As we marched down the streets of Damascus, conversations stopped, heads drooped low. Even the humming of flies seem to fade. My patrol team was beaming down at the citizens as we walked pass. I tried to do the same, but I can’t help but feel pain and guilt for a group of orphans in rags and remember how I still pray for my father to come back.
* * * * * *
Couple years ago, when I was 17, I had a good life; a life I would always miss. My father gotten us a wealthy income and I enjoyed cheese hamburgers daily. Everyday when I was even younger, mother gave me bedtime stories. Father used to hit me when I did something wrong, shouting “Saif! You will never do that again. Never!”
I got an education, played with my best friend Adar, until the day people dragged my father away from us. Mother has been quiet since, I cried for weeks for my father. Everyday, I’d pray to Allāh, praying for father.
I tried to help my mother sell all our belongings to get money. Everyday, we woke up at 6 so I could find people who wants to buy our furniture. After one year, we were only left with a bed, a chair, and an oven. One day, I told mother I was going to walk around Damascus. She gave a silent nod. Instead, I joined the army. I was naive. I thought maybe mother is better without me, she can spend our low amount of money on herself, and not me. I thought things would be better. But I was wrong.
* * * * * *
I prayed everything would be fine, I might be able to see father in the army. I thought nothing bad would happen. Instead, I felt even more depressed to be in the army than at home. We shot everyone who didn’t follow our command without mercy. We ordered young adults to join the army, or be killed. Some nights, I have nightmares that the innocent people we killed haunted the country.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to run.
In the middle of the night, I snuck out of my bunker, and reached for the door, but thought twice bolted back. The door might not be a good idea, I thought to myself, people could be wandering down the hallway. So I opened a window, heading out to the woods. Slowly I crawled out, not before stubbing my toe.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed. Oops, that was loud. The other soldiers sat up from their sleep. “Darn it.” I quickly got out through the window.
The lights flickered in the dorm. “Saif?” I gotta get away fast, “Where did you go?”
I ran into the woods, as fast as I can, until I remembered my mother. I stopped. I kneeled down on the ground, and started weeping. My mother will think she lost everything. She lost her husband, her comfortable environment and me. I was about to turn back, until I saw a flash of light next to me, sirens honking in the distance. Quickly I ran behind a tree to hide.
I had no idea where to go; the sun is rising. There gonna find me now. Sent five prayers and ran deeper and deeper into the woods, no idea where to go.
After days of running away, I felt hopeless, exhausted. I abandoned my mother, now I’m abandoned. Do I deserve this after I abandoned mother?
Yes. Yes I do…
Things Would Be Better
Left, right. Left, right… Sean watched his feet move forward one by one.
It was much easier to focus on his feet than the loud chatter of his fellow eighth graders. Sean walked along the hallways, everyone else walked with their friends. Typical day in an Orlando public school. I have no friends, Sean reminded himself. I have autism and I have no friends. Frankly, Sean liked it better when he is walking alone. If I ever have friends, I would let them know to let me walk alone. Even though Sean knows he doesn’t have any friends, he still longs to fit in. In fact, his classmates all don’t like him. Sean tried not to think about it. He checks his digital watch, 9:48. Two more minutes until science class. It takes 30 seconds to get to classroom 1208, so he still can walk around for one and a half minutes until he gets to his next class.
Left, right. Sean opened the door to classroom 1208. The science teacher is Ms. Johnson. Ms. Johnson was typing furiously on the school provided MacBook, maybe writing a blog post or writing an important email. Ms. Johnson is a nice teacher, she praises Sean every time he answers a question correctly, and corrects him when he answers incorrectly. Today’s class was about bones in the human body. I know all the bones in the body, I think I will get an A+ on this unit. Sean gets at least A- on every topic, except for PE and English. His sister Jessie would’ve gotten a great grade for English. If only Jessie would ever help him, Jessie doesn’t really like him either. Sean doesn’t get the supposed theme of the book they are discussing in English, it’s just too confusing.
“Okay class,” Ms. Johnson began, “today, we’ll talk about bones in the human body. Does anyone know at least a few bones?” This is easy, Sean thought to himself, I know all the bones.
“There are 206 bones in an adult human body. There are 270 bones in an infant’s body. There are three bones in one arm. The ulna and radius in the lower arm, the humerus–”
“What a nerd!” said someone.
“He thinks he is so smart!”
“I think he is making things up.”
“Silence!” Ms. Johnson boomed. Sean has never heard Ms. Johnson speak so loudly, she is usually quiet. She probably shouted because I wasn’t making things up, and wanted to tell my classmate I was right. Maybe they will like me now that they know I’m not wrong. Snickers were still around for a few moments, but gradually descended and turned into awkward silence. The Floridian heat took over awkwardly.
After science class, at which Sean was giving his full attention to the teacher, Sean walked to lunch. Alone, as usual. He will sit at the table in the corner, so no one will notice him. He doesn’t like attention.
Suddenly, he was forcefully pushed against the green lockers. A fat, chubby hand was at both sides of his face, Chuck Porrado’s face was looming above Sean’s. “Oh hi, Sean.” His voice sounded angry but he was grinning, which made Sean confused, while feeling small. “I see you’re reading a book, what is it?” He snatched my book out of my arms. “And Then There Were None?” He snickered. “Who reads that?”
“Me,” Sean replied, “obviously.” It is quite obvious, Sean was holding the book, so of course he was reading it.
“Stop trying to act smart, freckle-face,” Chuck punched Sean in the stomach. He yowled in pain, and automatically tried to punch back, but as a skinny boy, he lacks strength. Nonetheless, Chuck flew off of Sean, and was now sitting on the ground, acting hurt. “Somebody get Sean, he is hurting me!” he cried. Sean started tapping his feet, it helps him process information faster, especially when he is nervous. I’m getting into trouble and I didn’t do anything.
Before Sean knew it, he was kicked out of the school. Somehow, Chuck had conjured a bruise on his side. “He punched me first!” Sean had tried to protest, but never really spoke up. No one will listen me anyways. His scrambled hair was more scrambled than ever. At least mom does. He slowly strolled to his room. Completely filled bookshelves were lined up against the wall with books about astronomy, biology, chemistry and a few mystery books here and there. Sean remembers every detail for every single book, he’s what they call an autistic savant. He loves books about astrobiology, books that show proof that aliens might exist. He wanted to be the first one to find aliens. The warm summer is cooling down, marking the beginning of school, yet Sean is already going to be kicked out. A few palm trees stood proudly around the neighborhood. A barn owl skittered by, Sean recognized it by its face. Oh look, it’s a waning crescent, the next lunar cycle will start soon.
Voices raised outside of Sean’s blue door. He let go of his pen, why is mom and dad arguing again? He doesn’t think there is a point in arguing at all, can’t people just talk quietly and negotiate? He opened his door and announced, “Stop shouting, you are hurting my ears.”
“We won’t be if it isn’t for you.” Sean’s dad replied without hesitation, but covered his mouth quickly in realization to what he had said. Sean thought his dad was going to cough, but thought otherwise when he didn’t.
“Rodrick, you are only going to hurt him more.” Sean’s mom snapped, but her voice smoothed like a raging current slowing down when she turned to Sean. “Sean, everything is fine, we were just being worried about you.”
Worried? About me? Thoughts raced across Sean’s head like cheetahs. Why would his parents be worried? Is it because of what happened in school? Did he disappoint his parents? Sean started panicking. What if he disappointed his parent and they got angry because of him? He started tapping his feet again.
“Sean, seriously, everything is-”
“Why are you worried about me? Did I make you angry?” Sean demanded, his tapping turned into stomping. “What did I do wrong? Tell me!” Sean was practically flailing across the plain carpet by now. He could hear his parents trying to explain, but blocked it out.
He heard his sister saying something about a ‘crybaby’, but didn’t really care. Right now all he wants is to know what he did wrong.
“Breathe!” His dad’s voice penetrated all his attempt to block out noises. “Breathe deeply.” Sean did as told, and calmed down. “Look Sean,” his father continued, “we were talking about what we should do about your education, and helping you find a new school.” Jessie rolled her eyes and stopped watching Modern Family.
“No school will accept such a baby!” Jessie exclaimed.
“Jessie, what did I do to you?” Sean whined.
“Just by being here.”
“Jessie, go back to your room.”
Sean slept a sleepless night. Where will he go to for a new school? At least he doesn’t have to care about grades for now, without anything to get grades for. That took a ton off of his shoulders. What did his parents think of him, really? Sean likes to know what people think, but people don’t always say what they are thinking and feeling. Sean can’t have these tantrums anymore. Once, he had a tantrum at a market when a person dropped a box of cereal at his feet. Despite his mother trying to calm him down, Sean couldn’t. People walked by shot looks of disgust when they saw what looked like a normal teen, crying and acting like a toddler. Sean can’t let that embarrassment happen to his family again.
* * * * *
A few weeks later of Sean’s tantrum, his parents found a therapist willing to help Sean ‘cope’, as what the therapist says, with the environment. The sessions were kind of boring, but Sean thought they might actually help him. Sean learned how to control his thoughts so they don’t tick him off again. He also learned to breathe to calm down by himself. Maybe Sean can make friends the next term. His parents got lucky to find a school for Sean despite the fight. Very quickly, one year has passed, and Sean will start a new school year…
Sean walked towards the building ahead of him. The blazing sun was shining before him, beaming down heat at him. An American flag waved on a pole. A tiny pond was on the side of the school. This my school now. Sean thought to himself. Maybe this time he won’t be walking alone in the hallways. He checked his folded schedule, and confirmed that his first class would be PE, not really a favorite because the gym can get smelly from the sweat of the people.
As he was walking to the gym, a person filled with energy with a baseball cap approached Sean. His skin was slightly more tan than Sean’s. “Hey, wassup!” The carefree guy spoke, “my name is Charlie, what’s yours?”
“Sean, thank you for asking.” His therapist taught him to be polite. “I have autism and I currently have no friends.”
“Hmm,” Charlie seemed to think for a bit, Sean liked how peoples’ eyes roll when they think. “I have ADHD and dyslexia, so basically people think I’m dumb because I read slowly, so I have no friends too. I bet you can read fast.” There was a tone of envy.
“Yeah,” Sean replied, “maybe I can help you.”
“Awesome! So what’s your first class? Mine is PE.”
“So is mine.” Sean thought maybe he might have gotten a new friend. Maybe a friend that will protect him when he is bullied. Maybe a friend that won’t mind his autism. Maybe a friend that can help him on his English homework. Maybe a friend that would finally care.
Maybe everything will finally be better for once.
Maybe someday he would find an alien.
“Here comes nothin’.” I muttered. Never rock climbed before, but I guess I don’t have to reach the top of I can’t. I mean it’s just the first time.
The shoes I’m wearing is so tight, I feel like I’m learning how to walk all over again. I can feel the bones of my toes crumbled into a tight ball. According to the pros, the shoes are supposed to be two sizes smaller to make it easier to climb. I tried to imagine how crunched up toes can help you climb a cliff. I waddled up the muddy slope like a little emperor penguin to the fourth station on the side of the cliff, then fastened the bright orange buckle to the rope so I don’t accidentally fall off and die.
I guess I wasn’t scared, though certainly very excited. I already want to climb back before I even started climbing, because jumping down seems really awesome. I wanted to be able to say, “I can rock climb!” The guy supporting gave me tips, what ways I should go so it’s easier . What he said came in one ear, and came out the other. Without much thought, I was already climbing before I knew it.
My eyes were darting across the cliff, looking for footholds and places that could probably be easier. This way seems easier. No that way seems faster. A lot of logical thinking was going inside my head. I tired to find areas on the cliff where it isn’t too flat, while also being not too indented. Spiders can crawl out of holes in the cliff, I reminded myself so I don’t go stick my hand in and be covered with nasty stuff. The guy below me is shouting where to go, while also shouting lots of you’re-doing-a-great-job. In no time, I was a little more than two-thirds the way to the top.
That’s when my brain got split by a mental katana. The negative side of it started thinking like you’re already high enough, you can’t reach the top. Go back down before you fall… The other more positive side of my brain was like you’re almost there! You’re so close, keep going! Don’t give up! I stayed in one place, while I tried to concluded my dilemma. I was breathing heavily, so heavily I blew a gust of dust into my face. “Ahchooo!” I almost lost my grip and was slightly hanging from the cliff. I recovered with the help of the rope, with the final decision to go higher.
I got to the top with absolute excitement. I was jumping with joy inside my body. The view is amazing up here. Below, people were looking up, with anticipation in their eyes, who can reach the top? The limestone karst showed its full beauty up here. Extruding pieces of rock came here and there, covered in green. I’m inhaled the air, only to remember I’m still standing on the edge of a cliff. But, well, there is one problem. You see, I was one centimeter away from reaching the bell that signaled the end of the course. “Ugh…” I rolled my eyes with disappointment. I tried standing on tip-toes but as you can guess, you can’t really tip-toe on the edge of a cliff. I edged closer to the bell with hardly tipping tip-toes. Ding! “Yessss!!” I did it! I couldn’t believe it. I shouted I was ready to go back down.
Going down was actually better then I thought. We literally jump off of the cliff and fly down. I felt like Spider-Man, swinging down across the skyline. Instead of swinging across buildings, I was scaling down a cliff, which is just slightly less cool. I hit the cliff in the mist of thoughts, so I landed of balance. Oh well.
I did another course later that day and got to the top. Let’s say I came down a bit more ‘gracefully’ the second time.
Rock climbing is awesome.
Today, 6th grade went to the GeoPark in China, where there is a lot of samples of most of the minerals, and also fossils from the Jurassic period.
We divided into three separate groups: quartz, pyrite, and calcite, and I was part of the ‘fool’s gold’. So our group first went to the outdoor area of the museum, and got in groups of three. We choose an four square meter area to investigate the biology there. At first glance, all we saw was grass and a few ferns. But then, I put my head less than a few centimeters from the ferns and found three moths. We also found one inch big termites and some beetles.
Then we went to the second floor of the museum, which was the rocks and minerals section of the museum. There was very beautiful samples of minerals, like a gold one that has a sandy section. Unfortunately, there is no way we can tell the names of the rocks, as they were all in Chinese. The best I can translate is ‘peacock rock’, or ‘fish eyeball stone’. Yeah, it’s probably not that though.
Finally, after lunch, we went to the first floor. There really isn’t a specific genre of this area, as there was objects related to oceanography, anthropology, and astronomy. We saw profiles of the earth and what it look like if we were on top of a coral reef. There was also information on how life involved, which only I could read because it was in Chinese. We also saw fossils of reptiles and ferns.
In the end, we made an iMovie with the picture we took during the trip (a lot of the picture were selfies).
Recently, we finished our first unit in humanities class, relating to writing personal narratives and studying river civilizations. My reflection is in the Storehouse so be sure to check it out!
The actual narratives and research report will be posted shortly.
我们在梅窝的海边走了几分钟，凉凉的海风吹过我的脸。我准备好在香港旅游的第二天划皮划艇。蜻蜓老师阿里要教我们怎样划皮划艇。“这应该挺简单的” 我开心的说。“好吧” 阿里老师说，“那就在梅窝的大海上试试。”
我们的皮划艇被大海投来投去的。我尖叫的说：“快控制不住啦！” 咸咸的海水进去我的眼睛和鼻子了，很像头里面着火了似的。我睁开眼睛时，我看见远出有个大浪向我们冲过来。“哦不！这浪太大了！” 浪突然撞击我们的皮划艇，浪的冲击力太大，把我们的皮划艇翻了过来。