Scene 1: Meeting April
In September, on the first day of the new school year, Karen waited on her front porch with her brace on. She inhaled the sweet scent of the sycamore trees and stared down the sunny road. The yellow school bus had stopped at an intersection a block away. She hopped down the steps to the curb and waited while the driver pulled up in front of her.
The folding doors opened, and she climbed the steps. Mr. Hinton, the driver, smiled. “It’s so good to see you again, Karen. I missed you all summer. We have someone new joining us today. We’re going to pick her up next. She’s come all the way from New Jersey to be with us, and you’re just the person to make her feel welcome.”
This was a big compliment, and Karen gave him a smile. “I missed you, too, and I’ll make sure the new girl has at least one friend—me.”
She took her usual seat, and Mr. Hinton drove six blocks before stopping in front of a house that was not on his route last school year. The front door opened and a spindly little girl in a red and white checked dress, with her black hair in a pageboy, scampered out on her tippy toes. A lady who must have been her mother walked alongside her toward the bus. The lady stood five-feet-four-inches tall and had black hair in a shoulder-length cut with the ends turned under. She wore an A-line house dress of blue and white striped denim, and a white apron tied around her waist.
The little girl tilted forward in a trotting gait, a sign of spastic diplegia. This kind of CP made people’s muscles so tight that they walked on their tiptoes. Spasmodic contortions distorted her face as she climbed the steps and stuttered a response to the driver’s greeting. Was she nervous, or were these part of the CP, or both?
The lady followed her onto the bus and held out her hand to Mr. Hinton.
He took it, and they shook. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Mr. Hinton, and I want to welcome you and your little girl.”
“Thank you. I am Mrs. Roth, and this is my daughter, April. It’s nice to meet you, too.”
The girl tottered down the aisle. Karen smiled and twisted to the left so she could pat the empty seat with her strong right hand. Mr. Hinton winked and whispered to Mrs. Roth. She looked at Karen and mouthed the words, “Thank you,” before returning down the bus stairs and waiting outside.
“Hi! My name is Karen, and welcome to our school bus! Please sit with me.”
The girl smiled. “My name is April. Pleased to meet you, Karen. Thank you for inviting me to sit with you.”
This kind of CP affects both hemispheres of the brain and the speech center as well. Karen automatically tuned out the stuttering, just like she did with Tammy. “What brings you out to California?”
April giggled. “Well, it’s warmer than New Jersey.”
Karen giggled too. “It’s always warmer on the West Coast than on the East. What grade are you in?”
“I’m in second. I love reading. Reading storybooks is my favorite pastime.”
“So, you can remember what you read?”
“Yes, of course I can! I wish I could remember not to stutter and fall over, too. I have to play sitting down because my balance isn’t good. If I stand up very long, I tip forward and fall.”
“I’m thirteen and starting eighth grade, and I completely understand. I have a balance problem, too. It’s getting better because of my dance lessons, but I gotta keep at it. Gilberto, my teacher, has taught me hopping, skipping, and jumping with my leg brace on, so I’m a lot more confident.”
April’s eyes opened wide. “Really! You dance? Your mother gives you dance lessons?”
“Yeah, she does. It’s fun, and it’s another form of therapy. And most important, I love it, too.”
They continued chatting until the school came into sight.
Karen said, “I can’t believe we talked all the way to school.”
“Yeah, me, too. You’re so easy to talk to.”
Mr. Hinton turned into the school courtyard and swung the handle that opened the doors. “We’re here, you guys! Be careful going down the steps.”
All the ambulatory children followed Mr. Hinton off the bus in a single file. Karen insisted April go ahead of her, since her new friend was on the aisle seat.
“Karen, maybe I can sit next to you on the way home?”
“Sure, and at lunch, too. Do you know where your classroom is?”
“Yes! My mother and I toured the school last week, but I have to hurry!”
April took off in her scamper gate, and Karen walked to class.
Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.