I didn't actually want to go to Conway Academy. But with
my Dad's sudden promotion, my parents decided they should show
that they were rich by buying a new house, and sending me to a
fancy private middle school.
The first two years at Conway were fairly normal, but then, when
I was in eighth grade, I met David. Most people can be described
in one word. But there are no words, which I can use to describe
At the academy, there were about five girls and six boys in the
entire eighth grade. It was hard to be popular or unpopular when
there were so little people. That was one thing I liked about it.
Everyone was basically a friend with everyone. It was great. And
then David came. Then everything changed. At least it did for me.
It was one morning in March, in the middle of science class,
there was a knock on our door. I was talking with my friends
Deborah and Amy. We didn't even look up at the door until we
"This is David," said our teacher, Ms. Hahn, gesturing at a boy
who was standing there, staring into space.
"He'll be staying with us until..."
"March 23,"David said promptly.
"Right. David, honey, I hate to excuse you as soon as you got
here, but do you mind standing outside the door so I can have a
word with my class? Don't worry, it'll only take a minute." David
just nodded and and walked out the door.
Ms. Hahn faced us, serious. "Kids, David has a mild autism. He
can still go to school, but he's different from all of you, as
you know. I don't want to hear about any sort of bullying toward
him. You guys are great kids, I'm sure I can expect the best from
all of you." All of the girls and even the guys were nodding
Ms. Hahn let David back in the room, who continued to stare into
space. He was seated right next to me. Trying to be nice, I said,
"Hi," and smiled at him. He didn't respond. I thought he was just
shy or something, so I turned around. As I was opening my
notebook, I heard his voice. "What's your name?"
"My name's Julie. Nice to meet you David." I stuck out my hand
for him to shake. He looked at my hand as if there was nothing
there. "Hi, Julie," he said softly, more to himself than me. I
smiled once more, then returned to paying attention to Ms. Hahn's
lesson. I was completely unaware of Deborah staring at me from
Next week at lunch, Deborah said, "So you were talking to that
autistic kid a lot." She sounded so disapproving that I almost
spit out my soda.
"So?" I was genuinely confused to why she cared. "Ms. Hahn told
us to be nice to him."
"No," Amy chimed in. "She told us not to bully him, she never
told us to talk to him."
"Guys, there's nothing bad about having a few conversations with
a new kid at school."
"He happens to be autistic," Deborah muttered.
"I talked to him. It's not like I'm marrying him!" I
couldn't believe they were being so judgmental. Deborah just
shrugged her shoulders and stopped talking to me.
I was so annoyed at them, I went to sit at the table next to
David, who was sitting alone. At least he couldn't antagonize me.
And he did seem like a sweet guy.
"Hi, David," I said, trying to make my voice sound cheerful.
"Why are you talking to me Julie?" he sounded genuinely confused.
"You don't want me to talk to you?" I asked curiously.
"No one else wants to talk to me. They think I'm weird." My heart
ached for him. He couldn't understand why no one liked him. He
must've been bullied or something in his other school. He was so
"Do you think I'm weird, Julie?"
"No, David," I said softly. David looked down, embarrassed. I
smiled to myself. I could already see he was sensitive.
"You seem good at science," I said, changing the subject.
"Thank you Julie," David replied, almost mechanically.
"Do you mind helping me with homework today?"
"We're not allowed to do homework at school," he said promptly,
as though he had memorized the school guide book. Who knows,
maybe he did.
"Oh, you're right, I forgot. You have a really good memory," I
"Thank you Julie." That mechanical voice again.
"You can come over after school if you want."
"At your house?" he asked. I nodded patiently. A huge grin spread
across his face, masking most of his shock. His smile was
"Is that a yes?" He nodded his head quickly.
"All right then." I was so proud of myself for ignoring
everyone's stares. Looks couldn't hurt you, could they?
On the way home after school, David and I stopped by the park. It
was like seeing a little boy. David still liked balloons, so I
bought him one. A green balloon. I learned that green was David's
favorite color. After holding it a while, he let go, letting it
"David! Why did you do that?" I slapped my hand to my mouth,
wondering if I had hurt his feelings. But David didn't even
respond, he just stood there dumbly staring at the balloon.
"Look, Julie." He pointed his finger at the sky. I had to admit,
looking at the balloon floating around, high in the clouds, gave
me a childish pleasure. David made me smile over the simplest
things. He could make a balloon floating away seem like a
shooting star. That was one of the best things about him.
After the balloon thing, I bought him ice cream, after he begged
me to. Honestly, he was just like a kid even though he was my
age. I had never seen someone eat ice cream so fast. I had to
say, "David, slow down!" But he just went on eating it. When he
was finished, he gave me a sloppy grin with ice cream all over
his lips. It was so...endearing.
When we arrived at home, I was greeted by my mom.
"Julie, why didn't you tell me you have a boyfriend?" she asked,
before I could open my mouth.
"Hi," I said. "And no, he's not my boyfriend, he's just a
friend." David was fidgeting with his mouth hanging open,
oblivious to my mom's apparent dislike for him. My mom pursed her
lips, but she told David to make himself at home. David didn't
even look at her. Maybe he wasn't as oblivious as I had believed.
What I discovered about David while doing homework together: Even
though he's autistic, David was smarter than my entire class put
together. He could solve the math problems before I was finished
looking over them. He was organized. I felt like a total
slob next to him. If anything was dirty, crooked, or imperfect,
David had to fix it. He could make me laugh at the most ordinary
things. It was a more than a little obvious David had a crush on
me. And I was developing feelings for him too. David was leaving
in a week.
While we were doing one assignment, David started talking,
without looking up from his work. "Ever since I was little, all I
wanted was a friend," he said, robotically.
"But no one wanted me," he continued. "They all thought I was
"You're not stupid, David!" I said loyally.
"Are you my friend, Julie?" he asked, letting the subject of his
being stupid drop.
"Yes David. I'm your friend. You're my friend. We're friends."
David didn't even smile, like I thought he would.
"Thank you Julie. You're my only friend." My heart ached for him
more than ever. I felt...honored. I still do. I am honored to
have been David's only friend. I really didn't deserve him. And
he really deserved someone better. But he didn't need it. I was
somehow good enough for him, and better.
I wanted David to stay for dinner to, but I knew it would be
awkward, especially that my dad was home now. After a silent
dinner, I was going to go upstairs, but my parents stopped me.
"We need to talk," my mom said gravely. Had I done something
"Okay," I replied easily. My parents both had serious expressions
on their faces. I had no idea what I had done to make them so
angry. Whatever it was, it was really bad.
My dad started. "Honey, how did you come to know David?"
Baffled, I said, "He's new in my class. He came last week." I
wasn't sure where he was going with this, but I already felt
uneasy. "What's the problem?"
"Well, uh, you're too young to date," said Mom feebly. Oh, god,
"First of all, we're not dating. And second of all, you let me
date Adam last year."
Something in my response triggered my dad to pound his fist on
the table, hard. It was as though I had just lit a fuse. "We
don't want you to spend time with that retarded boy anymore!" he
shouted. I could feel the shock spread across my face.
"Daddy, he's not retarded. He's autistic, and he's smarter than
me." My mother gasped. "Don't...don't say that!" she
admonished as though I had just told her that David killed
"I don't spend $16000 every year on your school tuition to hang
out with retards like David!" he said David's name as
though it was a bad taste in his mouth.
"Daddy, please stop saying retarded. He's not. And you're acting
like I'm committing some kind of crime." My father glared at me
with eyes like lasers. If they really were lasers, I would be
completely burned up.
"Sweetie," my mother used a different tone than my father. "Think
about this carefully. It wouldn't be proper for you to be friends
with him. He's retarded-I mean, autistic, and you aren't. Does
that seem right to you?" her voice was gentle, but firm. I
couldn't believe I was hearing this from my own parents.
"I can't believe you guys are judging my friend for something he
can't control! It's not his fault! And if you bothered getting to
know him, you would realize that you're wrong." My eyes filled
with tears, and I bolted up to my room and slammed the door. I
managed to calm myself down, and three hours later, I collapsed
into the black waves of sleep.
I was naive. I always thought everyone at Conway was amazing.
They had never done anything against me before. But then, no one
like David had ever come into my life. I'm not saying it was his
fault. It wasn't my fault either. So who's fault was it? Who
could be the one to blame for my classmate's opinions?
I felt relieved when I left the house. I thought that if my
parents and I took a break from each other from a while,
everything would be back to normal. But like I said before, I was
naïve. Many young people are, whether they realize it or not,
naïve and foolish. I was both and many more.
Anyway, I thought once I went to school, I would be able to talk
to my friends about my parents, and have their usual
understanding. I thought that I would be able to goof off with
some of the guys, and have a few nice conversations with David
again. I was wrong.
When I entered my classroom, no one greeted me like normal. What
was up with them? The only thing I got was a "Hi" from David.
Everyone was staring at me like my pants unzipped or something.
Not even Deborah and Amy said a word to me. Tears welled in my
eyes. Those two were my closest friends. The rest of class passed
by like a blur.
At lunch, I took my seat next to David, having the feeling no one
wanted me at their table. David was his usual self, so that was
good. But I was constantly underestimated his understanding. "Why
is everybody mad at you Julie?" Wow. To some things, his brain
was dumb. But you know that thing where animals can sense danger?
David had it too.
"It's okay, David," I said.
"What does that mean? It's okay?" He sounded confused in his
"It means...that nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. There are
no problems." Wow, I was such a liar. David just stared at me.
"Really," I added. David nodded. "I believe you, Julie," he
replied solemnly. I blinked back my tears. Why was I the only one
who could see this side of him? I smiled through my tears.
Suddenly, I saw Amy walk to me. I lifted my head alertly. Was she
going to apologize? My heart sank, when I saw she didn't look
guilty at all, but I became confused when she said, "Are you
really? Is it true?"
"Is-is what true?" I asked, puzzled. What had gotten into her?
What had gotten into them?
"Are you really autistic? The whole school is talking about how
you're showing signs of autism." She blinked innocently.
My face turned to ice while my blood was boiling. Amy had known
me since first grade. "I am not autistic. You've known me
for what, seven years now?"
Amy looked at me uneasily, as though she didn't really believe
me. I couldn't believe it. I was more irked than hurt though. I
mean, hello. People first show signs autism when they're like,
two. This was supposed to be a school with an extremely
advanced education system. And what the heck did I do in my
three years at Conway that would make them believe that
crap? But I already knew the answer to that. I befriended David.
David had a crush on me. Still, to this day, I have no idea what
is so wrong with that.
"Julie always tells the truth," David spoke up from behind me. I
had almost forgotten he was there. He could hear the whole thing.
And yet he still stood up for me. He didn't know how much this
meant. Suddenly feeling tears well in my eyes that I feared I
couldn't hold in, I ran from the cafeteria to the bathroom,
without even saying a word to either of them.
As soon as I pressed the lock, I burst into tears, which turned
into sobs. Not that petite little crying you see from girls on
tv, but these enormous gasping sobs that wracked my entire body.
How had all of this gone so wrong? I stayed in there until my
sobs turned into soundless wheezes, and the wheezes turned into
hiccups. I took deep, wavering breaths, until I was convinced
that I would be able to pull myself together.
I have to admit-and this is something that I'm ashamed of-that I
avoided David for the rest of the week. I don't know why, but I
couldn't face him. I pretty much avoided everyone, actually: my
family, my (former) friends, and David.
The next time I talked to him, it was March 22, David's last day
at school. I really regret avoiding him. I know he would've been
there for me. He thought I was there for him, but he had no idea
that if anyone was there for anyone else, it was David being
there for me.
It was a break, after the bell to end school had rung. I walked
out the door to face David. Would he tell me that he was angry
with me? Would he say that I had made him sad? That I wasn't his
friend any more? But he did something completely unexpected. He
wrapped his arms around me, and said, "It's okay, Julie," in that
mechanical voice I grew to love. And then for the first time, he
looked me in the eyes. Just for a moment our eyes met. Then, he
let go of me, and walked away, leaving me standing there. That
was the last time I ever saw David.
As the years passed, people began to forget about the whole
thing with David. But not me. For 12 years, there wasn't a day
that went with me not thinking about my friend, David, and I
suppose it will always be that way for the rest of them.
I'm twenty six years old now. I teach special education,
inspired of course, through David. My parents didn't like it, but
they still supported me. I have to thank them for that some
I am married to my college boyfriend, Derek Hunter. He is a
wonderful husband, and when I told him my story about David, he
was more understanding about it than I would ever have imagined.
I still need to stop underestimating people. It is one of my
What I realized, is I loved David. I still do. It is my
biggest regret that I never told him. When you love someone, you
tell them. You have to. I learned the hard way.
I have a two year old son now. His name is David. He reminds
me of David. He makes me smile constantly. My son's smiles are
just like David's. I tell my son that I love him every day, to
make up for the other David. He's still too young to say it back
to me, but I am waiting for the day I hear it from him. I'm sure
David would've eventually said it back, if I had told him. To
this day I'm grateful to David because he touched my heart in
places no one could.