NATE’S NEW NORMAL
Rat Dissection and Other Issues
Going to school in the mornings isn’t quite as simple as it might be. I have observed that Travis (my neighbor two doors down, and my walking partner to school) merely shrugs his backpack on, usually with a PB&J stuck in his mouth, and jams down the sidewalk where he stops to pick me up. I neither shrug nor stick food in my mouth – and I never jam down the sidewalk. Before I get ready to put my backpack on I have already eaten breakfast; Nancy and I worked out a schedule of which breakfast on which day, and that it enormously helpful to me. Our schedule is printed out and stuck on the fridge with a little magnet that says: Nate’s Breakfast Schedule. The other meals of the day really don’t have any order since Myrtle serves a whole lunch with a willy-nilly schedule. I am used to this. For instance, last Tuesday Myrtle served mac-n-cheese with salad and an apple for lunch. Today is also Tuesday, but I am willing to bet a puzzle solution that Myrtle will not serve mac-n-cheese for lunch. I used to get quite anxious about this disorganization but not anymore. It’s like a treasure hunt – you never know what you’re getting! Nancy and Brian are much the same about dinner: Nancy plans a week’s menus, but you never know what you’re going to get on a certain day because as my mom likes to put it, she chooses daily menus “by the seat her pants”, which I take to mean that whatever she feels like cooking, she cooks that day. Another treasure hunt. But breakfast is a constant, and it begins my day with an organized and efficient system for planning the day ahead. This morning is oatmeal with cinnamon and apple chunks, orange juice and a slice of 12-grain toast with creamy peanut butter. This is one of my favorites, particularly because I pointed to the loaf of 12-grain when Nancy and I went shopping together at the Von’s supermarket – I do not like the other supermarkets in our town because they do not appear to have any organization as to where each category is on which aisle. It was a coup for me when I pointed that the 12-grain was the same price as the 7-grain which Nancy my mom usually buys! Tomorrow, for instance, will be one poached egg on 12-grain toast with an orange. I do not like my oranges cut into pieces; I prefer to peel the orange and arrange the sections on my plate around the egg and toast. This may all sound quite picky to you, but for me it is important to have consistency in my breakfasts.
I pack up my backpack at night before I go to bed, and after I brush my teeth. In the morning I double-check that everything is where it ought to be each day. I have a helpful guide to class schedules since I began middle school. I check the daily schedule against the contents of my backpack before putting it on. Then I smile at Ted, who is making a mess out of whatever he is eating for breakfast – which is often unrecognizable by sight, and Brian, who leaves when I do to go to his office, always with a to-go coffee mug in his hand, and Nancy, who is trying to oversee the entire scenario. I began smiling at each of them about a year ago when I noticed that their faces lit up and they smiled right back at me. This is a technique which I now employ with Myrtle and now Angie, when we meet twice a week for science lab. I think I must have a good smile.
By the time we got to school, I already had chosen to smile at Travis. He smiled at me and clapped me on the back because I think I might have saved his life. Here is the story. Travis was paying no attention to the street when he stepped out into the crosswalk. This occurred because Travis, who still had half his PB&J in his mouth, was looking across the street at a couple of girls who are in our class. My method of crossing streets is to stop and look both ways before stepping into the crosswalk. As Brian explained it to me over and over, some drivers are not paying attention to the fact that there is somebody in the crosswalk and could just smash them. I do not want to be smashed, so I stop and look both ways. I do not know if the driver of the white two-door Toyota Camry was also eating a PB&J, but the young man driving had something in his mouth and certainly did not see Travis stepping into the crosswalk. I grabbed Travis and pulled him back while never taking my eyes off of the driver of the car, which came screeching to a halt and nearly made Travis choke on his sandwich. That was not on my list of things to do before school started that morning. My schedule got all mixed up and I found myself staring at the doors to the school trying to remember which class was first on Tuesdays. I am always pleased that I put a copy of my daily schedule into the first zipped pocket on the outside of my back-pack. Today was the day I needed it, so I was able to follow my usual routine for Tuesday mornings once I had consulted my print-out. And no, Myrtle did not serve mac n cheese today. She looked at me in the line, and I was able to smile first when Myrtle spooned goulash on my plate. That was the first time I smiled first and Myrtle must have enjoyed that, because she got a big ol’ grin on her face and gave me extra baked apple.
I was taking my tray to my usual table when I spotted Angie sitting at the chair next to mine. She turned around to look at me when I set my tray down, but she didn’t smile. There were tears in her eyes, and she said softly, “Nate I need your help.” I do not know what to do when a girl cries, but I do not think I should smile. “I will try to help you, Angie,” I said.