Just Stimming…

A land we can share (a place I can map)

Archive for the ‘appearances’ Category

Dear “Autism Parents”,

with 98 comments

I want to clear a couple of things up.

1.

I don’t have autism. I am autistic. This is important to me. It also doesn’t mean that I “see myself as a disability first and a person second,” whatever that is supposed to mean. In my eyes, I’m Julia. Just Julia.

I cannot separate out which parts of me brain are wired because baby I was born this way and which parts of my brain should be marked off as AUTISM. Nor do I particularly care, to be honest. I am Julia, and a significant fraction of Julia is autism (and thus, via the transitive property, I am autism but that’s not the point). Am I a writer because I’m Julia, or because I’m autistic? My writing is good in its own right, I am told, and it’s also fundamentally shaped by my neurology–just like yours. I like Glee and Phineas and Ferb and also Sudoku. Am I allowed to have a personality and preferences, or just perseverations? Is my deeply and inconveniently round-about, pedantic, literal, and analytic way of thinking and using language a sign of a what a profoundly gifted child you were, Julia (and you know, no one ever tells the kids in the gifted programs that they see themselves as gifted first and human second, or that they should call themselves “persons who experience a label of giftedness”) or is it a symptom of some monster hiding in my neurons?

I would argue that it’s both, and that it doesn’t matter. Being autistic fundamentally shapes how I perceive and interact with the world, with a million cascading and subtle consequences. I would not be the same Julia I am now without whatever parts of my brain can be marked as AUTISTIC (and that’s bad science in the first place, the brain is a whole lot more complicated and subtle than that, we know that there isn’t one gene or one wiring variation that leads to autism). I also wouldn’t be the same Julia I am now if I hadn’t skipped eighth grade, or hadn’t spent a summer at Stanford, or hadn’t been in choir ororor…

I’m Julia, and I’m autistic, and I will apologize for, justify, qualify, neither.

2.

The dichotomy between being a person and having a disability is a false, and useless, one. It’s based in the notion that people with disabilities they can’t hide or that we can’t pretend to ignore aren’t people. In a certain, socio-linguistic, sense, that’s true. Disability is used to mean something inherently bad and wrong and scary and consuming and destructive and sick, and why would you ever want to include that in any way in your identity or personhood? I myself have said that in a perfect world, there would be no such thing as disability. But please, pay attention: it’s very, very important to look at how the same word can be used a few different ways here. In the above scenarios, where disability means bad, I’m quite literally talking about what disability means, what the word is used to signify, what attributes are assigned it, how our current modern Western society places it in context and value. But that’s not what disability inherently, objectively, physically and literally is.

When a car is disabled, it doesn’t work the way it was designed to work anymore. Human beings, though not designed and constructed in factories like cars, are similar. There is a certain range of activities and capabilities to which most of us are accustomed. When someone isn’t able to match up, they too become disabled. Difficulty walking, talking, hearing, seeing, eating? Disability. This is what disability is.

Notice, though, that when a car stops being drivable it doesn’t also stop being a car. Similarly, a human who can’t do some expected human things doesn’t stop being a human. In some contexts, a car that can’t drive is a bad car, worthless, lesser, low- or non-functioning. In others, though–art, architecture, scrap metal (remember, humans aren’t cars and these examples don’t have direct equivalents for us, please don’t try and find the scrap-metal humans), a car with an exploded wheel is valued positively. Similarly, in a world without stairs, using a wheelchair can be an advantage. In a world where everyone uses sign language, only speaking with your mouth is a disadvantage. Meaning and value and worth get assigned to people based on how useful their range of capabilities and potentials are for various activities. A person who can’t participate in the activity they are expected to is disabled. This is what disability means.

A disability is a stigmatized difference, one we haven’t found a slot for yet. I would love for that stigma, that disabling context, to go away. The raw physical difference itself though? It’s a part of me, and I’m not going to hide it, ignore it, or lie about it.

3.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not I see myself “as a person first, and a disability second.” It’s not going to keep me safe. I know exactly what the other people in the store think when they see me rock, flap, cover my ears.

On the internet, maybe, I have the luxury of expounding on the finer points of person-first versus identity-first language. In real life, in a world where our parents kill us, our classmates abuse us, and our employers are virtually non-existent? I really don’t have that luxury.

4.

As long as there are people demanding that I call myself a person with autism, as though I am just cohabiting with two different brains, one of which I should really want to discard at the soonest possible opportunity, I will call myself autistic out of sheer defiance. The autistic parts of myself are always what are going to be punished and cut away at, they are what are going to get me hurt and killed, and I will put them in the front where everyone else already sees them and fly them as a goddamn flag.

5.

I am not flattered when you say that I don’t really see you as autistic or it’s just a label.

Because what you mean is that “I don’t really see you as Bad right now,” and while I am incredibly grateful for that safety, I am also furious that autistic means Bad at all in the first place and that I feel I have anything to be grateful for in that entire situation.

It is, indeed, just a label. One without nearly the neutrality of, say, Campbell’s Chicken Soup. All your wishing in the world won’t change that, and taking away the words I have for my experience just hurts me so you can feel a little more enlightened.

For the record, I don’t really see you as much of an asshole, usually.

6.

“But my child!” you say. “My child can’t feed themselves! My child needs diapers! My child cannot be left unsupervised! My child is medically affected!”

Well, yes. Your child is disabled. So am I. I thought we were past that?

(Is Stephen Hawking low-functioning?

My child is no Stephen Hawking. Indeed. Neither am I. No offense, but neither are you.)

So often the dividing line between really disabled (my child) and high-functioningaka not really disabled(you, a self-advocate disagreeing with me) is writing a blog post or making change for a purchase or reading. I remember being told that if someone can add and read, they can live independently. Well I hate to break it to you, but I am very good at both of those things and I can’t live independently, not even close. I just don’t think that this inability makes me worth less or nothing.

I’m not disparaging the reality of complex developmental and physical disabilities. My own world must function in a parallel and yet fundamentally different and separate realm from even that of my typically developing sister. I have enough imagination, enough personal experience with my own disability, enough time spent living and working with other disabled people, and enough of an ability to hear what people who live with complex developmental and physical disabilities have to say, to know that in some sense it’s a question of scale and that the experience can be dehumanizing for everyone involved.

I’ll spare you the gory details of my life, in part because they are private and in part because I refuse to be a self-narrating zoo exhibit. Been there, done that, Temple Grandin and Donna Williams are better at it. I’ll just say this: it never ceases to amaze me how an entry posted every two or three weeks in the ether about deserving human rights somehow reveals–or, rather, erases–the every intricacy and ramification of a person’s disability in their life.

7.

If my child could write a blog post like this, I would consider him cured. Fascinating. Have you taught him how? Have you given him the time, tools, technology, and accommodations he would need to do so? Have you exposed him to the ideas this blog post runs on, or has he been sheltered and infantilized? Has he been given an accessible, for him as well as his audience, means of communication? Remember, behavior is communication, that’s Best Practice. Have multiple literacies been facilitated? Remember, everyone reads, everyone writes, everyone has something to say is the current forward-thinking in special education, especially for children with complex access needs. But you’re an advocate for your child, of course you must know that. Silly me, I apologize.

Have his attempts at self-determination and self-advocacy be respected and responded to, regardless of form, or has he been taught that passivity is better?

If he were to want to blog about his favorite cartoon, would that be okay? Or does it need to be serious, age-appropriate, legitimate-in-your-eyes business, every time, all the time–because there are no frivolous blogs anywhere on the internet, are there.

If he were to want to document and share his thoughts via, say, music or a painting or an arrangement of objects, would that be okay? Or must it be words?

Are there limits on chances for this? Is any human being ever stagnant?

Oh, and by the way, your child is still a child, right? How many children blog, do you know?

Sorry, I thought this was worth taking seriously.

8.

I am not going to make nice.

It’s a common directive. We all want the same things. How can we ever expect anyone to listen to us when we can’t disagree respectfully amongst ourselves?

I am not going to pretend that a power imbalance doesn’t exist. I am not going to pretend that when non-disabled people attempt to end a discussion with self-advocates they did not enjoy, it is with chastisements and pleas to just get along which hit about a million times harder when aimed at someone who’s been taught to have quiet hands and who’s first sentence was Iwantball PLEASE and who, when they were bullied, was sent to social skills training while their abusers were left roaming in powerful packs of friends.

(In no other minority community is this level of power-play tolerated. You are not our voices, we are not the same, we do not want the same things, and if you aren’t disabled? Then by definition you are not a member of the disability community.)

You have the power. If you do indeed, as you claim, want to be allies, then I suggest you start acting like it.

(And, because I must be nice and patient and helpful and I must educate the people telling me to shut up: for god’s sake, if being an ally, let alone a super-special parent ally, is so very hard, check out PFLAG.)

9.

This is not a “disagreement.” You know what people disagree about? Pizza toppings, ice cream flavors, what Shakespeare meant in the third stanza. Things with small consequences.

You know what happens when we “disagree” about disability?

People die. People get aborted, people get institutionalized, people get sterilized, drugged, and neglected, people go without necessary support and services, people are dehumanized, people are abused, people are silenced, ignored, and erased, people suffer emotional and mental trauma and distress with life-long consequences.

Just as “disability” has become an ugly word for a physical fact, so “disagreement” is being used, here, as a polite word for an ugly thing.

I call bullshit.

10.

I started blogging, years ago, as a therapy tool, as a way to modify journalling so it would be accessible to me. It turned, slowly, oddly, and very autistically, into a method of communication. Now it’s one of the ways I advocate for myself and my people. Mostly I think of it as a survival strategy.

On days like today?

It’s just a lifeline.

Written by Julia

August 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Disabled, Not Different

with 9 comments

For a very long time I used to think I was different.

I wasn’t disabled. God, no, I was super good at math and hey, I read the unabridged version of Les Miserables when I was 12! I skipped eighth grade! I would be perfectly fine if people would stop just poking me all the time.

I was just different, they said, and they said it was cool and maybe a little edgy and it made me special and it meant that I was just as good as everyone else. I was different, see, that’s why I didn’t think that I had toes if I couldn’t see them, that’s why I spent the whole hour-and-a-half of geometry seeing how high I could count by 15’s, that’s why I knew when everyone’s birthday was.

No big deal.

I was just different, see, and so I felt things differently from my peers, and different things happened to me, and things had different meanings. I was different, and my world was different. That was okay.

Except for the part where it wasn’t at all.

See, here’s the thing. There is an acceptable margin of difference allowed a person, and an acceptable range of ways to be different within that margin, and anyone who pushes beyond that gets pushed into the Uncanny Valley. People in the Uncanny Valley are neither wholly human nor entirely nonhuman, which means we get the human treatment sometimes, and other times we get beat up until the uncanny parts of us are sufficiently chipped off.

As an Uncanny Valley girl, I can trick people sometimes—kind of a lot, sometimes. So people got really, really mad when they went to sit next to me and I punched them for being too close, because what the hell, that is not what a human does. I was a bad person, tricking them like that.

So I got punished.

When the beating was over, when they let go of my wrist or told me I could maybe come to the next party, I was always, always offered an out. There is a list, somewhere, of the acceptable ways to be different, and they would suggest that maybe I could fit myself safely into one of those boxes, chip off the bad edges off myself on my own, and be a proper human. Give them a break, you know. Help myself out.

I would like the record to show that I tried.

I could be gifted, right? I took graduate courses in psychology at Stanford during my sixteenth summer, that should seal the deal—but none of the other students had their A’s dropped to B’s solely because they hid under their bed, wracked with panic attacks, instead of going to class.

I could be a theater nerd, surely. I loved to mimic people, I loved plays and theaters, I could sing, I stage-managed like no one else—but you had to know how to control your body on stage, and maybe more importantly, you had to participate in the massage trains in the green room, so being in theater was immediately out of the question for me.

I could be a manic-pixie-dream-girl, right? That was like the epitome of different, and I was so very, very different. I only wore skirts, and I said strange things and repeated things over and over and scratched patterns out on my skin. Surely I just needed love, friendship, someone to save me who also needed me to save them.

I discovered, though, that manic-pixie-dream-girls don’t bang their heads, and when someone touches them they know how to let themselves be touched. They see the world differently, but it’s an endearing and quirky and acceptable and unremittingly real view, not one that is confused and forgetful and blurred and above all fleeting. They use words differently, but they use the same words as everyone else and they seem to mean the same things.

People like manic-pixie-dream-girls. Some people even like nerds, and gifted students, and kids who spend their Saturdays painting sets.

People didn’t like me.

They were so nice to me, carefully working at smoothing out my edges until I fit into one or another of the acceptable differences they offered me, and I was so ungrateful and selfish and obsessive, not cooperating with any of it. Where did I get off, saying I wanted to kill myself, failing tests, waving my arms around, saying things that just no one says, looking over their shoulders instead of into their eyes? Fine. If I didn’t want their help, I wouldn’t get it. See how I liked it then.

See, sometimes being different isn’t the best thing about you. Sometimes it isn’t allowed. Sometimes, if you grab onto that label too much, it gets ripped away from you. Sometimes, if you say you are different too often, you get to hear, over and over and over and over again, how everyone is exactly like you.

So you get mad, and you take them at their word, and you start asking awkward questions. Were they nicknamed Droolia? Did they get sexually abused when they wiped the drool away on their collar one too many times? Did they get denied medical treatment for their broken wrist because they didn’t cry enough to be in real pain? Can they look at a person’s entire face at once and see it all? Do they come home from school and lie under a blanket for two hours until their head stops echoing from the hallways? Do they know how to mix 50 mg of liquid Zoloft into 8 oz of orange-pineapple juice so the taste is perfectly hidden? How many friends do they have, and do they see any of them outside of Honors English? Can they scream, or do their vocal cords paralyze at the first flash of any significant emotion? Have they ever completed an entire test in physics perfectly, except for the part where every number—every single one—written down on their work papers was different from those given on the exam?

Oh. It turns out that was just me.

I guess I really am different, then.

No shit. Get out of here.

The moment when the Uncanny Valley mask slips and people realize you really are just hideously outside the acceptable range of different is not a fun one. It stays very Not Fun. It extends past a moment and into a lifetime. The question is asked: if you’re not even allowed to fake being an acceptable human, what are you?

You’re disabled.

I’m disabled. I’m not different at all, really, I’m much, much more like you than anything else—but that’s not seen, that’s not allowed, and so I am disabled. My Autism is not a cute, acceptable, or advantageous difference. It’s a disability. I was not born configured for this world, and it fell to me to make up that difference, and there were so many places where I could not close the gap.

I am disabled, and I will never, never be content to call myself “different” again. When you are different it’s okay for you to not quite meet up with the rest of the world here and there, because most of the time, when it matters, everything syncs up. When you are disabled you don’t have that luxury. When you are disabled you have to prove, over and over again, that you are a real person—and then someone forgets, or you meet someone new, and you have to start again.

That’s not a difference. That’s a disability.

My name is Julia and I’m Autistic. I’m not different; I’m disabled. I can say it now.

But then, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Written by Julia

April 24, 2011 at 2:04 am

Teach Me A Lesson

with one comment

I take too long in the shower, I guess, and I think my grandmother thinks it’s because I’m getting off. Actually it’s not fun at all, getting lost in the overstimulation of water and steam, forgetting where I’ve put the soap or what I was just washing, fingers aching because they don’t know how much pressure to use when shampoo-ing, slicing my thumb open when I try to hurry up because I’m being scolded through the door. It doesn’t matter; she wants to teach me a lesson about wasting water.

Teach me a lesson.

I’ve heard that before.

It’s my brother, snarling “she has to learn” while I’m crying on the floor.

It’s my dad, in the car, (in the backseat) over the phone, at the bank, whatever it takes, consistency.

It’s my sister, grabbing my signing hands to hold them still, “stop when I tell you to stop, it’s common courtesy.” (Though, of course, should I tell her to stop touching me, give me space, stop making fun of me, stop saying that, she is under no obligation.) “I want to hear your words. No. Not those words.”

Teach me a lesson.

It wasn’t said out loud, but I heard it every day from the kids in my AP classes, eyes sliding over and past me. “What’s the retard doing here?” The face the teacher makes is apologetic. It’s not for me.

Teach me a lesson.

My friends never hung out with me outside the concrete walls of our school, but they did like making me practice the things I was worst at. Look me in the eyes, hold still, let me hug you. Keep that up and I’ll poke you. It’s your reaction, Julia, that’s why we do it, Don’t talk about that. The hell is wrong with you. Just be a person. Don’t think, just be natural, be yourself. Yeah, you’ll want to lie about that. There are no rules. We’re trying to help. You’re doing it wrong.

Teach me a lesson.

I want to teach you a lesson.

I want to teach you about the boys in Honors English and the smug pride they took in calling me retarded because “hey, it means slow. You are slow. It’s true. You can’t get mad at us for telling the truth.” I want to teach you about being harassed by airport security because I crawl through the checkpoints, my hands shaking and my mind spinning, concentrating on one step at a time. I want to be there when I snap “Sorry, I can’t go any faster, I’m retarded,” and I want you to be my heart when it stops beating.

I want to teach you a lesson about never wanting to sleep with someone because they’ll see the drool on your pillow—and everyone drools, true, but everyone has a horror of drool because that’s what the retards do, and most people don’t have to worry about being mistaken for a waste of space whereas I wait patiently for the inevitable moment when my lover, my one safe person, someone I tricked into wanting to be with me, sees me for what I am.

Should it be a lesson on dying? Lying on your bead, body tingling and mind dissociating, crying because this is it, you finally get to die, as your heart finally, fucking finally matches the rest of you and just, at last, I knew it had to happen, slows down. Breathes are slower and shallower and you can’t believe it—you always knew that this couldn’t be real, that someone as awful as you couldn’t actually go on existing, and you’d always wondered if and when the moment would come when your body would finally get what the rest of the world knew. You slow, you slow, this is horrible and fantastic and so wanted, so needed, finally—and then your lungs seize up and drag in breath after breath because no. You can’t even have this.

Teach me a lesson.

I have so much to teach you.

Written by Julia

April 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Grabbers

with 6 comments

It’s a grabbers vs. flappers warzone.

On the one side are the flappers. We wave and twist our hands in front of our faces or slap them against our chests. Our heads punctuate our moods and the music against the wall. Our knees don’t bend as we walk on our toes, our fingers pick at cuticles or scratch patterns against our forearms and cheeks, and we’d rather watch spinning pinwheels than drown in another person’s eyes.

(Our joy is own own, and we communicate it differently, perhaps holding privately onto it, or pouring it out into another person. But soon we learn from the grabbers that our joy should be our shame, our movements not our own, and so we withdraw.)

What else is there to do when you are surrounded by grabbing hands but shrink in on yourself?

The grabbers don’t believe that we can be happy or find meaning unless we are exactly like them—and that’s really the goal, being just like everyone else, and so there is not even a second of hesitation in their eyes when they slap our hands down onto the table with a shriek of “quiet hands”.

The hands are everywhere.

They’re at our chins. “Look at me, with a face pressed in so close to yours that you count the pores until they force your gazes to meet. They grab our hands, “don’t do that, people will think you’re retarded.They smack away picking fingers, because our foreheads must be pristine and easy-to-look-at for them. You turn away, pull away, try to put some distance in so you can breath, and they grab your hands, your hips, your shoulders and twist you back. You bounce your leg—surely you are allowed this?—and they press a hand to your knee, stilling you. Everyone taps their pencil, but when you start their hand closes over yours and won’t let go.

Please let me go!

But protesting just means you need to be grabbed more often, with harder and more insistent hands, until you realize that the way you move is fundamentally wrong, as wrong and deficient and disturbing and dangerous as you are, and if you want to be counted as a “you” at all you must let them grab you until you can stop your self. The most basic human thing is just existing in space, and you quickly realize that you do even this wrong. Is it that you take up too much space, or just that you do it too differently, moving in an entirely alien way and triggering some sort of dormant xenophobia?

In the end it just comes down to you are wrong, and for that you must be punished. It simplifies to your body is not your own, but it is mine. And you learn that a relationship, if you can call it that, always has two roles, a flapper and a grabber, and you will always be grabbed, and never be permitted to grab back.

Written by Julia

April 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Diary Of A Drooler

with 2 comments

This is a story about disability. This is a story about the politics of drool. This is a lot of things, and maybe you should just read it.

 

1.

So I want you to imagine being born a drooler.

We’re not talking just the adorable amounts of saliva an infant will naturally produce as their teeth come in. You grow up with that, sure, but then it never goes away. Some quirk of muscular development and oral-motor control leaves you with a constant stain of spittle around your lips and on your chin.

You grow up.

You have a small toddler friend or two, before anyone knows better. But you grow apart, and then one day in kindergarten you turn away from your playdough to answer someone’s “hello” and a string of drool lands on the tabletop.

Your cheerful “hi” is answered with a laugh, a stare, a jabbing, gesturing finger.

You remember your mother, always scraping at your chin with washclothes and whispering implored reminders to “swallow” and keep your mouth shut. You realize that no other kindergartener has sleeve cuffs which are crusty from reaching up to wipe their mouths every five minutes. The florescent lights above burn through your back, your playdough feels gritty in your fingers, and you’re sure that you’re about to melt under the table in a puddle of drool because you legs get this horrible shaking feeling as though they’re made of water. It spreads, and it’s like a wind or a shudder goes through your stomach and leaves your head empty and clear.

2.

You don’t realize it at the time, but you are one of the lucky ones, in a way. You do learn to go through life with your lips clamped shut around each other. You learn to swallow so that your mouth is always perfectly dry. Your fingers constantly flutter to your chin just to make sure. You spend hours each day just concentrating on the muscles of your jaw and mouth, more intimately acquainted with them than any other part of you. In some ways, you stop being conscious of yourself as anything except a mouth. The rest of your body seems far-away and empty, everything caught up in your war against your own saliva.

It doesn’t sound it, but you are so incredibly lucky. If you just fake it well enough people don’t think of you as a drooler, just another distant and distracted and distrustful kid. It will be years before you are first called retard, and for a very, very long time you are sure you can get away with it, be just like everyone else with one tiny little secret.

You never go to sleepovers or let yourself fall asleep on the bus, because you can’t control it when you sleep and you know that drooling is just a disgusting crime, grosser than eating your boogers and punishable in all sorts of intricately painful ways. But it really does seem as though, so long as you take some reasonable precautions and devote three seconds out of every minute to monitoring your mouth, you’ll be just fine.

And then you’re in middle school and everyone is laughing at some joke and it happens again, in a rare moment of laxness, and then everyone is laughing at you or else pretending not to see—and you never thought that could actually be worse, but it is—and you realize that no, fuck it all, you’re never going to get away with or from this.

You don’t want to be a drooler. No one wants to, and no one wants them. If there is one thing every middle schooler needs, it is to be wanted, even as just a friend, by someone. To belong, to fit in, to have a place where you are welcome. Droolers get none of that. But you’ll be fine. You’ll just try harder and take what abuse you get (because you deserve it, you can’t even control your own secretions) and everything is going to be fine.

3.

But your brain starts to shift a little.

You hear your voice on a recording for your answering machine for the first time and you spend the next five minutes wondering who punched you in the stomach. That voice. Is it really yours? It doesn’t sound anything at all like the one you hear in your head, and when you ask your mom mutters something about sound waves and bone conduction but all you can hear is that stupid, round, fishy, wet voice that you’ve apparently been using all your life. You had hoped you were a lot of things, fierce and funny and smart and competent and cool, but that, that is the voice of a drooler. People don’t even need to see your baby pictures, they don’t even need to see you compulsively swallowing to the point that your mom takes you to a doctor and asks about tics, because they can tell the instant you start talking.

You start to wonder if this is some great cosmic secret that everyone else got to know before you, and the thought makes you feel lost and sick and pathetic and you just know that you’d better be getting comfortable with that feeling because it’s going to get awfully familiar.

And you fight, you feel like a baby kitten but even they have claws so you scratch and fight and do everything you can to keep that feeling of utter uselessness from settling permanently in you. You sign up for all honors classes for next year and you try to dress like the most popular girls and you try out for soccer even though you are the best in the whole school at tripping over your own feet and you are so damn happy when Eric asks you to the eight-grade graduation dance that you let him kiss you afterward even though he tastes like pepperoni and smells like too much cologne.

And the kiss is horribly wet and sloppy and you are now known as the worst kisser in your whole year and you just want to die.

4.

 

High school is unremittingly terrible, even though you aren’t caught drooling once. But you make tiny mistakes in every algebra problem that create bigger mistakes and big, ugly red ‘F’s even though you are good at math and you love it. But your teachers talk so fast and you can never make rhyme or reason of what they say and so you spend your classes wondering how you can be so smart and yet so dumb and if you ever were smart at all and how are you going to past this test, and when that gets boring you draw passive-aggressive comics about your “friends” and their stupid boyfriends eating poisoned chocolates and getting stabbed with lightsabers. Everyone else bitches about long hours spent studying and you wonder if you should tell them that you are up until two every night just staring at your textbooks and worksheets and googling frantically and unable to make sense of any of it, somehow managing to string enough figures and terms together to create a passable bullshitting act that keeps you in the honors track with them. But you don’t tell, of course you don’t, because then people would find out and you can’t be found out again, you’re pretty sure they would kick you out of your classes and being able to scam your way into that elite little group of scholars is the only thing that makes you think that maybe you don’t deserve to die.

But one ever tries to kiss you again, or even invites you to a single party for four years, and every time you remember this all you can see in a spot of drool swallowing up the latest 68 handed back to you in geometry.

It doesn’t make much sense, but you come to see every little imperfection as a crack breaking across the surface of your act, ripping apart your pretensions of normality, of superiority, and it fills you with hate and fear and makes your nose ache with the smell of rubbing alcohol and your palms punch into your thighs until they bruise.

It just steadily keeps on mounting up, and every morning you wake up with a sticky chin and damp pillow and it gets harder and harder to climb out of bed. You know you’re failing on every level, but you’re terrified of what will happen if you stop. So you get up, day after day, and emerge every day from high school battered and empty, and that awful feeling of watery legs and a shivering stomach becomes your default setting.

You realize that you’ve never really left kindergarten.

 

5.

 

The admissions officer asks you, sounding bored, who you are, what makes you tick. And you just sort of stare blankly back, because you’ve been trying not to think about that since you were five and somehow, explaining that you’ve spent your whole life just pretending, and passing, getting by and trying to blend in and not let anyone see how empty you actually are, just filled with drool…that doesn’t seem like the sort of answer expected.

You realize that you can’t answer the question, you don’t know how to even begin to think about the answer, because sometimes you are so focused on swallowing and sealing your lips that you forget the rest of your body and just sort of bounce along the lockers as you navigate from class to class. You want to tell them that your earliest memory is of a washcloth against your face, that your first nickname was “Droolia”, and that this one special ed boy absolutely terrifies you because he has to wear a kerchief around his neck to catch his drool and what if someone connects you two? You want to ask if they’ve ever been sitting in English, doodling in the margins of a vocabulary worksheet, and then suddenly felt like they’ve been running for miles, so out of breath with their heart hammering in their heads, legs watery, shivering and shaking. You want to tell them that your least favorite thing to do ever is to go to the dentist, because your mouth is open and you can’t swallow for half an hour. You want to point out that you never smile for the camera, that you actively run away whenever a camera comes out because the area around your mouth is so slack and rubbery and you just cannot control it.

You smile and say something about liking to draw comics and observe people for new material.

6.

You fall asleep on a pile of your comics at RISD, and when you wake up they are wet and sticky and ruined.

They’re due tomorrow. Or today, actually, since it’s three in the morning. You can’t ask for an extension—what are you supposed to say, sorry I never learned to control my saliva, can I have an extra day to redraw them because I drooled all over them?

You drop out instead.

You drop out of everything.

7.


And the boy who pointed at you in kindergarten? Eric, who kissed and told? Your friends, who never bothered to ask why you wouldn’t come over to their sleepovers? Everyone who ever let you know, subtly and quietly, that you were fake and damaged and disgusting, who may have only said that out loud once or even never but who always gave you a million little reminders?

The ones who broke you apart because a few of your muscles developed a little more slowly?

They are just fine.

 

Written by Julia

April 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm