He sat in his wheelchair. Green around the gills. Slowly a line of drool formed and reached all the way down to his lap. His eyes closed and he tottered forward and woke only when his head cracked on the desk in front of him. My boss looked at me coldly. I knew I was in deep trouble. I had moved to Toronto, leaving Smiths Falls and the large institution behind me and took a job with the Toronto School Board as a classroom aide for students with physical disabilities. The high school had a special homeroom for students with disabilities but they took all their classes with non-disabled kids in the rest of the school.
Sean was hung over. I had planned an 'outing' for a bunch of the students to a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Well, what I had actually done was say, I'm going to dinner at the Flying Circus restaurant and anyone who wanted to join me could just come. That wasn't actually possible because they all had to arrange their transportation. So I knew upon arrival that six students were going to show. Sean arrived, steering his electric wheelchair carefully through the tables to where we all sat. Sean has cerebral palsy and was only able to speak through the use of a letter board. As soon as he got there he indicated that he wanted a beer.
We were just fellow diners, I wasn't being a staff. (Though I would learn years later, this would never be true.) I asked him if he'd ever had a beer. He said 'no'. But he was legal. If he wanted a beer, we'd get him a beer. It arrived and I got out a straw for him to drink through. The first sip brought a look of horror to his face followed immediately by determination. In a second I knew that Sean meant to get rip roaring drunk.
As dinner progressed Sean ordered beer after beer. At one point the waitress, a pretty blond, said to Sean, "Are you sure you're going to be able to drive that thing?" as she set down another beer. Cerebral palsy took Sean over as he laughed so hard that he knocked everything flying and got everyone's attention in the room. Looks of horror, looks of disgust, looks of amusement - a whole gamut of reactions to Sean the drunken teen with cerebral palsy. They'd all have a story to tell.
The only way that you could really tell that Sean was drunk was by the fact that he'd decided, to hell with the letter board - he'd talk and damn it we'd understand. And, oddly, his speech was improved. He did everything but sing and wear a lamp shade. At one point Joe leaned over and said to me, "You are going to be in such shit tomorrow."
When I arrived at work, the teacher looked at me and called me over to her desk. Sean's mother had called and asked to speak to me. Sean had thrown up all over the bus on the way home and all through the night. She handed me a number and told me to make the call. I looked over to where Sean sat, he looked like death warmed over, a corpse in living flesh. He looked up at me and didn't even attempt a smile. His head dropped down and you could hear snoring half way down the hallway.
I called Sean's mother. She answered and I told her who I was. When she heard my name she started to cry, composed herself and asked if I could give her five minutes and then call back. Holy shit, I was really really in trouble. I sat there picturing a lawsuit. How much damages could someone get for a hangover, I wondered. Then I called back. His mom answered, calm now. She told me that she just wanted to thank me. That every one of her son's had come home stinking drunk at some point in their high school years and she thought that Sean would never have that experience. She started to tell me about the mess he made, the throw up, the pleading to skip school, her lecture about drinking and her forcing him out the door. She was finished with the crying and started laughing. "He was so sick, how much did he drink." I told her that he'd really only had a few beer. I didn't think that I was lying because a few is more than two and less than twenty.
Sean was over his hangover by the next day. But he was changed. He was a teen boy and he'd done what teen boys do. He'd gotten drunk. He'd thrown up. He'd gotten yelled at by his mom. A new year had started for him.
I don't believe in an artificial new year. A new year can start on March 21st, or on June 12 or October 23rd. When something changes in you, a new year begins. When a new idea changes your mind, a new year begins. When an experience alters how you see yourself and your world, a new year begins. So, I wish you - this calander new year, another year's opportunities to be made new, to think afresh, to realize again.
I'll be in bed by ten ... don't call.