No Apologies

Recognizing the complexity of the dysfunctional people we have been forced to love and hate simultaneously is not an apology.  It is simply a recognition that those who endure pain are victims… even if they were unable to shoulder that pain themselves and inflicted it on others, including ourselves.

I do not doubt that there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Eminem and his music.  The criticisms in this link do not represent any of them though.  Eminem was not apologizing to his mother.   He was recognizing that his mother did the best she could to raise him.  Unfortunately she came up short.  He has had and I am sure he does still have, real anger because of that.  That being said, it is natural to recognize the fragility of those who have victimized us if we reflect on it long enough.  I do not think anyone harms others, especially children, out of a position of strength.

Eminem’s song, headlights is very powerful to me.  I can relate to it.  It brings back memories of my mom, aunts and grandma.  It very poetically represents a similar arch in my views of them all.

In the past, I have had much more vitriol towards many of them.  I do not apologize for that for one moment.  I also do not believe that they are fully capable of healing and becoming healthy individuals.  For that reason, I choose to stay away from them.  I will never have a relationship with my mom.  A divorce occurred, and it was a permanent one.

That being said, I do not feel the need to direct hatred or animosity towards her anymore.  I wish her the best.  I hope she gets the love that she deserves, even if it will not ever be from me.

The link itself refers to Eminem “apologizing” to his mother.  Idiot comments from the public said things to the effect that Eminem has cashed out on wrongfully bashing his mother and only now feels bad.

What shallowness.  Eminem as an artist is simply reflecting on a different aspect of his relationship with his mother.  It is certainly not the exact same as mine, but it is still something I relate to.

When I read the reckless comments, I think back to the people who judged me for not talking to my mom.  It was usually because they had loving mothers, and could not imagine that I was a victim of a mother who did not know how to love, as opposed to a victimizer myself.

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The Other As Migraine

My entire brain feels like a clenched muscle that cannot relax. When this happens, my only instinct is to be alone, to hide. Unfortunately, this feeling only comes over me when I am around other people. I like people and interacting, but I can become overstimulated easily. When this happens, and I see other people talking and laughing, I become jealous and hurt. They are all laughing and enjoying each other. At the same time, my primary fear is that if they see me, they will want to include me.

Today, when I ordered my lunch, I saw people I know and like. They are amazing people. I simply could not fathom the idea of having to spend my break with them though. It makes me feel horrible about myself. Instead of eating with them, I left the cafeteria and ate my garden burger and french fries, alone, outside in the rain, behind a column. The column partially protected me from the rain. More importantly, it meant that if someone I knew walked by, they would not see me.

I scarfed down my food, then walked hurriedly through the rain back to the library, to relative safety. Then I had to go back to work, in the tutoring center inside of the library. As soon as I walked in, people who like me, and who I like, started talking to me. “Why are they trying to hurt me?” is the though that appeared in my head. I laughed when I countered and told myself that they are actually just trying to be friendly. I understood the absurdity of thinking they were trying to hurt me, just because they wanted to know about my Spring Break. It is not a thought I could shake though.

When I successfully isolate myself from people, I become lonely and sad. I feel rejected by those I love. I wonder why I cannot build the meaningful connections with others that I want so badly. Yet, I want them on my terms. I want to talk one on one with people. When I see someone I like, I want that person to myself. Is it because I am possessive or irrational? Maybe. I suppose the answer to that rests on whether or not you think the excruciating pain which comes over me and the manic desire to find a quiet place when I am in crowds of people suffices as an adequate explanation or not.

 

Tonight when I got home, I pulled into my parking stall and my neighbor pulled into his only a few seconds after. I had already begun opening the door when he pulled in. I was scared that if I was not able to get to my apartment fast enough, he would start talking to me when he got out of his truck first.

So I decided I should wait him out. I closed the door and stared at my phone, so that he could not trick me into making eye contact. It occurred to me that he might try opening my door to talk to me – since we do not know each other at all, I now doubt that there would be any likelihood of this actually happening – so I locked the doors.

After several minutes I was still in the car and so was he. I began to identify with my neighbor. I could not think of any other reason why he would be in his car other than that he was also trying to avoid conversation. I was thinking about how much he was trying to avoid the guy in the white pontiac with the Obama sticker. That guy looks like a talker, better to just stay in the truck until he leaves.

I laughed. We were having a battle of introverts. Finally, I found someone who could spend time with me on my own terms.

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Off With Them

Off with them!  One of the French revolutionaries said that the kings of Europe in alliance were trying to destroy the French Revolution.  The revolutionaries response?  In defiance they threw the head of the French king at their feet.  If you want to strike terror into the hearts of humankind, cut something off.  Ironically, real compassion towards our cats and dogs begins with the exact same thing.  I cannot think of an easier solution to a real crisis in our society – unwanted cats and dogs – than cutting their balls off. Alright, to be more exact, spaying and neutering.  Females of course do not have balls, but they would still benefit from being spayed. Responsible pet owners have known this for a while.  However, there are many strays that roam our streets, not belonging to anyone, and reproducing rapidly.  Who is going to take responsibility for these animals?

I am the proud owner of four cats.  Given how many strays there are in my apartment complex, I could be owning a lot more. Unfortunately, owning multiple cats in a small apartment is not easy or inexpensive.  I like the idea of leaving food and water out for the strays, but there is a perplexing moral dilemma: am I simply giving them the energy needed to reproduce more animals which will need more food?  One of the first professional economists mentioned that population grows faster than resources.  This is especially true with cats.  I might not just be fighting a losing battle, I might be outright aiding the other side.

I never thought I could have these strays altered.  Whenever I schedule an appointment with the veterinarian to have an animal fixed, I need to have her or his vaccination history and make sure she or he is not sick.  A feral cat is very fearful of humans usually.  Capturing the cat would be traumatizing enough, but housing the cat and taking it to the veterinarian at least a couple times to get the required immunizations and booster shots would be impossible. The very requirement to make an appointment for the animal is a roadblock.  I can easily make appointments for my pets, but for a stray animal which I have not caught yet?  How do I know on which day and time I will be able to capture her?  Then of course there is the cost.  The surgery along with associated costs is easily going to approach two hundred dollars (and it can be much more than this depending on where you go).  If there are say, thirteen cats in my complex, it honestly does come down to if I have the money or not – and I do not.

Thankfully in the city of Rancho Cucamonga there is a wonderful program called Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR).  TNR is the perfect solution to this crisis.  Today I am very happy to say I had one female spayed and one male neutered through the program.  The Rancho Cucamonga Animal Shelter offers this service to all municipal residents.  All the resident has to do is fill out some paperwork, and give a fifty dollar deposit to get a humane trap.  Once you have the trap, you just set it up – very user friendly – and put some wet food in it.  Once you catch something and determine that you have not accidentally caught someone’s pet or a stray which is already altered, you just take it into the shelter.  There they will vaccinate, spay or neuter and microchip the cat.  Once they are done, you pick it up and release it where you found it. 

Releasing the cat might not sound like that great of an idea at first.  Certainly, it would be nice if the cat was adopted. Unfortunately, most feral cats can never be socialized enough to trust humans.  The few who can be – probably because they are abandoned and thus not truly feral or because they are still kittens – would be entering a very long line to be adopted.  Beyond this, capturing stray cats and either euthanizing them or locking them up in the shelter simply encourages the cats which have not been captured to take advantage of their now being fewer total cats to compete for finite resources by producing a kitten boom.

By releasing the cats back where we found them, we prevent this from happening.  Instead of having colonies that are reproducing rapidly, we will have a stable population of adult cats that could provide the needed competition for any cats who get the crazy idea that they are ready to become parents.

I wanted to write about this because I do not think many are familiar with this amazing program.  My personal experience with the animal shelter has been great.  The staff are all friendly and courteous.  I feel like I am a part of a team every time I walk in there.

If your city does not offer a similar program, I hope you will ask them to do so.  There is a national organization called Alley Cat Allies that may be able to help.  For more information on the Rancho Cucamonga program please visit this link: http://www.cityofrc.us/cityhall/animalcare/programs/tnr/default.asp

 

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A Boy Named Stella

I really wished that just once, one of them would grow old and die.  Granted, I was only a kid.  Granted, even as an adult, I tend to care much more about certain things than most people would consider normal.  I did not see it as so ostentatious though.  It would give me closure.  Of course, it would still be sad, but there would be no mystery.  I would have finality, I would be able to move on if I knew they were dead.

My cat Stella was my world.  Mostly, because I was his world.  I had a cat named Fat Kitty when I was young.  He was huge – as his name suggests – and gray  I inherited him from my aunt and began calling him the Notorious C.A.T.  I have never been able to control myself when it comes to animals though.  After a few years, I really wanted a second cat.  Thankfully, I have always been good at manipulation and am not even all that lazy – hard for those who know me well to believe – when I have an obtainable goal.

I might be giving myself too much credit.  I think my mom perhaps wanted the cat for herself.  Ever since her cat Melissa was killed after a hutch fell on her, she had been too afraid to officially own another cat.  I suppose she may have thought she could have a kitten vicariously through me.  Whatever the reason, she ended up giving in and dropping her objections to the new acquisition.

Other than Fat Kitty, I had had plenty of cats before.  Most of them went to the animal shelter or the bellies of coyotes.   I wanted it to be different this time.

I did some research.   Male cats tend to get along better with female cats.  So when I went to pick my kitten, I picked a beautiful little girl.   I named her Stella.  I had thought of several other names for her, but Stella was the first one I floated which my mom actually liked.  My mom was at this time still not entirely in the bag, so her preference meant a lot to me.

From the very first day we got Stella, Fat Kitty hated her. Apparently, Fat Kitty did not have to see the as yet un-descended testicles on our little baby to realize that Stella was actually a boy.  Once we realized that he was a boy, we kept the name.  I am rather opposed to changing names, for any reason.   Once Stella had his name, that was it.  In any case, I do not think Stella really cared.  It did cause a lot of confusion at the veterinarian’s office when we went to have him neutered though.

Thankfully, when he came home, it was his scrotum with stitches and not his belly.

 

Stella was your quintessential scaredy cat.  He was also quite evil.  We would constantly have to yell at my sweet Australian Shepherd, Rusty.  For some reason, this usually mild mannered canine had it out for Stella.  Yes, I realize, dogs and cats are known to be enemies.  However, Rusty got along perfectly fine with all other cats.

I could not explain Rusty’s abhorrent behavior, but I was certainly not going to tolerate it.  I got a spray bottle and just about soaked his head every single time I saw him going for poor Stella.  Then once I was done yelling at Rusty, I would pick Stella up and cuddle him.

After several months of this and having lost just about all the good will I had had for Rusty – alright, this is an exaggeration, I could never stop loving my Rusty, I was still quite pissed and disappointed though –  I noticed Stella out of the corner of my eye one afternoon.  I immediately focused on him because I knew Rusty was asleep in the same room.  I wanted to make sure my poor Stella did not accidentally wander near Rusty.

Stella was not exactly walking towards Rusty.  He was slithering, almost like a snake.  His belly was against the ground and he had a very determined look on his face.  I was too curious to stop him.  So I sat and watched.  Stella stealthily crept up to the sleeping Rusty and then viciously clawed him in the face.   Before Rusty knew what was going on, Stella was running in terror.  Rusty had an anguished look on his face when he saw me staring at him. 

My cat was evil and cute enough to frame a dog and fool me for months.

I wish I could say this was Stella’s only real evil act while on this earth.  In fact, there were many.  I will give one more example. Stella had a litter of kittens with his sister before we had him neutered – no, the example of evil I am intending to give is not incest – I kept two of the babies.  The other two went to my brother.  Not because my brother could take care of kittens… I digress, my blog about why I hate my brother will be written in the future.  One of the kittens I kept, named Merrick, was Stella’s  next great victim.  Stella never cared much for his children.  The other kitten we kept, Hillary, returned his hatred.  Poor Merrick always seemed to hope to carve out a relationship with his father though.  Merrick was incredibly sweet to Stella and trusting of him for the first several years of his life.  Of course, this just made it easier for Stella to beat the crap out of him.  Merrick’s misplaced trust was crucial since at about a year of age, Merrick was noticeably larger than Stella.

After a couple of years, Merrick finally began to learn.  Earning his father’s love was probably not in the cards.  Stella would walk over to Merrick, and Merrick would show his claws and growl.  He was not going to take his father’s abuse anymore.  So after a few weeks of this, Stella bowed his head, and began purring one night.  After a few moments of this, Merrick put away his claws. He brought them back out when Stella stuck his head out and began licking Merrick.  They were retracted for the second time soon enough.  Merrick eventually closed his eyes and began purring louder than a chorus of normal cats could.  His pleasure was obvious. Finally, Merrick had the father he wanted!

It was at the very peak of ecstasy for Merrick that Stella would always choose to claw the shit out of his idiot son.  Then Stella would run and hide.   Merrick was much too confused to chase after him like Rusty had.  This happened several times.  Sometimes, Stella would even convince me that he had really learned to love Merrick before the maiming began.

 

Stella’s hatred of Merrick and Rusty was a special sort of hatred.  Sure, he would growl at Hillary and other animals.  For the most part, he left them alone as long as they left him alone though. So why these two?  My love for Rusty and Merrick was equivalent in his mind to them trying to steal me.  Rusty and Merrick are both gregarious little animals.  I had Merrick since birth and I went out of my way to socialize him.  Both of them could make you into their best friend within moments.  Not Stella though.  You would just scare Stella.  See, the house we got Stella from was not known to care for their pets.  The cats and dogs had been free to procreate as they pleased.  They could not then expect the humans to actually care for the babies once they were born.  That changed when enough neighbors contacted animal control.  Finally, they gave into the pressure and had their male dog who always escaped the yard neutered.  They had not had him neutered because they thought neutering a male was cruel. That is what they always said.  When they realized they had no choice though, they opted for a pocket knife.  They only got one testicle the first go around.

I do not know exactly what they did to Stella before we got him, but he did not trust anyone easily.  Just about anything could scare Stella.  When he got scared he fought viciously or ran faster than any Mexican mouse.  He trusted me though and he was not about to let anyone in on his territory.

When I think about how cruel he was to Rusty and Merrick, I just think about how much that damned cat loved me.

 

I was going to spend a week at my boyfriend’s apartment while my bedroom at my aunt’s house was being renovated.  For the first couple nights, Stella was fine.  He obviously missed me, but I was there all during the day, ripping up the old hardwood in my room.  Then on the third night, my aunt called me at about 3:00am.  I had to come home, Stella was having a meltdown.

Stella had been crying at the top of his lungs all night long. He would not let my aunt pick him up and when I got home, there was poop in the hallway.  Stella had a frantic look on his face and ran to me when he saw me.  I slept on the couch that night, with a very traumatized cat.

He loved me so much.  I have had problems with sleeping for years now.  I toss and turn.  This keeps most cats and dogs off my bed.  It annoys them, they learn to sleep somewhere else.  Not Stella though. I had accidentally thrown him off the bed several times.  He would get right back up and sleep snuggled against me.  I could pick him up and put him wherever I wanted, and he would fall asleep immediately, so long as he could feel me.   This happened several times during the night.  I would grab Stella, and move him to the other side and then rollover myself.  He did not mind.

Whatever sleep I had was thanks to Stella.  I am reminded of that many nights now, when I am going back and forth between the computer and television in the middle of the night, wishing the cats I have now could just lay with me like Stella did.

 

I figured Stella had caught me in the act.  It made sense that he was under the dresser.  I should have known better than to pet Merrick in front of him.  I laughed and made a mock apology.  I then got him out from under the dresser and put him back on the bed with me.  He began purring immediately.  I knew he could not stay mad at me.

When I woke up, Stella was not with me.  I found him under the dresser again.

Stella’s heavy breathing, which made it seem like he was drowning out of water came later.  I knew something was wrong immediately though, because he would no longer sleep with me.

I remember what my mom had told me when I was little.  Cats like to go and find a place by themselves to die, when it is time.  Stella was considerate enough to find a place nearby. 

All my other cats would simply disappear after a while.  If they had gone to find a place to die or if the coyotes found them, I never really knew.  Well, I was pretty certain that Fat Kitty was killed by them.  I found his tufts of fur all over the field behind my house. I still held out hope though.  Maybe they just maimed him and I would find him injured, but alive?  Perhaps it was another cat’s fur?  He was not the only gray cat on the block.

I had always thought Stella would get really old, maybe live to be twenty, and one day I would wake up and he would have died in his sleep, snuggled up against me.  This was actually a comforting thought to me, as morbid as it might sound.  I did not look forward to Stella ever passing away.  I would often think about a trauma that was far down the line.

I did not expect this young, seemingly healthy cat to find a place so near me and so far away.

Initially, his only symptom was that he was not sleeping with me. I took my cat to the veterinarian because he was not sleeping with me.  He was diagnosed with an upper-respiratory infection.  The veterinarian prescribed him some antibiotics.  He was definitely in some pain, the doctor said.  He had not been sleeping with me because of this.  However, the medication would cure it within a couple days.

On his way out, the veterinarian said, “Well, it might be a good idea to run some x-rays, just in case.  I know they will not show anything.  I understand if you would rather not take on that added expense.”

“We might as well, he is already here,” I replied.  I was not really sure what the point of them was, but if the doctor brought them up, they were probably worth doing.

The next day the veterinarian called to let me know that Stella was dying.  Blood was filling his lungs.  This could be because he had cancer or because there was a tear in his diaphragm.  To find out, they would have to do exploratory surgery.  The exploratory surgery could very well kill him and either way, it would be a long recovery process.  He would have to spend a week at the animal hospital while recovering, at minimum.

I remember thinking that Stella must have been waiting for someone else to break the news to me.  As soon as I got that call, his breathing became labored.  Within a few days he went from sounding a bit winded to looking like he had just finished running a marathon at the speed of a sprinter.

Stella began going under the dresser with more and more vehemence.  So I would sleep on the ground, with my hand against his head.

The veterinarian’s office was eager to schedule his surgery. They seemed shocked when I told them I was declining it.  I had always paid for everything else they recommended.  I wanted to know if he had cancer or if it was a tear in his diaphragm.  I wanted to save him.  However, knowing that the surgery might kill him was quite secondary to the grueling recovery I was told he would go through afterward.  I remembered back to when I had had my room renovated. He was not able to spend more than a couple nights away from me, and that was with me spending all day with him.

Stella was terrified of everyone and everything.  Even if all went well, and he survived the exploratory surgery, it might simply reveal that there was nothing the doctor’s could do.  The doctor told me he was 30% certain that once they did the exploratory surgery they could save him.

I talked to Stella about it.  I always had conversations with him.  Not even two weeks before, I had mock apologized to him for petting Merrick.  This time around, there was nothing mocking or humorous.  I was pleading with him.  I wanted him to know why I was letting him die.  I wanted to let him know, that I would have the surgery done if I thought it was what he wanted.  I just could not convince myself that it was.

It is weird.  How much I wanted him to recover and how much I wanted him to pass peacefully at the same time.  My whole life, I had just wanted the animals I love to die peacefully and with me.  I know they have short lifespans.  At least they would not be alone, at least they would not be food for some predator.

I suppose I should have been more specific about my wishes. Aside from his gasping attempts to breathe, Stella was quite peaceful.  Though he could not sleep on the bed with me, he was not about to leave me either.

My cat was not supposed to suffocate to death as blood filled his lungs though.  I was not supposed to have to say no to diagnostic surgery.  He was supposed to fall asleep happy and contented one night and not wake up.

Stella was not always easy to care for.  He was too damned easily scared and roused to jealousy.  That is exactly what made him my baby though.  When he was scared, I could say his name.  I could just tell him to calm down and he would.  I made him feel safe when no one else could.

So I scheduled his appointment for euthanasia about a week after hearing that blood was filling his diaphragm.  Before we left I took him to the orange tree he used to like to lay under.  I told him, that this was always going to be his.

On the way to the veterianarian’s, he peed in my lap.  He was so calm doing it, for a moment I just thought I was imaging something very warm soaking into my pants.  It occurred to me, that I was no longer able to comfort him.  He was in pain and scared.  No amount of comforting can reverse the effects of blood in your lungs.  He was not going to let it show though.  My little sissy kitty was putting on a brave face. 

Later that day, when I was holding his dead body, I remember thinking that I knew what happened to Stella.  My baby did not die alone.

I remember thinking how surprised the people at the veterianarian’s sounded when I said I did not want to do the surgery. This made me feel insecure.  Maybe the right thing to do was to have gotten the surgery?  What if it went perfectly and it turned out to just be a simple tear in his diaphragm that could be easily repaired? What if he lived another eight years into old age?

I let Stella down, because I had to make guesses with his life. I had to decide when I thought he would want to die.  I wanted him to die with me when the time came.  I just thought that I would know it was his time.

I have been nervous about writing this.  When I think about him, I think about what it must be like to lose a child.  Then I imagine good people being offended that I would compare the loss of my cat to the loss of a child.

Really, I have no idea what it is like to lose a human child. You have no idea what it was like to lose Stella.  I am the only one who knew Stella and that is the greatest joy and the greatest pain that I feel when I think about him.  I love Stella so much.

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Lemons

When life hands you lemons, just set them down.  We get trapped in cycles because setting down what we were given feels like failure. The notion that we should try to make something positive out of something negative, implies that it is only negative if we are weak, if we lack creativity.

So we get trapped, repeating the same scenarios over and over again, expecting it to somehow turn out different this time.  My aunt Jennifer was chased out of her home by extended family when she was young, at the order of her father.  After her mother’s side of the family acknowledged he was crazy and encouraged all of his children to leave, Jennifer stayed.  If she was the only one willing to stand by him, he could not help but notice her.  Unfortunately, he only noticed her as a target.  His family knew he was not in his right mind.  However, they were not going to sacrifice their relationship over an unimportant daughter.  So they played along and chased her out.

That lemonade did not turn out so well.  Decades later when my grandpa wanted to see Jennifer again, she was hesitant.  She had learned her lesson.  My grandpa was a lost cause.  Jennifer had moved on and built other relationships.  The only problem was, if you all you know to do is make lemonade, you are going to search out lemons.

Jennifer was not born loving abuse.  She already failed making lemonade once, in her childhood.  If she is to rescue herself from that failure, she is not going to do it with a loving man.  Chocolate does not make good lemonade.  Neither does honey.

I remember when I was in junior high, her husband interrupted a very sweet conversation between her and I.  “You stupid cunt.  What the fuck did you do?  Damned bitch!”  Apparently, short haircuts were just not acceptable to him.

I also remember when she realized that in addition to being abusive, he was cheating on her.  She finally had had enough.  She was going to get rid of the lemons.  We were all happy in anticipation.  Then her therapist told her that in any divorce, he would be able to get alimony and joint custody of the children.  She might not even be able to keep the house.  “Him taking the children or what I have worked so hard for is not an option.”

She decided not to divorce him after all.  Instead she decided to fall in love with him again.  This could be interpreted as a sacrifice for her children.  In fact, after this, she got pregnant for a third time.  However, there was nothing forced about her new found love for him.  It seems that when she realized he had the power to take her children and house, she realized this was her chance. Maybe if she was good enough, this man would not drive her out, he would show her the love her father never did.

Sometimes I find myself tinkering with her recipe.

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The Fall

Thank you for writing this. It is absolutely beautifully told. I like how you contrast the vulnerability of the little girl you were, with the strong woman you are. You very skillfully picked specific scenes from your childhood and adulthood to illustrate the enduring legacy of your struggles and falls.

On a personal note, I am very sorry that you have had to rely on yourself for nurturance. You deserve to be able to rely on others just as much as they rely on you. I am certainly very grateful that I have had you for support.

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Back On Top

“God dammit, talk!”  Our speech therapist felt the need to resort to an unorthodox method of motivation.  Like the more traditional approaches she had tried over the last few weeks, this one failed.   Sheila remained silent.  I felt the tension emanating from our speech therapist, which Sheila seemed utterly unable to reflect.   She just smiled.  Sure, she looked melancholy, but no more than usual.

Sheila dressed as though she wanted to be credited with introducing Amish fashion to Southern California.  Her clothes were cute, long checker print blue and white dresses.  Her facial expressions were cute, sweet smiles, with pursed lips and big, tired eyes.

She did not talk though.  I joined Sheila every week for speech lessons in seventh grade because there were several words I could not pronounce correctly.  I have no idea what Sheila could or could not pronounce correctly.  I never heard her speak a word.  She was not diagnosed with any physical impediments or cognitive issues that might keep her from talking. 

I do not know much about Sheila.  I am sympathetic to my therapist’s frustration.  I am rather angry that no one hugged Sheila.  No one looked into if she was being abused.  Instead, our speech therapist just turned to me and smiled.  I thought I would be the next one to get yelled at.  Instead she talked to me about my plans for Halloween.   I smiled and relaxed, while still feeling a bit bad for Sheila.  The appointment turned out to go smoothly after the speech therapist gave up on Sheila for another week.

 

In the seventh grade, I was pretty silent myself.  I had experimented with an outsize, extroverted version of myself in the sixth grade.  It worked pretty well for a while.  I made friends, I made people laugh.  Unfortunately, I overplayed my hand.  When kids started threatening to beat me up, I retreated.  I became the quiet Patrick again.  It was safer.  I have always been more risk adverse than cool. 

I am sure if Sheila and I ever talked to each other, we could relate a lot.  She did smile at me a few times.  We shared an elective home economics class together.  The class was subdivided into different groups which all sat at their own tables.  Sheila and I were in a group with three boys.  All of them were beautiful and popular.  One of them, Ryan, had been in my sixth grade class.  He was one of the boys who had threatened to beat me up.

Jordan and Chris, the other two boys, were making fun of Sheila and I.  They were saying we were mute lovers.  Certainly, we must be boyfriend and girlfriend they laughed.  They took the pleasure of planning our dates aloud for us.  All of our dates were incredibly chaste and boring, yet this made the boys erupt with laughter.  Ryan was laughing too, but he was not contributing much.

Jordan and Chris then narrowed their focus on me.  I saw something in Ryan’s face that made me scared.  I had tried proving to him that I was cool in the sixth grade and failed.  These boys were not there to witness that humiliation.  Ryan was getting ready to talk, and I was focusing on going inside myself.  I do not know if that is the best way to describe it.  However, I do not really think there is a way to describe it to anyone who has not experienced it. I would find the tightness in my chest and focus on it and hide in it.  All I could feel is the pressure of my chest and it kept me somewhat protected from the external world. 

As I was doing this, I heard Ryan begin to speak.  “Leave him alone, he is not so bad.  At least he talks if you talk to him. Sheila never says anything no matter what.  Sheila, you are a real freak!”

I had somehow achieved a coup.  For whatever reason, Ryan had saved me.  The boys laughed in agreement and refocused on Sheila.  I had been saved.  I immediately wondered how Sheila must feel to have been declared the freakier of the two freaks.  Almost as quickly, I began to willfully dissociate myself from her.

Ryan and the speech therapist were right.  I was better.  At least I spoke when spoken to.

(This story is loosely based on real events.   My memory is foggy enough that I do not want to call it a true story however.   Names have been changed.)

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