The sweet smell of syrup wafted through the air as I slipped my new, black blazer on. I was already fifteen but I still struggled with the task of tying a tie. I made sure that my hair was sitting nicely and that I wouldn't have to spend the whole day pushing it out of my eyes. Even though I had gotten it cut the bangs still couldn't be tamed and the ends awkwardly hung passed my chin. The layers weren't as messy as usual at least. I glared at my reflection in the mirror and inspected every part of my face. My eyes gleam their clear, blue color, no unflattering bags underneath them. My lips were full and pink as always and the small red spot underneath them where I had tried to pierce myself was barely noticeable. I remembered how I'd bugged out after seeing the needle actually draw a little blood. My eyelashes were that of which a girl would envy, a constant reminder of how much I was bullied in middle school for how feminine I looked. Once I had gone to a café with my mom and been excited that I could pay for it myself with birthday money. I walked with confidence, sporting a new jean jacket that I'd already covered in pins. The waitress sauntered over and, though I was still working on my lip reading, I could tell she had mistaken me for a girl. Let's just say my mood was ruined for the rest of the day, actually, more like the year.
It was my first day of high school at a new private establishment called Minx Academy that was formed out of the leftover campus from when, after making budget cuts, two elementary schools merged together. It was an exclusive school for the deaf and blind that my mother jumped at the thought of making me attend. Apparently it was very prestigious, but I just saw it as an excuse to bunch us all together and make it easier to keep an eye on us. In their eyes we were probably just some underdeveloped troubled souls in need of some chicken soup.
What I really wanted was a chance to go to the regular, public high school. I thought I was, until they started organizing the plans for Minx in the middle of my seventh grade year. So far there have been hundreds of applications sent in from around the state, which I don't get because it's not like it's a boarding school. If you don't live around here then you'd have to find some kind of arrangement so that you could actually go.
I made my way down the stairs, backpack slid over one shoulder. My mom, Jamia, was in the kitchen stacking waffles on two plates; one for me, and one for my younger brother Anthony who must have still been in his room getting ready. This was his first day of any kind of school. He was only five. We had different dads, neither of which had stayed around for the sake of seeing us grow up.
My mother turned, smiling at me. "You look so handsome." She signed and mouthed it at me, then returned her hands to the waffle iron, flipping it over and opening it to reveal a lightly toasted, golden waffle. My nose was engulfed with the smell, causing my stomach to lurch. I looked in the fridge for strawberry jam and smoothed it in-between two waffles, wrapping them in a paper towel so that I could eat them on the way to school.
I towered over my mother now. I was almost six feet tall while she'd been the same size ever since she had me: a little over five feet. The only thing that would make sense of my height would be that my dad was really tall, but I don't even know what he looks like. I'd never met the guy and Jamia rarely spoke about him. She just told me that he had to leave when she was pregnant because she was still underage and he was afraid of being arrested. I wasn't angry about it, or that curious as to where he was or what he was like. Most people seem to take their parents leaving to heart, like it was their fault somehow, but I don't really care that much. It's just one less person I have to please in life. Also it wouldn't be good if I kept pestering my mom about it and she ended up revealing that he wasn't someone that I could be proud of. I'd like to keep the unscarred image of him that I have in my head. The one of a handsome looking man that had a classy haircut from the fifties, and probably worked at a law firm; or maybe even was a rock star that had long, messy hair like mine and wrote songs that made thousands of girls around the world wish they could have him. My idea of him was always changing but I never liked to associate him with drugs or prostitutes or anything shady like that. It's not that we needed him anyway. Jamia was an abnormal children's psychologist that worked in the hospital over in Newark, and she made a decent amount of money from it, easily supporting us. "I don't do it for the money, I do it for the kids." Yeah, that was her.
I waited until Anthony came down to have breakfast and hugged him, wishing him good luck on his first day; then I left. I decided I'd just walk to Minx. The school was only a few blocks away and I could use the alone time and fresh air. The sun was coming out from behind the morning fog and the humid air warmed my skin the way clothes right out of the drier did. I could see other kids my age and older on their way in the same direction but I knew they weren't going to the same place I was. They were going to Bell High, the public school that I wished so deeply to be a part of. One guy on the other side of the street looked like he had just jumped out of bed, his hands full of several different bags and cases as he rushed down the sidewalk. He already had that much to do even on the first day?
After a few more minutes of walking I finally made it. On the front of the large brick building it read: Minx: New Jersey School for the Deaf and the Blind. A smaller sign on the ground was covered in Braille that I assumed read the same thing. The lawn was perfectly cut. I breathed in the grassy smell, trying to sink into it all. The front of the building looked intimidating donning large double doors and white pillars. Bushels of colorful flowers decorated the lawn and I made my way up the cement steps that led to the doors. I took my last deep breath as I pulled one open and was greeted by a cool, air conditioned breeze and a corridor that was void of people except for one plump woman that sat in a velvet love seat placed between two statues, except with her size it looked more like a recliner. She grinned when she saw me and stood up, her blouse obviously straining to cover her swollen chest.
"Hello there, and who might you be?" Then I noticed the stack of papers that must have been behind her on the chair.
"I'm Jake Nestor." I had to sign out all the letters in my name for the first time in a while. She searched through the papers until she found it. It was my schedule, a map of the school, school rules and guidelines, classroom numbers, etc. It was just about everything you needed to make your first day a little less of a wreck. I made my way through the hallways, still not seeing many other people. Was this it? Was I early and no one else was here yet, or was I really late and everyone was already in class? I found my first class and to my relief I wasn't late. The teacher was readying himself, writing information on the board and sipping at his coffee. Over time more and more students showed up, each in their required school uniform. They kept the blind students and deaf students separate as I thought they would. I noticed in the hallway, though, that the blind wore deep green and the deaf wore burgundy.
"Hello class, my name is Dr. Lionel and this is Algebra 1." I slumped a little in my seat, disheartened that I'd gotten stuck with math as my first class of the year. There was no school welcoming assembly besides the open house they held a week ago and I kept wondering how anyone was going to get accustomed to this place without any extra tours or guidance from anyone.
There were only about fifteen people in this class. I couldn't help but feel like I would be one of the smartest though. A lot of the other students I'd run across so far seemed immature and just years behind. It looked like I was the only one this good at reading lips. I didn't want to draw attention to myself so I stayed on the down low, pretending that I couldn't keep up without the teacher signing everything he said to me. I don't know why I felt so different here. I was surrounded by other people just like me and I still felt ostracized somehow. It was like they all knew something that I didn't. Maybe it was the way I looked. Maybe I really should get my hair cut as short as most guys.
The rest of the day pretty much breezed by, nothing out of the ordinary happening. The only class I was remotely excited for was my art class at the end of the day. The teacher was a short, African-American man with dreads that he kept in a ponytail down his back. He kept his beard neatly trimmed and wore a nice suit that looked like something my imaginary dad would wear. He introduced himself as Mr. Windel and explained that this was a visual arts class for students that wanted to improve on their drawing and painting skills. Art was one of the things that I was actually good at. I'd been into sketching ever since I could hold a pencil. I put a portfolio together for the class just in case.
"So can anyone tell me what art means to them?" His hands moved in a smooth way, as if he was kneading dough between each sign. A gold wedding band was worn on his left ring finger, his skin tone like milk chocolate. He kept his fingernails manicured down to the nub.
"Yes you sir, with the hair in your face." He paused, and looked down at his attendance list. "Mr. Nestor." I gulped. I hadn't even noticed he'd picked me. I racked my brain for a response and by the time I found it my palms were sweaty and shaking.
"Art to me is, a way to express myself. It's a safe way to let out all of my feelings that I've hidden for so long." My hands fidgeted as I answered. I kept my mouth still. He nodded, a smirk crossing his face.
"Now tell the class why art is important to you." I watched as he paced around the center of the room. All of your desks were arranged in a circle, I suppose so we could all see each other.
"Art is important to me because there are no rules or guidelines. You can do whatever you want, as long as it means something to you it's still beautiful, it's still art." I was proud of myself and my answer and smiled up at Mr. Windel. Usually I didn't respond this much during the first day of school, but I was starting to feel like I belonged somewhere. Not at this school, but in this seat, in this class, with this teacher. For a second it felt like it was only us two, but I remembered the others in the classroom once he complimented my description.
"That's a very excellent answer, Mr. Nestor." He replied and went on to the next thing. I noticed the other students here weren't rude like the ones I used to go to school with. No one mocked the teacher or passed notes, but then again it was the first day and everyone was making first impressions. I became more and more excited about what the rest of this year would hold for me. I could already feel change. It was seeping its way through my skin and settling inside of me and I wasn't sure whether to look forward to this or run from it. The obvious changes that would take place in my life were already happening, but change was good, right? I hope, or else this would be a long year.