Not Normal: When It Came To Learning

'Be who you are and say what you feel. Because those who mind don't matter. And those who matter, don't mind' *~Dr. Seuss~*

When I was younger I knew that I wasn't like the other kids. If our teacher began a lesson the entire class would understand the material--except me. I was left literally in the middle of nowhere. There were many days where bad grades were brought home. Soon this problem began to follow me like a ghost constantly haunting me. For a while I felt lost, and no one could help or understand what I was going through. My parents assumed 'She'll grow out of it' thinking I was going through a phase any psychologist could easily diagnose. 'What's wrong with me?' I'd ask myself, but it wasn't until eighth grade that I found the answer to my question.

"You have a learning disability." A member of my middle school's Child Study Team concluded.

'Ah ha, a clue Sherlock; but what are other people going to think?' I thought to myself kowing that word travels like wild fire through the halls.

"Your scores in reading and comprehension are above average. Your math scores on the other hand are below average."

After being diagnosed and classified with the school, an Individual Education Program (I.E.P) was typed up. Inside would be reports from each member of the study team. It would explain what I would be permitted to have in class; extended time on tests, another teacher in the classroom, and a calculator for math. Everything started to go great and the ghost faded away into nothingness. My grades were improving, and I no longer felt lost. It wasn't until high school that my ghost returned.

Freehold Township High School, 'Home of the Patriots' and, like most high schools once you entered through those two double doors, you were labeled. There were so many cliques-popular, jocks, international studies geeks, geeks, punks, goths,drama geeks, and band geeks.

Band geeks were definitely at the bottom of the 'social pyramid'. Some of the rumors that circulated through the halls were 'I hear they're a cult', 'They only hang out with other band geeks.' and my personal favorite, 'If a non-band geek walks into the band room, they stare at you.' Most of these rumors were true, except the one about being a cult. Trust me there wasn't any special 'Kool-Aid', what school would want that reputation?

In the band there were cliques among the different players. And where do I fit in? No where. If you walked into the band room, Mr. Gattseck, the band director, his office would be on the right. Inside the light yellow room are two shelves, one by the entrance and the other behind his desk. Both shelves are filled with books and gifts from alumni. His desk that was near the doorway was always covered with papers.

Outside were rows of chairs lined up on each rising step. Sheet-music stands were organized to the left against the wall, below past photos of the marching band. In the back of the room were the drum closet and one set of cubby holes; where the instruments were kept. On the far wall was where three sousaphones hung, next to the windows. You'd find me sitting on the floor near the drum closet listening to music and writing in my notebook.

Throughout my high school career, I was constantly harassed by a certain group of people, including one I considered my friend. There names were Matt, Kevin, Alisha, and Emma. Matt my 'so-called friend' and I met in the seventh grade. He was the one who introduced me to the band. He stands 6"0 tall, fair skin, round face, brown hair and eyes. We became very close, bu the friendship didn't last long. Matt's best friend Kevin was jealous of mine and Matt's relationship. Kevin stood 5"9, average build, dark brown hair and eyes. He made sure Matt would turn against me and end the friendship. Emma and Alisha were friends of Matt and Kevin's and were just along for the ride. Both girls were tall 5"8, skinny as rails, light brown hair, and blue and green eyes. They literally found my flaws hilarious, especially when they talked about my learning disability.

There was one incident, during New Years Eve of 2001, I received a hurtful e-mail. The message was from Matt. "Hey Jessica" it began, but as I scrolled down there was a picture of deodorant. ' Use me' it read on the front of the label. 'P.S. You smell!' I just sat staring at the screen. I felt tears forming in my eyes. Immediately I deleted the message, but felt so betrayed. During 'Winter Break' of 2002 I received an anti-Semitic prank phone call.

"Hey is Jessica there?' Alisha asked

"This is she" I replied

"We have a singing telegram for you." She continued

Suddenly I hear them all singing a song, from the South Park Holiday Special, about Jews. I laughed on the outside, but inside I cried. When they finished I hung up and was speechless. After both incidents my parents made phone calls to their parents, but they didn't help.

During my sophomore year the marching band was leaving for another local high school for an away football game. I was making my way toward one of those buses when I overheard Matt and Kevin talking with Alisha.

"Have you ever hear of an I.C.S?" Matt asked

"No. I don't even know what it means. Do you?" Kevin replied

"It means In Class Support; having another teacher in the room to help, if you need it." I interrupted. I still don't know to this day why I answered. I sometimes think I should of kept my mouth shut.

"You don't have anything like that do you?" Matt asked

"Yeah I do. But not in all my classes." I replied

"So what's your schedule like then?" He continued

"English, Algebra II, History and Science." I paused

"Who do you have for English?" Kevin asked

"Ms. Kaszuba..."

"And..." Matt urged me to go on

"It's just with her, no one else."

I suddenly felt a sick feeling in my stomach and stopped talking. Soon I made my way onto the bus, hearing Matt and Kevin laughing and making harsh comments. After that day the torment only got worse.

There was one time during my junior year, band class had transformed into hell. The class was asked to separate by sections; flutes, clarinets, and saxophones, were one group. The other groups were brass and percussion. I was apart of the flute, clarinet, and saxophone group. We had practice in the choir room next store. We had been playing for ten minutes, then stopped.

"Could some of you move down to fill in the gap?" A girl named Amanda asked.

I moved over one seat and noticed Kevin was getting up. Matt was sitting up front and turned to see his friend moving toward me. He then gave him a weird look; Kevin stopped and took one seat away from me. At that moment I knew they saw me as either diseased ridden or the most foul smelling person in the room. I had become paranoid, always watching my every move. Each day was spent looking over my shoulder to see if they were around. I was constantly living in fear. By my senior year I was ready to graduate.

After graduating in 2003, I started at Brookdale Community College, a completely new school and where no one knew me. It's also where I began a journey of reinventing and finding me. I registered with the Office of Specialized Services, only this time it became my responsibility to let my professors know I was classified. 'Privacy at last' I thought to myself. Within the first few weeks, I was able to let certain professors know, by handing them a form. It was immediately put into their file, but I was also able to talk about what I felt I needed for class. By having that privacy my ghost disappeared, thanks to 'The Couch Circle'.

The Warner Student Life Center (S.L.C.) was the first stop on my journey I had decided to call myself 'Jess' verses 'Jessica'. "Don't call me Jessica because it makes me feel like I'm in trouble" I'd say when introducing myself. My plan was to let go of the paranoid girl from high school to become a more outgoing person, and not care about what other thought. If you walked through the entrance across from the M.A.C. academic building, there would be another set of doors leading into the cafeteria. Across the off white tiled floor is the lounge area, which is split into three sections. Each section contained one couch, two chairs, and a small light wooden table, It was in this area where, 'Lucifer', 'Your Personal Angel', 'My Psychic Sister', 'The Warrior Poet' and other warriors came together.

'My Psychic Sister' (AKA: Jess II) was the co-founder of 'the circle'. She and I met randomly in between classes at the S.L.C. Jess stood 5"7, pale skin, a little curvaceous, long brown hair and blue eyes. We soon became known as "The Jess's" since we were always together. There was one time during Valentine's day of 2005 we caused a little bit of a scene. We were sitting in the first section of couches, two single girls gripping about the worst day. Earlier I had bought of bottle of Pepsi Twist with lemon and we decided to share it. Soon the caffeine gave us a buzz, we acted like we were drunk! Neither of us could stop singing random songs from "The Brady Bunch", "The Partridge Family" and much more. As we sang people who walked by gave us the 'Are they high' look, but we didn't care. Jess gave me the confidence to be a more outgoing person; in return I helped her when she and her ex-boyfriend had broken up.

"Hey what's up? How is everything?" was the text message I received from her one day. I dialed her number and she picked up.

"Dude what's up?" I asked

"Hey dude, not much. What about you?" She replied calmly

"Not too much, I got your text what's going on?"

There was silence until I heard her sigh and adjust the phone.

"Paul and I technically had sex"

Immediately my facial expression changed to a disgusted look of shock. Jess had met Paul randomly while sitting in the lounge of the S.L.C. He was twenty-five and Jess was nineteen at the time. Paul stood about 5"9, average build, bald, brown eyes, fair skin, round face, and always dressed in black. When I first started hanging out with them, he seemed nice and respectful. My opinion went out the window bursting into flames.

"How could you technically have sex?" I yelled.

She told me that they were hanging out at his house. Then things got hot and very heavy, thankfully he used protection. She went on to say that afterwards something wasn't so pleasurable.

"I went to the doctor's office so they could run tests." She continued

"So when will you find out the results?" I asked

"Within the next few days, but you have to do me a favor."

"Anything, just name it."

"I need you to spread the word to the other girls. I just them to be aware."

"I understand."

The next I went in and told most of the girls what happened to Jess. Besides telling what she told me, but after telling one, word got around to everyone. Jess had spent an entire week at home, since she wasn't feeling so good. When she did come back, she was glad to know I took care of everything.

Lou(AKA: Lucifer) probably one of the most caring and understanding person to talk to. He stands 5"6 shoulder length black hair, round face, brown eyes and glasses. Lou acted a mediator and kept the peace within the circle. Besides that he also owned peoples souls. If you sold your soul to Lucifer, he promised that when reincarnated you would be reborn in a good place. Last I heard he was up to thirty. There was on time I was hanging out in the lounge with him and a few other people. Lou and this other guy Jon were talking within a blink of an eye they get into an argument. I look over and see Lou pinning Jon, this small skinny kid on the couch.

"Release your anger." Jon said

"I'll kill you!" Lou screamed

It suddenly got quiet and a woman had stopped just as Lou screamed. She stared at us and then kept walking. Immediately we start laughing and I almost fell onto the floor. 'That girl had perfect timing. Hopefully security doesn't show up, thinking someone made a threat.' I thought to myself. Once I caught my breath I looked over at Lou.

"Jesus Lou! Way to go with scaring the girl. She probably thinks we're crazy now." I laughed

"Your Own Personal Angel" (AKA: Ed) one member of the circle who I became really close with. I met this angel through Lucifer, after hanging out at the lounge. He stands 5"10, short and messy brown hair, blue eyes, and skinny. After coming to Ramapo, so began having late night conversations with my angel. We would talk for a good couple of hours, since college turns you into a 'night owl'. If he had started seeing a girl and was having problems, I always gave my opinion for the 'girl point of view'. He'd thank me and I always told him, 'Ed, everything we talk about is in the strictest of confidence.'

"The Warrior Poet" (AKA: TJ) was a guy I used to work with at Target. He and I met up and Brookdale, during my last semester there. I had known TJ for four years and he had become one of my best guy friends. TJ stands 5"6, dirty blond hair, blue eyes, and of average build.

"So who are you after now?" He'd ask knowing I had a crush on a guy

"I'm not going to tell you." I'd reply with a smirk

"C'mon Jess, you've told me about every single guy you've had a crush on. What makes this guy any different?"

"Like I said, I'm not telling you."

Like my angel, "The Warrior Poet" was always there for me. After my dad passed away I spent two weeks away from school. I just didn't have the strength to leave the house. When I did go back, TJ and I spent time together just talking; I talked he mostly listened.

For the next three years I spent at Brookdale I had met people who liked me for me. And for the first time I was no longer tormented, but accepted for this one flaw; a flaw that people had made fun of and now makes me who I am. Unlike the 'ideal' person, I see and learn things differently and I know that it's fine. I've come to deal with having a learning disability. And no one is perfect. Ad I've said to people I know, "I am me, whether you want to accept it or not. And I'm not normal."

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