A different room
by Alec Clayton

Originally published in Mississippi Arts & Letters Nov.-Dec. 1984

First day of school, first grade — we warned the teachers about Mister Bill. We told her he wasn't quiet and well mannered like his older brother. We told her that he has a mind that works somewhat like a comedian on a roll, that there was very little he could not do, that, in fact, the only things he seemed incapable of doing were sitting still and being quiet. Yes sir, we warned her, but Mister Bill fooled us all.

Mister Bill has a penchant for making games out of things. Washing dishes, cleaning his room, you name it: if he can figure out a way to make a game of it, he'll do it; if not, an act of Congress could not move him toward completion of it. And it seems he decided to make a game of being a good student. His teacher could not understand why we said he was sometimes less than a model of good behavior. We looked at each other (we, the all-knowing parents) and said, “Just you wait. She'll find out. Sooner or later he's going to get bored with this game.”

Second week of school — I drove over to the school to pick up the boys. Bill was the first one out of the building. He tore around the corner of the building like O.J. Simpson dashing through an airport, his stubby legs churning and that shock of blonde hair waving. Shorter than most of the other kids, he looked like a frantic mole dive-bombing his way through the crowd. The smile that lit his face was like a lighthouse beacon. He got into the car and gushed, “Guess what, Daddy. I got to do something special. I got to go in a different room.”

“That's nice,” I said. “Did the whole class go?”

“No, just me. I was the only one.”

I expected that they had taken him out for testing. The teacher had said something about testing him. Earlier tests had indicated that his IQ was somewhere up there in the God-help-us-if-this-kid-decides-to-be-mischievous range. So, I asked, “Why were you the only one?”

He said, “The teacher let everyone who was making noise go into a different room, and I was the only one making noise.”

“That sounds a little like punishment to me, Bill. Doesn't it sound a little like having to stand in the corner?”

“No it wasn't. It was fun. Do you know what the different room was?”

“What was it?”

“The coat closet!” He said it as if he were saying “an ice cream parlor.” He said, “It was fun. I got to swing on the hooks.”

That night we called Mister Bill's teacher and suggested to her that she find some other way to punish him. She said she wasn't really punishing him; she just had to get him away from the other kids because he was disturbing them. He had finished his work long before everybody else, and to entertain himself, he started making animal noises. She said, “I didn't want to have to make him go into the closet, but I didn't know what else to do. I asked him over and over to quit making noise.”

Yes sir, we had warned her. I know exactly how it went. It's a scene that's very familiar around here. You say, “Bill stop that,” and he says — so pleasantly and sincerely, “Okay.” And he keeps right on doing whatever it was he was doing.

Next day — Mister Bill is getting ready for school. He's as bright as on the first day of school, that same breathless anticipation. A new adventure awaits. The last thing he says before walking out the door is, “I'm gonna make more noise today so I can go in the different room again.”

"Mister Bill" was six years old when this story was written. When he was 14 he came out as bisexual. When he was 17 he was assaulted in a hate crime, and a month later he committed suicide. To learn more about Bill go to "Bill's Story" on my wife's website. ”

copyright © Alec Clayton 2009

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