Dori was in first grade, and even though he was a shy kid, he loved it. School was the first time in his life that he began to realize there was a whole world that existed beyond his miserable existence at home. He was a good looking, quiet and bright child who always seemed to be watching everything intently, like he was trying to soak up and absorb the world around him. He was endlessly curious and his teachers recognized there was something special about this boy, yet they could never seem to connect with him.
As intelligent as he appeared to be, it was obvious that something was wrong at home. He was constantly falling asleep in class, and appeared to be dangerously thin. Yet whenever any of the adults at school tried to draw him in and get him to open up, he would just smile like he’d been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to and say Thank you but everything’s OK – really. He was always convincing enough to prevent anyone from taking the next step and inviting his father in for a conference. His father would have easily brushed everything off anyway, and Dori knew that when push comes to shove, adults will generally always side with other adults.
His first grade teacher Mrs. Balderdach found him to be a particularly curious child. First grade was somewhat traumatic for most children – there would always be some degree of anxiety as they were separated from their parents for the first time. Crying, clinging, vomiting, withdrawing – these were all normal signs of the kind of stress-related anxiety kids express when they are thrown into an overwhelming new environment like school for the first time. Except Dori didn’t exhibit any of these behaviors. Mrs. Balderdach got the sense he couldn’t wait get to school and couldn’t remember him ever even mentioning his parents. All of this made him stand out to her, but with 35 other children in her class, she didn’t have time to dwell on it. In the first week of school, Dori met Jonno on the playground during recess. The Phys Ed teacher was organizing the kids into two groups and teaching them to play dodge ball. The object was to simply kick or throw a soft, inflatable rubber ball at another child on the opposing team. If you hit them, they were out – the last team standing won the game. Jonno was on the opposite team and he and Dori were the last two still in the game. That alone made Dori feel special, and the rest of the kids were screaming and cheering as they dueled – each one kicking or throwing the ball as hard as they could at the other, both of them out of breath as they frantically tried to dodge the ball and hit the other one. Finally, on the sixth try, Jonno launched a kick that seemed to be shot out of a cannon, hitting Dori directly on the head and knocking him over. Everyone went quiet as Jonno and the teacher rushed over to see if he was OK – the boy looked down at Dori and reached out, extending his hand. Dori looked up, smiling, and grabbed it as Jonno pulled him up, immediately lifting both of their arms in the air like two warriors. Everyone on the playground erupted in riotous cheers as Jonno put his arm around him grinning. The bell rang and everyone filed off the playground and back into class – but not before two of the children had bonded into best friends. Not a word had been said, but kids are pure like that. They just know.