of “not letting him get away with his rudeness”.
“Sit down or you’re going in the Quiet Room,” I said.
‘MAKE ME PISS OFF FACE AND UGLY HAIR.” He grabbed a fistful of Leggos and flung them at me.
“Okay, that’s it.” I got up and stalked down the hall. I towered over him and he cowered. But just as I leaned over, he swung his fist in a roundhouse blow and knocked my glasses from my face. I stared at the floor, shocked. The wire frame was bent, one lens popped loose. Dennis stomped on it gleefully.
“THIS IS WHAT I DONE WHEN THAT MAN TRIED TO TAKE ME IN THAT FUNNY. ROOM. HE TRIED TO TOUCH ME DOWN THERE AND I WON’T LET HIM THAT IS WRONG AND I TOLD FREDDY KRUGER AND HE WILL CUT THE MAN’S LITTLE ARM OFF…”
I took a deep breath. “What did you say?”
“YOU HEARD ME AND I WON’T REPEAT IT JUST BE GLAD I DIDN’T KNOCK YOUR TEETH OUT BECAUSE THEN YOU CAN BRUSH THEM WITH THAT TOOTHPASTE WHICH I DON’T LIKE IT TASTE LIKE THAT GUM WHICH I HATE--”
I didn’t hear the rest. My mind was reeling, my attention locking on the only words that seemed important.
“HE TRIED TO TOUCH ME DOWN THERE”
“HE WILL CUT THE MAN’S LITTLE ARM OFF”
This admission sent my obsessive tendencies into overdrive, and I went to write it down on paper, leaving Dennis alone in the hallway, staring after me with wild eyes, his fist raised against imaginary enemies.