Chapter 1: Green CHAPTER 1 GREEN
Three days earlier…
I still can’t believe they went with Asperger.
Think about it. You have a bunch of kids with social issues and you name them after some dude named Hans Asperger? None of the other scientists sounded his last name out? Nobody thought, Wait a second… Ps kind of sound like Bs and also are we cool with butts?
And get this: Hans Asperger wasn’t even the first one to study the whole autism spectrum thing. Mom read that a supersmart Russian lady named Grunya Sukhareva was on the case in the 1920s. I could have been a Grunyan! That would have been so cool.
But no. I’m an Asperger. A born-and-raised butt sandwich.
It gets worse, if you can believe it. My mom’s name is Ashley. My dad’s name… John. Ashley and John Bennett: the two most boring names in the entire history of humankind. And they are actually pretty boring people except for one teeny, tiny exception: the names of their children.
My older brother’s name is Cedar. My name? Green.
Think about the poor doctor. And here is your little baby… oops, they must have written down the color of his face when he came out instead. Oh, that’s his name? How… unique.
Yep. My parents had two moments of madness, and they both turned into birth certificates.
“Green!” Cedar shouts from outside the door. “You ready?”
P.S. I am in the bathroom, but don’t worry, I’m just brushing my teeth.
I think about changing my name all the time. But Mom says I have to be eighteen, so I’ve still got seven more years before I can legally un-Green myself.
How do you like Gale? It’s like the sound the wind makes: Gaaaaaaaaaaaale.
Cedar pokes his head into the bathroom, scowling. My brother is two years older than me, but he looks way older. His chestnut hair is always perfectly gelled into messy spikes and he wears Dockers and a leather jacket like my dad, who is forty-one. So.
He also got his first zit last week, which he is really sad about.
Cedar says I look like an eleven-year-old in “all the ways you can.” I’m gangly and knobby and my dirty-blond hair droops over my ears and freckled forehead like a mop. It also seems to want to grow into a mullet and apparently that’s not cool, so I have to get the back trimmed all the time.
Cedar tells me what’s cool. He said I can either have a party in the front and the back or no parties at all. I have no idea what that means, but he was passionate.
Truthfully, I ignore ninety-nine percent of his fashion advice, which is why I wear socks and Crocs to school. I think comfort should play a prominent role in our footwear choices.
Cedar deeply despises my Croc-socks.
“C’mon, Green,” he says, checking his phone. “We are not going to be late today.”
Today is kind of a big deal (read: huge), but also not until after class so I’m not sure why punctuality matters. But that reminds me of the insanity I agreed to and now my stomach hurts.
“I don’t think I can do it,” I gurgle through some green spearmint toothpaste.
Peppermint makes me sneeze. Honestly. One piece of peppermint gum and achoo! So does the glare of the sun. Once I had peppermint gum on a sunny day and I swear I almost died.
Cedar frowns. “You’re almost done now, just spit it out—”
“No,” I cut in, though I do spit out the toothpaste. “The… you know.”
“Oh.” He claps my right shoulder. Cedar does that, like, forty-five times a day. Dad told me it’s what guys do instead of hugging, but I don’t see the correlation. “Just play it by ear. I told you: No pressure whatsoever.”
Cedar says that after several weeks of intense daily pressuring, of course. Then he checks his hair—he always finds at least one spike that needs adjusting, though I can never tell the difference—and starts for the stairs.
“Cedar?” I call after him.
“Do you think I should gel my hair today?”
Cedar smiles. “Nah. Go au naturale, little bro. It’s your style.”
I look in the mirror and take a deep breath. My dad is excited. My mom is freaked out. I am freaked-out-excited. I don’t like change as a general rule. But I already agreed, and Cedar is, like, extra excited, and really, how bad can it be? Cedar plays basketball and he’s as happy as a clam.
I wonder if clams are actually happy. I guess they get to relax a lot but people also eat them, so…
I hurry downstairs and get my Crocs on. It takes three seconds because no laces.
Cedar just shakes his head.
“Do you like your name?” I ask him.
I ask him this question every few months to see if he’s changed his mind. We have a bit of a routine.
“Could be worse,” he says, as always.
“Birch. Crabapple. California Redwood. Never mind the Butt Plant.”
I laugh as he locks the front door behind us. Mom and Dad both work really early, so we get ready for school ourselves. We usually come home to an empty house, too, so I guess we’re officially latchkey kids.
I zip my jacket right to the top. It’s late September in the suburbs of Toronto, and it’s starting to feel cool in the mornings.
“Is Butt Plant a thing?” I ask skeptically.
“It’s a thing. It actually looks like a butt. And I like Green, too, by the way.”
I shake my head. “It’s literally the color of vomit.”
“It’s perfect! Cedar and Green. We could have been Pine and Pink, man. Or Butt Plant and Blue! That would have been rough. We are lucky. We’re like a coniferous superteam.”
“Lucky?” I ask. “We’re already Butt Sandwich and Tree.”
Cedar snorts. “For the last time, only you refer to yourself as Butt Sandwich.”
“For now,” I say darkly, then kick through a pile of fallen leaves on the sidewalk. “What if I suck today, Cedar?”
“You won’t,” Cedar says, slinging his arm around my shoulders. “Trust me, bro. It’s going to be a good day.”
“Yes?” I say quietly.
It’s my not-in-my-own-house voice. I also have a not-in-my-own-house brain. It’s like, Oh, I am in my room with Cedar so I can tell a joke and laugh at stuff. But then I am in the classroom with not-Cedar so I’ll just stare straight ahead and not tell jokes because maybe other people don’t like… stuff.
Yeah. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
P.S. If you don’t know much about Asperger’s syndrome, don’t worry. Neither do I. It’s super confusing. Even our family doctor, Dr. Lee, couldn’t figure it out at first. He sent me to a bunch of child psychiatrists when I was younger. It was autism for a while and then, “Maybe he’s just shy,” but, “Hmm, why does he eat the same sandwich every day and not speak to anyone?” and then, “Wait… he’s one of those unfortunately named Asperger kids!”
And then lo and behold: Everything made sense.
Everything became a symptom.
Okay. So I still eat the same sandwich. But hear me out: White bread, a light smear of mayonnaise, and a single slice of processed cheddar cheese is the peak of food. No random spices in there waiting to attack my stomach.
Like star anise. It legitimately looks like poison.
And sure, I didn’t talk until I was six. But what was I going to talk about? Politics? The meaning of life?
Dr. Lee always mentions my “rigid routines” too. But I just do the things I like. Now you want me to hit the randomizer button every three days? And today we get: star anise sandwiches, rubber boots, and class socialite.
Even if I survived the spices… can you imagine the foot sweat? No thanks.
Mom is always like, “It’s no big deal, Green… you just have a neurological disorder.” But here’s the thing: I’m actually more ordered than most people, so shouldn’t I have a neurological superorder? Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett: Your son has a superorder! You better go buy some mayo.
Oh, I also roll a bouncy ball around my left palm when I get nervous, but bouncy balls are awesome so I’m good with that one.
There are a couple of things I would change, I guess. I have a hard time talking to other people, even teachers, which makes school tough sometimes. Not the actual schoolwork; I just have a hard time taking direction or participating in class. Making friends is a no-go. I also space out a lot. Like… once or twice in an hour.
All together it’s enough that Mom still wanted me to go see an actual Asperger’s syndrome specialist, and Dr. Lee finally referred me to Dr. Shondez. She’s one of the leading experts in the world on Asperger’s syndrome, and Mom had to book my appointment, like, a year in advance.
It’s less than two weeks away now, and I am super nervous.
Dr. Lee has been suggesting to my parents for a while that I take medication to help me focus, but Mom and Dad weren’t sure that was necessary, and I didn’t really want to take it either. He also said I might benefit from a private school with smaller classes… which would mean going to a different school than Cedar, who would never agree to leave his beloved Palmerston Panthers. Even if he wanted to, Mom and Dad told me they couldn’t afford two private school tuitions.
Mom, Dad, and I actually visited a private school called Trafalgar a couple of months ago—without telling Cedar. It was really nice and all, but after the tour, I told them I wanted to stay at Palmerston with Cedar. They said it was my call… with one condition: If Dr. Shondez thought some changes would be good for me, they wanted to “revisit” the discussion. Including the medications.
I really don’t want to take pills. I’m happy with myself, even if no one else seems to be.
Oh shoot. Mrs. Strachan is looking at me.
Well, down at me. She looms. She’s really tall, with bright red hair like a campfire, and she smells like maple syrup for some reason. Maybe she eats pancakes every morning. If I was going to go wild one day and eat something else, it would totally be pancakes. They’re the plain cheese sandwich of breakfast.
Still looking. What do I do?
This is when my old teacher’s assistant would whisper some sage advice like, “Remember when I told you too much yawning can be offensive?” But I’m in sixth grade now and I don’t have a TA anymore… either because I am “functional” or because there were budget cuts. Mom thinks it was the second one.
Last year the school decided I didn’t need an Individualized Education Plan anymore, either, because I was testing so high. Even my TA said I was ready to fully reintegrate into classes without her. That all sounded like good news to me, and Dad agreed, but Mom was worried it was too soon.
She liked when I had a TA, but I think she also pictured a secret agent with glasses on who would billy club kids who teased me.
Here’s the thing: Most kids don’t really tease me. They just kind of move around me. I guess for one I’m pretty tall, and two I don’t talk much (like a ninja) so it just makes sense to avoid me.
There are exceptions, of course. Like, S’up, dude, where’s your bro at? Or, What’s your last name, Bay Packers?
I still have no idea what Carl Freburg was talking about, but he thought it was super funny. And then there’s the dreaded Allison Gaisson, of course. She sits right behind me and says something mean, like, every five minutes. Whoever makes the annual class lists clearly has a personal vendetta against me, because we’ve been in the same math class two years in a row.
“Are you feeling all right, Green?” Mrs. Strachan asks from, like, nine stories up.
Finally… a hint! I try to make the connection. We’re doing math and I do have my math book open so that checks out. Am I drooling? No, my mouth is dry. Shoot… I probably shouldn’t have poked it like that. What does she mean? I’m wearing pants. They’re even khakis… it’s my fancy day.
Why can’t she be specific? I like specifics. Green, why are you frothing at the mouth?
“… Yes…,” I say, because I am truly stumped.
I slip the bouncy ball out of my pocket and roll it around in my left palm.
“You were staring out the window for the last twenty minutes.”
Ohhhhh. That makes sense. I did see three V formations of migrating geese.
“Are you bored?” she asks.
Oh, by the way… I stink at lying. Cedar says it’s my kryptonite.
Mrs. Strachan clears her throat. I do know what that means. It means she would yell at someone else, but this is Green the special quiet boy so she’ll just yell inside her throat instead.
“Well, we do have homework for later, and I need to make sure you understand it—”
“I already did mine.”
She frowns. “We’re doing the questions on page seventy-seven as well.”
“I did those too to be safe. I have practice tonight, so I wanted to plan ahead.”
Mrs. Strachan stares at me for a moment. Her equally campfire-colored eyebrows are almost touching. If I had to guess, I would say she is either confused or has a migraine. “For…”
Now the other kids are looking at me too. I can hear Allison muttering something behind me. I can’t make it out, but I’m sure it’s insulting. Lyesha is mouthing “Basketball?” to Mel.
I squeeze the bouncy ball even tighter.
“You’re… on the basketball team?” Mrs. Strachan says, as if struggling to find the words.
“Well, no. It’s a… tryout.”
Klieba Zanowski sits to my immediate right, and he gives me a strange look too. But he doesn’t talk to anybody either, so he just goes back to his math work. I like Klieba.
Mrs. Strachan smiles and blinks a lot. It’s like she might… cry? “Good for you, Green.”
Then she taps my desk with her index finger and almost skips back to the whiteboard. I didn’t even get in trouble. So… I guess I can stare at geese again because I might go bounce a big orange ball later? No. I get it.
It’s me. Green the Butt Sandwich is going to try to play sports like a real boy.
It’s all because of Cedar. He’s the star player, and I’m pretty tall too, so Coach Nelson asked me to come try out for the varsity team… even though I’m only in sixth grade and should technically be trying out with the JVs. And even though I have never played organized basketball period.
I’m about ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure it’s because Cedar begged him to do it, but Coach really did seem sincere last week. He claimed it would be good for me. “Sports build social skills, son.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but hey, I can bounce things. Cedar and I throw bouncy balls around on my driveway all the time. We have this game where we throw a ball straight up in the air and try to catch it on the first bounce. My driveway is all cracked and bumpy, so it’s way harder than it sounds.
It’s another reason I always keep one in my pocket… for emergency bouncing opportunities. Like if we suddenly got access to an airport tarmac or a mall parking lot or something. Can you imagine the bounces?
But nobody else likes rubber balls apparently, so I have basketball sneakers in my backpack.
Lyesha turns in her chair and leans toward me. “That’s so cool, Green.”
I manage to smile even though my cheeks are possibly on fire. Lyesha is not in my talking circle… and yet she just talked to me. And she was really nice. Maybe basketball is good for social skills.
I try to imagine some weird future where I’m like Cedar. I can almost hear the announcer: Starting at, you know, one of the positions, Green Thomas Bennett, the star of the Palmerston Panthers, whose name will eventually be Gale, so everyone shout, Gaaaaaaaaaaale.
It seems stressful, but I really do like the sound of that name.
Maybe this will be a good day.