Thomas & His Friends … From Hell
By N Mark Castro
So I’m taking my son, Neo, to his first day of school.
He is excited.
He is scared.
So am I.
“You’re gonna love school so much, Neo, and make lots of friends,” I said.
It was a lie.
Neo’s having fun, alright. He’s trying on the toys, talking to the teachers, and putting up a good front. It helps that his brother, EJ, was around to play with him.
Then the other kids came.
Neo kept to himself.
But he kept looking at the other kids, hoping that they would like him, that they would talk to him.
I’m shot inside. I’m hoping that the other kids would like him, that they would talk to him. I’m hoping that the teachers would see how special he is.
I know Neo is just one of many, that all kids are special, that he’s neither the first nor the last to go through this experience.
I wish they could see how caring Neo is, how he talks to his favorite toy Thomas, making his own narration, creating a wonderful little world for it, and how he makes his pretend voice as Thomas answers him back.
I want to turn around and drive back home and sit down on the living-room floor and play with him and hug him forever and the hell with developing motor skills and language skills and math skills and socialization and growing up and some such crap.
Have you seen the world?
Most of the people in suits have never really grown up.
I wish I could give him my muscles or my height or my weight, in case a big kid tries to bully him. I wish I could give him my mind, so he’d understand why he has to go to school. I wish I understood it.
“This is going to be fun, Neo,” I said.
It was another lie.
What I’m really remembering is the way kids got teased in school: because they were fat, because they were short, because they were different, because they were slow, because they were cute, because they were smart and, sometimes, for no reason at all.
We teased them and teased them and teased them, and it must have been hell for them. I don’t remember the kids we teased, but I’m sure they still remember me.
Please forgive me. Please God, don’t let the kids tease Neo.
I’m in his classroom. I’m supposed to leave right away. They told me this in Parents’ Orientation. They said hanging around only makes it worse.
It couldn’t be any worse. Neo is fighting panic, asking questions, stalling to keep me there, tears running quietly down his cheeks.
“How many hours will it be?” he asks.
Thousands, I think.
Thousands and thousands, in classrooms, in campuses, in universities, away from me, until you’ve learned to accept it, and you don’t cry when I leave you, and Thomas & His Friends never talk any more.