I used not to love unreservedly, innocently. I used not to want to change the world. Until I met him… Jesse…
I watched him every day, covertly, as he moved down halls for classes. The droop of his shoulders… The sag in his smile. The hurt behind those glasses… I desperately wanted to say hi, to be a friend… But I just could not bring myself to go closer.
It would not have been socially acceptable. You see, Jesse was a cripple. An autistic cripple. People avoided him, made jokes at him… Made him panic… And when he got scared and started to tremble and moan on his wheelchair, they laughed and made videos of him.
I was never truly a part of it… Just always in the background, sad but determined to remain acceptable.
One day, I turned a corner to the boys’ bathroom, desperate to take a wee. And I heard the sobs. Pain, the sounds spoke of true pain and they will haunt me until my final breath.
I knew who it was before I saw him. His sloping shoulders were hunched lower than usual, and his eyes were rheumy and red. Jesse started and fear when he saw me, his thin, veiny arms protecting his face. He expected me to hit him. “Don’t hurt me”, he keened. And my heart broke.
I didn’t say a word to him. What could I say? I turned and walked away, convincing myself that there was nothing I could do to help him. Besides, I thought, “why send him to high school if he’s so delicate?’
I thought nothing more of it, until general assembly that Friday. The principal came to the pulpit, tears In her eyes.
Behind her, our math teacher pushed a wheelchair. An empty wheelchair. Jesse’s wheelchair.
The hall was suddenly as quiet as a grave. No one spoke, glances were exchanged. What was happening?
Our principal looked around at all of us, as if gathering herself. Then, she tapped the microphone and began softly. ” the evil that men do, lives after them. The law of karma is a subtle thing, and we should be careful the seeds we sow. Jesse James is no more. Or let me clarify that “. She took a deep breath. ” Jesse is dead”.
“Yesterday his mother found him slumped on the floor, a bottle of rat killer beside him. And a note. He left us all a note”
The principal held up a single sheet of paper, her hand shaking like a leaf in the wind. “As you all know, Jesse was autistic, and so his spelling wasn’t the best. But I will read it, as he meant it”.
” i don’t know why I was born this way. I can’t talk as I think, and my legs do not work. My mind wants something, my body, another. And sometimes, the things I see, are stranger than this real life.
Dear mama, I’m sorry because I have to die. I know you don’t want me to. But I see the pain in your eyes when you look at me, and I hurt, knowing I caused it.
Daddy, I love you, even though you don’t always love me. You want a strong boy, a son who will play sports and dance with girls and get into fights. But I can’t do all that. I’m sorry.
I can’t take it anymore. The stares. The YouTube videos. It hurts. The shoving at school. No one talks to me, or even smiles. I have tried to put my pain and fear into my poems and paintings, but even those are no good. I’m no good. I’ll see you all in heaven. I read that God accepts all kinds. With love, Jesse’.
The principal looked up when she was done with the letter. Somewhere, a girl burst into loud sobs. Her tears were catching, and soon we were all crying like babies.
“Its too late for that now”, the principal said wearily. “Jesse is gone. You killed Jesse. I killed Jesse”. And she turned and walked unsteadily back to her office.
Jesse’s parents donated his paintings to the school. They were beautiful. Full of light, and hope. Trees and puppies. Innocence and a deep yearning for love. There was so much more to him, and we never saw. We were too afraid of his uniqueness, too frightened of something different. So we persecuted him, to cover up our inadequacies. Sweet, misunderstood Jesse.
So now, twenty years later, I work at a hospital for disabled children. It won’t bring back Jesse, but it will help these ones. I hope I can convince them, and the world, that they have a right to live, and be happy. That different isn’t bad. And strange isn’t weird or evil.