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Number 74 Winter/Spring Online 2017

AND THE FINE ARTS Number 74 Winter/Spring Online 2017 The Evolution of Inclusion "The Devil's Grip"

The Evolution of Inclusion

"The Devil's Grip" by Casey Robb

"The Lost Year" by Grace Lapointe

"Everyone Deserves a Turn" by Bert Edens

"Chromosome 17 and the State of Mutual Trust" by Alisa A. Gaston





To Include or Not to Include


Gail Willmott


So I Think I Can Dance


Melanie Reitzel


An Artist at Heart


Sandy Palmer


The Devil’s Grip


Casey Robb

The Lost Year


Grace Lapointe

How’d You Meet Your Wife?


Reinventing the Wheel


Barbara Ridley

The Complete Works of Min-Ju Kim


Tristan Tavis Marajh

Just One of the Moms


Marlaina Cockcroft

Memorial Day


Kelly Brown

The Slipping


Katie Booth

Louder Than Words


Celeste Bonfanti


Everyone Deserves a Turn

Bert Edens


Con Chapman

Not His Circus, Not His Clowns

Phyllis H. Moore


Winter/Spring 2017 Number 74

Chromosome 17 and and the State of Mutual Trust


Alisa A. Gaston

Go Fish


Andrea Carlisle


Profound Teacher in Disguise


Carol Keegan



Lois Soffer

Jay’s Pawfect Pal


June Capossela Kempf

Letting Go, with Love


Tammy Littlejohn

The Day the Lights Went Out



Kellogg Bowl


Erick Mertz


Walk and a Talk—

Brothers Defeat Willowbrook


Allan B. Goldstein

Listen to the Children


Stephen J. Bedard

Please Give Us a Call


Tamar Auber

What’s Your Stand-Up About?


Paulina Combow


Lady of the Manor


Fierce Love


Glenna Cook

May All Your Children Be Gymnasts


The Healer


Liz Dolan



Jessica Goody



Cathy Bryant



Yuan Changming

my name is Adam


Randy Martin

Learning Disability


Katie Rendon Kahn



Nancy Scott

The Good of a Thing




Michael Mark

The Sixth Child


Paul and Cheryl


Nancy Scott

My Cousin, His Cerebral Palsy, His Tattoos


Ron Riekki

The Space Between Us




Mary Doyle Johnston

Failed, 1959


When I was Six, 1962


Letter: April 11, 1962


William H. McCann, Jr.

Handmade Kites


Blair G. Sweeney

Regarding the Previous Ease of Doing Two Things at Once


Mary Ellen Talley



John Smith

Triple Feature


Sean J. Mahoney

To My Eyes


From My Eyes


Mary McGinnis

Dentist Appointment


Judie Rae


One Animal’s Healing Power


Allison M. Loose


Seeing and Hearing Differently


Sarena Tien


Tammy Ruggles, Sun Gazing , 2013, digital photograph, 3004 x 2945 px S taff PUBLISHER

Tammy Ruggles, Sun Gazing, 2013, digital photograph, 3004 x 2945 px



Howard Taylor, President/CEO United Disability Services


Gail Willmott, M.Ed.


Lisa Armstrong


Sandy Palmer


Lynne Came

Angela Miller

Kathleen Sarver


Darshan Perusek, Ph.D.


Phyllis Boerner


Fiction Review Mark Decker, Ph.D. Bloomsburg University Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Poetry Review Sandra J. Lindow University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, Wisconsin

Lindow University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, Wisconsin Kaleidoscope (ISSN 2329-5775) is published online

Kaleidoscope (ISSN 2329-5775) is published online semiannually. Copyright © 2017 Kaleidoscope Press United Disability Services, 701 S. Main St., Akron, OH 44311-1019 (330) 762-9755 Phone (330) 762-0912 Fax email:

Kaleidoscope retains non-exclusive world rights to published works for purposes of reprinting and/or electronic distribution. All other rights return to the writer/artist upon publication.

We request credit for publication as follows:

Previously published by Kaleidoscope: Exploring the Experience of Disability through Literature and the Fine Arts, 701 South Main St., Akron, OH 44311-1019

Indexed in Humanities International Complete and the MLA International Bibliography non-Master List. Listed in International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, Magazines for Libraries, The Standard Periodical Directory.


Email or online submissions preferred.

If submitting hard copy, send copies of originals with SASE if you want your work returned. The editors do not assume responsi- bility for returning submissions without ample return postage. Address all correspon- dence to the editor-in-chief.

Kaleidoscope, beginning in 1979, pioneered the exploration of the experience of disability through the lens of literature and fine arts. Fiction, personal essays, poetry, articles, book reviews, and various artistic media including two-dimensional art, three-dimen- sional art, drama, theater, and dance are featured in the pages of various issues.

This award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and educators, among others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges stereo- typical, patronizing, and sentimental atti- tudes about disabilities.


To Include or Not to Include

Gail Willmott

T he theme of Issue 74 of Kalei-

doscope is “inclusion.” Just as

the terminology used to refer

to persons with disabilities continues to evolve (“crippled,” “handicapped,” “disabled,” “challenged”) so do opin- ions and strategies related to how peo- ple with disabilities should be educated and integrated into society (“special education,” “integration,” “mainstream- ing,” “inclusion”). Many years ago, parents often kept their children with disabilities hidden at home. Then came the segregation of special education classes where children with various disabilities were grouped together in one classroom with little or no contact with “normal” children. That was the era in which I grew up—the era of non- inclusion.

While I always enjoyed school, espe- cially anything to do with reading and English, looking back, I feel that as special education students we perhaps were not as rigorously challenged academically as we might have been. Being in a special education program meant that habilitative therapies (physi- cal, occupational, and speech) were included in the regular school day. Through fourth grade there was also a mandatory one half hour rest period. So you can see that much of the day was taken up by requirements other than academics. I remember taking material

home each day to make up for what I had missed because of being pulled out of the classroom once or even twice daily for physical and occupational therapy sessions. Yet, I obviously did learn something not withstanding all of that disruption.

Busing special education students out of their school districts was the way of things before busing became a larger political and racial issue. This usually meant getting to school later than the other kids and leaving earlier which also effectively disallowed participation in any extracurricular activities before or after school. I sometimes wonder if that lack of interaction fueled my preference for more solitary activities such as reading, listening to music, and watching movies. To this day, I am a bit of a loner and large group activities are never my first choice. On the other hand, are those characteristics an inher- ent part of my personality regardless of circumstances?

The great irony in my particular situa- tion was that junior high school was the time when special education students began to experience some integration with their “normal” peers. What a time to begin that process, since those junior high/middle school years are often miserable in any case. In high school, I attended regular classes and the bus- ing situation remained the same. Again, looking back, I have to believe the

powers that be were doing what they thought was best in implementing this type of educational strategy, as awk- ward and disruptive as it was.

When it came time for me to apply to colleges in 1966, I submitted ap- plications to three schools in the area:

The University of Akron, Kent State University, and Notre Dame College of Cleveland (which was my first choice at that time). Times being what they were, I received three responses which were essentially the same: “You certainly have all the necessary aca- demic qualifications, but as you are in a wheelchair, you would not be able to successfully navigate this campus.”

Then a friend of mine who was a speech therapist with a significant dis- ability, told me about the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She told me that the university had begun a program in 1948 to meet the needs of injured veterans returning from World War II who wished to use their G.I. benefits. Over the years, the program was expanded and by the 1960s was made available to students who could successfully complete a week of func- tional assessment by the staff of the university’s Rehabilitation-Education Center. My first reaction was “Why would I want to go there?” The answer was clear—if I wanted to attend col- lege that was my only real choice at the time.

By the time I graduated in 1973 with

a master’s degree, the education of the

next generation of students with dis- abilities was beginning to undergo sig- nificant changes. With the authorization of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, and its amend- ment in 1997 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities were given the right to an education among their “typical” peers in the least restrictive placement, popularly referred to as mainstreaming. Being mainstreamed, students had to demonstrate that they were making progress and not falling behind because of being placed in a regular classroom.

“Inclusion” is the latest nomenclature referring to the process of bringing children with disabilities together with their non-disabled peers—replacing the terms “integration” and “main- streaming.” Inclusion is a broader term which, while not disregarding academic achievement, places more emphasis on the psychological and social benefits of all children participating and learning together. Inclusion, if correctly under- stood, should encompass much more than education. It is intended to foster the growth and development of the whole person, allowing children and adults with disabilities to fully partici- pate in all aspects of community life.

Inclusion means more than just specific accommodation as outlined in sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some experts point out that while accommodation can be legislat- ed, inclusion must evolve naturally as

a result of acceptance and the willing-

ness to see past the disability, to see the whole person. I believe that being given the opportunity to make real choices regarding education, employment,

social/recreational activities, and wor- ship/spiritual expression in accordance with individual abilities and desires, is a basic human right that should always be honored.

The inclusion movement also means more opportunities for adults with dis- abilities to participate more fully in the life around them. Individuals are being given real choices in terms of housing, employment, and recreation. We have moved from segregation and depen- dence to facilitating choices for in- volvement in accordance with potential and personal preferences, with the goal of broader participation in the larger community. For those who are unable to transition to completely independent living and employment, there are group homes and supported living as opposed to institutions, and programs to provide opportunities to be a part of community life in terms of volunteer and social/ recreational activities.

Around the country sheltered work- shops are being closed (for good or ill) with the intention of moving more and more people into community employ- ment. For workshops that continue to exist, there is a new emphasis on pay- ing a “fair wage,” for work done. As I see it, inclusion means providing real and meaningful choices for full partici- pation in the community and respect- ing the choices that people make for their lives. This is equally, if not more important for those individuals who, because of cognitive impairments, need ongoing support in negotiating daily activities.

With Issue 74, because we received such a wide range of submissions touching on various degrees of inclu- sion, I was able to expand the number of works included here. As usual we have personal essays, fiction, a book review, and some poems that address the issue of inclusion from various per- spectives.

There are essays in which parents re- count their efforts to provide common childhood experiences that would not occur without intentional effort: “Lis- ten to the Children,” and “Everyone Deserves a Turn.” There are essays about young people moving out into the workforce: “Cleaning” and “Letting Go With Love.” We have some works that discuss major changes that adults have had to embrace: “A Walk and a Talk— Brothers Defeat Willowbrook,” and “A Profound Teacher in Disguise.” Our featured essay is, “So I Think I Can Dance.” In this piece, Melanie Reitzel recounts how she set her own standards regarding inclusion.

In fiction, we have two stories in which young adults take matters into their own hands in order to expand and en- rich their lives: “The Devil’s Grip” and “The Complete Works of Min-Ju-Kim.” We also have an excellent example of how not to be inclusive—“The Lost Year.” “Reinventing the Wheel,” is a story that recounts a situation in which one would definitely not choose to be included.

Compiling Issue 74 proved to be an engaging challenge for me, and I sin- cerely hope you enjoy delving into the subject of inclusion.

proved to be an engaging challenge for me, and I sin- cerely hope you enjoy delving


So I Think I Can Dance

Melanie Reitzel

I was in my Directed Writing teach-

er’s office and had just unlocked the

knee hinges on my leg brace and

sat down when my cell phone went off in my bag. I’d forgotten to turn it off so we could work uninterrupted: fifty min- utes every three weeks is precious time. The first dozen or so notes of the ring tone sound the dead-give-away two- note, back-and-forth bounce of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”—and Toni cracks up. Then I crack up because she gets it that I downloaded this synthe- sized little ring tone of syncopated situ- ational irony on purpose—I’m the next- to-last person on the planet who will ever dance the Sugar Plum Fairy dance. Never in the history of anything will you witness any tour jetés performed by this sixty-two-year-old, post-polio person in a tutu and a brace unless Luis Bunuel comes back from the dead to direct one more surrealist flick. Never. But when I was four, I gave ballet a try and God bless my grandmother for let- ting me.

I don’t know why my Grandmother

Willie, so called because I couldn’t

say her last name, “Wilson,” had a bal- let book for children on hand for me.

I don’t know why she had it, but she

did; perhaps it was part of my family’s

way-ahead-of-their-time Let’s let her try and if she falls she’ll learn to set her own limits approach to mainstream- ing. Imagine ice-skating. Third grade, watching a friend take her lesson, I stepped out, carefully onto the ice, holding the rail, not wearing skates but my tan and brown saddle shoes. Gave a little push with the good leg, slid about two feet and just, barely grabbed the rail in time to prevent me from doing the splits. OK, so, no ice-skating.

Tennis, when I was thirteen. My dad had strung up a practice net at the house he and my stepmother were rent- ing for the summer. “Well, Kid, we can give it a try.” He hits the ball to me, within my long-armed reach and I hit it back. Then he hit it to the other side of the court, and I got about a step toward it before it bounced past me. OK, no tennis, either.

At swimming, I wasn’t quite a star, but could swim every stroke except the but- terfly: the whipping-the-legs together part of the kick doesn’t work when one leg refuses to listen to the commands of the brain. A whole bunch of those spinal cord nerves went deaf when I was two-and-a-half. The left leg trails along because it’s attached, but doesn’t coordinate, synchronize, or push. And not much diving. Trying to spring off

the board resulted in a mid-air flail as

if I’d been thrown off a roof, and it set

Dad’s Newfoundland, Josh, who’d been hovering at the edge of the pool the

minute I crawled up on the board, into

a wave-making dive of his own. Some

dogs have a way of anticipating trouble in the water. And if the fall hadn’t convinced me, two hundred pounds of drooling, paddling Newfoundland headed my way on a rescue mission af- ter I landed was an effective deterrent.

Baseball—good swing. May I have

a designated runner, please? Volley-

ball—as long as the other five team members filled in for me, I could hold my own. Great at serving, very long arms. Well, arms not so long, really, just proportionately shorter legs, thanks to the growth-stunting virus. Square dance—Mr. Isola called the dances; I put the records on the phonograph and watched my classmates allemande left and promenade. Hopscotch—pretty good, actually. I was good at that stand- ing on the hopping leg and leaning over to pick up the marker business because I’d learned from the age of three to de-

pend on the good leg for balance.

Jump rope—terrific at holding the rope. Swings—no problem—I pumped cross- legged, my right leg supporting my left, my long arms enabled me to stretch out; I could lean further back than most other kids could. Kick the can—give me a little extra time to hide, count to one hundred fifty, and when I throw a rock in the bushes to distract you, and you’re off investigating the noise, I’ll limp into home.

Think drunken, dizzy great blue heron in repeatedly thwarted take-off attempts and you’ve got the visual.

But before I tried all those things, I tried ballet at four. I’d been wearing the brace for all of a year-and-a-half after contracting polio in 1950. I walked stiff-legged with a locked ankle so my dance repertoire was going to be lim- ited.

Any choreography that depends solely on waving my arms and bouncing on one leg while slowly hop-spinning, however, I can manage. Think drunken, dizzy great blue heron in repeatedly thwarted take-off attempts and you’ve got the visual.

I studied the ballet book with Gram

and worked on mastering the basic positions. Arm positions: a breeze. Foot positions: with a very loose left hip joint I could easily, albeit slowly, bring my heels together and point my toes east and west. That was position

one. Position two: same thing, the heels farther apart. Easy peasy, just give me

a moment. Position one to two, inclu-

sive? Mastered. But after that, I was grabbing the bar—in my case, the edge of Grandmother’s mahogany drop-leaf dining room table—or I was swaying and falling. And we hadn’t even tried it yet with music. No Sugar Plum Fairy role in my future.

Grandmother Willie had taught school ever since she was widowed when my mother was six, my aunt nine. She taught high school science in Pittsburg, California. You only had to see her once, firmly girdled beneath her hand- made dress or suit, her laced black heels, sitting up so straight in her we- spoke-German-at-home posture. Seeing her sit beside her claw-footed dining room table—legs crossed, arms folded over her ample bosom—was all you needed to see to know why she never had any disciplinary problems in that rough refinery town north of Berke- ley where she taught school. Rookie teachers used to come to her classroom whenever theirs got rowdy. Mrs. Wil- son would order her class to shelter in place while she marched into the room of miscreants-in-training and informed them: “We’re not going to have any of that going on in here.” Gram didn’t need to reference her pronouns; she fig- ured the students knew quite well what they were up to. She knew the differ- ence between naughty and stupid.

Gram taught me how to cook, sew,

knit, crochet, and how to make soap. She taught me that fresh tar could be chewed like gum. That cloves and cin- namon made perfectly good breath fresheners. I learned to recite: “By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shin- ing Big-Sea-Water,” and she let me try ballet.

She also let me try to fly. Peter Pan was my favorite story—I dreamed of flying, defying gravity, moving freely

in the dark air nearly every night. I was obsessed and I think Peter Pan quali- fies as my first crush. I wrote the name “Wendy” in all my books, and I was so convinced that I could fly with Peter that one morning, after a sleepover at Gram’s, I announced that I really could fly. And in the way four-year-olds have of mixing up reality and fantasy, I be- lieved I could and told her so and told her I could prove it. Gram took her seat in her chair by the table, assumed her “show me the evidence, I have a sci- entific background” pose and watched me climb onto her couch. “Watch me!”

I said as I held out my arms. And then

I flapped my arms and flew off the couch.

Right onto the floor.

I couldn’t tell Gram it hadn’t quite

worked like I’d planned because I couldn’t talk. And I couldn’t talk be- cause I couldn’t breathe. My chest wouldn’t move. I looked at her in wide- eyed panic.

“You just knocked the wind out of your lungs,” Gram said, not moving from her chair. “You’ll be all right.”

She was right; I was. Compared to

permanent paralysis, this was pretty small potatoes. So, for the rest of my childhood, I tried whatever my friends did, I slid down the dry-grass hills of Orinda on flattened cardboard cartons, got into mud bomb fights with Patty Winquist and the Smyth twins, went to camp, went horseback riding with the Girl Scouts and, as a result of this extra wear and tear on the brace, spent a lot of afternoons after school, or Saturdays, in the orthopedic repair shop. Downtown Oakland, Telegraph Avenue. So long ago that neither my mother or I can remember the name of the shop. “Mom, I think it’s called Lau- rence Orthopedic” I said when I called her last week. “I don’t think that’s it, she said.” Considering the amount of time we spent there, it’s driving us a little bit crazy not to be able to remem- ber—we’re both getting older.

But we remember the mural on the wall because we sat under it, reading our books or magazines, waiting to be called back for repairs or modification to my appliance. I hated that damned mural. Here’s why: viewing from left to right—frame one: crippled people hunched over canes, stuck in wheel- chairs, dark forms, lost, purposeless, miserable in their grim landscape. Frame two: workmen hammering out, stitching up, bolting together braces, artificial limbs. Much like the required scene from any old West movie or TV show. Clang, clang—camera three pans to the town blacksmith. Frame three:

we Gimps, we happy Gimps, just one appliance-aided step closer to nearly able-bodied, are all walking (you can’t detect the limp in a still shot) forward in the light. It’s a metaphor; it’s a sales job. Three stainless steel rivets are practically as curative as a trip to Lourdes.

My dad was an ad-man: driving back and forth from Orinda to San Francisco to spend weekends with him, up and down various Bay Area freeways, he’d point out which were effective adver- tisement, which were not. I was aware of some of the techniques of image ma- nipulation. Looking up at the mural in

the brace shop, I questioned its motives at once—I can sport the whitewash of false hope inherent in “cures” from a

mile away, let alone thirty feet. And the “blackwash” that portrays someone in my spot as pathetic and forlorn because

I needed a couple of metal uprights

and cross bars to get from point A to point B isn’t any better. I didn’t much

fancy being cast into the “valley of the shadow of death” every time I cracked

a sidebar or popped a rivet. I was grate-

ful for the brace, but I didn’t want to be the subject of a mural. I didn’t want to be used as agitprop.

of a mural. I didn’t want to be used as agitprop . After handicapped, we were

After handicapped, we were disabled.Then we were challenged. One more societal whitewash and we’re headed down the slider toward irked .

I didn’t understand that term, then,

of course, but I understood how I felt when I looked at that mural. I said so to Mother who understood fifty years ago how mainstreaming and sensitivity influenced language. While in favor of mainstreaming, she saw it as a necessi- ty rather than a balm to the conscience.

“You know, Melanie, you used to be crippled. Then you were lame. Now you’re handicapped.” Pretty soon you’ll be “inconvenienced.” She wasn’t far off the terms have been diluted even further. After handicapped, we were disabled. Then we were challenged. One more societal whitewash and we’re headed down the slider toward irked.

I will cop to some hypersensitivity

when it comes to exploitation of image. March of Dimes posters are primarily to blame for that. Originally formed to collect funds to be used to fight polio, the Dime’s first posters focused on the deliberately pity-inducing images of children with braces either in wheel- chairs or on crutches. If, somehow, they could have found a child who wore braces and used a wheelchair propelled by crutches, they would have made her the permanent poster child. And while the dimes collected as a result of those torn heartstrings did help fund polio vaccine research, for which I am, do not get me wrong, very grateful, those posters took their toll. They played upon the image of victim. Pity is not what is needed. A person with polio, or anyone with a handicap, disability, or inconvenience, needs a grandmother and a ballet book and the opportunity to decide for themselves what their physical limits might be, and how to

navigate their life with those limits and their strengths in mind. I think of my physical restrictions much the way I think of the sonnet form. Limitations on form can help eliminate detractors;

a whole host of failures are eliminated.

As any good poet will tell you: creative possibilities abound within boundaries.

And then my grandmother taught me

how to read. And my family let me dis- cover what I could do as well as what

I couldn’t. After the birth of my first

child I told them of my mid-labor A- hah! Moment: “I want to be a maternity nurse.” None of them said I couldn’t do that—they asked me to which school I

was going to apply. Come to think of it,

I don’t think I ever once heard, “Mela-

nie, you can’t do that” come out of my parents’ or grandparents’ mouths except when it came to curfew in high school or going out to play before I cleaned my room on Saturdays.

They had the same attitude toward my having a career as they did ballet. You’ll need to do something to earn a living, and we trust you to figure out what you can do and what you can’t. Thirty years ago I learned I could be a pretty good nurse. Now I’m learning how to be a better writer than I was a ballet dancer.

Recently, in the elevator at the hospital where I have worked now for nearly thirty years as a maternity nurse spe- cialist in lactation, a physician and I shared a ride to the second floor. As I stepped into the elevator I caught his eye. Or rather, my limp did. He stared. I

suppose his clinical curiosity made him forget his manners. He was probably running the diagnostic algorithm in his head, Let’s see, that’s a permanent ap- pliance, it’s lock-kneed, therefore: un- stable quads. Pretty good hip-swing but that’s compensatory for the paralysis. Legs slightly unequal length, torso a bit tall for the frame, stunted leg growth with compensatory surgical shortening of the unaffected limb at the epiphysis:

bingo: gotta be polio. Damn, don’t see too many of those these days

I thought I detected a self-congratula- tory smile on his face as I got off the elevator and headed toward the mater-

nity ward where babies’ mouths were open, their heads turning, signaling to their nervous new mothers it was time to be fed.

Doc, I wanted to say, in a measure of self-congratulation equal to his own, you only saw the part of me that you think doesn’t work so good, when I’m in a patient’s room with a mother and her crying baby who need to be taught first and second position, in position and latch, boy howdy, you should see me dance.

Call for submissions



Gail Willmott, Editor-in-Chief

Kaleidoscope magazine has a creative focus that examines the experience of disability through literature and the fine arts. A pioneer in the field of disability studies, this award-winning publication expresses the diversity of the disability experience from a variety of perspectives including: individuals, families, friends, caregivers, educators and healthcare professionals, among others. The material chosen for Kaleidoscope challenges and overcomes stereotypical, patronizing, and sentimental attitudes about disability through nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual art. Although the content focuses on aspects related to disability, writers with and without disabilities are welcome to submit their work.

· Double spaced, typewritten

· 5,000 word maximum

· Electronic submissions preferred

Email submissions accepted at or online at


The Devil’s Grip

Casey Robb

R usty Serrano woke with a jerk, sweating, writh-

ing, gasping for breath. Again, that damn dream—a

baby squeezed in a vise, in a grip, too smothered to

scream. He steadied his breathing. The first morning rays of West Texas summer sun were flooding the room, cast- ing flickers of lilac and crimson through the crystals on his dresser, blue calcite and rosy quartz.

Last night, he’d heard his mom’s keys jangling as she came in late from her job at the café. He knew she would sleep in. His older brother Tate would be up any minute for his job at the car shop. Rusty, 19 and out of school, had no job, no- where to go. At least not today. But he had a plan.

He pulled out the bottom dresser drawer and fingered the papers he’d brought back from Alpine and hidden under his jeans. He hadn’t told anyone. Not his mom. Not even Tate. Especially not Tate.

He listened for dishes clinking in the kitchen. Silence. Good, no one’s up.

Rusty had cerebral palsy. One of those baby birthing things. Couldn’t get out. He never got why. Was he not allowed to be born or something? His legs jerked this way and that, but his hands were steady and his mind was sharp: and another blessing—his good looks, with his black hair, blue eyes, and lean physique.

Rusty pulled on his jeans, hoisted himself off the bed, and

walked down the hall to the kitchen on two legs that carried him like clumsy stilts, his arms sweeping the air for bal-

ance—like swimming

or drowning.

He opened the back door. The desert heat rolled in. He caught a glimpse of the lazy semi-rural roads of Marathon, his small, stifling town. Aptly named, too, Marathon—my life.

He glanced down the hall, pulled one of his mom’s Coors from the fridge, and downed half of it. “C-Can’t let T- Taaaate see this.” His CP put a twist to his tongue, to his lips, pulling out his words like Silly Putty. “M-Mr. Perfect T-Taaate.”

Tate, with his dark brown hair and eyes, his easy smile, looked just like their dad. Or so he’d heard. He only knew his dad from photos and stories—stories about his dad’s drinking, his lost jobs, his fights.

Then baby Rusty’s diagnosis had arrived: cerebral palsy. That must have been the last straw for the coward, Rusty often thought. He up and ran, like a chicken gizzard. Not even a trickle of kid support from the bastard—not from the bank and not from the heart.

Rusty chugged the last half of the cold beer. He heard foot- steps. Too late.

“Rusty!” Tate yelled. “What the hell are you doing? Put that beer down.”

“N-Not your b-buuusiness!”

“That’s Mom’s beer.”

“Sh-Sheee said I could have sooome.”

“It’s mine too. I pay the bills, don’t I?” Tate was a mechanic now, helping his mom who could barely cover the rent. “And I say you can’t have it.”

“W-Waaatch me,” Rusty said, and chugged two more gulps.

“At breakfast? Geez! What a lush. How are you ever going to get a job?”

“I-I’ll get a job. You just waaatch. I’ll do better. I’ll get a careeeer.”

“A career? Are you nuts? You barely finished high school.”

“Y-Yeah, but—”

“But nothing. Put the beer down and go back to bed, you stupid drunk.”

The beer can went flying and hit Tate on the side of the face. Tate lunged at Rusty and wrestled him to the kitchen floor. Rusty grabbed at Tate’s leg and Tate shook him off. “You brainless baby,” Tate yelled. “Mama’s boy.”

Rusty lay on the floor cradling a bruised elbow. Tate headed for the door. “Forget breakfast,” Tate said. “I’m going to work. And don’t expect me at dinner. I’ll be at Sissy’s.” Tate always had his arm around some girl, though lately it had just been Sissy. Tate slammed the door behind him, revved up his motorcycle and took off.

Rusty pulled himself up on a kitchen chair, balanced on his legs and shook his fist. “B-Bastard,” he yelled. “I’m g-going tonight. To the desert. N-Not j-juuust to the d-desert. T-To the cave! And you’re c-coming too, T-Taaate.”




That evening, Rusty drove his pickup to Sissy’s apartment hoping to surprise them. Tate had rigged Rusty’s old truck at the shop with a steering knob and a joystick hand pedal: push to go, pull to stop. Rusty’s legs were useless for driving, but his hands were deft. He veered the truck to the left into the parking space by Sissy’s front door, then jerked the joystick forward, screeching the brakes a little just for fun.

“Uh, oh.” He noticed empty beer cans on the floor and tossed them behind the seat out of sight. He slid out of his truck and felt the folded paper in his back jeans pocket, then knocked. Sissy opened the door.

“Hey, Rusty. What’s up?” She stood smiling at him. Stun- ning, Rusty thought. He couldn’t help but stare at her tousled dark blond hair, laughing blue eyes, and curves in all the right places.

Sweet. Like Sandra, in Alpine yesterday. In the library, he’d sat at a table across from two girls who were moving their hands in a rapid rhythm like a salsa dance, like a rumba. They’d glanced at him and giggled. One girl had flipped back her brown hair and, with her finger, drew a circle around her face, then slid her palms together and pointed at him. Rusty shrugged and shook his head. She pulled a pencil and paper from her purse, wrote a note, and pushed the paper to him. It said, face nice = handsome. Then, Wow! Below that, she’d written, Sandra. He looked up and she pointed to herself. She reached across the table and patted his hand. Her touch felt silky, like a cool desert breeze in the heat of the day. Then she’d glanced at her watch, given him a wink, waved bye to her friend and left. No one had ever called him handsome before. Certainly not in sign language.

Sweet, he thought again, still staring at Sissy who stood lean- ing in the doorway. He broke his gaze and glanced away. The TV blared from the living room. Sissy yelled behind her, “Tate, it’s your brother.”

Tate shouted from the couch over the TV noise, “What


toward Sissy, close enough to inhale her scent, like a blue sage blossom. He whispered, “H-Hey, S-Sissy. You wanna g-go to a c-cave?”

.” Before Tate could get off the couch, Rusty leaned

“What do you mean? A real cave?” she asked. “Awesome. When?”

“L-Like, n-now.” Rusty’s voice felt tight, trying to sound casual.

Tate joined her at the door. “A cave? You got to be kidding. We have to work tomorrow.”

“Oh, please, honey,” Sissy whined, her lips in a pout. “It’s early.”

“At night?” Tate shot Rusty a glare.

“Come on, baby,” she murmured, stroking Tate’s cheek. “Out there under the stars.” Then she leaned to him and whispered, “My caveman.” Tate rolled his eyes.




They squeezed into the front seat of Rusty’s truck and headed south on a remote desert highway, in silence, for miles. The sun hung low in the west. Tate grasped the win- dow ledge and wrapped his left arm around Sissy who sat wedged in the middle. Rusty watched in the mirror as she smirked, then kissed and nibbled on Tate’s ear, whispered to him with that voice like molasses, and murmured, again, “My caveman,” as if Rusty wasn’t there, as if he didn’t have feelings like other guys.

Tate just stared ahead, didn’t even answer Sissy. He didn’t have to, Rusty thought. Tate’s cool, the ladies’ man. Tate answers to no one.

Finally, Rusty veered off the road and jounced his pickup down a dry sandy arroyo and into the creosote flats as the summer sun disappeared behind the crusty peaks of the Santiago Mountains. Dusty pinks and blues emerged along the jagged eastern horizon. Rusty spotted the distant high mesa with its sloping red ridge. He swerved the truck around a cluster of prickly pear cactus and slowed, then flicked on the headlights and weaved a path among the mesquite trees and the spiky cholla. Rusty dodged a rocky outcrop, then jerked on the joystick to pick up speed.

“Jesus, Rusty!” Tate yelled. “I didn’t rig this truck for you to get us killed. Use that stick slow and easy!” Rusty felt his face flush. “What’s gotten into you lately?” Tate persisted. “Just ’cause you got your own wheels now, thanks to Mom. Must be Easy Street being the baby of the family,” Tate went on.

“I’m n-not the b-baaaby,” Rusty said.

“Well, you act like it. If she only knew how you drove. Man, the stuff you get away with!”

Rusty stared out at the jagged landscape, his jaw clenched. He gripped the wheel and veered around a big barrel cactus. On every bounce, Sissy’s thigh rubbed against Rusty’s leg, but neither she nor Tate seemed to notice. Rusty glanced in the rear view mirror at Sissy’s blue eyes, at the purple cloi- sonné barrette that barely hung on to her flaxen hair flutter- ing in the dusty wind.

Near the high mesa, he headed for a rocky butte, wrenched the brake and skidded to a stop by a lone juniper a few yards from a rocky outcrop. Tate held onto the window. Sissy’s hands flew out to brace herself on the dash. She let go a stifled screech, then laughed.

“Where are we?” Sissy wrapped her arms around Tate.

“Rusty’s favorite hang-out, the middle of nowhere.” Tate gestured out to the sandy basin. “I don’t care how cool the cave is, desert is boring.”

Rusty glanced in the rear view mir- ror at Sissy’s blue eyes, at the pur- ple cloisonné barrette that barely hung on to her flaxen hair fluttering in the dusty wind.

“N-no, it’s not b-boring.” Rusty reached into his back jeans pocket and fingered the folded paper. Good, it’s still there. “Look.” He pulled a piece of violet amethyst crystal from the side pocket of his blue jean jacket. He handed it care- fully to Sissy. She rolled it in her hands and offered it to Tate, who looked away.

“Besides, you could get hurt out here.” Tate brushed the

dust off his jacket. “The wilds of West Texas is no place for

a kid with crippled legs. It’s just you and the buzzards. And for what? A bunch of stupid rocks? Jesus!”

“Y-You caaan’t tell me whaaat to do.” Rusty’s throat tight- ened.

“Like hell I can’t. Somebody needs to.”

Rusty didn’t answer, just glared at Tate.

Rusty stepped down from the truck, grabbed a flashlight from behind the seat, hung it on his belt, and walked around the rocky butte with that spastic, jerky gait he hated, his arms flying in a snappy motion for balance.

Tate and Sissy got out and followed him, the volcanic cob- bles crunching underfoot. A bloody glow had settled on the

land. At the base of the butte, almost invisible behind the spiky leaves of a towering yucca, an earthy hole gaped like

a small, private wound.

“Oh, my God.” Sissy groaned.

“That’s no cave,” Tate said, standing back. “That’s a rat hole!”

Rusty tossed the flashlight into the hole, gathered his legs, slid them in, and pushed till the rock felt like fingers clos- ing on his waist. He felt the sweat break out as he shoved himself deeper inside, until he was sitting in a small granite room the size of his bedroom. The ceiling hung low, within reach. The cold musty scent of damp soil penetrated his lungs.

Rusty flicked on the flashlight. Tate, then Sissy, squeezed through the entrance and scooted over to join him. The granite walls were rough, and speckled black and gold. He darted the light beam around. Shadows rose and lunged along the walls.

“Wow!” Sissy squealed. “A real cave.” She touched the ceiling. “I can’t believe it.”

“This is the Devil’s Porch,” Rusty announced. “Found it m- myself. B-But wait till you see the D-Devil’s Grip.” Rusty shone the flashlight under his chin, making a ghoul face.

“Give me that.” Tate took the flashlight and peered around. “You’ve been down here alone? You could’ve gotten stuck. For days. Killed! For a bunch of rocks!”

“No. N-Not rocks—rhyolite, mica, limestone. L-Look.” Rusty placed his palm on the wall. “T-Touch it.” He took Sissy’s hand and set it against the dark rock. “That’s g- granite. It’s igneous rock. R-Rough. L-Like a man’s b-beard in the morning. H-Here.” Rusty guided Sissy’s hand to his chin and moved her fingers gently across his thick, black stubble. She allowed the touch for a moment, then withdrew her hand.

“It’s what-neous rock?” Sissy ran her finger tips along the wall.

“Igneous r-rock, from ignite—f-formed by fire.”

She smiled at him in the dim light. “How come you know so much about caves and rocks and stuff?”

Rusty grinned. “’C-Cause they’re so cool. B-Besides, I have a s-secret.” He shifted his body toward her. “Y-You’ll be the first to hear it, you and T-Taaate. I haven’t even told M- Mom, or anyone.”

“So, what is it?” Tate asked impatiently. “You found an- other crystal?”

“No.” Rusty took a deep breath. He leaned toward Sissy and paused for effect. “I w-want to b-be a geologist.”

“A geologist!” Tate almost shouted. “Oh, come on! You barely squeaked by in high school!”

“And why n-not?” Rusty yelled.

“Because you’re not a college egghead. That’s why not.”

“They g-got claaaasses in Alpine,” Rusty said. Then he

looked away and mumbled, “and


“Girls? What do you mean, girls?”

“I m-met one at the college. In Alpine. S-Sandra.”

Rusty took a deep breath. He leaned toward Sissy and paused for effect. “I w-want to b-be a geologist.”

“Oh, my God. Now it’s girls? What will you come up with next?”

Sissy broke in. “Aw, Tate, come on. That’s sweet. He can have a girlfriend if he wants.”

“This is outrageous!” Tate insisted, waving Sissy aside. “You don’t know him.”

“Just b-because you didn’t get into c-college!” Rusty burst out.


“You never told me that.”

You applied for college?” Sissy stared at Tate.

“So? It was stupid. Thought I wanted to be an engineer. You know, design stuff.” Tate turned his head away in the shadows.

“No, no, no. Not stupid!” Sissy insisted. “So what hap- pened?”

Tate shrugged. “Sul Ross. In Alpine. Got on the waiting list. Pre-engineering, they called it.” He clenched his fist. “But couldn’t wait. Had to start mechanic’s school. Mom lost her job and couldn’t make the rent. So I withdrew my applica- tion.”

Sissy shook her head. “Well, she’s working now. Maybe there’s still a way.”

.” Tate hesitated. “Besides, I’m not a college egg- head either.” Tate turned to Rusty and glared at him, clench- ing his jaw. “But if I can’t get in, you sure as hell can’t!”

“Y-You think I’m n-no good for nothing, d-don’t you?” Rusty demanded.

“Oh yeah? W-Well, what’s this?” Rusty yanked the folded paper from his back pocket, snapped it open, and threw it at Tate. “An application. And I’ve still got t-two days to g-get it in.” He felt glad of the dark, which concealed his shaking hands.

“Besides, college costs money, if you didn’t know. Lots of it.”

“They g-got scholarships. And l-loans. And work study j- jobs.”

“Work and study? Ridiculous! Then go ahead,” Tate yelled. “Fall on your face.”

“Tate, honey,” Sissy broke in. “Why couldn’t he just—”

“Don’t coddle him, Sissy. He’ll get his hopes up for noth- ing. Like that stock boy job. After that fell apart, he moped for months. Don’t let him fool you, Sissy. He’s a dreamer.”

“Yeah, but

dreams are

.” Sissy began.

“Look, he doesn’t have to worry. Mom and I can take care of him. We always have and we always will.” Then, turning to Rusty, Tate added, “Okay, here’s my offer. I’ll see if they can use you at the shop. You know, errands, or something. Office work. Filing maybe. That will keep you busy and away from your pipe dreams.”

“Tate, hon,” Sissy added, “Can’t he study too? He’s sharp .”

as a

“Sissy, you stay out of this! It’s not your business!”

Sissy rolled her eyes and crawled off with the flashlight.

“Y-You think I’m n-no good for nothing, d-don’t you?” Rusty demanded.

“Of course you’re not no good. But be realistic.” Tate shook his head. “Girls…jeez. What do you have to offer a girl?”

“Y-You go to h-hell!” Rusty and Tate glared at each other in the dim light.

“Hey!” Sissy’s voice came from the far end of the cave. “What’s that?” Sissy aimed the light at a small hole. “It looks like a tunnel.”

“I t-told you,” Rusty said. “It’s a whole ʼnother r-room. But there’s n-no way you can g-get through there.” He pointed to the hole and cleared this throat loudly. “That is the D- Devil’s Grip.”

“Oh, cool.” Sissy stuck her head into the hole and looked down the tunnel. “Oooh, you think there’s skeletons in there? You know, like old miners and stuff? Bones and

picks, and


maybe gold?”

“Of course not,” Tate said.

“Let’s see.” Sissy tossed the flashlight down the shaft, then pushed her shoulders through, and squirmed and pulled till she disappeared into the Devil’s Grip. “Hey, I’m in.” Her muffled voice echoed up the tunnel. “It’s creepy in here, like a dungeon.”

“Damn you, Sissy! Hold on!” Tate followed her into the hole, cramming his shoulders in, then sliding and twisting till he, too, vanished into the hole.

Rusty began to sweat thinking of Tate and Sissy being squeezed, being gripped in a vise. Whisperings, like my caveman, seemed to float from the tunnel, like mumblings from the underworld.

After a while, Rusty heard scrapes and groans. Then Tate emerged from the dungeon, inch by inch. Sissy pulled her- self through the hole, sat up and tucked in her shirt.

Tate crawled to the exit. “We’re out of here.”

“Wait,” Sissy said, pulling her hair back. “Hey, where’s my barrette? My purple barrette. Damn!” She felt around on the ground. “It must be in the dungeon.”

“Can’t go back now,” Tate said. He crawled out of the cave. “Let’s go.”

“But dang. It’s special.” Sissy scrambled out of the cave. Rusty crawled out close behind her. They followed Tate to the truck, the gravel crunching under their feet. “My best friend gave it to me,” Sissy whined.

“Your BFF?” Tate teased. “Man. It’s just a barrette.” He opened the door.

He would go to Sissy, open his palm, and there it would be—the lovely cloisonné, its gold border glistening.

Rusty slid into the driver’s seat and tossed his flashlight on the floor. Sissy scooted onto the passenger seat on her knees, and got a glimpse of the empty beer cans piled be- hind the seat.

“Whoa,” she murmured. Tate stood behind her at the door. Sissy turned to him. “Tate, sugar, can you see if I left my purse back in the truck bed.”

Tate stepped away. Sissy grabbed Rusty’s shirt and pulled him close. Rusty gasped in surprise. “Rusty, hon,” she whispered. “I see those beer cans. A whole pile of ʼem. Sweetheart, that ain’t gonna get you nothing. What about your caves and your crystals? What about your mom? And Sandra? And all the other Sandras out there waitin’ for ya?” Rusty’s face flushed.

Tate appeared at the door. Sissy and Rusty sat up swiftly, facing straight ahead. Tate slid into the passenger seat next to her. “Didn’t see any purse.”


bag. “Now, Tate hon, how are you gonna get me another cloisonné barrette? She bought it in China.”

found it.” Sissy grinned, holding up her hand-

“I’ll get you one somewhere.” Tate sounded impatient.

That’s when the idea struck Rusty like a volcanic blast.

They rode home in silence with Sissy snuggled against Tate, and Tate staring out the window. Rusty gripped the steering knob, his head spinning. He knew now what he had to do. He would retrieve the barrette. He would go to Sissy, open his palm, and there it would be—the lovely cloisonné, its gold border glistening. And Tate had to be there. Rusty had to see his face. Surprise them both. “Be realistic,” Tate had said. Well, Rusty would show them reality, a new reality. He would go through the Devil’s Grip. He had to. Alone.




The next night, Tate was at Sissy’s and Rusty’s mom was working late at the café. It was midnight when Rusty laced up his hiking boots, grabbed his flashlight and a six-pack of Coors, slid behind the steering wheel and set the beer on the floor.

He drove out to the sandy arroyo, parked by the lone juniper at the outcrop, opened a beer and chugged it. He snapped open another and downed it, controlling his breath, in and out, slowly, to calm his nerves. Then he walked to the yucca by the high butte under a star-studded sky.

Rusty felt full to bursting. He took a piss by the yucca. Then he tossed the flashlight into the “rat hole,” slid into the cave, into the Devil’s Porch, and crawled on the gravel to the Devil’s Grip on all fours like a supplicant. The tun- nel loomed before him—an extended maw—longer than he remembered, a ghastly six or eight feet. But it slanted downhill. That would help. He felt the sweat break out. His heart pulsed. A lump in his throat choked him. He thought he heard a movement, a scurrying. What was that? he won- dered. A rat? A snake? A rattler?

He inhaled deeply till his breathing slowed. Man, I’m thirsty. Wish I’d brought that beer.

Grasping the flashlight, he reached both arms into the Grip, jammed in his shoulders, and pushed with his feet, forc- ing and squirming, sliding on pea gravel inch by inch. His shoulders emerged on the other side. He was in! He was really in!

Rusty pulled his quivering legs from the tunnel and sat up. The “dungeon” was a small room with a low granite ceiling that slanted down toward him, grazing his head; the slab walls leaned in like a condemned building. He darted the light around. Shadows danced along the walls, the flakes of feldspar luminous like a shattered moon. He scanned the

reddish-brown dirt floor, found the scuffed out spot where Tate and Sissy had been, and there it was—the barrette, its gold trim gleaming in the dirt.

He wiped the barrette across his jeans, watched it flicker in the flashlight beam, then stuck it in his back pocket. Yes, Tate, this is reality. Rusty Serrano is not no good for nothin’.

He scooted to the Devil’s Grip, eager to get out. He reached into the tunnel with both arms, the flashlight tightly clenched. He shoved and wriggled to cram his shoulders in. But his shoulders didn’t fit. They had to fit. The tunnel was the only way out.

He tried again, forcing his shoulders and thrusting with his spastic legs. Damn. It’s uphill now. This time, the loose dirt and pebbles worked against him, sliding him back down. He pushed with his trembling feet and wormed his way up, inch by inch, till he reached the worst bottleneck, his hands reaching the outer ridge of the tunnel.

The Devil’s Grip seemed to close around his torso like a cinch. He could go no further, his arms, his legs stretched out, unable to push or pull. He twisted and wrenched with his sweating hands, but couldn’t dislodge his chest. The earth had him in a vise.

The flashlight grew dim. He struggled and crammed his body till his shoulders and hips were jammed in like a plug. His throat clenched down on the rising panic. He pressed again with his feet. Then his legs convulsed. The jerky rhythms jolted his hips. They jarred his chest, his neck, shaking free the sobs that had snagged in his throat.

“H-Help me!” he yelled to no one. The spasms grew stron- ger. He heard screams, screams from his own throat, bounc- ing back at him like a hammer. He felt a hand close tightly around his middle. Then he knew.

The dream

ing, writhing, gasping for air. The earth, the world, had

grabbed him, like a devil’s hand, a Devil’s Grip. Squeezing him. Cramming him. Binding him. He couldn’t breathe, he

couldn’t move, he needed to scream let-go-of.

the damn dream. He felt his body twist-

he needed to be

Breathe, keep breathing. He took a slow breath. He imag- ined a cinch, a binding cord wrapped around his ankles, his

knees, felt it coil and twine around his hips, his waist, pin- ning his arms to his side. He saw himself walking, sleeping, talking, with this cord cramming his parts together, jam-

ming him, pinching him, crowding him. All his life

he knew it life.


he could hardly breathe, his whole goddamn

“L-Let me go!” he screamed, his breaths coming quick and shallow. His shouts echoed back to him. Sweat poured down his neck, sticky like blood. He pushed again. His

legs jerked and quivered, jostling him loose. His body slid

down till his feet hit the dungeon floor. “Oh, G-God

His spasms triggered again, shaking his thighs in a terrible rhythm. “N-No,” he sobbed. “L-Let go!”


The flashlight went completely dark. Rusty shivered. He licked his grimy lips, felt the grit in his teeth. The cave smelled of blackness, of death. So, the Grip had won. Tate had won. The world had won. He would never get out. This was reality. He was helpless, his legs, his arms writhing out of control. The dream was true.

“No!” he screamed, and shoved again. He sucked air into his frantic lungs, heaved, and sucked. But the Grip, the cinch, closed on his middle again, like a devil. Sweat poured from his arms, his chest. His breath came in gasps. He slid forward and reached till his whole hand grasped the entrance to the tunnel. He felt another squeeze of the vise.

“I’m n-not no good for n-nothing!” His words came crash- ing back, echoes from the deep. “I’m a m-man!” The words pounded on his chest, his shoulders, pushing him, lifting him. Rusty closed his eyes and inhaled a long breath. He tried again, easing into the hole slowly, smoothly, squeez- ing himself thin. His body slid forward an inch, then some more. He tugged and inched his way till his fingertips felt the far edge of the shaft. “L-Let me g-go!” he screamed. “I’m a m-maaan!”

No, no, no! Breathe like a man. Breathe deep. This time, Rusty opened his lungs, inhaled again, and set his breath

free, felt it ooze out, like the bleeding of bile, till he was empty, clear, drained. I’m a man. He closed his eyes and

lay still for a long while. He imagined his home

his bed

his crystals. He thought of Tate, how he’d rigged the joystick, and Tate, up early for work every morning, his engineering dreams diminishing, year by year, like a missed train departing in the distance. He imagined Sissy with her sweet whisperings. And his mom, María, forever dragging,

tired, and alone. Rusty opened his eyes in the dark, feeling


lighter, as if floating, limp, loose.

He reached again to the edge of the tunnel entry, and wrig- gled and tugged. His knuckles ached. He inched himself upward, upward, with his calmer strength, dragging with fingers, shoving with feet. He scraped his limp body along the rocks. His elbows caught the edge and dragged, prying his torso out. The granite tore at his jacket, ripping portions of shirt away, scuffing skin. Streaks of blood and sweat smeared across his chest till he was sliding out and out, free—free from the grasp, the vise, the Devil’s Grip.

Rusty lay face down on the gravel in the Devil’s Porch, the rocks rough against his chest and cheek. He slept a long while, sucking sweet air into his lungs with the cadence and calm of a newborn.

Finally, Rusty woke and crawled from the cave. He hiked to the high mesa and up and up along a steep, rocky trail to the flat crest on top of the world. He sat on a pile of broken breccia, held his knees, and shivered with the beauty of the vast midnight sky, the rich, ragged landscape he loved, made more mysterious by a half-moon on the rise. He stood tall, stretched his hands high, and breathed deeply, taking in the scents of the desert—pungent, bittersweet. “Not bor- ing,” he said aloud.

Rusty fingered the folded paper in his jeans pocket. He pulled it out, unfolded it and held it up in the moonlight. The heading across the top read Sul Ross State University, Admissions Application. In the dim light, he peered at the line labeled “Name” where, tomorrow, he would fill in Mr. Rusty Serrano.

Rusty pulled from his back pocket the cloisonné barrette. He caressed the jewel, watched the purple, the gold, glisten in the half-moonlight. With the application in hand, Rusty hiked down the rocky trail with that jerky gait he’d always hated, and smiled. I’m not drowning, he thought as he in- haled the crisp night air deep into his lungs. I’m not drown- ing at all. I’m swimming.




Just past dawn, Rusty pulled into a recycling center and dumped his pile of empty beer cans, then headed to Sissy’s. He banged on her door. The four remaining cans of the six- pack dangled in plastic rings from his left hand.

Sissy appeared in a yellow robe, tying the cloth belt around

her. “Hey, what are you

her and walked to the kitchen table with Sissy following. Tate stood at the counter stirring coffee, dressed in jeans and T-shirt.

,” she began. Rusty pushed past

Rusty slammed the four beers down on the table. “I d-don’t n-need these anymore,” he said. “I’m d-done.”

Rusty then pulled Sissy’s cloisonné barrette from his pocket and tossed it onto the table where it bounced and clinked and glistened as it settled among the breakfast dishes. Sissy gasped. Tate stared at the barrette. Then Tate looked intently at Rusty, his eyes blinking.

Rusty broke the silence. “T-Tate. You’re c-coming with me.”

Tate smirked. “Where the hell to now? The damn cave? The Devil’s Grip?”

Rusty walked to Tate and hooked his elbow. “N-No. T-To Alpine.”

Tate shook him off. “What for?”

“The d-deadline is t-today. They g-got night c-classes.”

“Night classes?” Tate hurled his stirring spoon to the floor. “Goddamn you!” He chugged his coffee. “Persistent bas- tard, aren’t you?”

Tate grabbed his wallet from the table and stomped out the door. Rusty followed behind, flailing with his jerky gait. Sissy stood in the doorway, the corners of her mouth tilting toward a grin. Tate yelled to her, “Call work. Tell ʼem I’ll be late!” Tate slid into the truck and stared straight ahead, his jaw clenching. Rusty slipped behind the wheel. Tate added, “I’m just going for the ride. To help you out.”

Rusty started the ignition. On the dashboard sat a chunk of quartz, a crystal of lilac and rose. Rusty peered past Tate at Sissy standing at the door. She gave him a nod and a wink.

Rusty yanked the truck in reverse and sped down Avenue D toward the highway. “Jesus, Rusty!” Tate hollered. “Use

that stick slow and easy! You’re gonna get us killed.” Rusty laughed out loud. “What?” Tate demanded. Tate glanced

over at Rusty. Tate snickered

burst out laughing, doubled over, till he was snorting spit. Finally, he sat up and let out an audible sigh. Tate rubbed his jaw and opened his mouth wide to relax his face. “You really think I can do this, huh?”

he chuckled

then he

Rusty swerved the truck onto the highway. “You idiot!” Rusty answered, smiling. He rolled down his window, let- ting in a rush of hot wild wind. “W-What d-do you think?”

Along the western horizon, the morning rays of Texas sun were flooding the jagged landscape with dusty greens and golds. The old truck shuddered and shook. The crystal shimmered on the dash, casting shards of rosy light around the cab. Tate lifted his hands to the sparkles and watched them quiver and quake across his palms. Rusty jerked for- ward on the joystick and gunned it for Alpine.


Glenna Cook

Lady of the Manor

Phyllis has invited everyone in her office for lunch at her senior home, where she has her own apartment. She doesn’t worry that this might not be feasible.

She expects everything to fall into place.

I begin to make the arrangements.

Her boss agrees to a day, and to allow a longer lunch hour.

I plan with the kitchen staff

a special menu for twenty extra people.

I take Phyllis shopping for Christmas decorations,

a small tree, a white poinsettia.

When the day arrives, they all carpool across town.

Phyllis is the perfect hostess— queen for the day, lady of the manor. All the staff at the home show her deference, and in the dining hall, lunch is served, as if it were a great banquet.

After her co-workers have eaten, she leads them to her apartment, neat and shining with holiday color.

“This is my couch, this is my TV, this is my table, this is my bed

She lists each item with pride, as if to say, I have a life, like you.


Glenna Cook

fierce Love

Most people perceived you as flawed. Mother saw you as blessing.

Her fierce love, in your first months, brought you past pneumonia’s peril. She fed you goat milk and natural vitamins. Mrs. Mann massaged you with her miracle hands. You thrived.

Rather than hide you in the shadows, she placed you at the heart of things—center stage. At church gatherings, school carnivals, there you’d be, perched on her lap, or atop Father’s shoulders, curious gaze taking in a world difficult to comprehend, yet, one where she’d always make a place for you.

liz Dolan

May aLL your chiLdren Be GyMnasts

Daughter, remember once I told you anyone who could triple-back handspring off a balance beam, nail both feet without a bobble, could tackle anything.

I asked how you knew

for that split second when you accelerated, throwing back your head, arching your spine, pointing your toes, your taut body circling like a windmill’s wheel, where the beam was.

You said, “Spatial awareness, I guess.”

Every time you lifted off I, earth-bound, closed my eyes lending you my sight. Now I watch you nursing your jet-haired boy who barely cries who inhales oxygen through a cannula. Your hand cradles his floppy head.

I fear his life without flight

until I see him arcing in your eyes.

liz Dolan

the heaLer

Four-year-old David who has Down’s snuggles into three-year-old Tommy’s chest

like a Maine coon cat. He pets Tommy’s head flubs his lips on his pale cheek and laughs

with so much heart at the noise it makes, he warms ours. Even though he knows Tommy cannot

move nor speak, unlike us, he does not give up

hope for him, maybe recalling when he himself sipped air raggedly

through a trach and could not pedal his trike but how last night in falling twilight

he did.

Sadly, Tommy died in 2013.


The Lost Year

Grace Lapointe

O livia always had her long blond hair in a ponytail. Even though we all wore the same uniform at my new school, I thought her shoes and hair barrettes

seemed like the right ones to have. She rolled up her skirt above her knees and always looked right at the boys and made weird faces while she put on her ChapStick.


I laughed. “That’s impossible. You can’t drown in a bub- bler.”

“Of course you can. You just stop breathing.”

Mrs. Renault, the principal, had assigned her to guide me around. That was exactly how she’d said it: “Olivia will

Besides Olivia, I didn’t really know any other girls in my class yet. The boys always said “hi” to me, though. Rob

guide you around and help you get acclimated.” Mrs. Re-


the door for me and sat with me at lunch. He liked to

nault always wore colorful sweaters and a lot of makeup


different kinds of soda together until it made a disgust-

and called everyone “kiddo.”

ing concoction. If he thought that would impress me, he

“So, do I have to carry your books?” Olivia asked me.

“No, I can do it myself.” I didn’t want anyone to act like my servant.

She didn’t really have to do anything, just walk to class with me and make sure I didn’t fall. I’m not sure what she would have done if I’d actually fallen, though. Most of the classes were on the same floor, except history, which was in the basement. There were no elevators, but the staircase was narrow, so I could grab onto both railings at the same time. It took me a long time to climb stairs, but I could manage. I could do anything if I put my mind to it.

I was never sure what to say to Olivia. She’d ask me things like, “Do you know what a hickey is? Do you know what oral sex is?”

“No,” I’d answer. She’d start explaining, but I thought she must have been getting some of the details confused. I started asking her questions about sex that I’d never ask my mom or look up on the Internet.

One day Olivia said, “There was a girl who died here, back in 1962. Before Father Duggan was here, when all the teachers were nuns. She fell into the water bubbler and

was wrong. I noticed he never offered to hold the door for Olivia.

“Don’t talk to Rob,” she whispered. “He touches himself.”

On my first Thursday at St. Agnes’, I noticed all the other sixth-grade girls were wearing white polo shirts and navy sweatpants instead of their pleated skirts. I hadn’t even known that was an option. At the end of math class, the bell rang, and everyone else stood up and started marching out the doors. They moved in unison, like the cars on a train. I couldn’t even see where they were going. Where was Oliv- ia? How did they all know exactly what to do? I felt almost queasy when I realized that the runaway train was leaving me behind.

“Excuse me,” I asked the math teacher. “Where are we go- ing?”

She looked up from her correcting. “Oh. Outside.”

“OUTSIDE???” I repeated.

“Yes, dear. It’s gym day,” she said calmly, as if I already knew this. On the tour, I thought Mrs. Renault had told Mom and me that gym was always in the auditorium.

I tried to follow the rest of my class, but I couldn’t even see where they’d gone. I wandered around the corridors, which all looked exactly the same and were painted blinding white. Every once in a while, there was a painting of Jesus, but even those looked almost identical. I started to feel dizzy, like I was walking in a maze.

I finally found the back door and realized that I was sweat-

ing and out of breath. In the distance, I could see everyone running around in a park across the street. I stepped outside, my legs shaking a little. I usually needed someone to walk with me when I was outside and never crossed streets alone.

Then I noticed someone coming towards me. I hoped it was Rob, but as the person got closer, I could see that it was a girl—Olivia. Had she wanted to go and find me, or had the teacher sent her?

When Olivia walked across the street with me, I tried to grip her arm for support. At least that was less awkward than holding hands. My fingers felt clammy. I was trying not to put too much pressure on her, but I felt her flinching away, like she thought I was contagious. Dear God, send a BOY next time! I thought.

“What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” she almost screeched, trying to run away from me.

“Sorry Olivia, I know it’s weird, but I kinda need to hang on,” I explained.

“But you can walk OK when we’re inside!”

“Yeah, I know. It’s hard to explain. I have trouble with co- ordination and long distances.”

“Maybe Father will let you skip gym.”

“I don’t want to stay inside though. I’d become a pariah.”

“A what?”

“You know, like an outcast.”

She looked at me like I was some exotic animal with two heads.

I stared straight ahead, not looking at her, like I was wear-

ing blinders. I tried to block out the noise of cars roaring by and the feeling that gravity was pulling me down towards the hard cement. I couldn’t stop imagining being swallowed

up in the concrete and run over by cars. The image kept repeating itself in my brain, like someone was rewinding a videotape.

The rest of the class was playing soccer in a little grassy area. There were no benches in this park, just a white- washed statue of some saint or bishop.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked the gym teacher, Mr. Richards. He was tall, kind of young, and had spiked hair.

He looked surprised that I could talk. He smiled at me, talk- ing very slowly, like he thought I had a mental disability in addition to a physical one. “Hi there. You can sit down in the shade over there, OK?” He pointed to a tree.

It was hard for me to get down onto the ground, so I leaned against the tree, trying not to get dirt on my clothes. Why hadn’t I brought a book with me? I was so bored that I be- came fascinated watching a little boy and his mother walk- ing their hyperactive Jack Russell terrier down the street. They stared back at me.

When we got back to the classroom, Olivia said to me in a flat tone, “You’re a lesbian.” It wasn’t a question.

“Huh? No I’m not.”

“Yeah, right. You were, like, grabbing me.”

“I just needed to hold onto something! It has nothing to do with who I like.”

“Look at your hands.”

“What about my hands?” Did they look like a boy’s? Had I bitten a hangnail?

“They say if your ring finger’s longer than your index fin- ger, it makes you a lesbian. It’s because of your hormones.”

“That’s stupid.” I kept checking my index finger just to make sure it was longer.

Olivia wouldn’t speak to me after that. She turned away when I said “hi” to her. I overheard her telling the other girls that I was a lesbian who’d tried to molest her. From then on, only the boys would eat with me at lunch.

I wondered if Olivia was the person who’d stolen my jacket

the first week of school. I asked Mrs. Renault to tell Father Duggan, but they never figured out who took it.

“We can work this out, kiddo. You should probably go talk to Father,” Mrs. Renault said, with a big smile.

I was tired by the time we got across the street to the rec-

tory. The secretary met us at the door and told us Father would be in momentarily. While I waited, I looked around his office. There was an icon of Jesus, holding open his cloak to reveal his Sacred Heart, which was bleeding and surrounded by a crown of thorns. I could see the nail marks in his hands and feet. I shivered. I’d seen icons like this at my grandparents’ parish, but the art at my church wasn’t quite this graphic.

Right then, Father Duggan walked in. I’d only seen him from a distance before. He had glasses and gray hair, and he was much shorter and thinner than I’d expected. He was wearing regular clothes (“civilian clothes,” as Mom would say), with his white collar poking out from his sweater. I thought it looked out of place, like the time I saw my physi- cal therapist at a fancy restaurant, wearing a dress, makeup, and high heels instead of a T-shirt and sweatpants. Father wasn’t making eye contact with me, just looking past me like I was invisible. I kept staring at the icon with its big, mournful eyes instead of at him.

He said in a deep, musical voice, “Good afternoon, TalEET- Ha. What a beautiful name.” I’d never heard anyone pro- nounce my name that way. It sounded so threatening—like “lethal.”

“Actually, it’s TALitha,” I corrected.

He smiled. “Ah, Talitha. I used the Aramaic pronunciation. You know the story behind your name?”


“In the Book of Mark, there was a little girl around your age who was very sick. Her father, Jairus, approached Jesus in the synagogue and begged him to heal her. But by the time Jesus reached the house, the child was already dead.” Even though I knew this story backwards and forwards, I

felt like I was hearing it for the first time. He sounded like

a radio announcer. “Jesus took her by the hand and said, ‘TALITHA CUMI! LITTLE GIRL, ARISE!’”

I jumped. Father Duggan was practically shouting. It was

like he was acting in a play, or like his words were a magi- cal spell that could actually raise people from the dead. By then, I’d almost forgotten why I’d come to see him in the first place.

“So, how’s everything working out so far? Can you get to and from class?”


“I’m told you’re very bright and you’re doing well.”

I almost said yes to that, too. “Thank you.”

“We’ll find something else for you to do during gym. OK, Talitha?”

.“Good afternoon, TalEETHa. What a beautiful name.” I’d never heard anyone pronounce my name that way. It sounded so threatening—like “lethal.”

“Thanks. At my old school, the gym teacher adapted all the exercises for me. And could you put me on the schedule for the readings? I always read in my church at home. The priest usually just carries the book himself. They set up a chair so I don’t have to climb the steps, or someone helps me. It wouldn’t be difficult at all.”

“Of course.” He was looking down at paperwork on his desk, like I was already gone. I’d planned to ask him to meet with my parents, but I decided that I could handle this by myself. After I left, I realized that I’d forgotten to ask him about my coat.

After that, I got to stay inside during recess and gym. It gave me more time to read anyway.

No one had ever mentioned God at my public elementary school. But every Friday at St. Agnes’, we had a prayer service with readings and a sermon, plus Masses on holy days. Father always picked students to be the readers. While he processed down the aisle, the reader marched up the stairs to the altar, carrying a heavy missal. During the “Our Father,” I once held hands with the girl next to me, like we did at my church at home. She let go, like I’d given her an electric shock.

I kept asking Father Duggan to put me on the schedule, but

he never did. Every other kid in my class got at least one turn. Sometimes they made hilarious mistakes, like: “He prostated himself before the king.” I didn’t usually think other people’s mistakes were funny, but soon, I started laughing at them.

At first, I thought she was pretending to be drunk for some reason. Then I noticed that she was dragging her left leg and shouting long, nonsensical words in a snobby voice.

Father Duggan always used a lot of incense, which the

priest at my church only used on Good Friday and at funer- als. When I opened my mouth to sing, the bitter-smelling incense hit the back of my throat and made my eyes water.

I usually sang along anyway, until I realized no one else

was singing except Father. He sang every part of the Mass, even the readings. Sometimes it sounded ridiculous when he tried to cram in all the words. His voice was so low that it blended in with the organ. Even when he was giving a sermon, it sort of sounded like he was chanting. I usually didn’t pay attention to what he was saying, just the mesmer- izing rhythm of his voice.

On the first day of religion class, Father walked into the classroom and said in his booming voice: “Boys and girls, some people try to take every word from the Bible literally. But listen to Psalm 14: ‘There is no God.’” He closed the

Bible and smiled at us. That can’t be in the Bible, I thought. He said, “Now let me read the whole thing: ‘The FOOL

.’” I couldn’t decide

says in his HEART, There is no God

whether he was a brilliant speaker or he’d tricked us some- how.

“What’s the last book of the Bible?” he asked us the next week. Most of the other kids were staring out the windows in a daze. He looked around the room. “Anyone? Miss


“Revelation,” I whispered, staring at my fingernails.

“Yes, exactly!” he said excitedly. “Protestants call it Revela- tions, as if there are all sorts of juicy secrets in there.” After that, he always called on me, even when I wasn’t raising my hand, and seemed amazed when I knew the answer. When-

ever I got a question right, Olivia would snicker. Sometimes one of the boys hissed, “Yessss, Miss Diassss!” One day, someone stole my homework from my backpack. I thought

I saw Olivia and her friends passing it around and copying it.

Father talked about abortion a lot in religion class. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, he told us that 30 million babies had been aborted since then, which seemed like an unimaginable number. I wondered how many parents chose an abortion because the baby would have had a disability. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It made me feel almost like part of an endangered species.

After Father’s dramatic sermons, even Communion seemed anticlimactic. He rushed through the prayers of the Con- secration. He’d shifted the focus of the Mass off of Jesus and onto himself. The altar was his stage, and we were his audience. Late one night, when I was watching TV, I saw a few minutes of Rosemary’s Baby. I had a nightmare about

a strange cult with bizarre rituals, like a backwards version

of the Mass. Father Duggan was their leader. I couldn’t tell whether they were Satanists or worshipped him instead of God.

While I was walking to class one morning, I saw Olivia stumbling around in the hallway. At first, I thought she was pretending to be drunk for some reason. Then I noticed that she was dragging her left leg and shouting long, nonsensical words in a snobby voice. A bunch of other girls were watch- ing her and laughing.

I thought my heart had dropped into my stomach. Is that

what I look like? I wondered. I wanted to ignore them and just concentrate on walking to class. My eyelids felt weirdly heavy, like I wanted to cry but couldn’t.

Ever since that meeting in Father Duggan’s office, I’d never complained to an adult at school. But Mrs. Renault was just walking by. “Hey, girls!” she called cheerfully. “No one’s in trouble. Let’s just chat.” She asked us to gather around her in a circle, like she was our buddy, not the principal. “I know these years can be tough, but they’re wonderful too. Believe me, someday you’re going to want these days back. So let’s all try to be nicer to each other, OK? Remember, Father and myself are always here if you need to talk.” Then she walked back to her office, without looking at any of us.

In April, Mrs. Renault announced that the sixth grade was going on a field trip to New York City. “I think it would be too tiring for you, kiddo,” she told me. I’d gone on lots of field trips in elementary school and had never had any prob- lems getting around. I almost told her that nothing was too tiring for me, but it’s not like I wanted to go with them.

“Of course you can go!” Mom said. “Do they need any more chaperones?”

On the day of the field trip, we all had to be on the bus by 6:00 a.m. I grabbed both railings at once and tried to climb up the high stairs, but other kids kept pushing around me and saying I was holding up the line. I hoped no one noticed that Mom had to help me a little. I sat down in the first row, relieved that I’d made it. When the other girls walked onto the bus, Olivia looked very carefully at me and then averted her eyes, like I was repulsive. Her friends copied her ex- actly. They walked past me and chose seats near the back of the bus, as far away from me as possible. Even the boys followed them. The only kid sitting anywhere near me was Rob, a couple of rows over.

I’d never told my parents about the gym teacher making me sit under a tree, Father not letting me be a lector, or anyone else excluding me at school.

Mom was sitting with the other parents and teachers, but she immediately walked over and sat next to me. I almost said, “Please don’t, Mom.” Sitting with your mom on a field trip wasn’t just mortifying—it was social suicide. But they already hated me, so I had nothing to lose.

Mom looked exhausted. She had puffy, dark circles under her eyes and her long hair was disheveled. She’d started working second shift at the hospital a few months ago, and Dad drove me to and from school on his way to work. If she got home at midnight, she’d probably gotten about five hours of sleep. It made me feel guilty that she had to get up so early and take a day off from work.

The inside of the coach bus didn’t look anything like a reg- ular school bus. There was a TV screen in every other row, and the seats were covered in what looked like a carpet. I had closed my eyes and leaned against the headrest when I heard Mrs. Renault shouting over the traffic.

“Good morning, kiddos! Some public school kids don’t learn anything on field trips. So we’re doing something fun AND educational. We’re going to have a scavenger hunt. For a grade.” I heard people grumbling. She passed out dis- posable Polaroid cameras and sheets with trivia questions.

Then she put a video in the VCR, a Biblical miniseries with cheesy music and special effects.

“This is absurd,” Mom said.

“Seriously! The Israelites didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes.”

“No, look at this. You all have to go up to the top of the Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers, the Empire State Build- ing—and it’s all part of your grade.”

I looked at the long list of landmarks. We had to visit each

of them and “collect” an interesting fact or take a picture. “I know a lot of things about those places anyway. I can just make something up.”

“But you shouldn’t have to do that, honey!”

I shrugged.

“I thought she said they made sure the trip would be totally accessible for you! Do they do this a lot? Leave you out of


I’d never told my parents about the gym teacher making me sit under a tree, Father not letting me be a lector, or anyone else excluding me at school. Each of these things seemed unimportant when they happened, and I thought it was better if I dealt with them by myself. I’d usually just nod when my parents asked me if I’d had a nice day at school. Sometimes I lied: “I had lunch with my friend Olivia.” I was afraid that if I told them one little thing, the rest would come out like a flood, and I’d never be able to stop talking about it. But now I finally told Mom everything. We were almost whispering, but I didn’t even care if someone over- heard us. I thought it might take the whole five-hour bus ride to explain everything.

I kept my voice calm, but Mom sounded like she was going

to cry. “This is all my fault, honey. I wish I’d been home after school so you could’ve told me right away. But you can talk to me any time, even in the middle of the night! We could have found another school back in October.”

I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted to transfer in the

middle of the school year. Somehow it seemed like failing

or at least surrendering and letting people like Olivia win.

I was used to being able to handle new things, even really

uncomfortable ones like different kinds of physical therapy.

I couldn’t let it get to me.

The bus finally stopped near Battery Park. It was one of those cloudy, depressing days when the sky is more white than gray. The sky reflected in the water, making it look creepy, almost silver. I stared across the harbor at the Statue of Liberty raising her torch into the fog. Rob smiled at me and held up his arm at a weird angle, so it looked like he was carrying the torch. I can’t remember whether I smiled back.

Most of them had shopping bags or those silly green foam hats that looked like Statue of Liberty crowns. No one even asked me where I’d been.

Mom and I waited while everyone else stampeded out of

the bus. A man in a lime green shirt ran over to the bus, ges- turing wildly. By the time Mom and I got off of the bus, the tour had started without us. Mom took my hand and ran af- ter the group, shouting that she wanted to give Mrs. Renault

a piece of her mind. But they were already gone, following the guide at a much faster pace than I could walk.

“I guess we’re our own tour group now, honey,” Mom said, trying to sound cheerful. We didn’t exactly have a choice. The bus driver had said he was coming back to Battery Park at 5:00, so at least we’d be able to find them at the end of the day.

I noticed a sign outside the visitors’ center describing all the handicapped accommodations. You could read brochures in Braille or even rent a wheelchair for the day, as long as you called in advance.

“So they paid for a guided tour but didn’t care whether it would be accessible,” she said. “Unbelievable! You’re all

supposed to go to the top of the Statue’s crown, but there’s no elevator up there. What the hell is wrong with this


“It’s OK, Mom,” I said, but that’s not even what I meant. I just wished she wasn’t so upset.

I realized that we couldn’t even get in because Mrs. Renault

had everyone’s tickets. Mom and I spent most of the day waiting in an enormous line that twisted around the build- ings. The visitors’ center had a video about immigration

playing on a loop, and I’d almost memorized the whole thing by the time we got our tickets. We took the ferry to Ellis Island because it was more accessible than the one to Liberty Island.

Then Mom and I went back to Battery Park to wait for our bus. When the rest of the class arrived, they were all talking excitedly. Most of them had shopping bags or those silly green foam hats that looked like Statue of Liberty crowns. No one even asked me where I’d been. Apparently they didn’t notice. Or maybe they thought I’d planned to spend the whole day with my mom in the first place.

Rob sat near me again on the way back. He tried to show me how to make origami, but I was terrible at it. He wrote down his phone number on a piece of paper, but I lost it by the end of the day.

From the back of the bus, I could hear the other girls play- ing those clapping games that seemed like a secret code. When someone messed up, Olivia would laugh and say, “Gay!” or “You’re retarded.” Without looking up from her novel, Mrs. Renault said, “Ladies, language.”

Mom said we’d come back to New York by ourselves some- day and see the Empire State Building and the Twin Tow-

ers. But first, we had to find another school. Before I trans- ferred, Mom wanted to have a meeting with Father Duggan and Mrs. Renault. I thought that would be what Dad called

a “moot point.”




The only public middle school in my city had six floors, a

thousand students, and security guards with metal detectors.

It was constantly in the news because kids were beating

each other up and joining gangs. The other Catholic schools were decrepit and over a hundred years old. They had steep staircases and uneven floors. When Mom and I looked

around at other schools, we remembered why we’d picked St. Agnes’ in the first place. At least it had a much newer and more accessible building than all the others.

That summer, after we’d finally found an accessible pri- vate school in another town, it seemed like every story on the local and national news was about pedophile priests. Dad stopped watching the news at dinner, but it’s not like I didn’t realize what was happening. It was everywhere. The papers included all the gross details. Even when they tried to imply things, I could figure it out.

One afternoon, I had the TV on, but I was only half-watch- ing. Then I heard a voice say: “After over thirty years as pastor at St. Agnes’ Parish and School, Father James Dug- gan has resigned following an accusation of sexual abuse.”

I put down my book and stared at the TV. The report said

that a woman had accused him of molesting her back in the ’70s, when she was twelve. The statute of limitations had expired, so they couldn’t arrest him. I wondered if he’d get defrocked. I imagined him giving a long, eloquent speech saying he was innocent, and Mrs. Renault telling the report- ers that he was so holy. But the reporter just said, “Duggan could not be reached for comment,” and moved on to an- other story.

Mom came running into the room. “Honey, did he just say Father Duggan?” Her voice was shaky. She hugged me and stroked my hair.

“I’m fine, Mom. Nothing happened. I don’t know whether it’s true or not.”

“Oh, thank God, Tallie. You’d tell me, right?” She turned the TV off.

“I tell you everything. Nothing happened,” I repeated.

When I went back to my room, I thought about that day near the end of Lent when Father Duggan had held a Rec- onciliation service. He told us to remember that Jesus had died for each and every one of our sins. That made me feel guilty because it sounded like Jesus was still dying right now, and my actions were killing him. We all lined up in front of the confessional, fidgeting nervously. I wished I could have gone to some random priest I’d never met be- fore—anyone but him.

There were two booths set up in the chapel: one with two chairs facing each other, and one with a screen and a place

to kneel. I’d never seen a confessional like that before, and

I don’t kneel, because it’s uncomfortable. But I chose the

confessional with the screen just so I wouldn’t have to talk to him face-to-face. It was dark and cramped, with a stale,

musty smell. I could barely see Father silhouetted through the screen. I recited the Act of Contrition and mumbled

a few boring things. The priest stands in for God, so just

imagine you’re talking directly to Jesus, I reminded myself. But I couldn’t—not when I heard Father’s booming voice.

“My child, that was a lovely confession.” I had been going to confession for four years, and no priest had ever said

anything like that to me before. “You are so spiritual. That’s

a gift, you know. You’re very conscientious. Do you know what that means—conscientious?”

I nodded, like he could see me. For some reason, my tongue

felt frozen. I wondered if he talked to everyone like this. Do you even know who I am? I thought. I was waiting for him to give me my penance, but he just kept talking: “Now I’m going to have to ask you to forgive me. Remember when you came to my office? You were so quiet. Before I had a conversation with you, I’d always assumed—” His voice trailed off. “Well. Our Lord thinks people like you are very special, you know.”

Oh God, he knew who I was. I wasn’t anonymous behind the curtain.

When he finished the prayers of absolution, I asked, “Can

I go now?” My knees felt glued to the carpet. I got up, my

legs feeling tight and unsteady, and left the confessional as fast as I could.

Of course I knew Jesus cured disabled people, but I’d never wondered whether they wanted him to. I probably used to have an answer for that too, but it was gone. That was the day I realized that I couldn’t sing anymore, even when

I was alone at home. Whenever I tried to sing, my throat would close up, and no sound would come out.


Everyone Deserves a Turn

Bert Edens

I t never ceases to amaze me how someone can say so much by saying so little.

For our son Zakary’s thirteenth birthday, we were, for the first time, having his party at a “big kid” place. He knew he was now a teenager, and he wanted to celebrate appropri- ately. So we booked the party at a local place bragging of video games, miniature golf, water boats, and go-carts.

Past experience had shown us that few of the students from his special education class would attend. It was still a recent shock to find that when he took a field trip to the mall in sixth grade, he was the only student in his class of sixteen who had even been to a mall. So our hopes for high atten- dance were slim, even though the weather was projected to be perfect for early March.

As the party progressed, the attendance was pretty much as we had expected. One friend and his mom brought a present, chatted for a minute, then left. Two other parents stopped by without their children, dropped off their pres- ents, then left. There was even a friend who came, got his game tokens, and then disappeared to play games for a while, without so much as a word to Zak or a present.

Lupe, a friend of Zak’s since kindergarten and her mother, did attend. Lupe was a young lady with severe cerebral palsy. As with many people with CP, we knew she compre- hended far more about her surroundings than what she was able to verbalize or communicate. We knew Lupe fit that mold, because she only had four words in her vocabulary:

“Yes,” “No,” “Mom,” and “Damn.” But it wasn’t the words themselves that clued us in, but her use of them, primarily

the last. We knew this because she typically delivered that word as if it was a four-or-five syllable word, released at full volume, almost exclusively when the classroom was dead silent. Laughter would erupt, and Lupe would rock back and forth in her wheelchair, grinning from ear to ear. Oh yes, she knew exactly what she was doing.

It didn’t surprise us when Lupe and her mom showed up, as Lupe’s parents were always very progressive about keeping her involved in community activities. Still, it was a relief, because she was certainly Zak’s best friend in class. While my wife and I talked to Lupe’s mom, Zak entertained her by repeatedly signing “Whatever” and rolling his eyes, which was guaranteed to elicit a giggle from Lupe no matter how many times he did it.

Eventually, Zak got the itch to play video games and other activities, so I took him to do that while my wife stayed and visited with Lupe’s mom. Zak and I rode go-carts, played video games, and even checked out the new laser tag facil- ity. As we dropped off more tickets from the video games, I noticed that while my wife and Lupe’s mom were chatting like the old friends they were, Lupe was certainly bored.

Then it dawned on me, there weren’t any activities here which Lupe could get fully involved in. Or were there?

After thinking it through a bit, I sat down and talked to Lupe’s mom. We talked about how long the kids had been friends and how each set of parents had taken turns watch- ing the others’ at various events. We definitely trusted one another with our kids.

So I asked the big question: Could I take Lupe for a go-cart ride?

Predictably, the first reaction Lupe’s mom displayed was a combination of uncertainty and sheer terror. Sure, she wanted her daughter to have a good time, but she would be totally unable to protect her for a period of time, when there would be countless risks and variables. After considering it for a few moments, she smiled and told me yes, she thought that would be wonderful.

As the parent of a child with special needs, I knew the leap of faith Lupe’s mom was taking with me, and I didn’t want to betray her trust. The first thing I did was talk to the young man running the go-cart track. We discussed it, and he said patronage was slow enough he could make sure that we were the only ones on the track. Sure, it wouldn’t be the full experience, but it was something.

The next thing I checked were the shoulder harnesses in the two-seat go-carts. Not surprisingly, they looked a lot like what Lupe used in her wheelchair. I felt comfortable that they would secure her safely. Looking at the track one last time, I took a deep breath and went to get Lupe and her mom.

The young man running the track was nice enough to make sure a two-seat go-cart was at the front of the row, so we could get out easily. I couldn’t help but wonder if any man- agement types would have been as accommodating, likely worrying about liability or other legal issues. I was very grateful this young man was doing all he could for Lupe, and I told him so several times.

Getting Lupe into the go-cart was a bit of an adventure sim- ply because I needed to lift her out of her chair and into the go-cart, and at first, she wasn’t sure what was up. Several times she looked at her mom for reassurance, and her mom smiled and nodded, somewhat successfully masking her own trepidation.

Once Lupe and I were fastened in securely, the employee started the timer and the green light went on. And off Lupe and I went. At first, I went very slowly, my own nerves about hurting her getting the best of me. But as I drove, I noticed Lupe looking around and just grinning, enjoying the full experience. So I did what any parent gifted with complete responsibility over the health and well-being of someone else’s child would do. I sped up.

Boy, was that the right thing to do. More wind in our faces, more rocking back and forth, more vibration from the mo- tor. It all combined to increase Lupe’s excitement, and the ride was soon sprinkled with frequent interjections of “Yes” and “Damn.” I started yelling and having fun. Zak started cheering from the spectator area. Even Lupe’s mom would clap and yell as we passed by.

Eventually, the dreaded caution light came on, signaling the end of our adventure. Even though the young man was nice enough to turn the green light back on so we could ride lon- ger, the line of people waiting their turn told me it was time to park the go-cart.

Lupe was excited as we transferred her from the go-cart to her wheelchair, rattling off a series of “Moms” and “Damns.” Eventually she became subdued and just looked around and smiled at us all. Zak started with his “What- ever” gag again, but she only smiled. I’m sure she was tired from the experience.

When we returned to the party room, my wife and I talked to Lupe’s mom, who was gushing in thanks and apprecia- tion, mostly for thinking of giving her daughter an experi- ence nobody else would have considered. Admittedly, had I not been the parent of a son with special needs, I might not have thought of it either. The more we chatted and laughed, the heavier Lupe’s eyelids got, and eventually she suc- cumbed to exhaustion. I hope she had many dreams about the go-cart ride.

I’m lucky I can tell this story. I also hope someday technol- ogy will advance so Lupe can tell her family the story from her perspective. My hope is that she remembers it even a fraction as fondly as I do.

JessiCa GooDy



My hands are old before their time. They resemble a sage’s fingers, gnarled and ancient. My sunken joints and wrinkled knuckles possess an odd elegance. Flickering tendons meet the green cobwebs of my veins, my fingertips provoking the rhythmic chatter of the keys.

My hand flops flounder-like at the end of a narrow wrist, hanging limply, curving in the spastic arc of the lame, its bitten nails like broken seashells.

The twitch and ticks of sudden spasm

required to cross treacherous parking lots, avoiding cold puddles and broken concrete, loose steps and stairs without railings, divining the clearest route across a room, sensing the texture of grass underfoot, divots hidden amongst the green.

belie the fierce concentration

My thick, heavy foot and flailing synapses rely on my sense of touch in order to make my way in the world, stumbling between crowds and along rough terrain, seeking handholds for security, testing the air the way a snake does, sightlessly, with a flicker of its tongue, scenting shapes and objects unseen in the dark.

Previously published in Open Minds Quarterly and Barking Sycamores. Reprinted by permission of the author.


Not His Circus, Not His Clowns

Phyllis H. Moore

I t is probably not fear, because he

is not afraid of anything. Anxious

sometimes, wondering if he’ll fit in,

but not afraid. His hands, clammy on the first day of school, his face white, heart racing in his chest, taking deep breaths so he wouldn’t throw up when he exited the car. Other kids laughed, greeted each other, teased. He walked, cautiously, trying not to make eye contact. His world was different, a per- ception he could not explain, needing predictability, routine, calm. His sister picked out his outfit. He had no interest.

Sirens, loud honking, even trays hit- ting the metal shelf in front of the food counter in the cafeteria, pierced his ears, sending jolts of pain to his hands and feet. Children were supposed to like fireworks, the circus, fire trucks. He cowered, shrinking from the chaos, holding his ears, closing his eyes. “Look at that funny face. See those sil- ly people. Watch this colorful parade.” No. It is noisy, out of kilter, not what happens every day. It does not belong. Pain followed the noise. No one knew what he saw through the glasses he had worn since he was three, bifocals, try- ing to coax the weak eye to participate.

Holidays brought characters, like the

circus brought clowns. They did not fit, were not supposed to be there. Faces were painted, bearded, reddened. Clothes were exaggerated, embellished, inflated, costumes of the ridiculous. Maybe they were not clothed at all, ani- mals appearing on cue to deliver eggs, animals who do not lay eggs, rabbits. It made no sense to a mind wanting rou- tine, certainty, a mind already tilting, trying to hold on to the edge, grasping what could be recognized and folding it into some kind of reality to ground his body. Wondering as he is walking, if anyone notices the wobbling occurring in his steps, hoping his feet will land on a surface, unsure it is there, no depth- perception.

“Oh, come on. It will be fun. There are all kinds of things to see. The rides, the lights, those crazy clowns. You will have fun.” Torture. That sounds like torture. “You are such a party pooper. You don’t ever want to go anywhere!” It’s true. He doesn’t. There are things there, things that send shock waves through the body, things that can make you fall down, things that cloud an al- ready skewed reality, things.

“You lost your tooth. Hurray, the Tooth

Fairy will bring you money. Put this tooth under your pillow and she will come in your room tonight and leave you money.” He cringed, wondering if she would fly into his room. Would she be tiny or big? Does she walk? Where does she carry the money? Why does she do this? How many other houses will she visit? Does she have to come here? What is she going to do with the tooth? He posed all those questions and more.

“I have money,” he said. “If you will pay her, I will just leave the tooth out- side. I don’t want a fairy coming into my room in the middle of the night. Do you know her?” Okay, no fairies. They don’t make sense, no business being in people’s houses at night, leaving mon- ey, picking up teeth. It is slightly gross if you go to that part of your brain that can reason.

An agent, plain clothes, no makeup, running interference for the absurd. That is what he wanted, someone to keep the fairies, Santas, bunnies, clowns and other farcicalities away. Shoo them to the boundary of his vi- sion, so the contradiction did not alter his already confused perception of what might be real. Later, much later,

he can explain, but it is not expected. He believes in Santa, almost forty and he does, but not the personification, the spirit. Watching Miracle on 34th Street every year he notes the spirit. “See,” he says, seeing no need to animate this spirit into a red outfit on a fat bearded man. It’s genderless, he explains, doesn’t need a person. It’s a manipula- tion that people invented, and he re- sented the assumption when he was a child, that adults would think that was okay. He teetered. He knew he did. Ev- ery day, he struggled to step, to write, to express his thoughts, but the things he knew for sure were not clothed in the ridiculous, painted with red noses, with orange hair, or loud.

Halloween was the worst. “Let’s just stay here and eat the candy you bought,” he said. No need to walk the streets asking for candy from other houses. Stay home, watch a movie, eat some popcorn, and have some candy. The other stuff was not necessary. He wasn’t scared, in fact he was fearless, but why put yourself through a disguise that is not necessary. He complied a few times, but only because others insisted. No store bought super hero outfit, “Sam I Am,” something he put together. His palate only wanted choco- late, no nuts. His Halloween bag would be poured into a communal bowl. He didn’t care.

An adult, today he would say he contin- ues to be anxious in new surroundings. Quiet, shy, little eye contact is still his demeanor. He has no patience for the manipulations of holidays and charac- ters. “There’s medication,” the doctors say. “Reduces the anxiety, relaxes.” Yes, there is. He’s tried it. “Makes my stomach hurt. I gain weight,” he com- plains. “I’m not myself when I take that.” Not his circus, not his clowns.

Cathy Bryant


My right arm has not hurt for a week.



can stretch it, roll it, bend it—just for fun.


almost might not be there, except

for the warmth. It feels unfamiliar.

I’m cautious.

My lover can be spontaneous and/or casual

with it. He rests his arm on it, or his mouth. Again, warmth. And pleasure too. I’d forgotten this. Breath on a bare arm, and it doesn’t hurt, add to the weight,

or make me tense up that bit more tightly.

I do not have to put up with my right arm,

or do breathing exercises, or positive

visualizations. The drugs work, are enough.

A whole arm! I make a curve, sweep back

and forth. I feel human and alive.

I stick it out of a window and feel,

oh bliss, the wind whisper over it.

I’m trying not to be angry about all the other parts. Angry at whom or what? Sure, take time out to rail against—stuff, but hell—enjoy the arm. Wave. Gesture. Let it flop. Lift something. Nudge someone. This is my gift, for now.


Chromosome 17 and the State of Mutual Trust

Alisa A. Gaston

T hey tell me she will not have friends. At one point or

another, all of my daughter’s doctors and therapists

have said this. It has especially worried me as I plan

her fourth birthday party. I noticed it first on an online sup- port group forum that I found six months ago for parents of children with neurofibromatosis-1. This tendency, this pat- tern. Many of the moms on the site ask for people to send their son or daughter birthday cards because they claim their children have no friends. I’ve sent cards, but filed the pattern into the back of my head.

Her disorder, or disease as some call it, affects cell growth in the nervous system, which presents the possibility of tumors forming anywhere along nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and skin. Enlargement and deformation of bones and curvature of the spine, high blood pressure, and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia may also occur. There is a high rate of developmental delays and learning disabilities as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It is caused by mutations of the neurofibromin 1 gene, which is located on the long (q) arm of chromosome 17 at position 11.2. Chromosome 17. Such a small alteration in my daughter’s complex DNA. Like a tiny rip that eventu- ally causes a tremendous tear in her physical existence. In the medical manuscripts, there is no mention of a friendship deficiency.

Our daughter’s disorder first appeared by way of café au lait colored spots—flat, light-brown spots on her skin. Penny was born with one on her forehead and many others, along with tiny freckling that soon formed on her arms, torso, and

legs. Perhaps this is when the seed planted itself. The seed that has grown into the fear that my child will be rejected by others as she grows older, and well into her adulthood. I remember looking at her spots and wondering if when she reaches junior high school, the other kids will tease her. I’ve always thought of junior high as being the first channel of cruelty, at least that’s how I remember it. So as I bathed my baby in the upright European baby tub sitting within our normal tub, her hair wet and tousled, her tiny legs crossed, her blue-green eyes happy as she mouthed a rubber water bug, I went through a pretend dialogue in my head. When the time came, I would reassure her that the spots made her distinct, like the gorgeous markings on animals. She would be my leopard baby and I would help her develop a strong personality to match, to fend off the verbal brutalities.

By the time Penny was one year old, I knew there were oth- er issues arising. I had socialized her from the time she was eight weeks old. We began in a new-mother support group at the hospital, which morphed into twelve of us breaking off and forming our own mom’s group. We met each week, took turns at our homes, and let our babies crawl on the floor and pull on brain-stimulating toys or squeeze plush stuffed animals. Naturally, the milestone conversations began. My daughter fell to the back of that milestone race. The race that we are told does not matter, the race that we brush off while repeating the mantra, “every child is differ- ent,” and yet, that race constantly runs within us. From the start of that race, my baby was social. She never cried when I left the room or left her with a babysitter, and she crawled up to others, especially adults, to gaga her “hellos.”

She did not walk until she was eighteen months old, at twenty months old she began wearing glasses due to am- blyopia in both eyes, and at her two-year check-up, her pe-

diatrician said that if she couldn’t speak within six months, we needed to find a speech therapist. At the time I scoffed.

I repeated the mantra. Shortly after that, it was a genetics doctor who ran the blood test, confirmed my daughter had NF1, and agreed with the pediatrician. “Yes, she needs a speech therapist. And a physical therapist.”

I began to notice the reactions toward my daughter were

becoming negative when she turned two. At parks, because she could not move like the other children or speak well

enough, they gave her strange looks and ran from her. Once, as she crawled up some playground equipment while the other kids her age skipped and monkeyed their way around it, one girl looked at Penny and said, “You look weird.”

I told the girl, “That was not nice.” She apologized and

walked away. My daughter, still on her hands and knees, looked up at me smiling, clueless to the insult that had just been thrown. This is when I began to feel a pain that I have never felt before in my life. I have weathered many trage- dies in my childhood and adulthood. I have known extreme sorrow and anxiety through abuse, abandonment, others’ addictions. But this was different. This was my child and the pain I felt watching her being rejected by other children pierced the deepest part of my soul, bypassing the thickest of scar tissue.

But Penny is happy. She spends the majority of her days smiling and releasing a gregarious laugh, cracking herself up and making my husband and me bellow. She pretends to take our bellybuttons and makes up silly walks as part of her bedtime routine. She is jubilant as she talks to her- self while playing with fairy dolls, hording stuffed animals on her bed, or filling her play tent in the living room with small, colorful mountain rocks, cloth pieces of smiling fruits, my magazines, and miniature flashlights she has pilfered from the kitchen drawer. She excitedly lays out the bingo cards after dinner each night or helps deal the UNO cards. Whenever she meets other children she says, “Hi, my name is Penny.” So I’ve told myself, she will be okay. She is blissful, she will make friends.

At two and a half, my daughter began to say “hello” to everyone she passed. At the grocery store, at festivals, at story time, walking down the sidewalks. Some adults said “hello” back, most children did not. This infuriated me, I thought to myself, who doesn’t teach their kids the basic social skills of greeting someone? My daughter would look at me confused, wondering why they stared but failed to acknowledge her. Each time I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Oh well.”

By the time she was three, several medical professionals had told me she would have difficulty making friends. She was finally speaking coherently and continued to say “hel- lo” to unfamiliar people. But now when she didn’t receive a response, she would boisterously announce, “They didn’t say hello to me.” Each time I told her, “Maybe they didn’t hear you,” or “Some people just don’t say hello.” I said these things loud enough for the person to hear me. In some cases, the person turned around and apologized then said “hello” to Penny, then she and I would smile at one another. This was also when I realized that my daughter verbalized everything at full volume. She did not seem to understand the inflection in her voice, regardless of how often I said, “Let’s use our inside voice,” she simply did not get it.

She entered preschool and I noticed many of the other kids kept away from Penny. Her loud voice put them off; per- haps it was her exuberance as well. She also seemed to lack perception of personal space. I shrugged most of this off, believing that many three-year-olds are unaware of auditory and physical boundaries. But as the year progressed and the others in her class began to adapt to individual margins, the rules of interruption, and appropriate volume, my daugh- ter remained in her animated state. I volunteered in her classroom once a week and noticed that she played alone. Sometimes when I went to pick her up and arrived early, I watched her on the playground from my car. I observed her wandering around by herself, unable to adequately climb the equipment or swing on the swings. All of the other children laughed and ran in pairs or small groups. And yet, Penny’s teachers and in-class occupational, physical, and speech therapists adored her. They were impressed that she had been the first kid to know all of their names, as well as her classmates’ names. They commented on her liveli- ness and how affectionate she was toward them. They told

me that when I had to keep her home for four days due to a respiratory infection, all of her classmates asked about her, desperate to know when she would return. Somewhere in their developing miniature relationships, they liked her. This gave me hope in the friendship realm.

Penny is required to have yearly neuropsychological exams. So far at each one, she has tested two years above her age group in intellect when it came to language, conceptual- ization, and analysis. This also seems to create a barrier between her and other children. Her speech is lucid now, but it’s her vocabulary that causes them to stare at her with dumbfounded expressions and then walk away without acknowledging what she said to them. At the last exam, the neuropsychologist confirmed what I had been dragging along in the back of my mind despite my hopefulness, “Yes, it’s true, these kids have a hard time making friends.”

Even though some of these moms knew of my daughter’s disorder, they were impervious to its influence on her perceived shortcomings.

But I mentally skated over her remarks. Penny has no prob- lem speaking to random people if she has a question about what they’re doing or about something in her immediate surroundings. She knows the names of all the employees in the grocery store floral department and at each trip, without hesitation she politely asks them for the standard free bal- loon. I would confirm to myself, my kid is social. Then I spoke to a woman who used to run a support group for the parents of NF1 kids. She has a son with the disorder. He is twenty-eight now and as she and I spoke on the phone, we laughed and marveled at how similar our children seem to be. She described behavior or habits that her son had when he was my daughter’s age, and we thought it amazing how spot on they were. They both recognized every letter in the alphabet by the age of two but could not sing the alphabet song; they both knew how to spell their names verbally at an early age but struggled to write letters; they both meticu- lously organized items but not in a keep-it-neat sort of way, rather in a categorical way; they both experienced fatigue even after getting a good night’s sleep and an excellent nap. Then she described a trait that unsettled me. She told me that her son often initiated conversations with others

but sometimes “checked out” when people spoke to him. This is something that Penny had recently begun to do. I have always discouraged it, telling her that she must answer people when they speak to her. The woman also told me that when her son went to university to study for his dream

occupation in the field of psychology, after only one semes- ter the school kicked him out. They wrote a formal letter stating that he did not have the required personality to be

a psychologist. They wrote that patients would not be able

to relate to him because of his deficient social skills. A sick feeling in my gut turned, especially when she told me he had never had a girlfriend, and only had one friend. I told myself, one good friend is all you need.

The original mom’s group dissolved long ago. People moved out of state, or across the city. People developed dif-

ferent interests and left to participate in other activities. So

I joined a professionally organized mom’s group and be-

came the newsletter writer and editor. At first I was excited about another regular and reliable group to spend time with, and of course, I was excited for Penny to have friends. As time went on, I noticed that she did not play with the other kids, she wanted to hang out with the moms. She could certainly hold a conversation with us as she sat and nibbled her snacks. She is a healthy eater, but tends to lack the recognition of having a full stomach. Her pediatrician has described her as “very overweight.” This has been a delicate issue because I want her to regulate her eating, but at the same time, I don’t want to say anything to make her feel self-conscience about her eating or her body. Apparently, the other mothers did not feel the same way. They began to make comments and I became defensive.

My daughter is plump because she can’t move like other children her age. She is in physical therapy, occupational therapy, swim lessons, and dance lessons, and yet she re- mains chubby. Fast food has never touched her lips, she has never had soda and only drinks orange juice when she has a cold. She eats fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, yogurt, olives, and hummus. She does not like meat. She gets the occasional ice cream or cake. And still, she is just short of the “obese” label in the medical charts. Even her pediatric nutritionist assured me, it’s not what or how much she’s eating that’s making her fat, it’s her lack of movement.

But it is the fat kid who is made fun of. Penny quickly became the target of other kids in the mom’s group, and I became the target of the moms. Some of them made state- ments insinuating that I did not talk or sing to my daughter enough when she was a baby, and that is why she is behind physically. There were statements made about the amount of food I let her eat even though she was the one snacking

on figs and pepitas while their kids ate cookies or “fruit snacks” made of high fructose corn syrup and Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 artificial dyes. They drank “fruit-flavored drinks” while my girl drank water.

I waited for the mother to tell her daughter it was not okay to say things like that in front of people. But she did not.

Even though some of these moms knew of my daughter’s disorder, they were impervious to its influence on her per- ceived shortcomings. One mother said more than once and loud enough so that Penny could hear, “She sure loves her snacks.” Another one explained to us that her daughter wanted to know why some people were fat and had big bellies. While Penny stood directly in front of us, her little belly hanging out because she had recently gone through a growth spurt and I had yet to buy her longer shirts, the mom said in a saccharine-sweet voice, “I told my daughter that people have big bellies because they eat too much food.” This same mother told me she had recently read an article that stated some kids are simply sedentary and prefer sitting in a corner with a book rather than playing on a playground or joining sports teams. She also twice emphasized to me, “But the article was very old school.” In other words, that way of thinking is no longer accepted, so get your kid off her fat butt and moving. Is it required of me to repeatedly emphasize to people like this that my daughter has a genetic disease in order that they accept and befriend her?

One day Penny wanted to play with a little girl in the mom’s group. She sat down next to her to share the sidewalk chalk, but the little girl stood up and said, “I don’t want to play with Penny.” My daughter ignored her and continued to draw on the pavement. I was thankful for her unresponsive- ness. Ten minutes later when the girl picked up a large, red ball to bounce, my daughter asked her if she wanted to play catch. Again the little girl said, “I don’t want to play with Penny,” as she stomped her feet, crossed her arms and frowned. Apparently the mean kids are making appearances long before junior high school these days. I waited for the mother to tell her daughter it was not okay to say things like that in front of people. But she did not. Instead, she wanted to hear why her little girl did not want to play with mine. It

sickened me to think that this little girl was about to unravel verbally all of the things she hated about my little girl and why she didn’t want to be her friend, but fortunately, the girl would not speak.

Shortly after these incidents, I quit the professional mom’s group. I felt emotionally torn. Outside of preschool, these were the kids my little girl hung out with. If I quit this group, and preschool was out for the summer, Penny would have no friends. The predictions would be correct. Yet around the same time, I met two exceptional women, both

with backgrounds in the science field, one with a little girl

a bit younger than Penny, and one with two boys—one

older and one younger than Penny. These two women have accepted my daughter despite her disabilities, and more importantly, their children have also accepted her. We went camping recently with the woman who has two boys and the kids had an amazing time hiking, collecting rocks, look- ing at the moon, searching for bugs, and making s’mores

around the campfire. This, I thought, is how it’s supposed to be. And then dread overtook me and I wondered how long

it would be before these children began to suspect there was

something odd about Penny, and they also would abandon the friendship.

Several weeks ago, an MRI revealed Penny has two brain tumors. Gliomas on both of her optical nerves. The eye doc- tor and the oncologist at Children’s Hospital described them as “complex” due to the fact that they reach to the back of her brain. During his examination of my daughter, and the consultation with my husband and me, the oncologist ex- plained to us that there was a possibility of her going blind. They will monitor the tumors through MRIs, and if there is any change in her vision, she will need to have chemother- apy twice a week for an undetermined amount of weeks. He also told us that NF1 kids have a difficult time socially. Again, the friend thing. He explained that kids are instinc- tive and when they get the feeling that there is something “off” about another kid, they no longer want to be around that kid.

After the genetics doctor examined Penny for her required yearly physical check, she said she wanted me to take Penny to a behaviorist to begin working on some of the social issues. She said it’s crucial that we begin addressing early on the fact that my daughter has no conception of in- terruption, and is now frequently unaware when someone is speaking to her even when the person is standing directly in front of her, despite the fact that I continue to address both with Penny. She also addressed Penny’s difficulty focus- ing—something the neuropsychologist pointed out as well during her own testing and examination, and then recom- mended a book on children with ADHD so that I could pre- pare myself for “the antisocial behavior that is on its way.”

Her private speech therapist recently determined that Penny may have auditory processing dysfunction. Sometimes the message from someone speaking makes it to her brain, and other times her synapses fail her, dropping the communica- tion between neurons. The therapist explained this is prob- ably why my daughter has a way of directing people, in or- der to control the situation. She said kids will interpret this as “bossy” and probably won’t want to be around her.

The next evening at her swimming lesson, I watched my daughter invasively lean into the other kids’ faces, telling them not to splash and to stay next to the pool’s edge when it wasn’t their turn with the instructor. Both rules had pre- viously been given by her instructor. But after a little girl slipped, fell under water, coughed, and received concern and cuddles from the instructor, Penny did not leave the little girl’s side. She sat next to her on the edge and asked her more than once if she was okay, then reassured her that it would be all right. How can a little person with this much empathy, this much warmth, this much concern not have friends? How is it possible that all of the professionals are predicting that my little girl will go through life without the communal circles that bind most of us?

The other day in her music class, one of the fathers leaned over and told me how “cute” Penny is. He commented on how outgoing she is and added, “It is so important for kids to be that way. I can see Penny will always be social and have friends.” I wanted to believe him.

Considering all of the things that have thus far gone wrong, and could go wrong because of Penny’s disorder, I under- stand it may seem odd that I am especially focused on the friend aspect. I suppose it is because of her bodily turmoil that I want my little girl to be surrounded by others who will love her as unconditionally as I do.

The birthday party I am throwing for her takes place in two weeks. To say that I’m a wreck about it would be exaggerat- ing, but I am uneasy. I have invited ten little ones (none, by the way, from the mom’s group), and I figuratively bite my nails in the same manner Penny literally bites hers as part of her daily fidgetiness. I will continue to do so until we arrive at the large gardens with the owl cupcakes and owl party favor boxes of wildflower seeds, and wait for the guests. I have not told my little girl who I invited. She gave sugges- tions and I followed her lead, but I have not spoken much about it, other than generating excitement over the fact that it’s her birthday. I don’t want her to be disappointed. Yes, it goes with life, but I can make an exception for a four- year-old on her special day. I think at least four kids will show up and I know that Penny will be ecstatic when she sees them. I think this is how I will approach it as we move through her tweens, teens, and adulthood. I will silently expect a few friends, but I will hope for more. I’m sure the professionals would smile at me with sympathy, feeling that I am grasping. But I will never tell Penny what they have predicted. Chromosome 17 may determine many bio- logical limitations, but I won’t allow it to determine social limitations. I see how she gleefully approaches people and accepts them into her life. I see how she believes she will always have friends. And despite the prognosis, doctors, therapists, mean kids, awful moms, and the occasional mal- function of neurons, I have realized that I believe in Penny, too.

yuan ChanGminG


1/ Photism

Although born with weak vision

I always enjoy watching the stars Bluish or silver Getting filtered One after another Out of the cosmos And seeing them Falling right Into the boldest pages Of history

2/ Phonism

Even in the dead Heart of night

I often hear

A short blunt saw Working aloud As if to fell The old tall oak tree Standing high against the sky On an unknown hilltop Beyond the map Of my mind

Are you listening to what you have heard Or can you hear what you are listening to?



How’d You Meet Your Wife?

Con Chapman

T he boys—Mark and Steven—were giggling at din-

ner, looking down at their phones under the table,

which was forbidden in the Preston home.

“Put your phones away,” their mother said. “You know the rules.”

The two burst out in laughter at the same time, causing their father to intervene.

“Guys—c’mon, you heard your mother.”

“He’s so funny,” Mark, the younger, said.

“Who are you talking about?” their father asked.

“Ricky Theobald,” Steven answered. “Look at this,” he said as he handed his phone to his father, who took it and turned it off.

“Perhaps this will put a lid on things,” he said as he put it in his pocket. “Mark?”

His father extended his hand and Mark gave him his phone, but not before he broke out laughing one last time.

“What did he say?” Steven asked.

“He wants to know my birthday—he’s going to tell me what day of the week I was born on.”

“Whoever it is, he must be pretty smart if he tells you that,” his mother said.

“He’s autistic Mom,” Mark said. With the source of his amusement removed, he picked up his hamburger and be- gan to eat.

“I don’t think it’s very nice to laugh at someone just be- cause he has something wrong with him,” their father said. “You can laugh at people for things they can change—like they’re cheap, or they brag, or something like that. You don’t laugh at people for things they can’t change and that aren’t their fault.”

“It’s okay, Dad,” Steven said. “Ricky doesn’t mind.”

“He probably doesn’t even know you’re teasing him,” their mother said.

“I think he knows but he doesn’t care,” Mark said.

“So you admit that you tease him?” their father said.

The boys pursed their lips and shook their heads inconclu- sively while they tried to decide how to respond.

“You can’t avoid him, Dad,” Steven said. “He comes right up to you and starts bugging you.”

“He has no sense of personal space,” Mark said.

“Still, I think you could be a little more sensitive,” their mother said.

“We have fun with Ricky,” Steven said. “And he has fun

with us. If we ignore him he gets mad.”

“He’d rather be around us than lonely,” Mark said.

A quiet descended on the table as adults and children ob-

served a temporary truce in the wars of parental discipline. The parents recognized that their children had a point. The sons didn’t press their temporary advantage too far, fearing an escalation.

“I tell you what,” their father said.

“What?” Mark asked.

“If you guys want to prove to me you’re serious, and you aren’t just being mean to this boy, why don’t we invite him along to the lacrosse game?” Mr. Preston had a block of tickets to see the new local indoor lacrosse team for Ste- ven’s birthday. He’d bought them at a discount through his firm, which did some work for the team’s owner.

The two teenagers sat in silence. Mark shrugged, “It’s fine with me, it’s not my party.”

Steven’s eyes made the circuit around the table, from his brother, to his father, to his mother. “I don’t care. Every- body’s cool with Ricky.”

“How many tickets did you buy?” the mother asked.

“Twenty. I figured twelve or thirteen kids, and the rest for me and any dads who want to come along. Would Ricky’s dad like to come?” he asked Mark.

“His parents are divorced. He lives with his mom, his dad’s

in New York.”

“If he can’t come, fine, but I want you to at least ask him.”

Mark shrugged and gave his father a look of adolescent in- difference, as if the punishment—since that’s what it was— would have no effect on him.

In truth, he didn’t think it would because Ricky was in fact,

a fun, if sometimes annoying companion. He would say things out loud that others would only mutter under their breath, or behind an adult’s back, like “Hey Mr. Byrum”—

the assistant principal—“do you really dye your hair?” When he would come out with such cracks in a perfectly innocent tone of voice and a straight face, it was hard not to find him likeable.

But the invitation, which Mark made in a jovial manner, touched off a manic phase in Ricky’s life. He was so excited at the prospect of joining other boys on an outing, and one not under the auspices of the school, that he could talk of little else in the two-week run up to the event.

“Hey Evan, are you going to the lacrosse game with Mark?” he asked one boy out loud in the cafeteria, causing some hurt feelings among two boys on the fringes of high school social acceptability who had not been invited. Why had Mark chosen to invite Ricky, they wondered. Was there something so bad about them that he preferred a handi- capped kid to them?

“I’m going to a lacrosse game with Mark!” he had blurted out in social studies class one day when the teacher had asked if anyone wanted to discuss a current event.

“That was very nice of you to invite Ricky,” said Mrs. Forman—a gray-haired, bespectacled teacher with a formal manner—who tried to incorporate ethical principles into her instruction. Mark smiled but simmered silently within, avoiding the admiring smiles of girls he had no interest in.

When the day of the game came, Mark and Steven had basketball practice after school and their mother was out with friends, so their father was home alone when Ricky’s mother pulled up in a car. It was a foreign sports car that had gone to seed a bit with age and hard use during New England winters—there was a thin ring of rust around the wheel wells, and a ding in the front fender. He suspected that she hadn’t made out well in the divorce, and hadn’t much in the way of marketable skills to maintain an affluent lifestyle and care for a hyperactive, loquacious boy at the same time.

Ricky got out of the passenger side and started to run for the house, but his mother stopped him with a sharp call. “Ricky, hold on a minute.”

Ricky went around to the driver’s side of the car. His mother got out and the two stood talking so quietly that Mr.

Preston couldn’t hear them. He had come out on the front porch to greet Ricky’s mother, but when he saw they needed time together he stepped back inside and out of their line of sight. He peeked around the doorframe when he heard the boy begin to run again, and he opened the door to say hello.

“Hi Mr. Preston, is Mark home?” Ricky blurted out. “Is his room upstairs?”

His boys were dropped off by their carpool and entered the house, where Ricky greeted them like a happy dog, talking even more excitedly than before.

The boy blew past the man and was up the stairs in three bounds, then down the hall to inspect the room of his class- mate. The man watched him go, took a few steps up and said “He’ll be home in a little while. Would you like some- thing to drink?”

“No thank you, I’ll just look around. Does Mark have any models, like airplanes or cars? Do you let him have a BB gun?”

“Uh, no to both. Why don’t you come on down, the guys will be home in a minute.”

“That’s okay I want to look in Steven’s room.” Ricky moved down the hall at a rapid but controlled pace, as if he was on tracks, then entered the older boy’s room.

“I, uh, don’t think Steven would want you in there.”

“That’s okay, it’ll only take a second. Does Steven shave? Does he wear after shave? Does he have a girlfriend?”

The man smiled. “You ask a lot of questions—and very quickly too.”

“I know but I have a lot of questions in my mind. Ms. For- man says it’s good to ask questions; there are no bad ques- tions; then she tells me not to ask any more questions.” The father listened while Ricky puttered around in Steven’s room. The boy had a nervous energy that he was not pre- pared for. He had been expecting a quiet boy after having heard the report of his ability to calculate dates many years in the past.

His boys were dropped off by their carpool and entered the house, where Ricky greeted them like a happy dog, talking even more excitedly than before.

“Did you guys win your game?” he asked.

“It was just practice, Rick,” Steven said.

“So you didn’t keep score?”

“No,” Mark said. “There’d be no point, it doesn’t count.”

Two more cars pulled into the driveway, one dropped off two boys and drove away, the other parked with two boys in the back seat and a father, Will Harris, in front.

“Anybody need a ride?” the man asked out his window as Mr. Preston came out to greet him.

“Those two who just arrived,” he said. “The others are go- ing straight to the game from their homes.”

The two boys got into the Harris car and Mr. Preston gave Mr. Harris five tickets, waving as they drove off. He went back into the house and told his sons to get their coats and get in the car. Ricky walked with Mr. Preston to the garage and on the way noticed a picture of a much younger Mrs. Preston, when her hair was long, touching her shoulders with a flip.

“Where did you meet Mrs. Preston?” Ricky asked.

“We met in college, Rick.”

“How’d you meet her?”

“It was at a dance.”

“Did you just go up and talk to her?”

“Let’s see. There was a bunch of us standing around, and we found ourselves next to each other. The others started dancing so we did too.”

“Did you take breath mints before you went?”

Preston laughed. He could remember worrying about things like that when he was in college, and figured it was a good sign that Ricky cared enough about his effect on others that he did as well.

“I think I probably did, Rick.”

Once they were on the highway into the city his boys be- came subdued, laughing in low tones as Ricky peppered them with questions.

“Do you play lacrosse?” he asked.

“I do, he doesn’t,” Steven said.

“Is it hard—could I learn?”

“You have to be able to catch the ball with your stick.”

“Is it different from baseball?”

The boys laughed. “Yes,” Mark said. “Just because they both have a stick and a ball doesn’t mean they’re the same.”

“How are they different?” Ricky asked.

At first Ricky was enthralled by the scale and pace of the place—the convex of the dome above, the players warming up on the floor, the scoreboard with flashing lights and loud music.

“Well, the big difference,” Steven said in a tone that reflect- ed his critical view of the relative merits of the games, “is in lacrosse you can hit other players with your stick.”

“You can?” Ricky asked, incredulous.

“Yeah, to try to knock the ball out of the other player’s stick,” Steven said.

“Are there fights?”

“Not really. You get your aggression out just playing.”

Ricky turned quiet, and gazed out the window. It had started to rain, and the car’s tires made a sound like wish which went down in pitch as they slowed to pay the toll at the end of the turnpike.

“How much does it cost to go to a lacrosse game, Mr. Pres- ton?”

“Don’t worry about it, Rick. I got a bargain on these.”

“But how much would it cost if I bought a ticket for my- self?”

“I don’t know. Not as much as basketball or hockey.” He didn’t want to go into too much detail for fear the boy would try to pay him.

They parked in a lot near the arena and met some others at a statue of a hockey player outside, their agreed-upon landmark. Mr. Preston handed out the rest of the tickets, and they joined the stream of people flowing into the narrow walkway that fed into the entrance.

“You guys watch Ricky,” Mr. Preston said. “Try to steer him away from strangers.”

“He’s a pretty big guy,” Steven said.

“People can get crazy in crowds, you never know who’s go- ing to flip out over nothing in a situation like this.”

They climbed two ramps to a mezzanine where their seats were located, and the boys and men began to sort them- selves into two groups that sat together by age. At first Ricky was enthralled by the scale and pace of the place— the convex of the dome above, the players warming up on the floor, the scoreboard with flashing lights and loud mu- sic. The rest of the boys were veterans of the venue, having attended games there since they were little, and so focused instead on gossip, checking their phones, cracking jokes, and horseplay. By the time Ricky had taken in the spectacle before him, he found he was outside the flow of the group’s conversation. He turned to the adults, who were chatting quietly among themselves.

“How did you meet Mrs. Harris?” Ricky asked Mr. Harris, who was startled both by the substance of the question and the blunt manner in which it was asked.

“Huh?” was the only reply the man could produce at first. Mr. Preston realized he should have briefed the other fa- thers on Ricky’s condition.

“How did you meet your wife?”

“Well, we, uh, worked together when we were both starting out.”

“Do you have a picture of her then?”

“No, I don’t.”

Mr. Preston moved to steer Ricky away from the men, standing up and calling out to his sons.

“Mark, Steven.”

His sons looked up.

“Why don’t you guys take Ricky and get hot dogs and drinks?” As he said this he nodded at Ricky, who was stand- ing up and facing the group of seated men like a lawyer speaking to a jury.

The three boys went off with a few of the others to the con- cession stands, and Mr. Harris gave Mr. Preston a quizzical look.

“He has autism. I

him. To

said, omitting the boys’ perceived misbehavior that had prompted him to do so.

include him in their activities,” Mr. Preston


encouraged the boys to invite

“Oh,” Mr. Harris said. “Well, that was good of you to do.”

“Like a lot of kids with autism, he has incredible mental powers for some things, like doing numbers in his head, but he’s pretty, uh, primitive in his social skills.”

The men nodded with pursed lips and distant looks in their eyes, as if imagining what their lives would be like if they had sons like Ricky.

The boys returned with cardboard drink carriers, popcorn and hot dogs, then settled into their seats as a booming voice came over the loud speakers to ask the audience to stand for the national anthem. Ricky was late getting back because he had stopped to buy a pennant as a souvenir, and so he took the seat at the end of the row.

The boys lowered their voices as a florid singer launched into “The Star Spangled Banner,” but Ricky—missing the announcer’s cue and not very sensitive to ceremony in the first place—continued to talk loudly, drawing stares from people around him.

The game began and the boys were, on the whole, attentive to the action. Ricky was the exception, continuing his chat- ter, asking questions whose relationship, one to the next, was apparent only to him, in a voice that projected several rows from where he was sitting. The crowd was sparse, though, so there were fewer people to be disturbed by his logorrhea and so no one objected.

The action held the boys’ attention for awhile, but soon their interest began to fade, most visibly in Ricky’s case. He returned to his inquiry into how men meet their wives, and after asking all of the fathers he hadn’t asked before, he turned to the boys who came by themselves.

“Do you know how your parents met? Was it in school? High school or college? Did they ever break up? What do your dads give your moms for Valentine’s Day?”

“When you get through, you’re gonna know everybody’s love life,” said a young man in the row behind the group who sat with his arms and legs draped over the empty seats on either side of him. “What you wanna know all that crap for?”

“It’s very important,” Ricky said with a trace of defensive- ness. “It’s the most important thing in the world, who you end up married to.”

“Not me, man,” the young man said, as he lifted a cup of beer to his lips. “I ain’t never getting married when I can get what I want for free.”

Ricky turned around to face the game, his lips pressed tightly together. He felt the need for someone outside the group, someone he didn’t know from school, to validate his belief that there was nothing better than a happy home with a mom and dad living together under the same roof with their kids. He needed it to even up what the young man had said. He looked across the aisle at another, older man, one who had scowled at him during the national anthem.

“How’d you meet your wife?” he asked the man.

“That’s none of your goddamn business kid, and I wish you’d shut your trap so’s other people can enjoy the game.”

Ricky’s face reddened, and he stood up. “It’s a simple ques- tion. I could ask you a lot more complicated questions you couldn’t even answer.”

“Kid—I told you to leave me alone. Do I have to call secu- rity on you?”

Ricky made a move to charge the man but before he could reach him he was grabbed from behind by Mr. Preston. “Easy, Rick, easy. Let’s get back in our seats, what do you say?” He signaled for Mark and Steven to escort Ricky to the other end of the row, where the other fathers were sit- ting.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Preston said to the man. “He has autism, we were trying to give him a good time. He doesn’t get out with kids his age much.”

“Pretty damn inconsiderate if you ask me,” the man said.

Mr. Preston tried to form his face into an expression of apology, but found that he couldn’t.

ranDy martin

My naMe is adaM

another morning begins in the dark; 5:30 a.m. and struggling again with the fear of rejection as sleep loses its sway and anticipatory breaths for something better than this become

the moisture laden sighs of self scrutiny that never stop fogging the looking-glass mirror that no one else sees; alone as

I reach to unleash what’s inside, another

new mixture of medicine-cabinet- prescribed duty, my three colored pills to be taken with meals; one to control appetite and another for apathy, topped by the third which they say will help fade the six angry voices into that of just one; all of them wondering if

the hair loss is side effect or age or my trying too hard to make friends with the fuckers at work who choose not to talk to people like me; all of them missing out on the fact that I never asked for these problems and that they’re more common than they would think; their knowing about my having them only because I told them, thinking it wouldn’t hurt, but instead

it just pushed them away as all they

want to know now is that my name is something like Adam, or is it, and that Adam is weird.



An Artist at Heart

Sandy Palmer

FEATURED ART An Artist at Heart Sandy Palmer Tammy Ruggles, Arrival , digital photograph, 2015, 5472

Tammy Ruggles, Arrival, digital photograph, 2015, 5472 x 3648 px

“Art, and even sometimes ability, is in the eye of the beholder.”

~ Tammy Ruggles

I nstead of picking up a brush and dipping it into paint,

Tammy Ruggles decided to dip her fingertips into acryl-

ics and start painting in a tactile way when she became

legally blind. As strange as it may sound, it made perfect sense to her. She couldn’t see the tip of a paintbrush but she could feel her fingers gliding on the paper. In her mind’s eye she could see the rural landscapes of Kentucky with its barns, creeks, fences, trees and rolling hills, even if she couldn’t actually see them very well anymore. Intuitively she began to stroke, swirl, and blend the colors. “My lines would be off, my colors would be incorrect, my representa-

tions would be suggestive, and abstract

it for what it was—a new way of creating art.

.” She accepted

Ruggles always enjoyed art but never considered it as a vocation—it was always more of a hobby. She had a pas- sion for helping people and pursued social work in school,

choosing literature and art classes as electives. After receiv- ing her bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in adult education/counseling she became a social worker. She pursued her passion for ten years and was working for child and adult protective services when her vision began to dete- riorate. Driving was a requirement of the job in rural Lewis County, Kentucky, and when she could no longer drive, she was forced to retire. “I became legally blind at the age of 40. I lost my profession, my ability to drive, and my place

in the world

I lost my identity.”

Tammy Ruggles, Ben Cartwright , Sharpie marker sketch, 2013, 8.5” x 11” With a lilting

Tammy Ruggles, Ben Cartwright, Sharpie marker sketch, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

With a lilting southern accent, the artist explains that she began wearing glasses when she was only two years old. “I always wore glasses but lots of kids wore glasses. My mother never sat me down and said, ‘Hey, you have this eye problem and you’re going to lose your vision.’ I appreci- ate that in a way. I never felt like I was that different from anybody else. I always held books up close to my eyes. I always put my head down close to my paper to draw. I sat in the front row so I could see the blackboard. As a little girl I didn’t seem to notice it and it didn’t seem to bother me. I was so used to it that it was just a part of who I was.” It wasn’t until she was 40 years old, when she had to retire, that she really felt the impact of her visual impairment. It was also then that she received a formal diagnosis—retinitis pigmentosa.

Raising a young son, she worried about how she would pay her bills and make ends meet, especially since she could no longer drive to a “typical” job. After taking two or three months off to adjust to the realities of her new life, she says, “I decided I would have to think of some other way to


for writing into a profession.” She began writing a small column about parenting and social problems for the local newspaper. She also submitted articles to magazines and websites and began making money by writing, sharing her

expertise, and sharing her story.

I began to wonder if I could turn my passion

With computers and adaptive software, she was pursu- ing her love of writing but felt that art might be beyond her grasp. She could no longer see well enough to sketch celebrity portraits with black Sharpie markers the way she used to when she was younger. Someone suggested that she try finger painting. She admits that the thought of a blind painter might sound a bit absurd. Since she would be able to feel what she was painting and rely mostly on intuition, she was intrigued and decided to give it a try. “I know my finger paintings miss the mark when it comes to perfect an- gels, perspective, and other elements, but I trade perfection for the joy and pure harmony I express when I paint images I recall from my childhood in Kentucky.” She was encour- aged by fellow artists and mentors and the feedback she received was mostly positive.

Tammy Ruggles, Yellow Landscape , acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11” Before long, her

Tammy Ruggles, Yellow Landscape, acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

Before long, her paintings were accepted by a few local galleries and published in literary magazines and art jour- nals like Vibrant Life and Art Times Journal. The satisfac- tion of sharing her creativity with others was enhanced by the opportunity it gave her to use her art to help others by showing them art is possible for people who have visual impairments. She began painting in 2013 and by the end of the year she had completed a few hundred finger paintings. She was happy with what she had created and no longer felt driven to paint. It was time to move on.

As a young girl she enjoyed taking pictures but didn’t take photography classes in college because back then 35mm film was used in cameras and film had to be developed in a traditional dark room. She had night blindness and couldn’t see anything in the dark so she wouldn’t be able to develop her photographs. She also had trouble seeing all of the di- als and settings on cameras. She says, “The funny thing is, I was always a fine art photographer in my mind and in my heart.” She even has a picture of herself when she was five years old with a camera around her neck.

Since the way we take pictures has evolved over time, Rug- gles began to wonder if she could try her hand at photogra- phy now, since digital cameras have auto focus and there’s no need for a dark room to develop film. She says, “The thought seemed ridiculous at first. A legally blind photog-

rapher? I was under the impression you had to have good vision to take pictures. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea grew inside of me, like a seed.”

She decided to buy a point-and-shoot camera and it sat on the kitchen counter for several days before she worked up the nerve to give it a shot. “Oddly, it was the positive feedback I received from my finger paintings that gave me the final nudge to take my camera out of the box and push the power button.” She walked around the yard, took some pictures, transferred them to her computer, and viewed them on her large monitor. When she did that, she was able to see things in the photo she could not see with her eyes. She dis- covered the camera could see for her and show her what she was missing. “Having RP dictates my style, in a way. I need to do high contrast black and white because I can see it bet- ter. I do color to a lesser degree because colors are harder for me to distinguish. As beautiful as they are, colors in a picture all blur together and I can’t make out what things are very well.”

Just as she did with her writing and finger painting, she be- gan submitting her photographs to magazines and journals. Some of her photos have been published in Midnight Echo, Pentimento, Floyd County Moon Shine, The Notebook, and others. “I use my art instincts and my art education to take the pictures, and I let the camera do the work. When I look

Tammy Ruggles, People Admiring a Newborn , acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11” Tammy

Tammy Ruggles, People Admiring a Newborn, acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

a Newborn , acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11” Tammy Ruggles, Birds, acrylic finger painting,

Tammy Ruggles, Birds, acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

Ruggles, as early as age five, showed an interest in photography. Tammy Ruggles at it

Ruggles, as early as age five, showed an interest in photography.

as early as age five, showed an interest in photography. Tammy Ruggles at it on the

Tammy Ruggles

at it on the computer, with the large screen, it comes alive. The camera catches everything.” She was driven to take pictures for about two years, feeling compelled to prove that she could do it. And she did. She’s a legally blind pho- tographer who has been recognized for her work. “When I

get ahold of something like that, I feel like I’m going to lose

it so I get really compelled to do as much as I can while I

still can.”

It is no longer a compulsion. She takes pictures for the

sheer joy of it now. She still carries a camera with her wher- ever she goes because, “it is the worst feeling in the world to see something that would be a good picture and not have

a camera to capture it.”

“I was scared to pick up that camera when my vision got worse because I thought it was something I wouldn’t be

able to do. I had written before so I knew I could do that.

I had to take a little step of courage and I found inclusion

through photography. I found acceptance as an artist. I had

doubts. What if it wasn’t good? What if they laugh? Maybe

it will be terrible. Why am I doing this? But I found that

people did accept me and include me as an artist. I felt vali- dation. I wanted to see if it was possible—not just among people in the visually impaired community but the art com- munity in general.”

Look through the viewfinder of a DSLR camera, slowly turn the focus ring, and bring the subject into sharp focus. Perfect. Turn the ring as far as it will go in the other di- rection and everything is out of focus. That’s the way the world looks to artist Tammy Ruggles. Everything is blurry. And it’s getting blurrier. Her Sony RX100 captures every- thing. When she looks at photos on her forty-seven-inch screen it connects her to the visual world. Magnifying the image helps her to see what she missed when she took the photo. She delights in seeing expressions on the faces of her grandchildren, her grandson’s ever-changing hairstyles, or a flower in a field that she wasn’t able to see before.

She doesn’t photograph people often but says she especially likes photos she’s taken of her family because she is able to see what they look like on her screen. Regarding her other photos, she says they keep her connected with creation. The artist is retired and enjoys spending time with family and friends. “I’m just letting things happen now without push- ing anything. I’m not stopping out of frustration. I’m happy with what I’ve done.”

To see more of her work visit http://tammyruggles.


Go Fish

Andrea Carlisle

M y sister, Marla, liked to play cards. Specifically,

she liked to play a game called Go Fish. During

her lifetime, we played many thousands of games

of Go Fish. You can play with two people.

The rules are simple: Deal six cards to each player. One

player asks the other for something she already has in her hand. For example, if I have a five in my hand, I may ask

if you have any fives. The goal is to accumulate pairs. The

pairs pile up. Whichever player ends up with the most pairs

is the winner. If you have a card I ask for, perhaps that five I

mentioned, you must give it to me. I take it and put the two fives down together on my side of the table. If you do not have the card I ask for, you tell me to “Go fish.”

The thirty-sixth anniversary of Marla’s death fell on a Mon- day this year. She died on my father’s birthday. He died twenty-one years after she did. Twenty-one sad birthdays.

A few days before the anniversary, my ninety-nine-year-old

mother, Alice, seemed to be on and off track about my sis- ter’s life. She could remember some things, but not others, things I thought she would never forget.

“Who put the deck of cards in Marla’s hands at her funer- al?” she asked me one day. “Did you?”

It was my father who’d made sure she was buried with a

deck of cards. The family agreed she would like that. I was the one who put an amber necklace I’d brought back from the Middle East around her neck. She loved music and the necklace had tiny silver bells attached. None of us could

imagine her going anywhere without music.

A few days later, Alice asked the same question about the

cards, and I answered.

“Did I already ask you that?” she said. “What’s wrong with me, anyway?”

I knew her memory had failed her even more seriously

when she asked why. “Why did Roger put cards in her


I reminded her of how much Marla loved playing Go Fish. Alice frowned. “Did she?”

All our family members played Go Fish with Marla many times. Alice, my brothers, my father, or I sat with Marla on

the sofa, at the kitchen table, on the front or back porches

of our various houses, in the car, in waiting rooms, at the

homes of relatives and friends:

Do you have any jacks?

No. Go Fish.

Do you have any sevens?

Go Fish.

Game after game after game with red Bicycle cards. We’d worn out a deck of cards by the time she was ten. My par- ents bought her a new deck.

Do you have any eights?

Go Fish.

Do you have any twos?


Sometimes we played first thing in the morning. Marla brought her coffee cup to the game with her. She liked cof- fee with lots of milk in it. She was the only child in the house allowed coffee, and she was the youngest. She sipped her coffee while we played.

When I left for college, we continued to play on my visits home. We played every time we saw one another long after I’d graduated from college, until she died at twenty-seven.

I don’t know how long the second deck of red Bicycle cards lasted. Maybe a long time. But it was probably her third, fourth, or even fifth deck that was placed in Marla’s hands the day we—my brother, Michael, my parents, and I—at- tended her funeral and said good-bye for the last time.

It disturbed Alice a great deal that she had no memory of Marla playing cards. “Why can’t I remember that?” She kept bringing it up and then scolding herself for not remem- bering. So I visited the residence where she lives and found the deck of cards I’d bought for her a long time ago so she could play Solitaire. It was a deck exactly like the ones Marla liked best. I dealt six cards to Alice and six cards to myself. I looked over my hand. She looked up at me expec- tantly.

“Do you have any sixes?” I asked.

Gradually, the game came back to her. Sometimes she would draw from the pile and her eyes would widen be- cause she knew I had a similar card in my hand. She knew that she might have to give it up and I’d get a pair. When she did this, when she fell into that unguarded delight of knowing and not caring that I saw her knowing, she remind- ed me of Marla.

“Did Marla know these numbers?” she asked me. “Did she know the difference between a six and a two?”

“Yes, she knew all of them. She knew the face cards, too.”

She shook her head. “Why can’t I remember that?”

“Do you have any fours?” I asked.

“No. Go Fish.”

We played five games. When it was time for her to go to dinner, I left the apartment and drove over to Mississippi Street in North Portland. I planned to meet a friend for din- ner and then attend a reading at a bookstore. I parked my car, walked a few steps, and stopped. There, directly in front of me, as if they’d fluttered down from the sky, play- ing cards covered the sidewalk. Red Bicycle cards.

katie renDon kahn

LearninG disaBiLity

I never could get through to you.

I tried to teach you things the way that I had learned them but you just didn’t “get it.”

I would get frustrated and angry

and said things I regretted immediately.

I tried new ways, new styles, new methods

when what you really needed was a routine.

I was stern when you needed kind

and too soft when you needed stable.

I was unprepared; it was never your fault. When I read to you in clear print, black and white you saw rainbows showing me spectrums where I had been color-blind.

I tried to teach you to write neatly and color inside the lines.

You showed me that those lines are too narrow and it’s ok to draw your own.

I told you to use your inside voice;

you exploded in symphonies that made my world sing. So, when your teacher asked me recently “Have you considered having him retested?” I told her, “There is no need,” because I already know that you are brilliant.

Published online in The Barefoot Review Winter 2012. Reprinted by permission of the author.



A Profound Teacher in Disguise

Carol Keegan

T he wisest teachers with the

greatest impact on your life

don’t always promote them-

selves with academic robes, creden- tialed résumés, or guru reputations. In fact, looking for them solely in those guises narrows your field of attention so much you fail to spot the real sages. The trick is to be open to wise words and examples, regardless of what you’ve been told a wise person should look or sound like.

It was like that with me, when Frandzy Baudalin showed up just two months after my stroke in 1973. Actually, he’d been there all along—sitting at the same dormitory table, three meals a day for the past year and a half. But the day I returned to campus and our old table at the cafeteria, the limpness up and down the left side of my body and the wooden cane in my right hand spoke for me: Carol was back in grad school and her old room at Bromley Hall in Athens, Ohio. Back, but not re- ally back.

The stroke had nailed me, stopped me dead in my tracks. Suddenly extricated from old life plans and routines, and literally unable to run from pre-stroke tensions in my life, I’d returned to cam- pus with no firm understanding of what had happened to me or how to go on. I had just lugged my new, broken body back there anyway, not knowing what else to do.

Walking up to that table again—three- legged this time—it seemed my job was to convince these old friends to recognize me without feeling repulsed. If ever I knew my old self had died and that I must muster up some new

life for myself, I knew it in the pall of returning to our old table in the caf- eteria. As Frandzy, Margaret, Bob and the others saw me coming, I knew they were shaken by the liabilities I now embodied for them (If that could hap-

pen to Carol

.), and I felt the power

of their needing not to be me. Not to be in any way like me. My sudden ill- ness had immersed me in taboo experi- ences of near-death, powerlessness, second-by-second uncertainty about my future. Not even a definitive etiology

to explain my fate or show me how to prevent recurrences.

Here I was now, moving toward the old dining hall table without any com- forting storylines to soothe their fears. Worse, I had not yet made sense of the stroke in my own mind, so I was raw with vulnerability to anyone else’s in- terpretations of my story. From now on, every time I brought my new body and its dark learnings into a conversation, I was certain innocent healthy “normals” would see little but the death in me. Until one old friend at the table proved me wrong.

Frandzy’s bodily presence at the table was unchanged: this huge-smiling, cerebral-palsied undergrad from Brook- lyn, with the clenched hand and severe stutter was his old self. Before the stroke, my tweedy, supercharged grad student persona had seemed to signal we would never have much in common beyond our Bromley Hall dorm address and the habit of choosing the same cafeteria table. But now, my tripod-self seemed to elicit a new, deep alliance.

A new Frandzy emerged, determined to

make me his protégé. He enrolled me quickly in his hard-won, noncredit life- survival course. He set a bet with me:

by April, when my parents planned to visit, Frandzy would have weaned me off the cane as a surprise gift to them. He would take the cane from me, to ensure I never willfully relapsed.

As a twenty-four year old who’d fallen one Saturday morning from Ph.D. can- didate/adjunct dance faculty member to stroke survivor/physical therapy student, learning to walk again was tan- tamount to learning to live again. Hav- ing fallen so far, now I could appreciate the determination with which Frandzy had mastered both tasks repeatedly. So I accepted the deal and set about taking each step he called out of me. Every day after dinner at Bromley Hall, this mismatched pair walked the campus. Practicing my new walk, the second I’d acquired since birth.

Quite the pair we were, walking the hills of Athens, Ohio—first with, then without my cane. Male/female, black/ white, mathematician/social scientist, Afro with mustache/ballet bun at the nape of the neck, Brooklyn/Scranton, explosive stuttering/bourgeois diction, clenched joints/ataxic limbs. An odd, odd couple immersed in our shared progress. Wandering the campus, we were more focused on the process of moving than on our arbitrary destina- tion each night. All around us were centers of learning for every conceiv- able field of study except the life-rein- vention course Frandzy was helping me improvise.

Looking back forty years, I can see Frandzy was really one of my earli- est life coaches. And I like to think he gained as much from the confidence I invested in him. I hope he knew I chose to study with him because I respected (as much as I needed) the rich life curriculum he had salvaged from all his surgeries, physical therapies, and determination to defy the odds society stacked against him. Desperately, I tuned into my own need to learn how he’d done it. My pre-stroke self had never seen Frandzy’s survival skills or his generosity.

The model for our work during those early evening walks may have been focused on physical health concerns, but over the years I kept coming back to the more fundamental questions our course of study explored:

When we’re at our neediest, how do we open up our field of vision enough to spot the wise ones whose counsel would best sustain us?

Once we’ve mixed their stories with our own and conceived new ways of understanding our di- lemma, to whom can we convey our discoveries?

How do we pass along the gener- osity; find others who remind us of ourselves and the deep connec- tions we too once needed in order to go on living?

Answers to profound queries like these can appear, if we just throw open the drapes in our daily interactions with people on the periphery of our lives. At first glance, they might not look like philosophers, but with a little imagination, we can choose to pause, absorb, and emulate their rich stories of survival.

Previously published online by The Rain, Party & Disaster Society. Reprinted by permission of the author.


Reinventing the Wheel

Barbara Ridley

I wouldn’t normally have been there in the afternoon.

Talk about wrong place at the wrong time. But my an-

thropology class got out early, and I’d heard that chick-

peas were on sale. Two cans for the price of one, according

to Laura. So I decided to pick some up myself on the way

home. I just love chickpeas. There’s something about that slightly crunchy texture and the not quite round shape that’s so adorable. I like to add chickpeas to just about anything:

soups, stews, salads, you name it. I also needed milk and bread, but I thought I could still fit six cans into my back- pack.

A light rain had set in just before I reached the store. A man

who walked in ahead of me stopped to shake out his um-

brella. It was a black, fold-up sort. Except that it wouldn’t.

It got stuck as he was trying to ram it into his basket. He

stood there, blocking my passage, cursing to himself, obliv- ious to me sitting behind him. I noticed an odd stain on the back of his right pant leg. It reminded me of the birthmark on Gorbachev’s forehead. Sounds weird, I know, but I’d been watching a PBS special the night before on the col- lapse of the Soviet Union, and I couldn’t take my eyes off that large red mark on Gorbachev’s bald head. And now I

couldn’t take my eyes off the stain on this guy’s pants. This stain wasn’t red, more grayish-white, but the same shape, more or less. Just behind his knee. I couldn’t figure out how

it got there, or what it might be. I tipped my head to the

side, wiped the rain off my forehead with my sleeve and

stared at the stain, trying to figure it out as I waited for him

to move out of my way.

He finally wrestled his umbrella into submission and moved on. I scooped up a basket and made for the dairy section. I pulled the fridge door towards me, propped it open with my armrest, and grabbed a pint of milk. A pint is about all I can manage. One percent, a compromise. I prefer two percent, and Laura is all about nonfat, but I like tea with milk, and the nonfat makes the tea a gross gray color, so we’ve agreed to split the difference.

I knew bread was near the checkout registers, so I headed

next for the chickpeas. I’d just turned the corner and was cruising past the tomato sauce when I first heard the com- motion up front. I heard a high-pitched scream and then

a lot of shouting and a rumbling as if a display case had

toppled over. For a split second I thought it was an earth- quake, and I remember looking up at the stacks of Barilla and Newman’s Own towering above me, and thinking I’d better scoot further down the aisle towards something softer like the pasta.

I should explain that this is a small store, not one of your

mega-huge supermarkets where you get totally lost and overwhelmed. That’s why I like it. Plus, now that I’m back in school, it’s on my way home and most of the clerks know me which helps. There’s talk of them expanding, or pulling it down and replacing it with something big and fancy, but the community is divided between those who think they need a cereal aisle the size of a football field, and those in a tizzy at the thought of construction and traffic—so the City Council is gridlocked worse than Congress and nothing has been decided.

I moved a bit further down the aisle to see what was hap- pening.

“Don’t move!” A loud barking voice.

“Stop! Everyone, stop! Right where you are.”

I’d reached a spot where I could see two of the checkout stands. Doreen, the clerk who is always very nice to me, was straight ahead, her hand clasped over her mouth, look- ing deathly pale. Behind her a tall thin guy in a ski mask brandished a shotgun.

“Oh my God!” someone screamed.

“Shut the fuck up! Don’t move!”

The guy giving the orders was to my right, out of sight.

“That means you too, Fuck-face. Don’t move!”

The person I assumed to be Fuck-face backed around the corner, heading straight toward me, not looking where he was going. I was forced to back off too, to avoid a collision. He stopped right in front of me. It was Gorbachev-pants again. He had a six-pack of beer in his basket, along with his umbrella, nothing else, and he was blocking my view. I wanted to see what was happening with Doreen, but I was scared to move. I tipped my head and leaned way over to the left, almost knocking my joystick with my boob.

“No one moves, no one gets hurt, okay?” This was another voice, lower-pitched and almost soothing. It also came from somewhere over to the side, beyond my field of vision. Gorbachev-pants, who clearly hated to follow directions, took two steps to the right. This gave me a better view, but also left me very exposed. The guy with the shotgun now had Doreen in a vice-grip, his elbow cocked under her chin, and he was pointing his weapon towards my aisle. I was directly in his line of fire.

Everything started to happen at once, but also somehow in slow motion, like a video clip you’re trying to download that keeps getting stuck. The guys with the guns and ski masks seemed to be everywhere. It turned out there were only four of them, but they sure took up a lot of space. I saw two dash behind Doreen to the manager’s office. It’s

at the front of the store, up a couple of steps, behind a low wall where they stack the dog food. I remember Laura go- ing in there once when we returned a pot of moldy cottage cheese. Now, I caught a glimpse of a thin-faced guy with glasses and a goatee. He was new, I didn’t recognize him. I could see papers flying and heard something heavy crashing to the floor. The guy was putting up a struggle, the glasses flew off, and then it looked like they were tying him up and wrapping thick duct tape across his mouth. That’s going to hurt coming off, I thought—a genuine wax job on his beard.

I took my eyes off him to check on Doreen. She might have screamed, I’m not sure, someone did, and the next thing I knew the asshole that had a hold of her, smashed her head hard against the computer screen above her till. I mean re- ally hard, several times. There was blood on her forehead and nose. I believe I screamed then too, and a woman who appeared out of nowhere and who was right by my side yelled: “Sweet Jesus, leave her alone!”

At that point, the guy with the deep growly voice swooped into my aisle with a weapon that looked like a machine gun. I don’t know if it was a machine gun—what do I know about guns? But it was huge, looked like it could have come off a tank in Iraq. He wasn’t wearing a ski mask like the others, but a loose-fitting black hood that also covered all his face except his eyes and mouth. He looked like Darth Vader.

“Everyone down on the floor,” he shouted. “Now! Face down on the floor. Now, now, now,” he barked.

He pointed his gun at the woman next to me, an overweight black woman in her thirties. She whimpered softly and low- ered herself to her knees, steadying herself on her shopping cart. She wore tight purple knit pants, and as she bent over she exposed bare flesh: large love handles both sides of her waist, and a dip in the center at the spine. The label on her pants hung in this gap; Petite XXL, it declared.

The gunman swung into the next aisle, continuing his rant.

“Down on the floor, now, now, now!”

Then he was back a few feet in front of me. He whipped Gorbachev-pants across the face with his weapon.

“Don’t fuck with me asshole. I’ll blow your head off.” He cocked his gun. “Down on the fucking floor!”

That’s when he turned and saw me—as in actually noticed me for the first time.

“What the


For good measure, I then—sort of inadvertently but not really—jerked my joystick with my elbow and my chair lurched forward.

This would have been a good moment to drool. I used to drool a lot as a kid. They gave me some medicine for it, which helped, but which also—well, never mind, let’s just say it didn’t agree with me. The drooling got a whole lot better as I got older, but it still happens sometimes. Not now, though. I was as dry as a wizened old witch. I tried to swish up some saliva from the far recesses of my mouth, but it was a no-go. I briefly considered mimicking a sei- zure. I don’t have seizures, but my best friend from camp, Latisha, used to have them really bad. She was also good at pretending to have one if she wanted to get out of doing something she didn’t want to do. So I have a pretty good idea of how to do a seizure.

But it felt a bit over the top for this situation, like arriving all dressed up for a party where everyone else is in jeans. So

I opted instead for looking as helpless and unaware as pos-

sible. I tipped my head to the side, rolled my eyes back in my head, and let my tongue hang out. I guess you could say

I was mimicking some sort of seizure. I was definitely try-

ing to get out of something. I didn’t want to lie on the floor.

The only time in living memory that I was on the floor was last year when Laura had to go visit her mom in Connecti- cut, and Cecelia, my morning relief person, tried to help me with my shower. She didn’t have a good grip on me and then my legs did what they often do—the left one trying to do the tango and the right the can-can—and we both fell over backwards in a slippery mess. Well, we sort of glided backwards. Luckily neither of us got hurt and we were able to have a good laugh about it.

But I couldn’t see me and Darth Vader gliding gracefully to the floor. So I focused on looking as goofy as possible as

the only way out. It seemed to work. He stared at me. He seemed flummoxed. For good measure, I then—sort of in- advertently but not really—jerked my joystick with my el- bow and my chair lurched forward. He recoiled and darted into the next aisle.

That was when I noticed the front doors: they were jammed shut. I suppose the normal swishing sound of them opening and closing had been absent for some time, but my mind had been kind of focused on other stuff. The guy who’d been beating up the manager had a large blue sack—full of money I guessed—and he jumped down the steps to make

a getaway. The others followed and Darth Vader turned in

a final swoop of the aisles, brandishing his enormous gun, before making his exit.

But they were stuck. The doors were locked.

“What the fuck?” he screamed again.

And then I heard the sirens. El Moreno’s finest were on their way.

“Which of you motherfuckers did this?”

He swung his weapon around again in a wide arc, but ev- eryone except me was lying on the floor. His eyes fixed on me. Did he think I’d had something to do with locking the doors? Surely not. But I stuck my tongue out again and lolled my head to the side, just to be on the safe side. The sirens were getting louder. Darth Vader spun around, hunt- ing for Plan B.

“Out the back!” he yelled.

He leapt over a woman lying face down in front of the chewing gum and People magazine display. The others scrambled after him in a mad dash to the rear. The tall thin one looked over his shoulder as he ran, and bumped into the corner display, knocking over a stack of special-offer macaroni and cheese. As they sprinted down the aisle next to mine, for some reason I felt compelled to watch their re- treat. It was as if being the only one standing—in a manner of speaking—I had to usher them out. So I inched myself forward, carefully rounding the head and shoulders of Gor- bachev-pants and the scattered macaroni, and turned to the right. I watched them disappear past the frozen foods and through the double doors at the back of the store.

Two cop cars screeched to a halt in front of the main doors.

A blur of blue hunks leapt out and ran toward the entrance,

weapons drawn. One put his face up against the glass, shielding the reflection with his free hand. The doors were locked for them too.

Everyone else was still face down on the floor. It’s odd when I think about it now, but no one said a word, and no

one moved. Except a guy in front of me, right by the door.

I recognized him as one of the baggers, very young, not

more than a kid really. He’s always embarrassed when I say anything to him. He pretends to understand me but doesn’t, and just says “Yeah, ok” to whatever I say. Now he propped himself up on his elbows, peered down the aisle, and started to crawl forward on his belly towards the manager’s office.

I was left on my own, close to the doors, with the cops star- ing in at me. The rain had eased off, and a stream of sun-

I had to get away from the entrance. I was sticking out like Doctor Livingstone in the middle of the African Savanna.

shine lanced through the dark clouds. I pointed towards the back of the store. At least I tried to. I was trying to let them know the bad guys had gone that way. But I was still feeling pretty shook up, and my arms just sort of flailed around. I don’t know if they got the gist or not. I saw them using their walkie-talkies but they didn’t move.

But then things turned really nasty. I heard a sound like a door slamming out beyond the frozen foods, and a whole lot of cursing and shouting, and then Darth Vader and his gang were back. And now, he was in a major bad mood. He smashed a fridge door with his gun, shattering glass everywhere. He rampaged through the refrigerated section, splintering door after door, and then started hacking at stuff on the shelves. Bags of chips and crackers flew everywhere and he yelled “Motherfuckers, motherfuckers” at the top of his lungs.

Evidently, Plan B had failed. The cops must have been out back too. The gunmen were surrounded. We were sur- rounded.

“No one fucking moves!” Darth Vader shouted as he made his way up the aisle.

But I had to move. I had to get away from the entrance. I was sticking out like Doctor Livingstone in the middle of

the African Savanna.

My heart was pounding in my chest. I crept in front of the manager’s office, seeking some kind of shelter. My chair had mercifully been in the shop the week before to fix a loud rattling noise coming from the drive train, and I had it on the lowest tortoise setting—but even so it seemed like it was making a racket. I winced with each turn of the wheel, and leaned all the way forward, trying to duck out of sight. My basket was still on my lap, with its lone pint of milk. I shoved it forward, dangling it off my knees.

I glanced over my shoulder. I caught a glimpse of Gor-

bachev-pants crawling on his hands and knees in that direc- tion too. I didn’t like the thought of him getting in my way again, but I was committed to it now, so I kept going.

The bagger kid, still on his belly, had reached the steps leading up to the office. He turned to look up at me as I passed. Dave—that was his name—I saw it on his badge and remembered that I’d sort of known it all along.

“They’re back,” I said. I wasn’t enunciating well because

I was trying to whisper. I’m supposed to take a breath and

separate the words when talking to people who don’t know me, but I was afraid of being too loud. He must have heard the guys anyway, I thought. For added emphasis, I jerked my arm towards the back of the store.

“Yeah, OK,” he said.

Perhaps this is all he ever says.

Then I heard more commotion from the back: screams and more cursing, the f-word bouncing off the walls, coming closer. I spotted a hiding place to the side, behind the flo- rist’s stand. I managed to position myself behind the roses and the spring bouquets. I sensed a movement at my feet and realized Gorbachev-pants was squatting behind the azaleas. Goddamnit, I couldn’t get rid of him. He gave me a weird look, I couldn’t figure it out—it was like he couldn’t take his eyes off me, and it suddenly struck me that maybe he was coming on to me. I was wearing my jaunty green and black scarf that everyone says is so becoming, and which coordinates with my green neon frame and spokes. He wasn’t so bad looking himself now that I stopped to think about it: sort of old, maybe forty, but with bright blue eyes and an angular jaw. A gash across his right cheek, where he’d been hit with the gun, and a bruise developing over his cheekbone added a certain rugged appeal.

Another scream brought me to my senses. This was no time to flirt. Darth Vader and one of the ski-mask guys marched

toward the front of the store, each brandishing their weap- on, and each propelling a customer in front of him as a human shield. Darth Vader had hold of an elderly woman by the scruff of her neck, practically lifting her off her feet; she dangled like a marionette, clutching her purse to her chest. I’ll never forget the look of utter terror on that poor woman’s face. Her eyes were popping out like saucers and her mouth gaped wide, the veins bulging in her neck.

A surge of rage boiled up from somewhere deep in my bel-

ly. Images flashed in front of me like a series of pop-up ads:

feet and joined the others. I thought he would look back at me but he didn’t. The gunman now stood right next to me. He hesitated. He loosened the mask where it clung to his neck; I could tell he was sweating underneath. I caught a glimpse of bare flesh at his collar bone: coffee-colored skin decorated with a tattoo, a teal and scarlet serpent curled around vine leaves. I quickly looked away and remembered my helpless pose, lolling my head to the side.

“Hey, T.J.” he yelled across the store. “What about the re- tard?”

Nurse Ratched forcing me into cold metal braces the day after my leg surgery when I was ten years old; the jerk who stole my cell phone from around my neck on the number 19

I didn’t have a great view of the front doors from there,

“Get the fuck in there,” he yelled. Then he pointed his gun

T.J. huh? Even at this distance I could tell that Darth Vader was none too pleased at this revelation.

bus; the faceless bureaucrat sitting in a warm, dry office in Peoria, Illinois telling me no, they would not cover repair-

“You fucking idiot,” he barked. “Get your ass over here.”

ing my chair after it got stuck on campus in a rainstorm, because it was not medically necessary. Up until this point, I’d felt scared but not mad. Now, I was furious. I think that’s what got me revved up for what happened later.

but I could see enough to tell there was now a huge police presence outside. They must have rushed in from the whole tri-city area. I got a glimpse of a fire truck and red and blue lights flashing across the rain-soaked parking lot—the whole shebang. Darth Vader dropped his hostage onto the floor in front of the manager’s office, and kicked her in the ribs. She yelped in pain.

He left me and dashed toward the office. The customers could not all fit inside; some were sitting at the foot of the steps, and Doreen sat with her back against the wall. One of the gunmen crouched in front of them; the others were flat- tened against the stacks of dog food, their weapons trained on the main doors.

And then nothing happened. No one moved. No one said a word. I could hear the muffled sounds of the police walkie- talkies outside, and the faint hum of the fluorescent lights, nothing else. We seemed stuck in a time warp. I couldn’t tell if it was minutes or hours. One of the gunmen slumped down on his haunches, his head between his knees. I felt stiff, I needed to stretch, but I was afraid to recline my chair

I was maybe twenty-five feet from where the others were


where Dave must have been crouching. “In the office, all

because of the sound it would generate. I loosened the scarf



around my neck and shook my hair free. I tried as best I

The other guys began rounding up the rest of the custom- ers, seven or eight of them altogether, herding them up the steps. The woman in the purple knit pants cried “Sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus,” over and over until one of the guys kicked her in the stomach.

And then I saw Doreen. She had been hiding under the cash register, but the tall thin guy wrenched her into a standing position. She clutched a wad of blood-soaked Kleenex to her forehead with one hand, and held her cell phone in the other. She tried to hide the phone behind her back, but he tossed it to the floor and poked his gun in her ribs. As she was yanked away, she turned her head in my direction. Her forehead was a mass of congealed blood. She gave me this intense look. I didn’t get it at first; I guess I just thought she was worried about me. Yet she kept staring at me. I had the sense she was trying to tell me something. I just couldn’t figure it out.

could to rotate my shoulders. The stupid basket was still on my lap. I considered dropping it to the floor, but any noise seemed taboo. Good thing, because I was going to need that basket—though I didn’t know it yet.

gathered on the floor. I noticed some movement at the edge of the group, and realized Doreen was waving at me—ever so slightly, her hand hidden between her legs. She glanced over at the gunmen, and then she stared at me, somehow lurching her eyes to the left without moving her head. I turned to look behind me and then looked back at her. She nodded almost imperceptibly, just an inch or so, and then she started to gesture with her pointer finger, like a baseball catcher, and then her thumb, pointing to the left. I looked behind me again, gently, quietly moving my chair, just a quarter turn. I saw the magazine racks and the Clearance Items 60% Off stand, laden with leftover Easter candy, crumpled cookie packages, and dented cans of fruit. I

One of the other guys approached the flower stand and kicked Gorbachev-pants in the butt; he scampered to his

looked back to Doreen. She did that thing again with her eyes, more urgently this time, darting them back in her head, and jerking her thumb back and forth. I turned my chair a little further.

And then I saw it. Way in the corner, beyond the magazines. Another door: Emergency Exit Only.

I looked at Doreen, my eyes wide. She glanced at the

masked men, still huddled by the dog food, all their atten- tion focused on the front door. She gave me another tiny nod.

I knew what I had to do. I quietly, quietly turned my chair

all the way round, and then switched into hare speed. I stabilized the basket on my lap and opened the throttle, full speed ahead. I knocked the corner of the clearance display as I passed, and could hear items falling in my wake, but I surged onward, charging closer and closer, hoping to good- ness I would be able to open the door. It had one of those

emergency push bars across its width. As my footplates made contact, I used the basket as a battering ram and pushed down with all my might. I didn’t have it at quite the right angle; the basket skidded and almost fell off my lap, but I caught it and tried again, lifting it higher and slanting it more towards the floor. The bar gave way and my chair barged through.

I landed in a posse of heavily armed police officers. They

gaped at me in disbelief. One jammed his foot in the door to prevent it closing behind me and peered cautiously inside.

I turned and sailed across the parking lot, my hair flying behind me in the breeze.


One Animal’s Healing Power

Review of Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me from Myself, Julie Barton, Think Piece Publishing, November 2015

Allison M. Loose

J ulie Barton’s Dog Medicine memorializes the dog

that helps her heal from debilitating clinical depres-

sion. Through vivid depictions of her mental state and

simple language steeped in New Age philosophies, Barton’s memoir journeys towards rehabilitation and recovery.

Lacing flashbacks to her childhood within the chronologi- cal narrative, Barton exposes her tortured, self-lacerating thoughts. She pairs her psychiatrist’s official diagnosis with the self-loathing she has internalized from years of dealing with an abusive sibling: “Ugly, Weird, Stupid, Fat, Unlike- able, please meet your newest teammate: Depressed.” In 1996––the year of her breakdown––the words “clinical depression” had hardly entered public discourse; instead, “bad days” and “rough patches” excused her systemic unhappiness. As early as she can remember, she endured verbal and physical assault from her brother, Clay. Memo- ries flood forth in which he punches her, calls her a “slut,” breaks down her door, and puts graffiti on the doorframe. Inevitably, his words scar, just as the insults he inks into her doorjamb remain. His curses––“Loser,” “Lesbian,” “Whore,”––promote acerbic thoughts that lead to a desire to end her life.

Barton historicizes her path to recovery by placing her dog, Bunker, at the center of her healing. With Bunker’s entrance into her life, and his light-hearted joy and nonjudgmental kisses, “the blackness of [her depression] loosen[s] its grip.” Along with the confidence she recovers in therapy, Barton finds that her dog’s presence staves off the flood of self-deprecating language always running through her

mind: “Take a deep breath. Slow down. Pet Bunker. Don’t think. Just be.” She sees in him a kindred spirit who warms the cold world. As she begins to return to herself, she finds that strangers extend compliments to her, and friends soften in sympathy.

New Age language links her life to Bunker’s. From the mo- ment she holds her puppy in her arms, she feels her spirits lift. When he rolls around in the mud and earthworms, she sees a connection between his love for “worms [that] in- visibly feed the soil” and his role in her own life: “he was feeding me, giving me essential emotional and spiritual nutrients.” Similarly, she indulges in imagining that “dogs choose their owners” and “Bunker knew to wait for me.” In these comforting images of spiritual connection, Barton leashes Bunker’s life to her own. He gives her a reason to live. Soon she determines that the two, bound by fate, epito- mize the perfect pair. Just as depression paralyzes Barton, she perceives a parallel when severe hip dysplasia immobi- lizes Bunker. To fund and care for him during his physical recovery from corrective surgery, she must first heal her own mental wounds.

The obstacles of depression present no easy answers. Yet, ironically, Barton’s memoir moves briskly. In simple, ac- cessible language, Barton brings readers inside the dark thoughts of her internal struggle. The second half of the book shows her determination to move on. As anyone wit- nessing a similar story––in a friend or sibling––can attest, Barton’s narrative will stir readers with her testament to the potency of dog medicine.

nanCy sCott


Someone gave my mother the mink stole and when I asked to touch it, she said yes. And when I asked to wear it in my bedroom for a few minutes, she said yes.

It was the only time I wanted the mirror to be a mirror and not an inconvenient piece of glass that trapped my unseeable handprints of accidental passage.

I was six but I somehow knew

about parading back and forth in front of mirrors that would reflect me back to me without my knowing what they saw.

I walked for twenty minutes

or two hours, not minding that I couldn’t see, not minding that my mother couldn’t buy a mink.

Later, I would learn to be grateful not to see my cloud-eyed image in mirrors. Later, I would learn the mink wasn’t real.

Previously published in Wordgathering, September, 2012. Reprinted by permission of the author.



The Complete Works of Min-Ju Kim

Tristan Tavis Marajh

S unlight streaked gently into the

dark room through the blinds and

settled on the blanket that cov-

ered Min-Ju’s curled-up form beneath. She turned sluggishly, raised a piece

of the fabric off her head and peered at the clock. 11:04 a.m. Late, by all stan- dards. Which was the real her, really?


heavy hopelessness that seemed to be the unspoken condition of existence, or the one who could get up and carry on despite it, even if doing so felt like pretentious fakery, a sad theatre? Even the furniture, in its material neutrality, seemed to mock her. She drew the blan- ket over her head again, pulled herself into a fetal position and squeezed her eyes shut, but sleep didn’t return. In- stead, the jagged, disturbing knowledge of the accumulating wasted mornings bore down on her, like boulders rolling down a mountain slope.

creature, awakening with the

She could hear Hyejin moving about upstairs; her sister’s disoriented foot- steps moving from the bed, evolving into more determined ones as she went through the business of starting the day:

the teeth-brushing, gargle and spit, no- nonsense shower, breaking a bite off an apple’s flesh in the kitchen. “Min- Juuuu,” Hyejin implored, putting on her heels by the doorway.

“Uhhhnghh?” Min-Ju responded wea- rily from beneath the covers; hair over her face, some in her mouth.

“Get up. Have breakfast. Go for a run, take your iPod with you. Go see a com- edy film. Take a walk after. Rinse the green beans, and we’ll stir-fry them for dinner.”

“Uhngh-huhngh,” the creature beneath the covers mumbled. Hyejin wondered which task this was a response to.

“I’ll see you later. Get up.”

Another murmur from her sister and Hyejin, shaking her head, left the con- do. Min-Ju heard the door close and the lock turn. She was alone.

Hyejin’s urgings were her personalized version of the same thing Dr. Chung recommended to Min-Ju create: struc- ture. She thought about trying Hyejin’s proposed version, but she couldn’t bear the manufactured artifice of it. Didn’t Dr. Chung, MD—and especially Fel- low of the Royal College of Physicians (Canada)—ever hear of the saying: all structures are unstable?

The other option, though, was the abyss. There was still yet that other op- tion too, unspeakable yet ever frequent in her mind, but Min-Ju didn’t think she could go through with that either. It would be like killing her Appa too, who wanted nothing more than to garden, see his daughters and read. A curious sight Mr. Kim was now; sitting cross- legged and bespectacled in the library, with his dense beard and Blue Jays’ cap; a man in quiet forgiveness and ac- ceptance that his younger years could have been more wisely spent learning. “How is your writing coming, my jagi- ya?” he would ask Min-Ju, as if it were something inevitable and supposed to happen—a matter of fact as sure

as springtime. Min-Ju knew this was

formed from a belief in and a love for her that she couldn’t fathom and even

if she tried to, she could picture herself

collapsing from within. She too, was after all a structure, able to be brought down by invisible, silent forces.

It was only when Min-Ju felt like her

body was feeding on itself that she got up from the sofa. She went over to the

glass doors that led to the balcony, part- ed the blinds and peered outside, a re- cent, solitary tendency she didn’t quite know the reason for. What she knew now, though, was that her childhood suburbia was a prison, this prostitute of

a city was all about the money, and it

teemed with creatures of alien races— males and females of each finding each other and perpetuating the precepts of their species, pushing strollers, walking the malls, opening businesses, and clus- tering in communities. Each not seem- ing to have much to do with groups that weren’t theirs, and each not seeming to care. Upset at this separation and wondering if she was the only one af- fected, Min-Ju would write furious commentary and search for prospective

publications to send them to, believing that people needed to know. Skilled im- migrants are chosen as permanent resi- dents based on their ability to settle in Canada and take part in our economy, the government’s website said. Money.

These were the thoughts Min-Ju was scowling about at the computer screen when she heard the door lock turn and the door creak open. A light switch was flicked on and a swash of light flowed into the living room where she sat. “You remember Min-Ju, right?” she heard Hyejin say in Korean. Min-

Ju looked up and toward the doorway, with the bewildered face of someone suddenly summoned, but who wasn’t expecting to be at all.

A girl, a teenager of about sixteen, was standing near Hyejin as they both pushed off their shoes. Min-Ju squinted, trying to figure out who this was. The girl was the effortless, and thus envy- inducing, slimness of youth, pretty with porcelain-smooth skin and soft, acquiescent hair tied back in a sensible ponytail. “Ye,” the girl said, smiling enthusiastically, causing the word radi- ant to form in Min-Ju’s mind. Min-Ju, suddenly aware that her own hair was a wild, tangled mess and that she was wearing sweats and sweat, decided that she would shake the hand of this girl, who evidently knew of her, instead of approaching her to offer a smelly hug. She rose, walked toward Hyejin and the girl and offered her hand.

“Hello,” she said.

Anyoung hashimnikka,” the girl said, bowing as she took Min-Ju’s hand. For a moment Min-Ju was startled. Oh right; she remembered: “respect.” Can- ada’s nice policy of multiculturalism talked about respecting each other’s differences. What the hell was respect anyway?

And now Min-Ju had a new responsi- bility: show Song-Yi, the sisters’ new guest and second cousin visiting from Seoul, around the city. Song-Yi would be staying three weeks. As they sat around the small table near the sofa, eating the pineapple pizza Song-Yi

had eagerly requested on the way from the airport, Min-Ju discovered that she would have to show Song-Yi the city, and not so much her city.

And so a gloomy Min-Ju and an excit- ed Song-Yi zoomed up the CN Tower, then dipped flatbread at an Ethiopian restaurant. They sailed to the Toronto Islands, then ate noodles at The Thai Express. After wandering through the sprawling gothicism of the University of Toronto and then the quirky Royal Ontario Museum, they walked down Bloor to the Fresh Vegetarian Restau- rant. They had biryani at a Pakistani joint before trekking near the sand- stone cliffs at Bluffer’s Park. And all the while, as a spirited Song-Yi oohed in wonderment, her camera flashing at architecture, markets, natural earth formations and colorful cultural festi- vals—even while jamming with sub- way musicians. Min-Ju’s mind was in tumult. Outwardly she was the patient guide standing by, presenting herself and the city’s attractions dutifully to Song-Yi, but capital-P Present she wasn’t.

On the second night of the second week of Song-Yi’s stay, Min-Ju couldn’t bring herself to finish the warm, tzatzi- ki-dipped pitas that she and her cousin had taken out. She was disgusted with herself, even as she had taken the first two bites and tried to maintain some semblance of presence with Song- Yi. It was the incident at the bus stop earlier. To ESL-hampered Song-Yi, it initially looked like a man quarrelling with a woman, the latter taking it with a sheepish what-am-I-going-to-do-with- him smile, but the man’s words had been so ugly and abusive that Min-Ju herself felt wounded. Song-Yi had edged closer to Min-Ju, locking her

arm in her cousin’s, as thoughts of tell- ing the man off clenched in Min-Ju’s mind; but just as suddenly—almost si- multaneously—a mental scenario of the man’s violent reaction flashed, causing her to freeze. His shaven, tattooed head and bulging forearm veins didn’t help either. A streetcar then pulled up with a melodic, oblivious chime, and the man and woman entered it. It wasn’t the car the cousins were waiting for, but they may as well have entered it too, because the whole scene stayed with Min-Ju for the rest of the day; upset- ting her even more because she realized how pathetic she’d become. And now, back at the condo, comforting carbohy- drates were an indulgence with which she couldn’t let herself continue. Put- ting the pita down and leaving Song-Yi dozing on the sofa, she went up to her room, opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of paper: the discontinued novel Appa always asked her about. In frus- tration, on the blank side of one page, Min-Ju wrote:

“You did not say anything to that man, Min-Ju. You should have.”

Things were easier written than done for Min-Ju. During the euphoric World Cup fervor in the city streets, Song-Yi asked to take in a match among its fans to experience the festivity. Infestivity, more like, Min-Ju thought. Still, she took her cousin to a pub where Portugal versus Italy was airing. Min-Ju cared little for the whole tournament. It was a gross manifestation of the diversity problem, which was again evident when their waitress—after some idle chatting—went on a pro-Italy hurrah- ing, which inevitably meant Portuguese bashing. The arrogant raving and the cackling scorn in her voice were so pronounced that Song-Yi sensed it too. Min-Ju wanted to ask why are you even living in this city then, but the woman was so raucous in her convictions that

Min-Ju again pictured verbal aggres- sion, even slapping—a scene in her mind so detailed and intense that she believed it would really happen, should she say anything. And so she did not.