(This is the serial release of the book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Please share these blog posts to let others know about the book. It is available on Amazon here. This chapter begins on Phillip’s first day of school. Thank you for reading, liking, commenting and sharing.)
I am not excited. I am terrified. I am in the closet. Rocking and crying. Skye has his paws on my leg. I am squeezing the life out of MC Bear on my lap. The problem is, there is no black, this time. There is only fear. Fear of that unknown called school and I don’t know what to do with it. It is as if it was an animal with claws and is tearing away at me. I rock and rock and rock. I try counting. I try saying eleven. I try saying “hold you, hold you, hold you,” but still it feels like fear has its talons into me. I have my new school clothes on—the checkered button-down shirt with lines of blue, white and gold, the blue pants, the gold socks, the canvas tennis shoes. Oh, and I am wearing my superman underwear. But still fear is on me.
It is early. I heard the lady’s alarm go off just a little bit ago and she is in the shower. In the dark closet I am afraid of the day, of the unknown, of meeting people like the man with the car. What if my teacher is like that man? I am afraid of people making fun of me, of panicking there at school, of just plain meeting new people. After I’ve been here a while, that’s when it happens. The Voice speaks again, saying just these words.
“Breathe, child. Breathe.”
I stop rocking. I look up. Nothing has changed in the closet, it is still dark, no special light, or a vision of Jesus, but I know the Voice, His Voice. And I take a deep, ragged breath.
“Again, my son,” Jesus says.
I breathe slowly in and exhale a long breath out. Skye wags his tail.
“Again, breathe slowly in, hold it at the top for a count of four, then breathe slowly out and hold the emptiness for a count of four. Do that three slow times.”
I do this. The fear loosens its grip. The closet which has been feeling really small feels larger, somehow, more spacious, more open, lighter.
“That’s better, child. That’s better. Fear has been whispering in your ear this morning. When that happens, I want you to think ‘Fear! Get out of here.’ Okay? Just think that. And then begin to just say my name, ‘Jesus’, again, and again and again. Can you do that, son?”
“Remember what your mom told you the other day, Phillip? About how her mom had told her to take me with her when she went to her first day of school? Today, and every day, remember this: I am always with you. And you can walk with me day by day and practice the very same feeling you have here, now with me speaking to you, in your life. Practice thinking, ‘Thank you, Jesus, that you are with me.’ And just thinking that, just imagining me walking alongside of you, just picturing yourself inside your head holding my hand, Phillip. This will help this first day, and every day.”
I take a long breath and smile. A knock comes to the door and the lady speaks, “Phillip, buddy, you okay in there?”
She opens the door and kneels and says, “It’s going to be okay today.”
I nod and smile.
She reaches out and hugs me. Hold you, I think, smiling.
School is called Brown Elementary School. I wonder why it can’t be called Blue Elementary School? The lady drives Skye and me there that Tuesday morning. The sky is blue that day, the sun shining, and the air has that fresh cut grass smell. As we pull up, I look at the brown one-story, huge-looking building with windows that all have pictures hanging in them facing the classrooms. The big, glass double doors stand propped open. There are lots, and lots of kids getting out of cars and just walking toward that building. My heart starts to beat rapidly.
The lady places her hand on my shoulder and says, “Hey, let us pray. ‘Jesus,’ she began, ‘take Phillip’s hand, and hold it all through this day. Help him remember you are walking beside him and imagine you there. Help him invite you into the parts that are hard. Bring him friends who understand him and love him. Protect him today, Jesus. And be with him. In your name, Amen.’”
When I open my eyes, I look up and there standing outside of the car door is Kevin. He is smiling at me and says, “Hey there! Hi Mrs. Smythe! I was walking toward the school and saw your car and you sitting in it and thought, ‘There’s my friend Phillip!’ so I came over. How you doing? Glad you had a prayer. Are you ready to go into school? I can walk you to your class. You’re in Mrs. Olson’s class for certain, for she’s the best, and besides, she is the only first grade teacher here. Then, I will go to my class, I start third grade today with Mrs. Russell, so we won’t be in the class together, but we can see each other at recess and lunch. Okay? Hey, buddy Skye!” Kevin reaches in his hand, through the window and scratches Skye behind his ear. “You okay if I walk Phillip in, Mrs. Smythe?”
“That would be great, if it is okay with you, Phillip?”
“Okay, then,” she says, “Have the best day and remember Jesus is with you all through it, okay?”
Okay. I think. Okay. Kevin opens the door, and I get out with Skye jumping out behind me. He has his leash on. Kevin grabs the end of it and holds it while I reach in and get my backpack with my lunch bag, paper, pencils, and a picture of me with Maggie and Henry from my birthday party.
The lady grabs my hand super tightly and says, “Have the best day, my little man!” Then she hugs me again, and I turn around and face this new adventure with Jesus and Kevin. Kevin hands me Skye’s leash, slings his arm over my shoulder and together we walk in through the big doors and into the linoleum hallway. There are other kids all around me more than I have seen in my whole life.
I stop walking and stand still. Kevin stands there next to me his arm still draped over my shoulder. “Hey,” he says quietly, “don’t be afraid buddy. You got this. Let’s just walk together. I’ll take you to Mrs. Olson’s room. You’ll like it. She always has cool stuff up. Oh, and she has a really humongous fish tank in the room with all kinds of tropical fish in it. You’ll love that, I’ll bet. It will remind you of the Jonah story that Miss Jeanne told us.”
I breathe in slowly, hold it, and let it out.
Someone stops, “Hey, look at that cute dog.” Suddenly, many kids stand around us admiring Skye.
Kevin speaks up, “This is Skye, and this is Phillip. He cannot talk, but he’s really a cool guy.” A girl with blond hair is down in front of Skye loving on him. Then, Kevin says, “Hey, guys, you’ll get to meet Skye. He’s totally a cool dog. We have to get to class, okay?” And they move back staring at Skye smiling.
We start walking again into the main hall. We pass by one hall, and he says, “My room is down that hallway.” Then we come to another hallway. “And you are down here in room 201. See the numbers over the door?”
I look up. And see them. I know my numbers one through eleven, and can see there is a one, five and one above that door. Kevin and I walk down the hall. He says “hey” to different people and then we arrive at Mrs. Olson’s room. “You see that? That is the number 201 or two hundred one. Pretty soon this will all make sense. Come on, Phillip, you can do this.”
But I am not certain I can. I reach down and stroke Skye’s hair.
Inside, the room feels crowded. There are many things going on. Kevin walks, or kind of drags, me up to the front of the classroom along with Skye. I hear kids stop talking to look at Skye and me and Kevin with his arm still draped over my shoulders. “Hi Mrs. Olson,” Kevin says. “This is Phillip Smythe. He cannot talk. And this is his dog Skye.”
“Phillip! I am so pleased to meet you. Your mom told me you would be coming. We have spoken over the phone. I have a couple things I want to show you, but for now, your seat is over here by the wall.”
She walks us over to a desk that is next to the blue heat register.
“I believe it helps when you can press up against a wall if you need to. Skye can be with you there. In front of you is Susan Marshall.” This short skinny kid with the curly black hair looks back with her sterling smile and waves. “And behind you, Julie McScott.”
“Julie, this is Phillip Smythe.”
Julie looks up, her bright red hair contrasts with her blue eyes, and smiles a crooked grin. “Hi Phillip. I like your dog, he’s really cute. And that is a great shirt you have there, and I love your gold socks. Thanks for sitting in front of me. It is nice to have someone there.”
I wave, but really don’t know what else to do. What do you say to people when you don’t speak? I look down at the floor as my face turns red. I really want my closet.
“Hey, Julie,” Kevin says “Phillip can’t speak but I’m glad he can sit with you. He’s a great kid and can do some really cool stuff. You’ll like him. He just cannot tell you about himself. And your older brother is in my class. Frederick, right?”
“Yes. Fred’s my brother. That’s cool. And Phillip, it’s okay not to talk. I like being quiet too. Except my mom says that I do not stop talking. I don’t know what gives her that idea.”
I kind of doubt she likes being quiet as well.
“Phillip. Go ahead and have a seat, we will start in a few minutes,” Mrs. Olson says.
“Hey, buddy. I have to go now. I’ll look for you at recess, okay?” Kevin says, slapping me on the back. “You are going to be okay.”
“Your friend is nice,” Julie says from behind me. I turn toward her. “I like him. I think everyone needs a friend, don’t you? We need people we can count on. I have Susan. She is sitting in front of you. She’s my best friend. I met her today when I arrived in the classroom. I think we should room together in college. What do you think? I like it when people have animals. I have a dog too. His name is Doodles. Isn’t that a funny name? He is an American Bully. Have you seen a Bulldog before? They look like their faces are smashed in. He is super nice to all of us. But he thinks he is a puppy. My mom says he weighs 90 pounds. I think that is really heavy because I weigh about 40.”
She would have continued, I have no doubts, but about then Mrs. Olson says, “Good Morning class.”
And Julie whispers, “Okay, shhhh, better be quiet,” as if to both of us.
“Welcome to the first day of school and welcome to First Grade. I am Mrs. Olson.”
I like looking at Mrs. Olson. She has curly white hair on her head, glasses, a blue skirt, white button-down blouse, and a white buttoned sweater over it, like Miss Jeanne wore. She is Nana’s size. And probably is crunchy like Nana, too. She smiles as she speaks, in fact, it is like her eyes twinkle. That is also like Miss Jeanne.
Mrs. Olson reads all our names aloud. “Now, I will begin every day with roll. When I read it, you are to be in your seats. Today I will also be dividing you into your reading groups. There will be three groups in the class. Each day I will meet with your reading group for an hour while the other two groups do assignments.
“In the Bluebird Reading Group will be Johnny Stewart, Phillip Smythe and Skye, Susan Marshall, Susanna Allen, Nemo Washburn and Anna Armstrong.”
She said Susanna and Nemo! I had been so scared I had not looked around much when we arrived. Now I notice. Across on the other side of the room is Susanna, looking at me and waving. Seated behind her is Nemo with his wide grin and black bangs that always hang in his eyes. People I know! I can’t believe this. Air enters my lungs anew. And the joy that comes when Jesus is around washes through me. Right! He is another friend with me too. It feels really good to have people around who know me, and who I know.
Mrs. Olson starts to teach us to recognize our letters, to hear the sounds they make, and what she called phonograms. I like letters, I decide. They are like the notes on a piano. They make sense. Words are chords. She has us hear and practice the letters. I say them inside my head. “C-A-T, CAT” Mrs. Olson says, and everyone repeats. Bursting in my head appear words that seem to be chords just like cat—bat, rat, sat, mat. It makes sense, this reading.
Mrs. Olson hands out pieces of lined paper and big thick red pencils I can put my fist around to practice writing down all the letters of the alphabet. The capital and little letters.
We get to color a picture with crayons while she reads aloud from a book. I like my watercolor pencils better. Our reading group happens at a big table that is shaped like a lima bean. It sits in the back of the room. While the others work silently, we sit with Mrs. Olson who sits in this curved in part of the table. Nemo fist bumps with me. Mrs. Olson reads from this really big book with huge words in it so we can see the words she reads. The story is about two kids named Dick and Jane. It is not much of a story really. It just uses lots of small words.
It turns out grades first, second and third all have recess together, so Kevin finds me. “Phillip! How is it going? Okay?”
“Good. I see that Susanna and Nemo are in your class. That must feel good. And Julie talks all the time, doesn’t she? Her brother told me about her beginning in first grade. He says at home she is never quiet.”
Skye and I are standing by the building. There are kids playing hopscotch, and kick ball, and soccer, and wall ball, and basketball, and swinging on the swing set. It is a sea of children. I have never seen that many kids in one place, ever, I think, in my whole life. I back against the wall. Its hardness feels good. Solid. Safe.
Kevin notices, “Lots of kids, huh?”
“You play hopscotch, right? How about we join their game?”
So, Skye, Kevin and I walked over to that group of kids.
“Hey,” he says, “Can we join you?”
They don’t respond but keep tossing the rock into a square and hopping. So, Kevin repeats himself.
One of them, a big girl with black, oily hair, and a big sagging dress looks up and says, “No. This game isn’t for morons.” She says that toward me. “And that’s what he is.”
Kevin says, “Hey. That’s not even fair, Peggy. You don’t even know Phillip. And you cannot call someone names like that.”
“I can’t, can I?” she queries and black swirls around me, and I sit on the ground, hands over my ears and started to rock, counting, Skye puts his paws on my legs, and things happen around me that I don’t pay attention to.
Next, Kevin is kneeling next to me, “Hey, buddy. Sorry about that. The yard teacher, Mr. Simons, has come. He has taken Peggy to go talk to the principal.”
My hands were still on my ears. I can’t handle school. I shouldn’t be here. It is too scary. People are too much like the man with the car sometimes. I rock and rock.
“Hey, Phillip, come on. Let me walk you back to class.”
I shake my head.
Tears course down my cheeks. I feel like everyone must be watching me. My face burns. My heart beats loudly in my chest. I’m exposed. But then I notice Kevin’s big arms around me. He is hugging me. He never hugs me. Then I remember what the Voice had told me that morning to say, Thank you, Jesus, that you are always with me.
Fear get out of here I think as Kevin’s strong arms encircle me. Then I remember, Jesus said to say His name, again and again and again. So, I start to do that. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” I speak through my lips, as Kevin just is there with me.
“You two okay?” Mr. Simons calls jogging over. He has returned from taking Peggy to the office.
I look up at Kevin as Mr. Simons arrives and smile. The playground is empty.
“Good for you, Phillip. Good for you,” Kevin tells me, patting me on the back.
“I think he’s going to be okay,” Kevin tells Mr. Simons.
Mr. Simons says, “Hey, Phillip. Sorry you’ve had a scare. Could I walk you back to class now?” I nod.
Kevin pats my shoulder and says, “Buddy, I’m heading to my class too. See you later, okay?”
I nod again. Mr. Simons texts someone. We don’t have cell phones at home, but I have seen Molly’s before. Kevin jogs away.
Taking me by the hand, Mr. Simons walks Skye and me back toward the building over the old blacktop now cleared of kids. Mr. Simons has big hands with slender fingers. His grip feels secure to me, like he has me, and I need not fear anything. Then, I think how the lady said to imagine Jesus was holding my hand, and I can do that easily, holding hands with Mr. Simons. Mr. Simons’ voice is deep and resonant. Hearing it reminds me of the record Henry played last time I was there. Someone was playing what Henry said was a bass cello. Mr. Simons’ voice is like that cello. It makes a smooth, gentle sound.
“Phillip. I’m sorry this had to happen on your first day at school. Sometimes kids come from difficult situations at home and out of those hard places they give other people a hard time. Peggy has had a hard life, but that does not excuse her bullying you. I hope you can let it be about her not about you. Being in a new place is always scary. I’m here to help you, every day. This is my job to help kids feel safe.”
I believe him. We reach the building. “I also teach band here at the elementary school. We have all kinds of instruments. You play piano, right? My wife and I were at the Christmas Eve service last year. Your O Holy Night was incredible. We will have to have you play piano at one of our assemblies. We don’t have keys in our band, but we might have an instrument that would work for you. Would you like to make music with us sometime?”
Music? Yes! I smile up to him.
“Okay, let me talk with your mom and see what instrument she is open to you trying, and we will see what might work. Here’s Mrs. Olson’s room, buddy.”
I like that people call me buddy. It is a blue word to me. It makes good feelings go through me. He opens the door and when I step in there is no one there. No one! No Mrs. Olson, no Susanna, no Nemo, no Julie, no Susan, no anyone. I am scared for a second, but then, out from behind all the various bookshelves and cupboards everyone pops out and shouts, “Surprise!”
And they clap and clap and clap for me. I sit down on the floor, right there, overcome with such a sense of joy. Skye sits next to me. What is this?
Mrs. Olson comes over to me as the applause ends. She bends down and says, “Phillip, we decided that everyone who triumphs over bullies needs a round of applause. And you have triumphed.”
How did she know? Taking her hand, I stand, and Skye and I walk to my desk as everyone else gets seated. Behind us, I hear Mrs. Olson saying to Mr. Simons, “Thanks for the text, George. Great idea.”
I look back. He smiles.
“Okay children. Settle down. Let’s work on some math.”
Numbers are just like letters—they combine. I think of the circle of fifths and how the key signatures on a piano are all related with thirds and fifths and sevenths. Music has numbers in it too. We begin with addition and how numbers add one to another to make a new number. I think of how another key added to a chord made a new chord. And how another letter added to a word can make a new word, like S added to CAT spells CATS.
“Who knows what four plus one is?” Mrs. Olson asks.
I raise my hand immediately and then show my five fingers. “Right, Phillip. Four plus one is five.”
Others in the class turn and look at me surprised. Do they think I don’t have a brain?
“How did you know that? I mean, I didn’t know,” Julie asks, behind me.
For me, it just happens. It works. My brain sees the picture of how the numbers and how the keys and how the letters work together. I see it. It is not about thinking about it, I just see it, immediately.
“How about two plus four?” Mrs. Olson asked. Again, my hand shoots into the air. She calls on me and I hold up one hand with five fingers showing and my other hand with one finger. “Right, again, Phillip, two plus four equals six.”
With a smile, Mrs. Olson says, “Phillip, on the next one, you pause a moment and see if someone else would like a try, okay?”
She walks through many more combinations and I know the answers without thinking about them. After practicing many, many, many problems out loud, she hands out a piece of paper to each of us. “Now, this is a quiz, but do not get afraid. It is just a chance for me to see how you relate to numbers and what you need to learn and what you know. So, do your best to answer these.”
I look at the problems. They are all the ones she had just done with us out loud and there they are, written down, with the five on top, the one underneath and a plus sign on the left side of the one. A line below the one, under which I write the answer. “6.” They just fill in for me easily. I look up, finished.
Mrs. Olson sees I am done and comes over. “I’m going to get another sheet for you to work on while the other finish theirs,” she says walking back to her desk. She brings back a sheet with not just ten problems but many more. It brings joy just to see those numbers. I go to work. And finish this one also before everyone has finished the first set of problems. Mrs. Olson looks at my sheet and smiles, whispering, “My, oh my, you have a gift.”
I reach down and stroke Skye.
That day, Me and Skye follow the other kids to the cafeteria, while I carry my lunch bag. I stop walking as I enter the place. You should see it. It is this huge open room, with lots and lots of lunch tables, shaped like rectangles.
“Like it?” Nemo is standing there staring at me through his bangs. “Cool, huh?” He points above us to the flags, about a million of them, from every place imaginable.
Then, I stare around. There are so many kids, tables, and many getting hot lunch through the lines to my right. Nemo points, “Hey, Phillip, come on, bro, let’s go sit with the others.”
Others? I look at him and follow his finger, and there at a table sit Susanna, Julie, Susan, and a couple others from our class. I follow him over there. I feel kind of numb. What can I do with all these people? I kind of wish I can just eat alone in a corner. The room feels so big and I feel so exposed in this place.
“Hey, Skye!” Susanna says with her big smile reaching out her arms and giving him a hug. “Good to see you, boy!” Skye wags his tail. Then he settles under the table. He is going to love school. There are snacks under there already.
“Hi guys:” says Kevin, walking over with his tray of hot food. “It is sloppy joe day!” he announces and settles across from me. “How’s it going, Phillip?”
“You should have seen him, Kevin,” says Julie, “He’s brilliant! We did math back in class with Mrs. Olson, you know, our teacher, and Phillip knew all the answers and was done with his quiz before I had even finished the first problem. And then, Mrs. Olson came over and said, ‘Let me get you some more to do!’ Isn’t that crazy? I was still on the second problem when she got back and gave Phillip this mondo-huge page of so many problems! I mean, it went on forever, Kevin. And Phillip did those too, before I finished the first set. He’s crazy smart, Kevin.”
“I told you he was cool,” says Kevin, and looks at me, winks, and says, “Look at you go!”
“Well, you had to be there to see it, Kevin,” Julie pipes up again. And takes a bite of her P&J sandwich. That is the only time she’ll stop talking, I imagine—when she has food in her mouth.
I have hardly thought it when she says, “Now Phillip,”—chew, chew, chew—“I wish …”—chew, swallow, sip—“you could tell me more about Skye. Like how long you’ve had him, why is he called Skye, does he do any tricks.”
I laugh, looking around me.
“I want to know more about Phillip, too!” says Susan. “I mean, what’s your favorite color? Do you have a favorite TV show? What’s your favorite kind of food? Do you have a favorite cookie? Have you always been unable to speak?”
Who needs to talk, if I have friends who talk plenty! This is fun.
I am just enjoying the people around me I forget to eat for a bit. Kevin points to my unopened lunch sack and says, “You gonna eat, Phillip?”
I laugh and nod. It reminds me of last Sunday in class Miss Jeanne told the story of Jesus with the woman at the well. Jesus told his disciples when they returned to him, “My food and drink is to do the will of Him who sent me.”
I wonder what Jesus felt like with such food. What would it feel like to be physically fed by doing what God said? Jesus was cool that way. Today, I am mostly just distracted by all that is happening. Skye likes the pieces of sloppy joe and chips and sandwiches that fall to the floor.
“I know something, Susan. Phillip are you okay if I tell a bit about you?” asks Kevin.
“Well, Phillip’s favorite color is blue. His room is the coolest colors, a pale yellow and one deep, dark blue wall. He picked them out himself. It reminds me of walking out into a blue-sky sunshiny day. He loves deep, deep sea blue best. He got Skye four years ago. His mom told me Skye’s full name is Big Skye. They call him Skye for short. Skye’s his absolute best friend and takes care of Phillip. Skye’s best tricks are to sit, rollover and pray.”
“Skye prays?” Susan says.
“Well, kind of,” he says. Kevin reaches down. “Hey, Skye, want to show them?”
Skye looks at me, I nod, and he reluctantly pulls away from his lunch under the table.
Kevin says, “Pray Skye.” Skye sits up on his haunches and joins his paws together, like praying hands, and turns his snout toward the ceiling.
“Look at him!” Susan says.
“That’s just great,” says Julie.
“Wow, what a dog!” says Nemo.
“Okay Skye. Thanks,” says Kevin and pats his head, as Skye moves back under the table. I sneak him a little bit of meat from my lunch as a reward.
Kevin continues, “Let’s see…Phillip is ubertalented with piano. He can play anything he hears. And when he plays, it’s like Phillip is talking. He has a great sense of humor, even though he cannot talk. He and I have invented some fun games.”
“That’s so neat. I want to know more, Phillip!” Susan says flipping back her black curly hair and smiling her big smile. Her teeth look crowded in her mouth but sparkle.
“What about you, Susan? You answer your own questions,” Kevin says.
The talking is non-stop around me. I hear about Susan’s parents, their jobs and her two younger sisters. Julie tells stories about her big brother Fred, in Kevin’s class, and about her favorite TV show. She must watch TV a lot because she lists many favorite shows. We don’t have a TV in our house at all, which feels kind of strange now that I hear about all these other stories. But I love seeing a story in my head while hearing it read. And someday I will read. The bell rings and we clear out. We throw away our trash into the blue trash cans by the door and head back to our classroom.
Along the way, Kevin peels away and shouts, “Hey, Phillip, see you after school.” I wave.
Maybe school isn’t as bad as I feared. There are scary kids around, but maybe it can be just another place where I can practice holding Jesus’ hand, like Mr. Simons held mine. Maybe it can be a fun place to learn and practice numbers and letters. And who knows what else? Miss Jeanne says, “Life is full of situations that help us rely on Jesus.”
“Phillip, can I show you a couple things now?” Mrs. Olson says as we come back to the room.
I walk to the front where her desk is. She points to a corner area with a pillow, surrounded by two walls, a bookcase, and behind the waste basket in the opening.
“Phillip,” she says, her hand on my shoulder. “I created a space if you ever just need to get alone and get back your balance. It’s right there. You can feel free to come use that whenever the environment in here feels like it is too much. Okay? I don’t think you may need it as much as your mom thought you might. It looks like you are going to make your own way, after all. The students are all talking about you and they love Skye. Also, I want you to see this.”
We turn from her desk and walk to the back of the room to this fish tank. Kevin had told me about it this morning, but I had not really looked at it yet. He was right. It was mongo humongous. The entire back wall of the classroom was filled with the thing. It was huge. I stare amazed.
Mrs. Olson points it out, “This is an entire city of fish. You can
see, there are fish of every color and design. This is a saltwater, tropical fish tank. You can feel the side of the tank, it is warmer than most.”
I do, and it was.
“I want you to know, this is another place to come and just watch the fish. Seeing them, hearing the oxygen pump, is peaceful. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I nod. And just stand there. It is fun watching the fish spin and turn and swim.
“Okay, that’s what I wanted to show you. When ready, you can take your seat.” Then, she addresses everyone, “Okay, class. Let’s take our seats. It’s time to start.”
I cannot believe she made a closet for me at school! I just cannot believe it. I realize Mrs. Olson is talking, and I am still staring at the fish!
“…primary colors. Red. Yellow. And Blue. All colors have these three in them, so you can make any color with these three. In the back of the room, you will find some canvases that are 10 by 10. Each of you pick up one of those. Then, on the tables in the back are plates for each of you with the primary colors on them, your paint brush, your glass of water for rinsing your brush, and a palate on which to mix your colors for each of you. So, it’s time to create. Go ahead and let’s move back there.”
Standing at the long table, with Julie on one side, Nemo on the other, I look at my canvas. Mrs. Olson tells us to take a popsicle stick and practice taking a bit of two colors to the palate and see what happens as we mix them. I try yellow and blue; green emerges. Then red and blue creates purple. And yellow and red, orange. Orange and green make brown. As joy bursts inside me, I take up my brush and paint. The brush is big and blocky, so details are not as possible. I decide to just create the fish tank on my canvas. I blocked in the wall and tank with a mixture of green and red making dark gray. I put the bookshelves to the right, with the different color book backs showing, and the water in the tank with colors in it, and then the fish. Little dots of color in their dance of swimming. Everyone is working around me.
Nemo and Julie stop painting to watch. Then Julie says, “Phillip, how are you doing that? Hey, everyone, look at this! There is the wall with the fish tank on Phillip’s canvas. Can you believe this Nemo? Look at it!”
Everyone stops and looks. Some walk over. Mrs. Olson comes from behind. “Phillip, you see things. They just are visible in that brain of yours, aren’t they? That’s how you spell and do math. You see. That is beautiful.”
Later, Kevin and I walk out through the same doors that we had entered hours earlier. Then, they felt so foreign and scary, and now, they feel normal. Kids from class wave goodbye as they walk past. He walks me to the lady’s red car.
“Hey Mrs. Smythe. Phillip rocked his first day of school. It went really well. There was a bully at recess, but we managed. Mr. Simons helped too. And Mrs. Olson showed me a picture he painted in class. It was so beautiful. Mrs. Olson said was going to hang it in the display near the front office. Good to see you. There you are Phillip and Skye.” We climb into the car. “You have a good evening. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bye Kevin and thank you,” the lady waves.
“My pleasure,” Kevin responds.
I like Kevin.
“Well, I am proud of you my little man. Good work. While you were at school, I found a job that I can do from home on the other computer. I’ll be keeping the books for the place that made your birthday cake, remember the place called ‘You Gotta Eat Bakery?’ It’s a start. I will get some other bookkeeping I can do. Also, I found out today that daddy is staying with a friend of his on the other side of town. He came and picked up his clothes today. He said the church has fired him and sponsored something called an intervention with the mediator. That happened about two Saturdays ago. A mediator helped a conversation happen between the people and daddy.
“He said that he sat in a room with the mediator. Person after person from the congregation came to him, sat down and told him of a specific, painful encounter they had had with him. And he said, that went on, one person after another, for the next few hours. They had scheduled people all through the morning and into the afternoon. All this time he thought he had been putting on the game face, but people had seen him, and they told him this. He said that it took a long time for this to break through to him, to believe that his pretense had not worked. But by the afternoon, his neck was feeling hot and his hands were shaking. Then, he said it felt like a boil got lanced deep in his heart and suddenly as he sat there, he was sobbing with regret. Your daddy, sobbing!
“That was not all. There was a large group time later in the afternoon. They presented the other facts of what he had been seeing on the computer. The church had seen his fits of anger and how mean-spirited he could be toward you, Phillip. As he told me, Phillip, daddy cried. I have not seen him cry for years. He told me this and then said, ‘I just didn’t know. I didn’t see it. And after the whole day, I saw myself, this ugly, duplicitous, angry, broken self. I need to do some work.’ I almost fell off my chair, Phillip. It was certainly the first conversation I have had with your dad in years which did not end in an argument.
“He’s going to enroll in the center they found for him for counseling, small group work, and development. Mr. Clay called to say the church was pleased with what happened with him at the mediation. He told me, ‘We may be able to have him return to us in several months.’ I don’t know what this will mean for us my little man. I’m not willing to have him come home until he has changed; I don’t feel safe yet with him. Like he told me, he has work to do.”
As she said this, my heart bursts with hope. He wouldn’t be home for a while. I didn’t feel safe with him either. Thank you, Jesus!
“Kevin mentioned something happened today, Phillip. Are you okay with whatever it was?”
“Okay. If anything happens that is hard, please let me know somehow and I will follow up on it. Also, did you experience Jesus holding your hand today?”
I nod and think of Mr. Simons holding my hand as we walked across the school yard. That was certainly Jesus who held my hand. Then I think of Nemo coming up alongside of me and directing me to the lunch table. There again, Jesus, through Nemo, guided me. Then, Kevin, escorting me in and around school, an arm slung over my shoulder and holding me on the playground, yes, there again, Jesus showed up through Kevin. And the Voice in my heart when I sat encompassed by black on the school yard. Jesus, again. And the sense of joy I had painting today. There He was again. And Mrs. Olson congratulating me, having the kids surprise me, setting up a special ‘closet’ in school, saying ‘You have a gift!’ There again, Jesus showed up through her.
I smile. She smiles back and squeezes my hand as she drives.