This episode definitely turned out to be pivotal for Jesus, in particular. We are still in a bit of (good) shock about where it ended up. Come with us as we break down this episode. It might be a bit on the longer side (longer than usual) but there is a lot to unpack. Fortunately, we're up to the task.
BRANDON, STEF, CALLIE AND JUDE - CAR - ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL:
Stef: Hey, B? How's Grace doing?
Brandon: Uh, good. Yeah. She's going home today.
Stef: Really? When are they putting her T-cells back in?
Tonia: Um... Inquiring minds would seriously like to know what exactly the doctors are thinking releasing Grace from the hospital without her T-cells! If my memory of T-cells serves, this means Grace is being sent home (germ central in flu season) without an immune system. Unless she signed an AMA form, I'm going to have to seriously suspend disbelief...
Brandon: I guess it takes the lab a few weeks to recode them.
Callie: And then what do they do?
Brandon: They're supposed to attack the cancer cells and kill them.
Jude: So she'll be cured?
Tara: Stef asking about Grace's T-cells (and the conversation that follows) is asking for too much information, in my opinion. Unless there was an off-screen conversation where Grace told Brandon that speaking about her medical procedure in detail with his family was okay, this is crossing a line.
JESUS, LENA, MARIANA AND POPPY - CAR - ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL (MUSIC CAN BE HEARD ON THE RADIO)
Lena: [to Jesus] Your para, David, will meet you at homeroom. Poppy, you're going to be in Jesus's class, and he'll show you the way. Okay?
Mariana: [To Poppy] And I'll walk you to the rest of your classes.
Jesus: [To Lena; afraid] What am I supposed to tell people when they--they ask me who this guy is that's following me?
Tara: I'm so sad that this conversation is only happening now. And this is not really the time for it. No privacy, tons of bright visual input and moving objects, and Lena focused on driving.
Lena: Honey, you're going to tell them that he's an in-class aide...
Jesus: [Looks like he wants to interject]
Tara: ^Aphasia. It looks like this.
In my opinion, Lena should have paused here - after a single sentence - and given Jesus a minute to process and/or ask if he had further questions. Because she does not do this, Jesus has no way of clarifying or commenting. His brain cannot both listen to Lena's neverending explanation and verbalize a thought.
He needs a break in this sensory onslaught like he needs oxygen. Not getting that moment to process and verbalize means that Jesus has been (unintentionally) shut down by Lena.
Sometimes, when Tonia is speaking too fast, I describe the experience as if my mind is running - literally racing - to keep up. It's like when you're going to race your friend, but your friend gets a 10-minute headstart. No matter what you do, you're hopelessly behind.
Lena: ...Who's there to help you catch up on everything you've missed.
Tonia: Wow, Lena. That explanation is too long! And also? I get that you're driving right now? But Jesus is freaked out about returning to school. The least you could do is give him a little reassurance that if it gets to be too much or if he needs something, he can call, and you'll be there for him...
Tara: Okay, way to put the blame on Jesus for being injured - and not on you and Stef for dragging your feet on sending him back to school... :/
Jesus: [Mama's words hit him. He feels misunderstood. Seems overwhelmed, trying to listen to Mama in the loud, bright car.]
Tara: Remember that filtering information becomes work after a brain injury. Attending to any sort of input when there's extra stuff going on? Makes concentrating on the thing you're supposed to be concentrating on about 20-50 times harder.
I also wonder how much pain Jesus is in right now - because from the looks of him, he has a headache.
Lena: [Reprimanding] Listen, a positive attitude...
Jesus: [A split second of anger is visible on his face as he is struck by the unfairness of Mama's words.]
Tara: Jesus is actively policing his own feelings (specifically his anger) in front of his mother.
Lena: ...is gonna go a long way to helping you here, okay?
Tonia: A positive attitude will do nothing positive for Jesus. All it will do is make those around Jesus feel better for A) Being overtly ableist or B) Witnessing ableism firsthand and being made uncomfortable due to their own proximity.
Tara: A positive attitude? So, because Jesus dared to ask a legitimate question about how to address his peers, he is being negative?
In general, disabled people are not taught to question or be anything but compliant. This is one of many reasons why abuse rates are so high in the disabled population. Lena would like Jesus to just smile and go along with things, as this would make the car ride nicer. For her.
Jesus: [Looks up, despairing.]
Tara: Lena has fully given herself to this lecture. She is not interested in Jesus's thoughts or feelings. He is shriveling beside her, and while she is speaking to him, he is nothing more than a toy for her to figure out how to manipulate to her satisfaction.
Lena: You have to manage your frustration...
Jesus: [Has completely shut down. He's depressed. Defeated.]
Tara: Don't think that Jesus has forgotten Lena's threat of institutionalization. That black cloud is looming over him, along with so many other damaging words he's had to hear about himself these last months.
Lena is essentially telling him that he must spend a significant chunk of his cognitive energy on passing. Don't be too angry or too frustrated or ask too many questions or need too much help. Blend in. Pass.
Lena: ...so you don't have another...
Jesus: [quietly, flatly] Outburst. Yeah, Mama, I know. You already told me. [Still hurting.]
Tara: So, Lena has been hammering this into him for how long now? Because according to Jesus, this is not their first conversation about it.
It is damaging that all of her focus is on Jesus "managing" his emotions. "Managing" is code for "stuffing your feelings in." Which, anyone will tell you, is not a healthy way to approach life.
Instead, I wish Lena had said something like, "It is okay to take a break if you get overwhelmed." Giving him coping strategies instead of shaming him for having feelings.
Because this is what you get - depression. And depression is much more dangerous than expressing your frustration.
Lena: Don't forget to write things down.
Jesus: [This hits him like a blow. He closes his eyes.]
Tara: Jesus is cognitively overwhelmed and overloaded. There is no way he will ever begin to remember or implement all the things Lena has recited. He can never measure up.
Lena: Your short term memory--
Jesus: --Sucks. I know.
Tara: They've had the conversation so much though, that certain hurtful pieces are committed to Jesus's memory.
Lena: Honey, it doesn't suck.
Jesus: [So quietly] It does.
Tara: Notice Lena denying Jesus's knowledge of his own brain. She is employing a "positive attitude" here, but all it is doing is dismissing Jesus's own experience. So, he feels that it's probably not okay to continue to struggle with memory. And he will actively seek to hide this later on.
Tonia: It's so clear here that Jesus knows what Mama thinks of him. There's nothing he can do to change himself. So he's stuck like this.
It weighs on you.
You feel hated.
Because you can't help your brain.
And because - it seems - at least with Stef and Lena - neither can relate directly to Jesus's experience. They have heart to hearts with their kids when they can relate somehow. (Lena with Brandon last episode. Stef with Brandon this episode.) It should not take a direct connection for Moms to be willing to sit down and have a conversation with their son about how he's feeling.
Lena: You're just-- You're just recovering. Don't worry. All your teachers know what to expect.
Jesus: [Understands this to mean that they have been prepared for his outbursts. That teachers need to be prepared for his anger. Jesus still looks blank and sad.]
Tara: We see here that Lena feels that it was more important that Jesus's teachers know what to expect. Jesus is just expected to know.
Tonia: Yeah, so glad the teachers know what to expect, Lena. What about Jesus? What can he expect?
Also? I have firsthand experience of shutting down in the face of ableism. It was even caught on tape at age nine.
This stuff is real. The forcing of a positive attitude onto us? The feeling constantly that we are broken? It happens.
We smile. And then we go blank. Because it hurts too much.
JESUS, EMMA, MARIANA AND POPPY - SCHOOL HALLWAY - THE AMBIENT SOUNDS OF KIDS TALKING, AND LOCKERS SLAMMING ARE DISTRACTING IN THE BACKGROUND
Jesus: [Notices a banner that reads: ANCHOR BEACH ACADEMY: A Future You Didn't Dare to Dream] Whoa. Uh, it doesn't look like Drew put that one up.
Mariana: Okay, so a few misguided souls are willing to betray their classmates for a swimming pool. Big deal.
Emma: [To Jesus, arriving at his locker] Here we are.
Tara: I notice that Emma locates Jesus's locker for him here. She's trying to be helpful. But if she is going to be helpful in this way, she will need to be available to take him back to his locker later in the day.
If finding his locker, opening it, and figuring out what goes in it and what he needs to take out is daunting for him, then Jesus's para David should be there to help him through this part of his day.
As it is now, Jesus has had no reason to have his locker number and combination written somewhere easily accessible - a recipe for disaster.
Mariana: [To Poppy] Oh, and here YOU are! Locker buddies!
Poppy: [Sends a smile to Jesus. She has been nervous all the way to school]
Jesus: [Notices a teeny tiny seventh grader beside him at his own locker. The kid looks wary. But Jesus nods and speaks quietly] What's up? [Notices all the kids around them are seventh graders.] Come on now. These are the middle school lockers.
Emma: I'm sure that's all that was open. You'll be with us senior year.
Jesus: [Softly] This is ridiculous...
Tonia: Seriously. He's only been out of school for a couple months. It's not like they'd give his locker away in his absence.
I do feel Jesus's frustration at being put with the younger kids, though. I remember all the times our lockers were assigned based on alphabetical order, but I was always on the end - and out of order - because it was closest to the classroom door.
Emma: [Takes Jesus's arm]
Jesus: What are you doing?
Emma: Just in case... [Writes numbers on the inside of his forearm with a pen] Here is your locker combo. Good luck. I'll see you at lunch. [Kisses him on the cheek]
Tara: This is...thoughtful? I guess? But I would hope, before scrawling someone's locker combination on his body for all the world to see, that you might have asked Jesus's permission to do so.
Another example of disabled people existing as public property.
Mariana: [To Poppy] You're gonna do great. Everybody's gonna love you.
Mariana: And you... [Points to Jesus] Don't be an asshole to your paraprofessional.
Jesus: Word. Thanks.
Tonia: Oh, Jesus, you don't need to thank Mariana for that...
Tara: Just what Jesus needs, more people telling him what to do and assuming the worst about him. :/ <--- Sarcasm
Poppy: Wait. So, what DOES paraprofessional mean?
Jesus: Uh... I don't know... It's like 'almost professional' or something...
Tara: par·a·pro·fes·sion·al perəprəˈfeSH(ə)n(ə)l - noun
Tonia: ...And if Jesus read the same info that you did, Tara, how certain are we that he also knows that David will not hesitate to physically restrain Jesus, if David deems it necessary? Jesus has already experienced physical restraint by Gabe. I'm postive he does not want to experience it again. Another reason to Be Good :(
Jesus and Poppy: [Arrive at their first class together]
Jesus: Okay. Are you ready for this?
Poppy: As long as I get to sit in the back with you.
Jesus: Yeah, just...
Both: [Stop to remove their backpacks]
Tonia: I have to say how much I love the fact that Jesus and Poppy are both having their first day together. While circumstances are different for each of them, it's such a relief that neither has to feel like the only one.
And I love that Poppy tells him she'll only be ready for class if she gets to sit with him. It shows her level of comfort around him and security with him. She has never been afraid of him. He's always been a friend.
Tara: I enjoy them together.
Older Man Standing Off To The Side: Jesus. David. Nice to meet you. Got us a couple of seats right up front here.
[IT'S PARTICULARLY HARD TO HEAR AND FOCUS ON DAVID AS MORE AND MORE KIDS ARRIVE. AMBIENT SOUNDS REMAIN INTRUSIVE.]
Tara: I do love the lengths the show has gone to in order to have the audience experience what Jesus is experiencing. A constant onslaught.
Jesus: Uh... Do we have to?
David: I mean, we wanna be focused, don't we?
Jesus: Uh... Yeah...that's...great... [Forces a smile but is clearly not excited about sitting up front beside his aide, instead of in back with a friend]
Jesus: [To Poppy] I'll see you after class.
Poppy: [Sighs, disappointed]
Tonia: Yeah, Jesus... Remember when you asked if a paraprofessional was "like a babysitter?" Here's your answer. Exactly like a babysitter. :/
Tara: Jesus is playing along here, but David is already cramping his style.
JESUS AND DAVID - ENGLISH CLASS
English Teacher, Timothy: What are some of the similarities you see in the Tales of Winesburg's residents? Yes?
Tara: ^I see what you did there, show.
Timothy: Good. And what's the primary cause of that loneliness?
Student: No one talks to each other.
David: [To Jesus] You gonna write that down?
Jesus: [Clicks his pen. Looks absolutely overwhelmed, breathing heavily] Uh, no, uh, I mean, I will... [Starts writing 'loneliness']
Tara: We see that along with appearing overwhelmed, Jesus is struggling to communicate.
David asks, "You gonna write that down?"
Jesus, contending with all the extra noise, talking, light and movement in the room, at first responds: "No."
My bet is that Jesus anticipated the question "Did you write that down?"
He also could have actually misheard the question amidst the noise.
He could have panicked and randomly chosen "No," assuming he had a 50/50 shot at answering David correctly.
We see that with an extra second of processing time, Jesus is able to modify his answer. He corrects himself: "I mean, I will."
Looking at this through the lens of typical teenage behavior, it would be easy to assume that Jesus is being intentionally defiant. Due to further stereotypes because he is an ethnic minority as well, Jesus will be given even less of the benefit of the doubt. When speaking with someone with aphasia, try not to jump to conclusions. (David did not in this case, but it is still early.)
Timothy: Which begs the question--
David: [correcting Jesus's spelling or perhaps prompting him to continue to write. Impatient.] I-N.
Tara: Ugh, there's so much going on, and multitasking is so not Jesus's strong point right now.
#1. If David is correcting Jesus's spelling, that's unnecessary as they are his own personal notes. Spelling issues can be another facet to aphasia. (Upon returning to school, I found myself stumbling over how to spell small words like a, at, it, and, the.)
#2. If David is attempting to prompt him to continue to write, that might be more appropriate. I do wish it could have been done in a more understanding way.
Timothy: --Are they trapped by the town?
Tara: Remember that all of this input is vying for Jesus's attention all the time. I used a rock concert metaphor in one of my very first reviews of this show, and it seems apt now.
Jesus: I--I got it.
David: You DON'T got it, 'cause you're not writing down what he's saying...
Jesus: I can't hear what he's saying because you keep talking to me.
Tara: David, that is not productive. You're just giving him one more thing (your voice) to work at filtering out, so that he can concentrate enough to write a word that was said 5 minutes ago.
[Bell rings, Jesus is startled]
Timothy: Okay, so for tomorrow, I want you to read the next three stories.
David: You can use my notes, but you need to focus.
Tara: [shouts from the rooftop] IT'S NOT ABOUT FOCUSING. (Okay, so as Jesus has ADHD, it might be. Assuming the ADHD meds are working, though?) IT'S NOT ABOUT FOCUSING. IT IS ABOUT COGNITIVE AND SENSORY OVERLOAD. AND UNLESS DAVID WANTS TO START ADDRESSING THOSE THINGS, I DON'T WANT TO HEAR HIM SPEAK TO JESUS ABOUT FOCUSING EVER AGAIN.
Timothy: Have a good day, everyone. Jesus. Good to have you back. Look, um, don't worry about reading three stories tonight. Just try and get through one.
Tara: Being on the receiving end of these types of accommodations can feel like taking advantage or getting off easy. However, these accommodations are in place because Jesus was deemed to need them.
Poppy: [Comes up next to Jesus, smiles]
Random Kid: Less homework and some guy who takes notes for you? Wish someone hit ME in the head...
Tonia: Having an aide is so alienating. Mine did not come to class with me, but she managed to alienate me plenty in moments between classes when she hovered over me, with her arms spread wide, and screaming at unsuspecting kids who got to close to me to: "Watch out!" and "Don't walk by her!"
Poppy: [Looks shocked. Hurt. Checks on Jesus.]
Jesus: [The kid's words definitely hit him, but he shakes his head, offering a smile Poppy's way to show her he's okay.]
Tonia: Mama's words about a positive attitude must be ringing in Jesus's head right about now...
Tara: When I went back to school following my brain injury, the only class I attended at first was choir. It was not academic. It did not require a ton of movement - standing up and singing was as complex as it got. However, I quickly realized that the class was not as carefree for me as it once had been.
While I was able to (sort of) sing while sitting down, reading the words to a song while singing them took work. My brain was "running" to keep up cognitively, doing two tasks at once. As a result, I sang much softer than usual and had to drop out and find places to jump back into the song if multitasking became too much.
Sitting was fine for casual rehearsal, but more often, the class stood to sing. Adding this task made it impossible for me to actually sing. (My balance was affected not only by my brain injury, but also by CP.) All of my cognitive energy was expended by remaining upright. I had nothing left.
This devastated me, so I went through a period of not singing. A friend noticed this. She was on vocal restriction because of a medical issue. She told me in no uncertain terms that it was not okay that I was not singing, when physically I could. When she would have given anything to sing. This caused me to feel even more ashamed.
I began to lip sync while standing to rehearse. This sort of worked - although it defeats the purpose of taking a choir class. Until one day, there was a choir concert. The stage lights were blinding. There was a slight breeze blowing from an open door. Hard flooring instead of carpeted. The acoustics were better, so everything was louder. I found I was unable to expend the same amount of cognitive energy lip syncing and standing. I wound up clinging ungracefully to the girl to my left, until we found a way to unobtrusively leave the stage. I spent the rest of the performances that year singing from a chair, while the rest of my classmates stood around me.
I tell this story because I want you to realize that the last thing we want is to stick out - whether by having an aide or less homework, or sitting instead of standing. The fact is, these things are things we need to function. And by shaming us or calling us out for needing them? You're pushing us toward potentially acting in an unsafe manner just to fit in.
GRACE, BRANDON AND SUSAN - WALKING INTO GRACE'S APARTMENT
Grace: Feels good to be back.
Susan: Home again. Home again. And I got you a surprise.
Tonia: It's covered with germs! And Grace has no mask and no T-cells... Oh gosh.
Tara: I'm going to have to pretend that she has an invisible mask on and is taking all sorts of off-screen precautions...
Grace: You bought me a new TV...
Susan: And cable!
Grace: Wow... [Laughs nervously] Um... Are you STAYING here?
Susan: Well, I can't afford to stay in a hotel indefinintely and you need someone with you 24/7. So... [Her phone chimes] Ah! The delivery guy is here! You know, at first I just thought I'd get a blowup mattress, but I thought that'd be too much work, so I just got a pullout couch.
Grace: [Forcing cheer] Okay.
Susan: [Steps out]
Tonia: Wow, Susan... Presumptuous much? Seriously. If you had the barest modicum of respect for your daughter, the least you would have done is ask her before you moved in with her.
Tara: Susan would presumably never impose on anyone else in this way without even asking. Just saying.
Grace: [To Brandon] Did you know anything about this?
Tonia: Valid question, as you and her mom kept quite a huge piece of information from her, Brandon. Grace is making sure you guys haven't planned this behind her back again. Takes a long time to get that trust back after it's broken. (It's only been broken with Grace this one time. So just imagine how Jesus feels, being lied to for months on end...)
Grace: When are we ever gonna be alone?
Brandon: Well, I mean, we can still go out.
Grace: [Whispering] For SEX?
Tonia: Notice that Grace has chosen a private moment, with just her and Brandon to discuss this, and she does so in low tones. She does not expect to be overheard.
Susan: [Walks back in]
Susan: Sex is out of the question.
Delivery Man: [Just behind Susan the whole time] So? Where do you want the couch?
Tonia: This scene will be played out for comic timing but there is so much truth in it.
Tara: Your daughter's an adult, Susan.
Grace: Mom, you've got to be kidding me.
Delivery Man: [Unpacking boxes between Susan and Grace]
Susan: No, Grace, I am not kidding you. In your condition, sex is VERY RISKY.
Delivery Man: [Stands up slowly, like "What did I just walk into?" A second delivery man is visible in the doorway behind Susan.]
Tonia: While other nondisabled / physically healthy people are afforded privacy to talk about such private matters, Susan has no qualms about reprimanding Grace (her 19 year old daughter) about having sex in "her condition" in public. In front of two strange men. Instead of stepping away with Grace to have this conversation in private.
So often, we are forced to forfeit even the dignity of privacy.
Grace: Mom! It's not up to you! I can decide whether it's risky or not. Brandon is a very considerate lover.
Brandon: ...Oh, God.
Grace: And we're gonna continue to have sex whether you like it or not.
Brandon: [Flashes Susan a small fear smile and nods at Grace's words.]
Tonia: I continue to love, though, how Grace insists that her life is her own, and that, as an adult (and as a human being with basic human rights) she is going to live it as she sees fit.
(Also, I appreciate Brandon's small show of solidarity with Grace. His nod at her words, as he continues to literally stand by Grace, communicates to the audience - and to Grace - that he respects her.)
Tara: In case there was any question, I still love Grace with all my heart.
JESUS, POPPY, MARIANA AND EMMA - EATING LUNCH OUTSIDE SCHOOL
[ALL OF THEM ARE FOCUSED ON DAVID, WHO IS SITTING NEARBY, AT THE NEXT TABLE OVER, WITH A SANDWICH AND A YELLOW LEGAL PAD]
Poppy: Wait...so, does he like, go to the bathroom with you?
Tara: Disabled people viewed as public property. Disabled people expected to disclose private information. This is icky. Don't do it, please.
Jesus: [With his head down on the table, exhausted, but totally annoyed by David. Sarcastically] Yeah, only when he needs to change my diaper...
Tara: Having the aide makes Jesus feel infantilized.
Tonia: The worst part about having an aide was the way I was constantly controlled...
When I'd go to lunch, mine would help me carry my lunch tray...and then insist that I sit at the end of the table closest to the door, with the few other variously disabled students. At least half of this long table was empty. Kids who did sit at it sat as far from us as possible.
We were grouped together because it was convenient for our own paraprofessionals and did not have the chance to socialize with our own friends during this time, as all the other kids did.
The aides wielded so much control over us, but did not say a word when an older kid walked by and spit an entire mouthful of food on me...
[A STUDENT STANDS UP ON A TABLE BEHIND THEM AND STARTS SPEAKING INTO A BULLHORN ABOUT THE UPCOMING VOTE TO MAKE ANCHOR BEACH A PRIVATE SCHOOL OR KEEP IT A CHARTER SCHOOL]
Jesus: [Head still down on the table; pulls his hoodie over his head in a futile attempt to block the sensory overload.]
Tara: There is literally never a quiet moment at school, and we see the price Jesus is paying even now, when most kids are able to decompress.
This is why I would come home and take 4 hour naps. It is indescribably exhausting.
Mariana: [Steps up onto the table to contest the other kid - and right into Jesus's basket of fries]
Jesus: [Glares silently up at her, but after Mariana is done speaking, Jesus extends a hand, and helps her get down off the table safely.]
Tara: Mariana has been showing precious little regard for Jesus lately. It's been disheartening to see.
JESUS, LENA AND STEF - KITCHEN - AFTER SCHOOL
Jesus: [Walks in. Takes off his backpack]
Stef: [In a babying voice] Hey, bud! How was it?
Tara: Really, Stef?
Lena: Hey! What did you think of David?
Jesus: Um, he's fine. [Grabs an apple. Starts to eat it, braced on the counter.] He's kinda annoying, though...
Tara: Here, Jesus actually seems at ease. A rare sight - the first time all day at least.
Lena: [Scolding] Well, he's there to help you. You've gotta have some patience with him.
Tara: Could you attempt not to manage him for like 5 seconds, please, Lena?
Jesus: [Incredulous] Isn't it his job to be patient with me?
Tara: Whoop, there it is.
Lena: [Warning] I'm sure he is.
Tara: She can give David the benefit of the doubt even over her own kid's firsthand experience of David. She dismisses Jesus. Again.
Lena: Give him a chance. So, any outbursts? Any problems I should know about?
Tara: Like he wants to tell you anything right now, Lena. You give this aide more of a chance than you give Jesus. You've reduced him to problems and outbursts. :(
Jesus: [Stands up, streching his neck. He's super tense.] No. It's fine.
Tara: At this point, Lena is happy to accept an obvious lie that everything is fine, instead of the complicated truth. The lack of actual concern and care increases Jesus's feelings of unworthiness and will certainly deepen his depression.
Tonia: My aide was eventually calling my mom about everything I did and reporting back to her.
Having discovered a passion for writing early that year, I brought the story I was working on to school and added to it during class sometimes. My aide told my mom I was doing this, even after I'd stopped.
I wrote notes to Tara (the 90's equivalent of texting). My aide somehow found out and called my mom. Every kid wrote notes. Every kid brought their hobby to school from time to time in sixth grade. But I was singled out.
The last interaction I remember with her was not an interaction so much as it was us passing each other outside of school. I saw her coming, and whispered to a friend, unimpressed, "There she is..." That night, Mom came in and sat on my bed, telling me seriously that my aide had called her to tell her that I had walked by her and whispered, "There she is," to my friend.
I broke down in tears. It felt like I was constantly being spied on.
Needless to say, Lena's reaction to Jesus here? Feels super true.
Lena: [To Stef] So, I was looking online, and I found this support group for people with TBIs. So I thought that might be something we could do for Jesus.
Tonia: Definitely preferable to shock therapy, Lena.
Stef: [Distracted] Yup. Yup.
BRANDON - HIS ROOM
[HIS LAPTOP SCREEN READS: Can you have sex with someone who has Leukemia?]
Stef: [Glances briefly at the screen from the doorway. Knocks.]
Brandon: [Shuts the laptop] Hey.
Stef: Hey. Grace happy to be home?
Brandon: Uh...yeah...I think she'd be happier if her mom didn't move in with her.
Stef: Ugh. Overbearing parents are the worst.
Both: [Laugh sarcastically]
Stef: [Sits down on the bed with him] Mama and I just want to tell you that we're very proud of you. The way that you're supporting Grace.
Stef: No but. AND we wanna make sure that you are supporting yourself. Okay? You really need to start making a plan for next year.
Brandon: I'm not going to college, Mom. I wanna spend as much time as I can with Grace.
Stef: I hear ya, B. I do. But you're eighteen. And this is a lot.
Brandon: I mean, it's a lot for GRACE to deal with. I'm not the sick one here.
Tonia: Thank you, Brandon!
Tara: That's right!
Stef: B, taking care of someone with cancer is incredibly stressful. And it's not always easy to navigate. Just ask Mama.
Tonia: They manage to squeeze in a conversation about the hardships of being a caregiver. But to make it extra hard to debate? It comes from Stef...who's had cancer herself...
Tara: Yes, so ultimately, she is referring to herself as a stressful hardship. Which does not exactly ring true. I think this is one thing the show missed the mark on a little bit.
Stef: When I had my cancer scare, I um... You know.... Wasn't exactly feeling very...sexual...
Brandon: ...You know it's not nice to read over other people's shoulders.
Tonia: As uncomfortable as Brandon is in this conversation, note that Stef came to him in his bedroom to bring it up, just the two of them. (Discussing Grace behind her back) and still, the nondisabled boyfriend gets more consideration than the girlfriend who is sick.
MARIANA AND EMMA - MARIANA'S ROOM
Emma: Has he texted you again? Nick?
Mariana: I texted HIM.
Emma: Mariana, seriously!
Mariana: Just to find out if he really knows something that can actually save the school. Of course, he said he couldn't tell me over the phone, so he'd have to see me in person.
Emma: Oh, come ON.
Mariana: Don't worry. I'm not ever gonna text him again. I was just stressed about Anchor Beach.
Tonia: Oh gosh, Mariana. Please don't ever text him again. I'm so scared for you.
JESUS AND POPPY - UPSTAIRS HALLWAY
Jesus: How was your first day of school?
Tonia: I love that we get to see Jesus checking in with Poppy! (Hope someone checks in with him about how school went...)
Tara: Yes, this was sweet.
Poppy: Well...the only people who talk to me...live in this house.
Tonia: I noticed that Poppy has a very deliberate pace to her speech that isn't condescending or rude. She naturally pauses every few words, which has to be a relief to Jesus, who has dealt all day long with too much happening too fast and too loud.
Jesus: Emma talks to you, doesn't she?
Poppy: Well, yeah, 'cause she's dating someone...who lives in this house.
Jesus: [Nods, understanding. Teases gently] Well, yeah, well, if you wanna make more friends, I'd avoid wearing the...YETI...sweater?
[CLOSE UP ON POPPY'S LONG SLEEVED BROWN MR. ROGER'S STYLE MAN SWEATER]
Poppy: [Touches the sleeve softly. Looks up at Jesus, regretful. Knows he doesn't know the significance and that if he did he wouldn't tease her.] Yeah, it's... It's actually my dad's...
Jesus: [Realization hits]
Poppy: Yeah...I found it at the house today...and it still smells like him? [Getting choked up]
Jesus: I'm sorry. I--I--I didn't...
Poppy: No, no, no, it's-- It's okay. [Nods, sure.]
Jesus: [Walks forward. Embraces Poppy.]
Tonia: LOVE that we get to see Jesus in a supportive role here. I love that Poppy knows him well enough to know he would not make fun of her sweater if he knew the whole story. I love that she accepts his nonverbal support, as well as his verbal support of her.
Tara: I love that we are getting to see moments like this again.
Poppy: [Leans against Jesus] I just...I miss him so much. [Opens her eyes to see Emma in the doorway of Mariana's room, arms crossed] Hey.
Jesus: [To Emma] She's just...going through...a lot. With her sister and her parents.
Emma: I get it.
JESUS - SCHOOL HALLWAY - THE NEXT DAY
[SOUNDS ARE LOUD. LOCKER DOORS SLAMMING, KIDS TALKING, TEXTS PINGING]
[CHECKS HIS ARM FOR THE COMBINATION EMMA WROTE THERE. IT'S FADED. JESUS TRIES IT. THE LOCKER WON'T OPEN]
[THE BELL RINGS]
Jesus: [Under his breath] Crap...
Tonia: I noticed right away, Jesus's shirt has a lightning bolt on it. A universal symbol for bad luck. Also, it makes it clear to me that Jesus is feeling very much like a target today. Very vulnerable. :(
[GLANCES AROUND, OVERWHELMED. FINALLY STEPS TO THE NEXT LOCKER DOWN, HOPING MAYBE THIS ONE WILL OPEN. EMMA HAS ONLY WRITTEN THE COMBINATION ON JESUS'S ARM, NOT THE LOCKER NUMBER ITSELF.]
[TRIES THE COMBINATION HERE. IT DOESN'T OPEN. JESUS IS GETTING MORE FRANTIC. MORE OVERWHELMED. HE HITS THE LOCKER DOOR IN FRUSTRATION]
[HE TRIES THE COMBINATION AT FOUR MORE LOCKERS, BUT NONE ARE RIGHT. HE'S SO DESPERATE FOR ONE TO WORK HE RATTLES THE LOCK ON ONE, WILLING IT TO OPEN, SLAMMING HIS HAND AGAINST IT WHEN IT WILL NOT.]
Tara: Jesus's isolation was so poignant here. I still don't get why David would not accompany Jesus during passing times. Seems like this issue should have been foreseen and written into the IEP.
David: Jesus! Why aren't you in class?! What are you doing?!
Tara: Oh. David. Mr. No Help. Perhaps try speaking to Jesus as a person, instead of just assuming he is doing something wrong. Maybe then, he might begin to be able to trust you.
Jesus: Um. Nothing. [Adjusts his backpack. Shuts down his frustration. He's defeated.]
Tara: As things stand now, Jesus understanding is that his symptoms get him into trouble, so he has to deny them in order to stay under the radar. Which, to be clear, is so isolating. So depressing. So exhausting.
David: Well, you're late! Let's go!
Jesus: [Quietly] 'Kay.
Tonia: This scene reminded me of a moment in school when I was eleven.
My adaptive gym teacher had told me and another (disabled) girl that we were going to meet in a particular place that day. Since the teacher was not in any hurry, the girl and I decided to see if we could get there before the teacher. We did, and we were proud of ourselves, laughing together. We rarely got anywhere before a nondisabled adult, so this was a feat.
The adaptive gym teacher screamed at us, "Don't you ever run from me again!"
Teachers often jump to conclusions with disabled students. We are not given the benefit of the doubt. If we get to class before the teacher we are accused of "running from" them. If we are late, we are accosted with angry questions.
I relate strongly to Jesus here, because so often, it felt like no matter what I did, I couldn't win.
JESUS AND DAVID - MATH CLASS
Tara: ^Either this was a big oops, or things have changed a lot in 20 years. The one thing I was actively kept away from (for maybe a year following my injury) was math class. It was felt to be too cognitively stressful. I'm mildly horrified to see Jesus in a math class right off the bat here...
[KIDS ARE TAKING TESTS AND THEIR PENCILS SCRATCH THEIR PAPERS LOUDLY - TO THE POINT OF DISTRACTION. WHEN THEY ERASE, IT'S WORSE. IF THEY MOVE, WE WONDER WHAT ARE THEY DOING.]
[JESUS HAS COMPLETED ONE OF THE SERIOUSLY CONFUSING MATH WORD PROBLEMS ON HIS TEST. HE IS ON THE SECOND. BUT HE HAS AN ITCH TO SCRATCH AND EVERYBODY'S WRITING SO LOUDLY. HE CAN'T FOCUS ON THE QUESTION FOR MORE THAN A SECOND AT A TIME.]
[HIS RIGHT HAND, HOLDING THE PENCIL, TREMORS, SHOWING HIS NERVES. HE'S EVEN MORE WORRIED WHEN HE NOTICES KIDS AROUND HIM GETTING UP. THEY ARE FINISHED WITH THEIR TEST.]
Tara: ^Symptoms worsen with stress. If we can see the tremor, it is safe to assume that filtering is just not happening at all. That aphasia is making reading more difficult as well. That he may very well have visual disturbance or a headache...
[JESUS SENDS A DESPERATE LOOK TO DAVID FOR HELP OR ADVICE]
[DAVID SHAKES HIS HEAD NO AND WATCHES JESUS STOICALLY. THE WARNING SILENT BUT EVIDENT IN HIS CROSSED ARMS.]
Tara: What is the point of you being here, David, if you're going to be so wildly unhelpful? Just leave.
[AGAIN, JESUS TRIES TO FOCUS ON THE QUESTION IN FRONT OF HIM. SOMETHING ABOUT THE RATE OF SPEED A HELICOPTER FLIES. IN THE NEXT SECOND, A STUDENT BESIDE JESUS FINISHES, TOO, AND WE AND JESUS HAVE TO WATCH BECAUSE IT IS SO DISTRACTING.]
[THE BELL RINGS, SIGNALLING THE END OF CLASS. 45 MINUTES HAVE PASSED.]
[JESUS GLANCES UP AS THE TEACHER APPROACHES]
Math Teacher: Why don't you get that back to me by the start of class tomorrow?
Tara: Glad to see the teachers following the IEP accommodations, even if David can't seem to.
Jesus: 'Kay. S-Sorry.
Math Teacher: Hey, no worries. [Leaves]
Jesus: [Stands up]
[CLASSROOM DOOR CLOSES. JESUS AND DAVID ARE THE ONLY ONES LEFT]
David: [Impatient. Scolding. Serious.] Sit down.
David: You need to finish.
Jesus: [Squints] He literally just said that he's cool with it if I turn it in tomorrow.
David: Well, I'M not cool with it.
Jesus: It-- It's lunch. I'm hungry!
David: We can get food in a little bit. When...you're...done.
Jesus: [Looks freaked out, but sits. What choice does he have?]
Tonia: This is a blatant abuse of power.
David waits until the teacher and all the other students are out of the classroom and the door is closed to insist Jesus sit back down and finish his test, after Jesus has been given explicit permission by a teacher to take the test home and finish there.
We've heard it said several times, by various people that it might be good that David is being "hard on Jesus" because "coddling him won't help him catch up."
So, I want to take time to explain something here:
Jesus's teachers telling him to just read one story instead of three, and to take home his math test to finish there? Those are accommodations. Accommodations make it safe or possible or both for a person with a disability to accomplish things.
If you wear glasses, it would not be fair for someone in authority to demand you take them off in order to complete a task where you needed them to read. Because wearing glasses is not giving you an advantage over your classmates who don't wear them. Glasses make it possible for you to do the work. They make it safe for you, so you don't struggle to see, and get a massive headache.
While not explicitly stated in the show, Jesus having extra time, and shortened assignments is not coddling. It's part of his IEP (which he was evaluated for in an earlier episode.) He needs extra time and shortened assignments because doing homework (reading, writing, processing, filtering) all takes him more time. Having reasonable accommodations in school is Jesus's right as a student with a disability.
Needless to say, David is so far out of line here. And it's devastating to think that Jesus has struggled for 45 minutes in this loud, bright, overstimulating class (with David reading over his shoulder). By lunch yesterday? He kept laying his head down on the table. He was exhausted and he didn't have a test then.
Pushing a student with a disability past his limits does not fall under something that is "for his own good." It's abusive.
I don't want to know how long Jesus was stuck in that classroom with David, forced to finish that test. But I do hope it's addressed.
Tara: Cognitive fatigue is a real thing. It is cumulative. So, if Jesus was exhausted by lunch yesterday? Without a day off to recuperate, he will be even more exhausted by lunch today.
Math is...a special kind of torture for those with brain injuries. In this case, you have a word problem. You have to decode that to figure out what it is asking. (Bonus points if you have aphasia and/or visual disturbance to contend with as well.)
Then, you have numbers. Numbers hold value. Double-digit numbers (like 23) hold a different value than 2 or 3 by themselves.
Then, maybe, let's solve for x. Bear with me now. Because now, you have a letter. So, you have to read that - decode that. And on top of that? Now, it stands for a number. It's not just x anymore. So, let's try to hold both x and the fact that it stands for a number in our heads at the same time.
And lets add some mathematical symbols in there too. And you know what symbols mean - they stand for something else too. + means "to add." = means "equals." So, let's hold those things in our brains as well as everything else. Simultaneously.
And then, if we can manage to hold everything in our brains? We also have to figure out how to apply it all to figure out the right answer.
This is not even counting the fatigue. The tremor. The difficulty filtering. The angry man who is essentially holding you hostage in a classroom, abusing you because he thinks you're slacking and not trying hard enough.
GRACE - IN BED
[SHE LOOKS TO BE ASLEEP. THEN IT'S OBVIOUS SHE'S WIDE AWAKE. SOON WE KNOW WHY]
[BRANDON POPS OUT FROM UNDER THE SHEETS. HE'S CLEARLY BEEN PERFORMING ORAL SEX ON GRACE]
Grace: [Whispers] I want you.
Brandon: But what if your mom gets back?
Grace: I told you, she's gone for a while.
Brandon: Yeah, but how long?
Grace: Long enough.
Brandon: [Kisses her. Disappears back under the sheets]
Grace: Okay, not that long, Romeo. Let's just-- Let's just get to it.
Brandon: [Doesn't move]
Grace: You okay?
Brandon: Yeah, I just... I--I--I realized that I, uh, I have to get to work soon...so...
Grace: [Recognizes Brandon's excuse. Gets up. She's not happy.]
Grace: [Peeved] Nothing! You don't want to have sex. We won't have sex.
Brandon: I don't NOT wanna have sex...
Grace: Just admit it: You're not attracted to me anymore, now that you know I'm sick. [Walks to the bathroom. Shuts the door.]
Tonia: Really, though? What else is Grace supposed to think at this point?
Brandon: [Outside the bathroom door] Grace, come on. How could I not be attracted to you?
Grace: Uh, maybe because you don't wanna have sex all of a sudden???
Brandon: [Uptight and frustrated. Whispering] We were just having sex!
Grace: [Comes out of the bathroom. Walks by him.] That was not sex, and you know it.
Brandon: Okay. I--I just... I don't wanna hurt you.
Grace: [Annoyed] Don't flatter yourself.
Tonia: Ha! I love Grace so much!
Tara: She is perfect.
Brandon: I--I'm not! I read something that said it can be an issue...with bleeding...
Grace: I'm not some fragile thing that you're going to break, Brandon! This is exactly why I didn't want you to know I was sick!
Brandon: Yes, but you ARE sick, and I DO know and if there's something we should or shouldn't be doing--
Grace: [Deliberately] Then I will tell you. I'm not gonna DO anything that doesn't feel good.
Tonia: Yes! Tell him, Grace!
Tara: Thank you!
Grace: Okay. Now let's do this thing before my mom gets home. [Walks on her knees on the bed over to Brandon. Smiles]
Brandon: [Smiles back. Joins her on the bed. They're both on their knees, kissing]
Tonia: I love this! Way to work through it, guys!
JESUS, LENA AND STEF - TBI SURVIVOR SUPPORT GROUP - THAT NIGHT
TBI Survivor, Madison: I had this, like, blow-up with a friend over, like, nothing. We were playing a board game, and I totally lost it.
Jesus: [to Lena] This is pointless. Can we get out of here?
Tonia: This gutted me. Of course, Jesus would think listening to Madison is pointless. No one listens to him.
Tara: He is so uncomfortable hearing Madison give voice to his experiences.
Lena: Please, just give it a chance.
Madison: I tried to explain that it wasn't me. That I sometimes literally can't control my emotions. But people - and even my own family, who spent all those days in the hospital with me - they still don't get it.
Jesus: [Sits back. What Madison's saying is hitting him.]
Madison: Because I look fine, they think I should be like I used to be. They don't understand...
Tara: ^Exactly. A million times in a million ways.
Jesus: [Looks at Lena; hurt]
Madison: ...because the disability you have is invisible.
Tara: But just because it is invisible does not mean that it does not exist.
Stef: [Listens. Takes this in.]
Madison: So, they think you're either being defiant, or not trying, or faking it to get off easy.
Tara: ^This is all so right on. I can hardly believe it.
Jesus: [Listening. Getting emotional]
Madison: They end up talking about you behind your back. Not sharing stuff with you, 'cause they think that you can't handle it.
Jesus: [Listening, but it's getting harder for him]
Madison: ...makes you feel even more alone and isolated.
Jesus: [Swallows. Tries to keep it together]
Madison: But I don't want to tell anyone when I don't understand things. Or when I forget where I parked my car. Which happens a lot.
Tara: You don't want to bring attention to it. Because of what people already think. Because of the conclusions they jump to. Because, so rarely, do they actually understand...
Other Survivors: [Laugh gently]
Madison: Sometimes I just wish I could fade away, because it's easier to be alone than to constantly be misunderstood....
Tara: Ugh. This got me right there. That depression, that feeling of being subhuman...
Jesus: [Close up on Jesus, struggling to keep composure]
Madison: ...by people I love the most.
Lena: [Sees Jesus upset] Honey...
Jesus: [Bolts from the chair. Rushes out of the room.]
Tara: Of course, he has to leave. He is having a feeling. He can't assume that Moms will understand.
Tonia: I notice that Stef and Lena seem like the only parents there. I think it's beyond important that they stayed with him. That they listened and learned from someone else who has a TBI and was in a place where she was respected and felt safe sharing. So that Moms could take in that there are other people out there, like Jesus. He is not the only one.
I think that, in combination with seeing his upset really drove home how devastated and depressed Jesus is right now.
JESUS - OUTSIDE - MOMS COME TO JOIN HIM
Lena: That's what we're doing to you, isn't it?
Tonia: This part stuck out to me the very most. I appreciated so, so much that Lena listened to Madison inside, and then phrased her concern as a question for Jesus to answer yes or no to.
It would have been so easy for this scene to turn into Moms asking Jesus for information he could not give, due to how stress impacts aphasia, making it harder for him to find the words he wants to say. Asking him to educate them. Lay it all out for them. All the things they need to know.
But instead, Lena accommodated Jesus for the first time since his injury. She recognized his upset and asked him a yes or no question. And then? She accepted his nod in response as a valid answer. She did not insist on a verbal answer.
Tara: Yes, there is no monologue this time. Lena wants to take in his response.
Jesus: [Nods. Forces a smile through tears.] I know you guys don't mean to, but...
Tara: ^Disabled person smiling to put the nondisabled person at ease. To make his tears more easy to digest - to soften his upset. In combination with "I know you guys don't mean to." Not meaning to doesn't make it hurt any less, though.
Stef: Love, you don't have to say that, okay? We've been, uh...
Lena: We've been doing this wrong. And I'm so sorry. We really thought that we were just helping you.
Jesus: I know it's just...every time you guys try to help me it makes me feel like I--I CAN'T do it. Or like I'm bad. Or broken, or something.
Tara: I loved that this part was included - how ableism makes us feel. <3
Lena: [tearfully] Honey, you're not broken. You're not. And I promise you that we're gonna stop making you feel that way.
Jesus: [Exhales, relieved. Jesus ducks his head.
Stef and Lena: [Hug him. Stef rests her cheek against his back.]
Tara: Lena's words. She apologizes. (I have never heard any parent on TV or otherwise apologize for ableism. People being able to see Lena do so will give others a template. To begin to see their disabled sons and daughters as fellow human beings instead of "others." This scene will literally save lives, and I hope that other shows can follow The Fosters' lead.)
It has been days since this scene aired, and I remain vaguely happy but mostly in a shocked state of disbelief. When you go almost 4 decades without accurate representation, to have it suddenly is jarring. And beautiful.
Tonia: This scene (and the one before it, with Madison speaking to the support group) was the first time I have ever seen myself represented in the media in a way that felt wholly accurate and respectful.
(Seriously? Is this what other people feel like all the time?)
This scene was so needed. And I hope we see more of Moms connecting with Jesus in the future. (On the agenda for conversation topics? David the Terrible Aide and Making Sure Jesus Knows You Will Not Institutionalize Him.)
MARIANA AND LENA - KITCHEN - DISCUSSING THE FUTURE OF ANCHOR BEACH
Mariana: So, we lost?
Lena: Mariana, I'm really sorry, sweetheart. I know how hard you fought. But unless some board members change their mind before tomorrow...
MARIANA - HER ROOM - TEXTING NICK
Text Reads: Okay, I'll come see you. But it has to be first thing in the morning.
Nick Texts Back: My dad leaves at 8:00.
Mariana: [Holds the phone to her chest. We can see she's thinking. Nervous.]
Tonia: Oh, no, Mariana.... Nick is so awful. Don't let yourself be manipulated, love!
DOORBELL RINGS - THE NEXT MORNING - CLOSE UP ON A DOOR
[DOOR OPENS AND WE SEE NICK. THE SMALL SMILE ON HIS FACE FALLS INSTANTLY AWAY. IN A MOMENT WE SEE WHY.]
Lena: I understand you have some information for me that can save Anchor Beach.
Tonia: Yes! Oh gosh! This ending was everything! And I am so proud of Mariana for involving Mama in this and not going to see Nick herself!
Bear with me, I'm going back to Jesus for a second:
While conversations need to be had, (apologies to be made, respecting and affirming and loving and taking it on the chin when Jesus tells Moms that a thing they did hurt him...and it is on them to listen as much as he needs to talk about it...) this episode was groundbreaking.
When parents are shown apologizing to their disabled kids, it gives parents something to refer to. Media impacts the way people relate to those they might not understand or have much contact with. Showing this kind of accurate representation of disability can change attitudes about us and literally make the world safer for us to be in.
See you next week.
For more: Disability on The Fosters