"Every day starts with a blank canvas. What picture will you paint for all to see today?" ~ Dan Waltz

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fits Like a Glove

Written by Dan Waltz

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Hello, my name is Megan Renard and this is my story about my older brother. I should first tell you that I never met him personally, but I feel I know him better than anyone else he ever knew. “How?” you ask. Oh, I’ll get to that, as for now, just know I have my ways.
My big brother’s name was Ashton, and he was very special. Now, if you’re like most people, the minute you here the word ‘special,’ you automatically assume the ‘mentally challenged.' Not Ashton, he was a pretty typical kid on the inside. Although, when all was said and done, he did develop some pretty major mental issues that I wish he’d sought help for. It was on the outside where Ash had his issues. You see, Ashton was born with a facial deformity called cleft lip and palate. According to the doctor, it was a pretty severe case and would require a lot of surgeries over a period of twenty or more years. His appearance improved with each one, a little at a time. Well, except for one time, when Mom and Dad fought for days, when Dad felt that Ashton looked a lot worse than he did before. Mom disagreed at first, but after a while, she finally gave in, and jokingly suggested, that maybe he has to look worse before he starts looking better. What do I know? I wasn’t even born yet, but that kind of made sense to me. After all, whenever I clean my room, it always looks a lot worse before it looks any better.
Mom and Dad kept Ashton home from school until he was eight years old. They were afraid of what people would think, or worse, what they would say after they saw him. They home schooled him up until then, and I believe it was a good thing they did. In hindsight, I wish they had continued.
People can be so cruel. Ashton’s first week of pubic school proved that.
Ashton was teased a lot, and not just for the way he looked, either. They made fun of how he talked, as well. Mom called it a speech immm-ped-iment. Sorry, I think I totally botched that word. I just know that it had something to do with the roof of his mouth. He didn’t have one, so he had trouble speaking certain words clearly. Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. Unless you were around him a lot, my brother could be very difficult to understand. My folks, on the other hand, could understand him just fine, and so could I. I know, I said we never met, and it’s true, we never have. It’s complicated.
Ash, oh I’m sorry, Ashton; I call him Ash for short sometimes. Well, he hid the teasing from Mom and Dad rather well. He hid it for a long time, years actually. He hid it until the teasing became too physical to hide. He still tried, though.
It was Mom who noticed it first, then Dad, after a long period of denial. It seemed Dad always gave Ash the benefit of the doubt and tried hard to believe all the stories that Ash would bring home, stories like how he fell one day, and skinned his knees. And how he tripped the next day, bruising his arms and cheek. The following week he walked into a door. That one was easy for Dad to believe. He’d done that himself, but when he did it, it never left a black eye and a bruise, on the opposing side of his body. The accidents started small, but came frequently—almost daily. Seemed the larger the accident, the bigger the excuse.
It was the bad limp that Mom really questioned first. It was when he fell down the stairs at school, or so he said. Fell or pushed? Just how may times can one fall in a week? He didn’t fall that much at home? How clumsy can one be? The concerns started to build, but it took an unbelievable story of a bookcase falling on him in the library, leaving several bruises and two black eyes, before the first of many school meetings began.
One thing led to another, and soon Ashton was going to school less and less. He started having severe headaches and stomach issues. He became sick a lot, but the funny thing was, he’d always seem to start feeling better shortly after the bus pulled away from the driveway. It took a while for Mom and Dad to catch on, but they eventually did.
Soon, my parents became more and more aware, and started looking for things out of the ordinary; like how Ashton’s friends, as few as they were, started coming around less and less, and how Ashton’s phone seldom rang anymore. They noticed just how much alone time he spent in his bedroom—if not there, out in the backyard. It seemed that all Ashton did anymore was read and draw, which wasn’t a bad thing—he loved doing both. His drawings were great—far beyond what a 12- year old boy should be able to do. Mom and Dad were very proud, but also very concerned.
On one of many trips to the doctor, the doctor noticed how much weight Ashton had lost since his last visit. He asked him if he’d been feeling all right. It took some prodding but he finally answered, “I’ve been feeling drained, lately; tired,” he said. Come to find out, that bullies had been taking his lunch money at school. And, when Ashton took a lunch, sometimes they would take that, too. When they didn’t take it from him, they would smash it with their fist. Sometimes they’d throw it hard against the cafeteria wall, then laugh and walk away. Did I mention people could be cruel? I did, didn’t I?
As if that wasn’t enough, Ashton sometimes would hide a couple pairs of extra underwear in his book bag, in case of emergencies or should I say, accidents. There were times he was too afraid to use the school bathrooms. He knew once in there, he would be trapped, with no way out. If no one were around to guard the door, he just wouldn’t go in. Sometimes, the bullies would hide inside and grab you as you walked by. They would drag you in and hold you up by your feet over the toilet bowl and lower your head down inside, while they flushed it. They called that ‘a swirly.’ And, if you were dragged into the girls’ bathroom, it was called a “girly swirly,” a bit more degrading than the standard, I’d guess.
Ash never went willingly. He always gave a good fight, but it was never enough. The bully was bigger, and his thugs always had his back. Ash would fight hard, kicking and screaming all the way. He would get banged up pretty bad as he struggled to fight back with his head banging hard against the porcelain throne. That explained a lot of the facial bruises and black eyes he would bring home. Mom always wondered where his underwear was going. She constantly bought new, and complained of the washing machine eating them, along with the unmatched socks.
Mom and Dad would make multiple trips to talk to the principal and school officials, but nothing ever seemed to get done. They said they were doing the best they could with the short staff they had, but each still promising to do better, as they left their offices. I just know the bullying never really stopped. It may have slowed at times, but always returned, and it seemed to be getting more and more dangerous every day.
All Ashton ever wanted to do was to fit in, like a hand in a glove, but he knew deep down that would never happen. Ash was starting to show signs that he’d had enough, and fought back like he didn’t care if he lived or died. The bruises became bigger and the injuries more intense. At times, he would come home so bruised and swollen you could hardly recognize him, yet he still tried to hide the injuries from Mom and Dad. He became ashamed, and too tired to fight back anymore. Every time he did, he just ended up beaten worse than the time before. Ashton was now to the point where he was too afraid to attend school.
One cold day became a day that Mom and Dad would never forget. The school called. It seemed that Ashton never showed up that day, and no one had any idea where he could be. Mom and Dad drove for hours, searching for him. They would return home every now and then, just to see if he came home, then they’d return to the streets searching once more. They made a lot of calls and made a lot of stops, but there were no signs of Ash anywhere. Dad wondered if he’d run away from home.
My parents filed a police report and a statewide Amber Alert was issued. Mom told them everything; all the times he was beaten and bullied at school. The police were appalled that the school would allow such behavior to continue as long as it did. They even offered to check in on him themselves, once they found him. Mom and Dad were grateful for that, but for now, it was freezing cold, and getting dark. They needed to find their son, and fast.
On the way back from the police station, something caught Mom’s eye. “Stop, stop the car!” she yelled.
Dad was driving. He normally drove whenever the two went somewhere together. He quickly turned his car into a gas station’s parking lot.
“What?” Dad asked.
“Back there, I saw something.”
Dad quickly turned the car around and headed back.
“There! Over there, look!” Mom pointed.
“Look at what? I don’t see anything.”
“On the snow fence, see it?”
“That’s his glove!” Nate said.
A kid’s glove was positioned in a way that it looked as if it was waving to passersby. Dad thought it was a joke at first. Or, maybe someone found it, hoping the owner would see it on the fence and stop by and pick it up. He whipped the car into the parking lot of the school. They both exited the car and bee-lined over to the glove that was perched on top of the fence post. Dad slid past. The sidewalks were icy. Mom grabbed the glove from the top of the post and examined it. It was his, all right. His name was written on the tag with a magic marker.
A lot of things raced through Mom and Dad’s minds at this time, but it all came to a crashing end the moment Mom looked to the ground where she was standing. She gasped for breath, covering her mouth to stifle a scream that never came. She pointed to the ground.
Now Dad saw it too. “That’s blood” he spoke under his breath.
He looked around, and so did Mom. There were splatters of blood everywhere. The first thing they thought was a possible accident. Maybe a car hit Ash as he crossed the road, but the scuff marks in the snow told a different story. It showed there was a struggle, possibly a fight, or worse, if it could get any worse; abduction. Now they were worried even more.
They called the police and waited for them to arrive. When they did, they took a lot of pictures, and they also took the glove.
“Evidence,” one of the investigators said as he plucked the glove out of Mom’s hand and stuffed it into a Ziploc® bag.
Evidence for what, they both wondered. No one knew anything, including how Ash’s glove got on the fence post in the first place. It was getting dark, and police sent Mom and Dad home. Maybe he’s there. They hoped, and this time their hopes came true, he was there. Mom found him in his bedroom.
That’s when Mom’s scream finally came out, and louder than ever. Ashton didn’t look good. He was badly bruised, swollen and was covered with blood. Dad heard the scream and came running. “ASH!” he yelled as soon as he saw him. He pushed past Mom standing in the doorway and quickly ran to Ash’s side. He held him tight.
There was a lot of hugging and crying going on, but I’m not sure that it was all for the good.
Two years later, I was born, and I bet you’re still wondering how I know all this, if I wasn’t around to meet him. Well, I would like to tell you that Mom and Dad told me these stories, but they really didn’t. The fact is—they went to great lengths to keep them from me. The reason why I know more about my older brother, than anyone else, gets rather complicated, but I promise you’ll understand everything once you read, “Ash, Like a Tattoo.”  It’s a much longer continuation of this story, filled with ups, downs, twists and turns that keeps you thinking, and at the edge of your seat. You won’t want to miss this fun, somewhat whimsical ride with serious issues. It’s written for all ages to enjoy, so pick up a copy, and help spread bully awareness.

This is the end for now, but it’s really just the beginning. 

Read, ASH, Like a Tattoo for a ride you’ll never forget.

ASH , Like a Tattoo

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