She's always frightened me and I've been frightened to admit it. After all, I'm supposed to be totally 'in' with diversity and difference. OK, I try. But sometimes difference scares me - and she does. She walks slightly stooped over, no problemo; she uses a walker and braces herself solidly on to it, no problemo; she mutters under her breath as she walks, no problemo; and every now and then she lets out a bloodcurdling scream, problemo. I'm not so sure if I'm scared or simply startled, I'm not evolved enough to know one from the other. Now, I tense up when I see her, I anticipate the scream and, yet, oddly, that makes me even more startled when it happens. My fear of her shows me up, I'm not proud of it, or me, at all.
An interlude in the story
A ten year old girl has a vocabulary of ten words. She has learned a word for each year of her life. She struggles with speech, using gestures and facial expressions to communicate most of what her needs are. A lovely child, beautiful hair, bright clear green eyes. A sensitive child who flourishes under praise and withers under criticism. A sweet natured child who loves to be happy and shakes of sadness and disappointment as a puppy does water - awkwardly but fairly successfully. Its a joy to be around her and a joy to be part of the team supporting her. Brought up in children's group homes and almost always in the company of professionals, caring professionals - those taught to respect and care for those with disabilities. There is a problem though. It is noted with sadness after a meeting over a cup of tea. She has only one two word phrase in her vocabulary, 'Bad Girl.' She says it of herself, never of others. A full 20 percent of her vocabulary exists to tell the world that is is not worthy.
She has obviously been out in the snow. Her hair, long and lank, is covered in white. She never, ever smiles. As she enters the building the people at the bank, near the entrance doors, tense. It's as if she has the ability to change the density of the air, the lightness of the atmosphere. She is magical. Those who know she screams, like me, look ready to panic. Those that don't are disturbed, most often, by the meanness of her clothing and the desperation on her face. No one, known or unknown, is unaffected by her coming in. God took away much, but not the ability to make an entrance.
An interlude in the story
He is in his late sixties. A loving man. He'd lived most of his life locked away. Most of his life living 'inside' where they put those who society deemed 'outside' the norm. There is no bitterness in him. He speaks of his past both with sadness and with fondness. Not too different from most. Except, of course, that the source of his sadness came from living isolated after the social death of institutionalization. He grieved that those still living thought of him as dead. But he never expressed anger at abandonment, it was just his place. His anger, when it came, rarely, was towering. He would fly into a fury, his hands would smack his face and he would call himself names. Stupid, stupid, stupid, the words rained down on him as self hatred reigned in his soul. He bruised his face. He bruised his soul. His face would heal, his soul never seemed to.
Walking towards me, I look away from her. I don't want eye contact. It seems to me that my sheer presence sets her off. I don't think I have ever been in her presence when she did not scream. I've spoken to others about her. The woman in the liquor store told me once that she figured that there was a one in four ratio of appearances to screams. I told the woman, as she gave me change, that for me, it was a one on one ratio. She wondered, as did I, what I did to set her off.
An interlude in the story
Two women are sitting next to me. The eat in dainty bites. They are talking rapidly, over each other, like friends do. They love being together, you can always tell. They relax into each others conversations and trust each others words. They laugh easily. I see them often together. Having coffee after work, having muffins at lunch. The make me smile. To me they are easily friendly, in the way that loving strangers are. They welcome my familiarity with warm smiles and often even a 'how do you do'. I like friendly strangers. I don't need to be invited into their life, it's just nice to be welcomed into existence as a fellow human. But this day, one of the women is really upset. Really, really upset. Her friend had reached over and put hand over arm. Suddenly a hateful voice, a voiced I'd never heard from her, a voice that sounded almost and I'm sorry for putting it this way, demonic, rose out of the upset. A voice that said, in a variety of different ways, 'I'm just a stupid, stupid bitch, a stupid stupid bitch.' She struck herself soundly with words. There was no comforting her. These words came from deep within.
She is mumbling as she goes by me. It's like she hasn't seen me. Inside I am talking with God rapidly. Like He is right there to do my bidding, 'Oh, please, please, please, don't have her scream. Oh, please, please, please, don't let her see me. Oh, please, please, please ...' In honesty my prayers are more often comprised of bargaining, bartering and begging than they are of conversation and supplication. She is almost by me, she is mumbling loudly, more loudly than typical. I've never listened to her words. Never. Ever. Ever. I think, and I write this shamefacedly, its because my fear erased all interest in what she had to say. But today she is so close and so loud I can't but her hear. 'Be your own friend, be your own friend, be your own friend ...' she said as she walked. A mantra. A commandment. A prayer. It worked. God, was busy that day, being there for her, being there for me. She kept on going, she even glanced over at where I was sitting and saw me. She said, as if to me personally, 'Be your own friend ...' And she continued on, encouraging herself, encouraging any who would listen.
An interlude in the story
No one is ever as unkind to my self as my self. No one is ever as mean to me as me. No one throws a better verbal punch than my mouth does to my jaw. No one. I am kind to myself only in acts of indulgence, never in acts of friendship. I am gentle to myself only in moments of self pity, never in moments of pride. I work way harder to be nice and understanding to strangers than I ever do for myself. In fact, if I met me, as the me I am to me, I wouldn't like me. Not at all. The me I am to others, pretty nice guy. I'd like him and his easy sense of humour.
I am grateful that she did not scream. Truly grateful. It's rarely, if ever, transpired as it did today. In the oddest twist of fate, as she walked away I had a feeling, perhaps, that she is what was once called a prophet. I wanted to call out. Loudly. Even, perhaps, to scream. Towards her. To her. Loud enough to be heard in heaven. A single, simple word, 'Thankyou!'
What a story.....and what an amazing reframe of who she is and what she's doing.Thank you for writing about her and others.....we all need to say her mantra.
I'm too stunned to think of words. Thank you for this touching blog post.
I think I would just say Hello to her. If she screamed, I'd say How are you today?
Thank you for giving this to your readers.
Very powerful! I cannot think of words to follow such a powerful post.
Why ARE we so unkind to ourselves? Why is it so easy to verbally beat ourselves up? Why is it easier to be kind to strangers than to ourselves? " Be your own friend". It is a foreign concept to me. "Be your own friend". It is something I will ponder for a while. Thank you so much for once again causing me to think.
An amazing and powerful post. I work in support of persons with disabilities in Nova Scotia, and begin each day by reading your blog. After 23 years in this vocation, I appreciate so much the challenges and affirmations so many of your posts present. Looking forward to seeing you in NS again soon.
It's the end of the day and I just had a chance to read this many peopled post. I feel like I need to read it again and soak it in fully, there is so much in it.
I loved the colours of the font--"the colours of bruise..."
Thank you for your care in crafting each vignette, each person and their pain.
Thank you Dave. We all need those words, don't we?
That's a great post. But I wonder... You say she had only 10 words...I surmised that they were 10 seperate words...
I wonder about her knowing the phrase "Be your own friend.." were they part of her 10 words? On another note she sounds autistic and my heart goes out to her as I can relate to her. ANyway good post.
Kate, the little girl with 10 words is a different person from the woman in the main body of the story. Each interlude is a different person from a different time. Sorry for the confusion.
Oh gosh, that was a powerful post.... I want to scream out DITTO on so much of it!! Thank you again for your words, they help to help all of us.
Good post, Dave.
But I gotta say, you shouldn't feel bad about being scared of someone who lets out a bloodcurdling shriek without warning. I've had children like that and believe you me, it is freakin' scary.
Post a Comment