01 June, 2010

About Kenny

I want to tell you about Kenny. He went to my high school, which I might somewhat flamboyantly refer to as undercover special ed--but it would be more accurate to say that it was a nominal prep school that was not at all difficult to get into, with very small classes, where no one would stop you from lying down on the floor. If you had a kid who, like me or my fake friend Joan, or like Dana or Connor, was obviously not going to cut it in an ordinary school, and if you had a certain amount of money, my school offered an option besides a school specifically for kids with disabilities/mental illnesses/a history of trouble. But there were kids who didn't have any of those things, and just hadn't been able to get into a better prep school. I feel a strange loyalty to the place, although I was incredibly lonely for my last two years due to being a sexual minority who couldn't compensate. It was probably the only school where a person like me could have had close relationships with teachers, learned to succeed academically, and been involved in theater and music; so I'm grateful for that.

During my tenth-grade year they built a new arts building and from then until I graduated that's where I spent most of my time. The whole building was carpeted and there were different hallways where I liked to sit on the floor, against the wall, and write in a notebook or read. I liked the halls in the basement, near the practice rooms, or near the room where my Latin classes were. I also liked the ground floor--I liked to wedge myself in next to the radiator, or maybe on top of the radiator, I forget, but so I could see out the window. There was an anemic field between the arts building and the main high school building, which had been built when my school had less money, and was uglier.

The Dean of Students moved to the arts building and she would let some of us hang out in her office; in twelfth grade I started spending a lot of time sleeping and doing work on her couch. That is also the year that a certain group of ninth- and tenth-grade boys, who kept their guitars in her office, would sit out by the radiator where I had spent most of my time the year before. They would play songs by Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and the Who. Kenny was one of the better guitarists and he had a haunting, pale voice, that sounded like a girl's when I was asleep.

I only spoke to Kenny a few times but he is one of the reasons I became interested in meeting other people with ASD--although he didn't say he had it, he only didn't deny. I was asking him a lot of questions one day while he played "I Can See for Miles" in the Dean's office by himself:

"Hey, do you have anything wrong with you?"


"I mean, I was wondering if you had Asperger's"

"Oh yeah, well, that."

Kenny had words he liked to use, and his face was always scrunched up in a way that looked like he was in pain. One reason I enjoyed talking to him was that I would start out just seeing the way his face looked on the surface, and thinking that he must be scared, or concentrating, or something; but then I could almost see through the surface of his face, and see that he had all kinds of feelings like everyone else. And then also, of course, the more Kenny played, the more his hands scrambled along the fretboard, the more his face loosened up.

Kenny was a nice kid but what I have to say isn't really about Kenny; it's about Mrs. C., the chorus teacher, and it's about the other boys who played guitar. Kenny was just himself. The words he used were the words that the boys who played guitar would say with him, in between songs. It's about all the kids who were in chorus, because--well, I have to explain about Kenny's stimming. Kenny played a lot of instruments, although I'm pretty sure he stimmed more instruments than he played. What I mean is that while Kenny flapped and stuff, the major things he did with his hands when they were not on a real-life guitar or piano were to manically play imaginary guitars, pianos, basses, violas, and saxophones. The saxophone was the one that got the most positive response, when Kenny got so explosive in chorus one day that no other instrument was good enough and he raised his hands to his face and pressed with stunning accuracy the invisible keys, and blew. The kids in chorus came close to applauding, while Mrs. C. laughed delightedly.

Before you ask, I know what it is like when people are laughing at the way someone moves. That is not what this was. Kenny's words, his stim-instruments, and his more standard flapping and jumping were considered interesting, impressive, and cool. They were not "meaningless repetitive behaviors"--everyone could see what they were about. Backstage before a performance, Kenny flapped at the people around him and we indicated we were nervous, and excitable, too.

Not everyone gets what Kenny got--I didn't get what Kenny got, and I had the same disability at the same school--but I still like thinking about him and explaining it to myself. I think this is pretty much a beacon of how things can be, proof that a person who's different can be seamlessly integrated into the whole without smashing himself into a normal shape, and without anyone else thinking they're doing him a favor. No one was doing Kenny a favor; Kenny was awesome.

One time Kenny did Mrs. C. a favor. He and a few of the other boys were going to sing a special song in the spring concert--I think it was "My Girl," something with very close harmony. It was a small school, meaning teachers did what they could with the talent they had, and I'm guessing Kenny with his incredible precision was going to be the rock who stayed in place when other boys muddled up and down. Kenny's singing was accompanied always by, at the very least, very stiff, sharp, tall conducting movements, his hands pinched together like beaks. At the very least. On the day of the last rehearsal, Mrs. C. said, "Kenny--for the actual concert, can you tone it down? Can you keep it in?" Kenny agreed. Whenever someone tries to explain to me that people make fun of kids who stim in public, as a way of proving that such and such ableist and abusive policy is okay...I just want to show those people Mrs. C.

Mrs. C. liked Kenny's stimming.

She knew that he had to do it.

She didn't think he did it to be annoying or to make people laugh or to get attention. At the same time, if people did laugh or pay attention, she didn't think that was inappropriate; Kenny's stimming wasn't an embarrassment, it was cool.

Mrs. C. knew that some parents would be distracted by Kenny's stimming and that it wasn't part of what was considered to be appropriate behavior for a concert. So she asked Kenny not to do it--in a way that made it obvious he was doing something difficult as a favor to everyone else, not in a way that implied this was a reasonable thing to expect from him all the time.

Kenny worked hard; he sang well and stayed still for the whole set of songs and then he and his friends dashed to their seats, coming down from the risers; Kenny was grinning at his friends, rolling his eyes to show how exhausted he was, wringing the hell out of his hands.


  1. If the epic thing is depressing than this must not be the epic thing, because it made me really happy. I did think it was epic, though.

    I feel like I'm in that situation with my friends now, where they enjoy my strange ways of thinking and behaving, and some even stim with me. I wish I had had a teacher like Mrs. C. instead of my eight-grade English teacher, who demanded that I sit up straight and look at him all the time, because that is what "good people" do (still bitter about that).

    I really want to see someone stim air instruments.

  2. this isn't the epic thing (I almost made that the post title, but decided not to). You should help me with the epic thing if you have time.
    yeah, I wish there was some video of Kenny or something

  3. I will totally help you with the epic thing. How can I help you with the epic thing?