K

Number 74
ALEIDOSCOPE
EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Winter/Spring Online 2017

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
K ALEIDOSCOPE
Winter/Spring 2017
Number 74

EXPLORING THE EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY THROUGH LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS

Contents Reinventing the Wheel 54 Chromosome 17 and
and the State of Mutual Trust 32
Barbara Ridley
Alisa A. Gaston

The Complete Works
 EDITORIAL NOTE of Min-Ju Kim 62 Go Fish 49
To Include or Not to Include 4
Tristan Tavis Marajh Andrea Carlisle
Gail Willmott

Just One of the Moms 82 A Profound Teacher in Disguise 52
 FEATURED ESSAY Marlaina Cockcroft Carol Keegan
So I Think I Can Dance 6

Melanie Reitzel Cleaning 66
Memorial Day 98
Lois Soffer
Kelly Brown

 FEATURED ART
An Artist at Heart 44 Jay’s Pawfect Pal 70
The Slipping 100
Sandy Palmer June Capossela Kempf
Katie Booth

 FICTION Letting Go, with Love 74
Louder Than Words 102
The Devil’s Grip 10 Tammy Littlejohn
Celeste Bonfanti
Casey Robb
The Day the Lights Went Out
at Kellogg Bowl 85
The Lost Year 20  PERSONAL ESSAY
Erick Mertz
Everyone Deserves a Turn 27
Grace Lapointe
Bert Edens
A Walk and a Talk—
How’d You Meet Your Wife? 38 Brothers Defeat Willowbrook 88
Not His Circus,
Con Chapman Not His Clowns 30 Allan B. Goldstein

Phyllis H. Moore
1
Listen to the Children 91 Learning Disability 51 Regarding the Previous Ease
of Doing Two Things at Once 81
Stephen J. Bedard Katie Rendon Kahn
Mary Ellen Talley

Please Give Us a Call 93 Dress-up 61
Scoliosis 81
Tamar Auber Nancy Scott
John Smith

What’s Your Stand-Up About? 96 The Good of a Thing 69
Triple Feature 92
Paulina Combow Visiting 104
Sean J. Mahoney
Michael Mark

 POETRY To My Eyes 94

Lady of the Manor 18 The Sixth Child 73 From My Eyes 95

Fierce Love 18 Paul and Cheryl 105 Mary McGinnis

Glenna Cook Nancy Scott

Dentist Appointment 106
May All Your Children My Cousin, His Cerebral Palsy,
His Tattoos 73 Judie Rae
Be Gymnasts 19

The Healer 19 Ron Riekki

Liz Dolan
 REVIEW
One Animal’s Healing Power 60
The Space Between Us 75
Allison M. Loose
Senses 29 Transformations 76

Jessica Goody Mary Doyle Johnston

 ARTICLE
Arm 31 Seeing and Hearing Differently 78
Failed, 1959 77
Cathy Bryant Sarena Tien
When I was Six, 1962 77

Letter: April 11, 1962 77
Hallucinations 37
William H. McCann, Jr.  BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES 107
Yuan Changming

Handmade Kites 80
my name is Adam 43
Blair G. Sweeney
Randy Martin

2
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is published online semiannually.
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Staff Previously published by
Kaleidoscope: Exploring
the Experience of Disability through
PUBLISHER Literature and the Fine Arts,
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United Disability Services Akron, OH 44311-1019

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Indexed in Humanities International
Gail Willmott, M.Ed. Complete and the MLA International
Bibliography non-Master List. Listed in
MANAGING EDITOR International Directory of Little Magazines
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ART COORDINATOR
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Submissions:
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HONORARY EDITOR
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MANUSCRIPT REVIEW PANEL Kaleidoscope, beginning in 1979, pioneered
Fiction Review the exploration of the experience of disability
Mark Decker, Ph.D. through the lens of literature and fine arts.
Fiction, personal essays, poetry, articles,
Bloomsburg University
book reviews, and various artistic media
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania including two-dimensional art, three-dimen-
sional art, drama, theater, and dance are
Poetry Review featured in the pages of various issues.
Sandra J. Lindow
University of Wisconsin-Stout This award-winning publication expresses
Menomonie, Wisconsin 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.

3
EDITORIAL NOTE

To Include or Not to Include
Gail Willmott

T
he theme of Issue 74 of Kalei- home each day to make up for what I powers that be were doing what they
doscope is “inclusion.” Just as had missed because of being pulled out thought was best in implementing this
the terminology used to refer of the classroom once or even twice type of educational strategy, as awk-
to persons with disabilities continues daily for physical and occupational ward and disruptive as it was.
to evolve (“crippled,” “handicapped,” therapy sessions. Yet, I obviously did
“disabled,” “challenged”) so do opin- learn something not withstanding all of When it came time for me to apply
ions and strategies related to how peo- that disruption. to colleges in 1966, I submitted ap-
ple with disabilities should be educated plications to three schools in the area:
and integrated into society (“special Busing special education students out The University of Akron, Kent State
education,” “integration,” “mainstream- of their school districts was the way of University, and Notre Dame College
ing,” “inclusion”). Many years ago, things before busing became a larger of Cleveland (which was my first
parents often kept their children with political and racial issue. This usually choice at that time). Times being what
disabilities hidden at home. Then came meant getting to school later than the they were, I received three responses
the segregation of special education other kids and leaving earlier which which were essentially the same: “You
classes where children with various also effectively disallowed participation certainly have all the necessary aca-
disabilities were grouped together in in any extracurricular activities before demic qualifications, but as you are in
one classroom with little or no contact or after school. I sometimes wonder a wheelchair, you would not be able to
with “normal” children. That was the if that lack of interaction fueled my successfully navigate this campus.”
era in which I grew up—the era of non- preference for more solitary activities
inclusion. such as reading, listening to music, and Then a friend of mine who was a
watching movies. To this day, I am a speech therapist with a significant dis-
While I always enjoyed school, espe- bit of a loner and large group activities ability, told me about the University
cially anything to do with reading and are never my first choice. On the other of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. She
English, looking back, I feel that as hand, are those characteristics an inher- told me that the university had begun a
special education students we perhaps ent part of my personality regardless of program in 1948 to meet the needs of
were not as rigorously challenged circumstances? injured veterans returning from World
academically as we might have been. War II who wished to use their G.I.
Being in a special education program The great irony in my particular situa- benefits. Over the years, the program
meant that habilitative therapies (physi- tion was that junior high school was the was expanded and by the 1960s was
cal, occupational, and speech) were time when special education students made available to students who could
included in the regular school day. began to experience some integration successfully complete a week of func-
Through fourth grade there was also a with their “normal” peers. What a time tional assessment by the staff of the
mandatory one half hour rest period. So to begin that process, since those junior university’s Rehabilitation-Education
you can see that much of the day was high/middle school years are often Center. My first reaction was “Why
taken up by requirements other than miserable in any case. In high school, would I want to go there?” The answer
academics. I remember taking material I attended regular classes and the bus- was clear—if I wanted to attend col-
ing situation remained the same. Again, lege that was my only real choice at the
looking back, I have to believe the time.

4
social/recreational activities, and wor-
By the time I graduated in 1973 with ship/spiritual expression in accordance There are essays in which parents re-
a master’s degree, the education of the with individual abilities and desires, is count their efforts to provide common
next generation of students with dis- a basic human right that should always childhood experiences that would not
abilities was beginning to undergo sig- be honored. occur without intentional effort: “Lis-
nificant changes. With the authorization ten to the Children,” and “Everyone
of the Education of All Handicapped The inclusion movement also means Deserves a Turn.” There are essays
Children Act in 1975, and its amend- more opportunities for adults with dis- about young people moving out into the
ment in 1997 as the Individuals with abilities to participate more fully in the workforce: “Cleaning” and “Letting Go
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), life around them. Individuals are being With Love.” We have some works that
children with disabilities were given given real choices in terms of housing, discuss major changes that adults have
the right to an education among their employment, and recreation. We have had to embrace: “A Walk and a Talk—
“typical” peers in the least restrictive moved from segregation and depen- Brothers Defeat Willowbrook,” and “A
placement, popularly referred to as dence to facilitating choices for in- Profound Teacher in Disguise.” Our
mainstreaming. Being mainstreamed, volvement in accordance with potential featured essay is, “So I Think I Can
students had to demonstrate that they and personal preferences, with the goal Dance.” In this piece, Melanie Reitzel
were making progress and not falling of broader participation in the larger recounts how she set her own standards
behind because of being placed in a community. For those who are unable regarding inclusion.
regular classroom. to transition to completely independent
living and employment, there are group In fiction, we have two stories in which
“Inclusion” is the latest nomenclature homes and supported living as opposed young adults take matters into their
referring to the process of bringing to institutions, and programs to provide own hands in order to expand and en-
children with disabilities together with opportunities to be a part of community rich their lives: “The Devil’s Grip” and
their non-disabled peers—replacing life in terms of volunteer and social/ “The Complete Works of Min-Ju-Kim.”
the terms “integration” and “main- recreational activities. We also have an excellent example of
streaming.” Inclusion is a broader term how not to be inclusive—“The Lost
which, while not disregarding academic Around the country sheltered work- Year.” “Reinventing the Wheel,” is a
achievement, places more emphasis on shops are being closed (for good or ill) story that recounts a situation in which
the psychological and social benefits of with the intention of moving more and one would definitely not choose to be
all children participating and learning more people into community employ- included.
together. Inclusion, if correctly under- ment. For workshops that continue to
stood, should encompass much more exist, there is a new emphasis on pay- Compiling Issue 74 proved to be an
than education. It is intended to foster ing a “fair wage,” for work done. As I engaging challenge for me, and I sin-
the growth and development of the see it, inclusion means providing real cerely hope you enjoy delving into the
whole person, allowing children and and meaningful choices for full partici- subject of inclusion.t
adults with disabilities to fully partici- pation in the community and respect-
pate in all aspects of community life. ing the choices that people make for
their lives. This is equally, if not more
Inclusion means more than just specific important for those individuals who,
accommodation as outlined in sections because of cognitive impairments, need
of the Americans with Disabilities Act ongoing support in negotiating daily
(ADA). Some experts point out that activities.
while accommodation can be legislat-
ed, inclusion must evolve naturally as With Issue 74, because we received
a result of acceptance and the willing- such a wide range of submissions
ness to see past the disability, to see the touching on various degrees of inclu-
whole person. I believe that being given sion, I was able to expand the number
the opportunity to make real choices of works included here. As usual we
regarding education, employment, have personal essays, fiction, a book
review, and some poems that address
the issue of inclusion from various per-
spectives.

5
FEATURED ESSAY

So I Think I Can Dance
Melanie Reitzel

I
was in my Directed Writing teach- way-ahead-of-their-time Let’s let her the board resulted in a mid-air flail as
er’s office and had just unlocked the try and if she falls she’ll learn to set if I’d been thrown off a roof, and it set
knee hinges on my leg brace and her own limits approach to mainstream- Dad’s Newfoundland, Josh, who’d been
sat down when my cell phone went off ing. Imagine ice-skating. Third grade, hovering at the edge of the pool the
in my bag. I’d forgotten to turn it off so watching a friend take her lesson, I minute I crawled up on the board, into
we could work uninterrupted: fifty min- stepped out, carefully onto the ice, a wave-making dive of his own. Some
utes every three weeks is precious time. holding the rail, not wearing skates but dogs have a way of anticipating trouble
The first dozen or so notes of the ring my tan and brown saddle shoes. Gave a in the water. And if the fall hadn’t
tone sound the dead-give-away two- little push with the good leg, slid about convinced me, two hundred pounds
note, back-and-forth bounce of “Dance two feet and just, barely grabbed the of drooling, paddling Newfoundland
of the Sugar Plum Fairy”—and Toni rail in time to prevent me from doing headed my way on a rescue mission af-
cracks up. Then I crack up because she the splits. OK, so, no ice-skating. ter I landed was an effective deterrent.
gets it that I downloaded this synthe-
sized little ring tone of syncopated situ- Tennis, when I was thirteen. My dad Baseball—good swing. May I have
ational irony on purpose—I’m the next- had strung up a practice net at the a designated runner, please? Volley-
to-last person on the planet who will house he and my stepmother were rent- ball—as long as the other five team
ever dance the Sugar Plum Fairy dance. ing for the summer. “Well, Kid, we can members filled in for me, I could hold
Never in the history of anything will give it a try.” He hits the ball to me, my own. Great at serving, very long
you witness any tour jetés performed within my long-armed reach and I hit it arms. Well, arms not so long, really,
by this sixty-two-year-old, post-polio back. Then he hit it to the other side of just proportionately shorter legs, thanks
person in a tutu and a brace unless Luis the court, and I got about a step toward to the growth-stunting virus. Square
Bunuel comes back from the dead to it before it bounced past me. OK, no dance—Mr. Isola called the dances; I
direct one more surrealist flick. Never. tennis, either. put the records on the phonograph and
But when I was four, I gave ballet a try watched my classmates allemande left
and God bless my grandmother for let- At swimming, I wasn’t quite a star, but and promenade. Hopscotch—pretty
ting me. could swim every stroke except the but- good, actually. I was good at that stand-
terfly: the whipping-the-legs together ing on the hopping leg and leaning over
I don’t know why my Grandmother part of the kick doesn’t work when one to pick up the marker business because
Willie, so called because I couldn’t leg refuses to listen to the commands I’d learned from the age of three to de-
say her last name, “Wilson,” had a bal- of the brain. A whole bunch of those pend on the good leg for balance.
let book for children on hand for me. spinal cord nerves went deaf when I
I don’t know why she had it, but she was two-and-a-half. The left leg trails
did; perhaps it was part of my family’s along because it’s attached, but doesn’t
coordinate, synchronize, or push. And
not much diving. Trying to spring off

6
Jump rope—terrific at holding the rope. I studied the ballet book with Gram knit, crochet, and how to make soap.
Swings—no problem—I pumped cross- and worked on mastering the basic She taught me that fresh tar could be
legged, my right leg supporting my left, positions. Arm positions: a breeze. chewed like gum. That cloves and cin-
my long arms enabled me to stretch Foot positions: with a very loose left namon made perfectly good breath
out; I could lean further back than most hip joint I could easily, albeit slowly, fresheners. I learned to recite: “By the
other kids could. Kick the can—give bring my heels together and point my shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shin-
me a little extra time to hide, count to toes east and west. That was position ing Big-Sea-Water,” and she let me try
one hundred fifty, and when I throw a one. Position two: same thing, the heels ballet.
rock in the bushes to distract you, and farther apart. Easy peasy, just give me
you’re off investigating the noise, I’ll a moment. Position one to two, inclu- She also let me try to fly. Peter Pan
limp into home. sive? Mastered. But after that, I was was my favorite story—I dreamed of
grabbing the bar—in my case, the edge flying, defying gravity, moving freely
of Grandmother’s mahogany drop-leaf in the dark air nearly every night. I was
dining room table—or I was swaying obsessed and I think Peter Pan quali-
and falling. And we hadn’t even tried it fies as my first crush. I wrote the name
Think drunken, dizzy yet with music. No Sugar Plum Fairy “Wendy” in all my books, and I was so
great blue heron in role in my future. convinced that I could fly with Peter
that one morning, after a sleepover at
repeatedly thwarted Grandmother Willie had taught school Gram’s, I announced that I really could
take-off attempts and ever since she was widowed when my fly. And in the way four-year-olds have
you’ve got the visual. mother was six, my aunt nine. She of mixing up reality and fantasy, I be-
taught high school science in Pittsburg, lieved I could and told her so and told
California. You only had to see her her I could prove it. Gram took her seat
once, firmly girdled beneath her hand- in her chair by the table, assumed her
made dress or suit, her laced black “show me the evidence, I have a sci-
But before I tried all those things, I heels, sitting up so straight in her we- entific background” pose and watched
tried ballet at four. I’d been wearing the spoke-German-at-home posture. Seeing me climb onto her couch. “Watch me!”
brace for all of a year-and-a-half after her sit beside her claw-footed dining I said as I held out my arms. And then
contracting polio in 1950. I walked room table—legs crossed, arms folded I flapped my arms and flew off the
stiff-legged with a locked ankle so my over her ample bosom—was all you couch.
dance repertoire was going to be lim- needed to see to know why she never
ited. had any disciplinary problems in that Right onto the floor.
rough refinery town north of Berke-
Any choreography that depends solely ley where she taught school. Rookie I couldn’t tell Gram it hadn’t quite
on waving my arms and bouncing on teachers used to come to her classroom worked like I’d planned because I
one leg while slowly hop-spinning, whenever theirs got rowdy. Mrs. Wil- couldn’t talk. And I couldn’t talk be-
however, I can manage. Think drunken, son would order her class to shelter in cause I couldn’t breathe. My chest
dizzy great blue heron in repeatedly place while she marched into the room wouldn’t move. I looked at her in wide-
thwarted take-off attempts and you’ve of miscreants-in-training and informed eyed panic.
got the visual. them: “We’re not going to have any
of that going on in here.” Gram didn’t “You just knocked the wind out of your
need to reference her pronouns; she fig- lungs,” Gram said, not moving from
ured the students knew quite well what her chair. “You’ll be all right.”
they were up to. She knew the differ-
ence between naughty and stupid. She was right; I was. Compared to

Gram taught me how to cook, sew,

7
permanent paralysis, this was pretty the brace shop, I questioned its motives I will cop to some hypersensitivity
small potatoes. So, for the rest of my at once—I can sport the whitewash of when it comes to exploitation of image.
childhood, I tried whatever my friends false hope inherent in “cures” from a March of Dimes posters are primarily
did, I slid down the dry-grass hills of mile away, let alone thirty feet. And the to blame for that. Originally formed to
Orinda on flattened cardboard cartons, “blackwash” that portrays someone in collect funds to be used to fight polio,
got into mud bomb fights with Patty my spot as pathetic and forlorn because the Dime’s first posters focused on the
Winquist and the Smyth twins, went I needed a couple of metal uprights deliberately pity-inducing images of
to camp, went horseback riding with and cross bars to get from point A to children with braces either in wheel-
the Girl Scouts and, as a result of point B isn’t any better. I didn’t much chairs or on crutches. If, somehow, they
this extra wear and tear on the brace, fancy being cast into the “valley of the could have found a child who wore
spent a lot of afternoons after school, shadow of death” every time I cracked braces and used a wheelchair propelled
or Saturdays, in the orthopedic repair a sidebar or popped a rivet. I was grate- by crutches, they would have made her
shop. Downtown Oakland, Telegraph ful for the brace, but I didn’t want to be the permanent poster child. And while
Avenue. So long ago that neither my the subject of a mural. I didn’t want to the dimes collected as a result of those
mother or I can remember the name of be used as agitprop. torn heartstrings did help fund polio
the shop. “Mom, I think it’s called Lau- vaccine research, for which I am, do
rence Orthopedic” I said when I called not get me wrong, very grateful, those
her last week. “I don’t think that’s it, posters took their toll. They played
she said.” Considering the amount of upon the image of victim. Pity is not
time we spent there, it’s driving us a After handicapped, we what is needed. A person with polio, or
little bit crazy not to be able to remem- anyone with a handicap, disability, or
ber—we’re both getting older. were disabled.Then we inconvenience, needs a grandmother
were challenged. and a ballet book and the opportunity
But we remember the mural on the to decide for themselves what their
wall because we sat under it, reading
One more societal physical limits might be, and how to
our books or magazines, waiting to be whitewash and we’re navigate their life with those limits and
called back for repairs or modification headed down the slider their strengths in mind. I think of my
to my appliance. I hated that damned physical restrictions much the way I
mural. Here’s why: viewing from left toward irked. think of the sonnet form. Limitations
to right—frame one: crippled people on form can help eliminate detractors;
hunched over canes, stuck in wheel- a whole host of failures are eliminated.
chairs, dark forms, lost, purposeless, As any good poet will tell you: creative
miserable in their grim landscape. possibilities abound within boundaries.
Frame two: workmen hammering out, I didn’t understand that term, then,
stitching up, bolting together braces, of course, but I understood how I felt And then my grandmother taught me
artificial limbs. Much like the required when I looked at that mural. I said so how to read. And my family let me dis-
scene from any old West movie or TV to Mother who understood fifty years cover what I could do as well as what
show. Clang, clang—camera three pans ago how mainstreaming and sensitivity I couldn’t. After the birth of my first
to the town blacksmith. Frame three: influenced language. While in favor of child I told them of my mid-labor A-
we Gimps, we happy Gimps, just one mainstreaming, she saw it as a necessi- hah! Moment: “I want to be a maternity
appliance-aided step closer to nearly ty rather than a balm to the conscience. nurse.” None of them said I couldn’t do
able-bodied, are all walking (you can’t that—they asked me to which school I
detect the limp in a still shot) forward “You know, Melanie, you used to be was going to apply. Come to think of it,
in the light. It’s a metaphor; it’s a crippled. Then you were lame. Now I don’t think I ever once heard, “Mela-
sales job. Three stainless steel rivets you’re handicapped.” Pretty soon nie, you can’t do that” come out of my
are practically as curative as a trip to you’ll be “inconvenienced.” She wasn’t parents’ or grandparents’ mouths except
Lourdes. far off the terms have been diluted even when it came to curfew in high school
further. After handicapped, we were or going out to play before I cleaned
My dad was an ad-man: driving back disabled. Then we were challenged. my room on Saturdays.
and forth from Orinda to San Francisco One more societal whitewash and we’re
to spend weekends with him, up and headed down the slider toward irked.
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

8
They had the same attitude toward suppose his clinical curiosity made him nity ward where babies’ mouths were
my having a career as they did ballet. forget his manners. He was probably open, their heads turning, signaling to
You’ll need to do something to earn a running the diagnostic algorithm in his their nervous new mothers it was time
living, and we trust you to figure out head, Let’s see, that’s a permanent ap- to be fed.
what you can do and what you can’t. pliance, it’s lock-kneed, therefore: un-
Thirty years ago I learned I could be a stable quads. Pretty good hip-swing but Doc, I wanted to say, in a measure of
pretty good nurse. Now I’m learning that’s compensatory for the paralysis. self-congratulation equal to his own,
how to be a better writer than I was a Legs slightly unequal length, torso a bit you only saw the part of me that you
ballet dancer. tall for the frame, stunted leg growth think doesn’t work so good, when I’m
with compensatory surgical shortening in a patient’s room with a mother and
Recently, in the elevator at the hospital of the unaffected limb at the epiphysis: her crying baby who need to be taught
where I have worked now for nearly bingo: gotta be polio. Damn, don’t see first and second position, in position
thirty years as a maternity nurse spe- too many of those these days . . . . and latch, boy howdy, you should see
cialist in lactation, a physician and I me dance.t
shared a ride to the second floor. As I I thought I detected a self-congratula-
stepped into the elevator I caught his tory smile on his face as I got off the
eye. Or rather, my limp did. He stared. I elevator and headed toward the mater-

Call for submissions K ALEIDOSCOPE
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 kaleidoscope@udsakron.org or online at kaleidoscopeonline.org.

9
FICTION

The Devil’s Grip
Casey Robb

R
usty Serrano woke with a jerk, sweating, writh- He opened the back door. The desert heat rolled in. He
ing, gasping for breath. Again, that damn dream—a caught a glimpse of the lazy semi-rural roads of Marathon,
baby squeezed in a vise, in a grip, too smothered to his small, stifling town. Aptly named, too, Marathon—my
scream. He steadied his breathing. The first morning rays life.
of West Texas summer sun were flooding the room, cast-
ing flickers of lilac and crimson through the crystals on his He glanced down the hall, pulled one of his mom’s Coors
dresser, blue calcite and rosy quartz. 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
Last night, he’d heard his mom’s keys jangling as she came lips, pulling out his words like Silly Putty. “M-Mr. Perfect
in late from her job at the café. He knew she would sleep in. T-Taaate.”
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- Tate, with his dark brown hair and eyes, his easy smile,
where to go. At least not today. But he had a plan. looked just like their dad. Or so he’d heard. He only knew
his dad from photos and stories—stories about his dad’s
He pulled out the bottom dresser drawer and fingered the drinking, his lost jobs, his fights.
papers he’d brought back from Alpine and hidden under his
jeans. He hadn’t told anyone. Not his mom. Not even Tate. Then baby Rusty’s diagnosis had arrived: cerebral palsy.
Especially not Tate. That must have been the last straw for the coward, Rusty
often thought. He up and ran, like a chicken gizzard. Not
He listened for dishes clinking in the kitchen. Silence. Good, even a trickle of kid support from the bastard—not from the
no one’s up. bank and not from the heart.

Rusty had cerebral palsy. One of those baby birthing things. Rusty chugged the last half of the cold beer. He heard foot-
Couldn’t get out. He never got why. Was he not allowed to steps. Too late.
be born or something? His legs jerked this way and that, but
his hands were steady and his mind was sharp: and another “Rusty!” Tate yelled. “What the hell are you doing? Put that
blessing—his good looks, with his black hair, blue eyes, and beer down.”
lean physique.
“N-Not your b-buuusiness!”
Rusty pulled on his jeans, hoisted himself off the bed, and
walked down the hall to the kitchen on two legs that carried “That’s Mom’s beer.”
him like clumsy stilts, his arms sweeping the air for bal-
ance—like swimming . . . or drowning. “Sh-Sheee said I could have sooome.”

10
“It’s mine too. I pay the bills, don’t I?” Tate was a mechanic “Uh, oh.” He noticed empty beer cans on the floor and tossed
now, helping his mom who could barely cover the rent. “And them behind the seat out of sight. He slid out of his truck and
I say you can’t have it.” felt the folded paper in his back jeans pocket, then knocked.
Sissy opened the door.
“W-Waaatch me,” Rusty said, and chugged two more gulps.
“Hey, Rusty. What’s up?” She stood smiling at him. Stun-
“At breakfast? Geez! What a lush. How are you ever going ning, Rusty thought. He couldn’t help but stare at her tousled
to get a job?” dark blond hair, laughing blue eyes, and curves in all the
right places.
“I-I’ll get a job. You just waaatch. I’ll do better. I’ll get a
careeeer.” Sweet. Like Sandra, in Alpine yesterday. In the library, he’d
sat at a table across from two girls who were moving their
“A career? Are you nuts? You barely finished high school.” hands in a rapid rhythm like a salsa dance, like a rumba.
They’d glanced at him and giggled. One girl had flipped
“Y-Yeah, but—” back her brown hair and, with her finger, drew a circle
around her face, then slid her palms together and pointed at
“But nothing. Put the beer down and go back to bed, you him. Rusty shrugged and shook his head. She pulled a pencil
stupid drunk.” and paper from her purse, wrote a note, and pushed the paper
to him. It said, face nice = handsome. Then, Wow! Below
The beer can went flying and hit Tate on the side of the face. that, she’d written, Sandra. He looked up and she pointed
Tate lunged at Rusty and wrestled him to the kitchen floor. to herself. She reached across the table and patted his hand.
Rusty grabbed at Tate’s leg and Tate shook him off. “You Her touch felt silky, like a cool desert breeze in the heat of
brainless baby,” Tate yelled. “Mama’s boy.” 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
Rusty lay on the floor cradling a bruised elbow. Tate headed handsome before. Certainly not in sign language.
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 Sweet, he thought again, still staring at Sissy who stood lean-
always had his arm around some girl, though lately it had ing in the doorway. He broke his gaze and glanced away.
just been Sissy. Tate slammed the door behind him, revved The TV blared from the living room. Sissy yelled behind her,
up his motorcycle and took off. “Tate, it’s your brother.”

Rusty pulled himself up on a kitchen chair, balanced on his Tate shouted from the couch over the TV noise, “What
legs and shook his fist. “B-Bastard,” he yelled. “I’m g-going the . . .” Before Tate could get off the couch, Rusty leaned
tonight. To the desert. N-Not j-juuust to the d-desert. T-To toward Sissy, close enough to inhale her scent, like a blue
the cave! And you’re c-coming too, T-Taaate.” sage blossom. He whispered, “H-Hey, S-Sissy. You wanna
g-go to a c-cave?”
* * *
“What do you mean? A real cave?” she asked. “Awesome.
That evening, Rusty drove his pickup to Sissy’s apartment When?”
hoping to surprise them. Tate had rigged Rusty’s old truck at
the shop with a steering knob and a joystick hand pedal: push “L-Like, n-now.” Rusty’s voice felt tight, trying to sound
to go, pull to stop. Rusty’s legs were useless for driving, but casual.
his hands were deft. He veered the truck to the left into the
parking space by Sissy’s front door, then jerked the joystick Tate joined her at the door. “A cave? You got to be kidding.
forward, screeching the brakes a little just for fun. We have to work tomorrow.”

11
“Oh, please, honey,” Sissy whined, her lips in a pout. “It’s Near the high mesa, he headed for a rocky butte, wrenched
early.” the brake and skidded to a stop by a lone juniper a few
yards from a rocky outcrop. Tate held onto the window.
“At night?” Tate shot Rusty a glare. Sissy’s hands flew out to brace herself on the dash. She let
go a stifled screech, then laughed.
“Come on, baby,” she murmured, stroking Tate’s cheek.
“Out there under the stars.” Then she leaned to him and “Where are we?” Sissy wrapped her arms around Tate.
whispered, “My caveman.” Tate rolled his eyes.
“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.”
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 Rusty glanced in the rear view mir-
smirked, then kissed and nibbled on Tate’s ear, whispered ror at Sissy’s blue eyes, at the pur-
to him with that voice like molasses, and murmured, again,
“My caveman,” as if Rusty wasn’t there, as if he didn’t have
ple cloisonné barrette that barely
feelings like other guys. hung on to her flaxen hair fluttering
in the dusty wind.
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 “N-no, it’s not b-boring.” Rusty reached into his back jeans
the summer sun disappeared behind the crusty peaks of pocket and fingered the folded paper. Good, it’s still there.
the Santiago Mountains. Dusty pinks and blues emerged “Look.” He pulled a piece of violet amethyst crystal from
along the jagged eastern horizon. Rusty spotted the distant the side pocket of his blue jean jacket. He handed it care-
high mesa with its sloping red ridge. He swerved the truck fully to Sissy. She rolled it in her hands and offered it to
around a cluster of prickly pear cactus and slowed, then Tate, who looked away.
flicked on the headlights and weaved a path among the
mesquite trees and the spiky cholla. Rusty dodged a rocky “Besides, you could get hurt out here.” Tate brushed the
outcrop, then jerked on the joystick to pick up speed. 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
“Jesus, Rusty!” Tate yelled. “I didn’t rig this truck for you for what? A bunch of stupid rocks? Jesus!”
to get us killed. Use that stick slow and easy!” Rusty felt his
face flush. “What’s gotten into you lately?” Tate persisted. “Y-You caaan’t tell me whaaat to do.” Rusty’s throat tight-
“Just ’cause you got your own wheels now, thanks to Mom. ened.
Must be Easy Street being the baby of the family,” Tate
went on. “Like hell I can’t. Somebody needs to.”

“I’m n-not the b-baaaby,” Rusty said. Rusty didn’t answer, just glared at Tate.

“Well, you act like it. If she only knew how you drove. Rusty stepped down from the truck, grabbed a flashlight
Man, the stuff you get away with!” from behind the seat, hung it on his belt, and walked around
the rocky butte with that spastic, jerky gait he hated, his
Rusty stared out at the jagged landscape, his jaw clenched. arms flying in a snappy motion for balance.
He gripped the wheel and veered around a big barrel cactus.
On every bounce, Sissy’s thigh rubbed against Rusty’s leg, Tate and Sissy got out and followed him, the volcanic cob-
but neither she nor Tate seemed to notice. Rusty glanced in bles crunching underfoot. A bloody glow had settled on the
the rear view mirror at Sissy’s blue eyes, at the purple cloi- land. At the base of the butte, almost invisible behind the
sonné barrette that barely hung on to her flaxen hair flutter- spiky leaves of a towering yucca, an earthy hole gaped like
ing in the dusty wind. a small, private wound.

12
“Oh, my God.” Sissy groaned. “No.” Rusty took a deep breath. He leaned toward Sissy
and paused for effect. “I w-want to b-be a geologist.”
“That’s no cave,” Tate said, standing back. “That’s a rat
hole!” “A geologist!” Tate almost shouted. “Oh, come on! You
barely squeaked by in high school!”
Rusty tossed the flashlight into the hole, gathered his legs,
slid them in, and pushed till the rock felt like fingers clos- “And why n-not?” Rusty yelled.
ing on his waist. He felt the sweat break out as he shoved
himself deeper inside, until he was sitting in a small granite “Because you’re not a college egghead. That’s why not.”
room the size of his bedroom. The ceiling hung low, within
reach. The cold musty scent of damp soil penetrated his “They g-got claaaasses in Alpine,” Rusty said. Then he
lungs. looked away and mumbled, “and g-girls. . . .”

Rusty flicked on the flashlight. Tate, then Sissy, squeezed “Girls? What do you mean, girls?”
through the entrance and scooted over to join him. The
granite walls were rough, and speckled black and gold. He “I m-met one at the college. In Alpine. S-Sandra.”
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.” Rusty took a deep breath. He leaned
toward Sissy and paused for effect.
“This is the Devil’s Porch,” Rusty announced. “Found it m-
myself. B-But wait till you see the D-Devil’s Grip.” Rusty “I w-want to b-be a geologist.”
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.
“Oh, my God. Now it’s girls? What will you come up with
For days. Killed! For a bunch of rocks!”
next?”
“No. N-Not rocks—rhyolite, mica, limestone. L-Look.”
Sissy broke in. “Aw, Tate, come on. That’s sweet. He can
Rusty placed his palm on the wall. “T-Touch it.” He took
have a girlfriend if he wants.”
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
“This is outrageous!” Tate insisted, waving Sissy aside.
in the morning. H-Here.” Rusty guided Sissy’s hand to his
“You don’t know him.”
chin and moved her fingers gently across his thick, black
stubble. She allowed the touch for a moment, then withdrew
“Just b-because you didn’t get into c-college!” Rusty burst
her hand.
out.
“It’s what-neous rock?” Sissy ran her finger tips along the
“Tate . . . . You applied for college?” Sissy stared at Tate.
wall.
“You never told me that.”
“Igneous r-rock, from ignite—f-formed by fire.”
“So? It was stupid. Thought I wanted to be an engineer.
You know, design stuff.” Tate turned his head away in the
She smiled at him in the dim light. “How come you know
shadows.
so much about caves and rocks and stuff?”
“No, no, no. Not stupid!” Sissy insisted. “So what hap-
Rusty grinned. “’C-Cause they’re so cool. B-Besides, I have
pened?”
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?”

13
Tate shrugged. “Sul Ross. In Alpine. Got on the waiting list. “Tate, hon,” Sissy added, “Can’t he study too? He’s sharp
Pre-engineering, they called it.” He clenched his fist. “But as a . . .”
couldn’t wait. Had to start mechanic’s school. Mom lost her
job and couldn’t make the rent. So I withdrew my applica- “Sissy, you stay out of this! It’s not your business!”
tion.”
Sissy rolled her eyes and crawled off with the flashlight.
Sissy shook her head. “Well, she’s working now. Maybe
there’s still a way.” “Y-You think I’m n-no good for nothing, d-don’t you?”
Rusty demanded.
“Naw. . .” Tate hesitated. “Besides, I’m not a college egg-
head either.” Tate turned to Rusty and glared at him, clench- “Of course you’re not no good. But be realistic.” Tate shook
ing his jaw. “But if I can’t get in, you sure as hell can’t!” 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.
“Y-You think I’m n-no good for “What’s that?” Sissy aimed the light at a small hole. “It
nothing, d-don’t you?” looks like a tunnel.”
Rusty demanded.
“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 yeah? W-Well, what’s this?” Rusty yanked the folded
paper from his back pocket, snapped it open, and threw it at “Oh, cool.” Sissy stuck her head into the hole and looked
Tate. “An application. And I’ve still got t-two days to g-get down the tunnel. “Oooh, you think there’s skeletons in
it in.” He felt glad of the dark, which concealed his shaking there? You know, like old miners and stuff? Bones and
hands. picks, and . . . whoa . . . maybe gold?”

“Besides, college costs money, if you didn’t know. Lots of “Of course not,” Tate said.
it.”
“Let’s see.” Sissy tossed the flashlight down the shaft, then
“They g-got scholarships. And l-loans. And work study j- pushed her shoulders through, and squirmed and pulled till
jobs.” she disappeared into the Devil’s Grip. “Hey, I’m in.” Her
muffled voice echoed up the tunnel. “It’s creepy in here,
“Work and study? Ridiculous! Then go ahead,” Tate yelled. like a dungeon.”
“Fall on your face.”
“Damn you, Sissy! Hold on!” Tate followed her into the
“Tate, honey,” Sissy broke in. “Why couldn’t he just—” hole, cramming his shoulders in, then sliding and twisting
till he, too, vanished into the hole.
“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 Rusty began to sweat thinking of Tate and Sissy being
for months. Don’t let him fool you, Sissy. He’s a dreamer.” squeezed, being gripped in a vise. Whisperings, like my
caveman, seemed to float from the tunnel, like mumblings
“Yeah, but . . . dreams are . . .” Sissy began. from the underworld.

“Look, he doesn’t have to worry. Mom and I can take care After a while, Rusty heard scrapes and groans. Then Tate
of him. We always have and we always will.” Then, turning emerged from the dungeon, inch by inch. Sissy pulled her-
to Rusty, Tate added, “Okay, here’s my offer. I’ll see if they self through the hole, sat up and tucked in her shirt.
can use you at the shop. You know, errands, or something.
Office work. Filing maybe. That will keep you busy and Tate crawled to the exit. “We’re out of here.”
away from your pipe dreams.”

14
“Wait,” Sissy said, pulling her hair back. “Hey, where’s my “I’ll get you one somewhere.” Tate sounded impatient.
barrette? My purple barrette. Damn!” She felt around on the
ground. “It must be in the dungeon.” That’s when the idea struck Rusty like a volcanic blast.

“Can’t go back now,” Tate said. He crawled out of the cave. They rode home in silence with Sissy snuggled against Tate,
“Let’s go.” and Tate staring out the window. Rusty gripped the steering
knob, his head spinning. He knew now what he had to do.
“But dang. It’s special.” Sissy scrambled out of the cave. He would retrieve the barrette. He would go to Sissy, open
Rusty crawled out close behind her. They followed Tate to his palm, and there it would be—the lovely cloisonné, its
the truck, the gravel crunching under their feet. “My best gold border glistening. And Tate had to be there. Rusty had
friend gave it to me,” Sissy whined. to see his face. Surprise them both. “Be realistic,” Tate had
said. Well, Rusty would show them reality, a new reality.
“Your BFF?” Tate teased. “Man. It’s just a barrette.” He He would go through the Devil’s Grip. He had to. Alone.
opened the door.
* * *
The next night, Tate was at Sissy’s and Rusty’s mom was
He would go to Sissy, open his working late at the café. It was midnight when Rusty laced
up his hiking boots, grabbed his flashlight and a six-pack of
palm, and there it would be—the Coors, slid behind the steering wheel and set the beer on the
lovely cloisonné, its gold border floor.
glistening. 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
Rusty slid into the driver’s seat and tossed his flashlight by the high butte under a star-studded sky.
on the floor. Sissy scooted onto the passenger seat on her
knees, and got a glimpse of the empty beer cans piled be- Rusty felt full to bursting. He took a piss by the yucca.
hind the seat. Then he tossed the flashlight into the “rat hole,” slid into
the cave, into the Devil’s Porch, and crawled on the gravel
“Whoa,” she murmured. Tate stood behind her at the door. to the Devil’s Grip on all fours like a supplicant. The tun-
Sissy turned to him. “Tate, sugar, can you see if I left my nel loomed before him—an extended maw—longer than
purse back in the truck bed.” he remembered, a ghastly six or eight feet. But it slanted
downhill. That would help. He felt the sweat break out. His
Tate stepped away. Sissy grabbed Rusty’s shirt and pulled heart pulsed. A lump in his throat choked him. He thought
him close. Rusty gasped in surprise. “Rusty, hon,” she he heard a movement, a scurrying. What was that? he won-
whispered. “I see those beer cans. A whole pile of ʼem. dered. A rat? A snake? A rattler?
Sweetheart, that ain’t gonna get you nothing. What about
your caves and your crystals? What about your mom? And He inhaled deeply till his breathing slowed. Man, I’m
Sandra? And all the other Sandras out there waitin’ for ya?” thirsty. Wish I’d brought that beer.
Rusty’s face flushed.
Grasping the flashlight, he reached both arms into the Grip,
Tate appeared at the door. Sissy and Rusty sat up swiftly, jammed in his shoulders, and pushed with his feet, forc-
facing straight ahead. Tate slid into the passenger seat next ing and squirming, sliding on pea gravel inch by inch. His
to her. “Didn’t see any purse.” shoulders emerged on the other side. He was in! He was
really in!
“Whoops . . . found it.” Sissy grinned, holding up her hand-
bag. “Now, Tate hon, how are you gonna get me another Rusty pulled his quivering legs from the tunnel and sat up.
cloisonné barrette? She bought it in China.” 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

15
reddish-brown dirt floor, found the scuffed out spot where “L-Let me go!” he screamed, his breaths coming quick
Tate and Sissy had been, and there it was—the barrette, its and shallow. His shouts echoed back to him. Sweat poured
gold trim gleaming in the dirt. down his neck, sticky like blood. He pushed again. His
legs jerked and quivered, jostling him loose. His body slid
He wiped the barrette across his jeans, watched it flicker down till his feet hit the dungeon floor. “Oh, G-God . . .”
in the flashlight beam, then stuck it in his back pocket. His spasms triggered again, shaking his thighs in a terrible
Yes, Tate, this is reality. Rusty Serrano is not no good for rhythm. “N-No,” he sobbed. “L-Let go!”
nothin’.
The flashlight went completely dark. Rusty shivered. He
He scooted to the Devil’s Grip, eager to get out. He reached licked his grimy lips, felt the grit in his teeth. The cave
into the tunnel with both arms, the flashlight tightly smelled of blackness, of death. So, the Grip had won. Tate
clenched. He shoved and wriggled to cram his shoulders in. had won. The world had won. He would never get out. This
But his shoulders didn’t fit. They had to fit. The tunnel was was reality. He was helpless, his legs, his arms writhing out
the only way out. of control. The dream was true.

He tried again, forcing his shoulders and thrusting with his “No!” he screamed, and shoved again. He sucked air
spastic legs. Damn. It’s uphill now. This time, the loose dirt into his frantic lungs, heaved, and sucked. But the Grip,
and pebbles worked against him, sliding him back down. the cinch, closed on his middle again, like a devil. Sweat
He pushed with his trembling feet and wormed his way up, poured from his arms, his chest. His breath came in gasps.
inch by inch, till he reached the worst bottleneck, his hands He slid forward and reached till his whole hand grasped the
reaching the outer ridge of the tunnel. entrance to the tunnel. He felt another squeeze of the vise.

The Devil’s Grip seemed to close around his torso like a “I’m n-not no good for n-nothing!” His words came crash-
cinch. He could go no further, his arms, his legs stretched ing back, echoes from the deep. “I’m a m-man!” The words
out, unable to push or pull. He twisted and wrenched with pounded on his chest, his shoulders, pushing him, lifting
his sweating hands, but couldn’t dislodge his chest. The him. Rusty closed his eyes and inhaled a long breath. He
earth had him in a vise. tried again, easing into the hole slowly, smoothly, squeez-
ing himself thin. His body slid forward an inch, then some
The flashlight grew dim. He struggled and crammed his more. He tugged and inched his way till his fingertips felt
body till his shoulders and hips were jammed in like a plug. the far edge of the shaft. “L-Let me g-go!” he screamed.
His throat clenched down on the rising panic. He pressed “I’m a m-maaan!”
again with his feet. Then his legs convulsed. The jerky
rhythms jolted his hips. They jarred his chest, his neck, No, no, no! Breathe like a man. Breathe deep. This time,
shaking free the sobs that had snagged in his throat. Rusty opened his lungs, inhaled again, and set his breath
free, felt it ooze out, like the bleeding of bile, till he was
“H-Help me!” he yelled to no one. The spasms grew stron- empty, clear, drained. I’m a man. He closed his eyes and
ger. He heard screams, screams from his own throat, bounc- lay still for a long while. He imagined his home . . . his bed
ing back at him like a hammer. He felt a hand close tightly . . . his crystals. He thought of Tate, how he’d rigged the
around his middle. Then he knew. joystick, and Tate, up early for work every morning, his
engineering dreams diminishing, year by year, like a missed
The dream . . . the damn dream. He felt his body twist- train departing in the distance. He imagined Sissy with her
ing, writhing, gasping for air. The earth, the world, had sweet whisperings. And his mom, María, forever dragging,
grabbed him, like a devil’s hand, a Devil’s Grip. Squeezing tired, and alone. Rusty opened his eyes in the dark, feeling
him. Cramming him. Binding him. He couldn’t breathe, he thinner . . . lighter, as if floating, limp, loose.
couldn’t move, he needed to scream . . . he needed to be
let-go-of. He reached again to the edge of the tunnel entry, and wrig-
gled and tugged. His knuckles ached. He inched himself
Breathe, keep breathing. He took a slow breath. He imag- upward, upward, with his calmer strength, dragging with
ined a cinch, a binding cord wrapped around his ankles, his fingers, shoving with feet. He scraped his limp body along
knees, felt it coil and twine around his hips, his waist, pin- the rocks. His elbows caught the edge and dragged, prying
ning his arms to his side. He saw himself walking, sleeping, his torso out. The granite tore at his jacket, ripping portions
talking, with this cord cramming his parts together, jam- of shirt away, scuffing skin. Streaks of blood and sweat
ming him, pinching him, crowding him. All his life . . . yes, smeared across his chest till he was sliding out and out,
he knew it . . . he could hardly breathe, his whole goddamn free—free from the grasp, the vise, the Devil’s Grip.
life.

16
Rusty lay face down on the gravel in the Devil’s Porch, the Tate smirked. “Where the hell to now? The damn cave? The
rocks rough against his chest and cheek. He slept a long Devil’s Grip?”
while, sucking sweet air into his lungs with the cadence and
calm of a newborn. Rusty walked to Tate and hooked his elbow. “N-No. T-To
Alpine.”
Finally, Rusty woke and crawled from the cave. He hiked
to the high mesa and up and up along a steep, rocky trail to Tate shook him off. “What for?”
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 d-deadline is t-today. They g-got night c-classes.”
the vast midnight sky, the rich, ragged landscape he loved,
made more mysterious by a half-moon on the rise. He stood “Night classes?” Tate hurled his stirring spoon to the floor.
tall, stretched his hands high, and breathed deeply, taking “Goddamn you!” He chugged his coffee. “Persistent bas-
in the scents of the desert—pungent, bittersweet. “Not bor- tard, aren’t you?”
ing,” he said aloud.
Tate grabbed his wallet from the table and stomped out the
Rusty fingered the folded paper in his jeans pocket. He door. Rusty followed behind, flailing with his jerky gait.
pulled it out, unfolded it and held it up in the moonlight. Sissy stood in the doorway, the corners of her mouth tilting
The heading across the top read Sul Ross State University, toward a grin. Tate yelled to her, “Call work. Tell ʼem I’ll be
Admissions Application. In the dim light, he peered at the late!” Tate slid into the truck and stared straight ahead, his
line labeled “Name” where, tomorrow, he would fill in Mr. jaw clenching. Rusty slipped behind the wheel. Tate added,
Rusty Serrano. “I’m just going for the ride. To help you out.”

Rusty pulled from his back pocket the cloisonné barrette. Rusty started the ignition. On the dashboard sat a chunk of
He caressed the jewel, watched the purple, the gold, glisten quartz, a crystal of lilac and rose. Rusty peered past Tate at
in the half-moonlight. With the application in hand, Rusty Sissy standing at the door. She gave him a nod and a wink.
hiked down the rocky trail with that jerky gait he’d always
hated, and smiled. I’m not drowning, he thought as he in- Rusty yanked the truck in reverse and sped down Avenue
haled the crisp night air deep into his lungs. I’m not drown- D toward the highway. “Jesus, Rusty!” Tate hollered. “Use
ing at all. I’m swimming. 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 . . . he chuckled . . . then he
burst out laughing, doubled over, till he was snorting spit.
Just past dawn, Rusty pulled into a recycling center and Finally, he sat up and let out an audible sigh. Tate rubbed
dumped his pile of empty beer cans, then headed to Sissy’s. his jaw and opened his mouth wide to relax his face. “You
He banged on her door. The four remaining cans of the six- really think I can do this, huh?”
pack dangled in plastic rings from his left hand.
Rusty swerved the truck onto the highway. “You idiot!”
Sissy appeared in a yellow robe, tying the cloth belt around Rusty answered, smiling. He rolled down his window, let-
her. “Hey, what are you . . . ,” she began. Rusty pushed past ting in a rush of hot wild wind. “W-What d-do you think?”
her and walked to the kitchen table with Sissy following.
Tate stood at the counter stirring coffee, dressed in jeans Along the western horizon, the morning rays of Texas sun
and T-shirt. were flooding the jagged landscape with dusty greens and
golds. The old truck shuddered and shook. The crystal
Rusty slammed the four beers down on the table. “I d-don’t shimmered on the dash, casting shards of rosy light around
n-need these anymore,” he said. “I’m d-done.” the cab. Tate lifted his hands to the sparkles and watched
them quiver and quake across his palms. Rusty jerked for-
Rusty then pulled Sissy’s cloisonné barrette from his pocket ward on the joystick and gunned it for Alpine.t
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.”

17
POETRY

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. Glenna Cook
She doesn’t worry
that this might not be feasible.
She expects everything to fall into place.
I begin to make the arrangements. Fierce Love
Her boss agrees to a day, Most people perceived you as flawed.
and to allow a longer lunch hour. Mother saw you as blessing.
I plan with the kitchen staff
a special menu for twenty extra people. Her fierce love, in your first months,
I take Phyllis shopping for Christmas decorations, brought you past pneumonia’s peril.
a small tree, a white poinsettia. She fed you goat milk and natural vitamins.
Mrs. Mann massaged you with her miracle hands.
When the day arrives, You thrived.
they all carpool across town.
Rather than hide you in the shadows,
Phyllis is the perfect hostess— she placed you at the heart of things—center stage.
queen for the day, lady of the manor. At church gatherings, school carnivals,
All the staff at the home show her deference, there you’d be, perched on her lap,
and in the dining hall, lunch is served, or atop Father’s shoulders,
as if it were a great banquet. curious gaze taking in a world
difficult to comprehend,
After her co-workers have eaten, yet, one where she’d always
she leads them to her apartment, make a place for you.
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.

18
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,
Liz Dolan
could tackle anything.

I asked how you knew
for that split second
The Healer
when you accelerated,
Four-year-old David who has Down’s
throwing back your head, arching your spine,
snuggles into three-year-old Tommy’s chest
pointing your toes, your taut body circling
like a windmill’s wheel, where the beam was.
like a Maine coon cat. He pets Tommy’s head
flubs his lips on his pale cheek and laughs
You said, “Spatial awareness, I guess.”
with so much heart at the noise it makes,
Every time you lifted off
he warms ours. Even though he knows Tommy cannot
I, earth-bound,
closed my eyes lending you my sight.
move nor speak,
Now I watch you nursing
unlike us, he does not give up
your jet-haired boy who barely cries
who inhales oxygen through a cannula.
hope for him, maybe recalling
Your hand cradles his floppy head.
when he himself sipped air raggedly
I fear his life without flight
through a trach and could not pedal his trike
until I see him arcing in your eyes.
but how last night in falling twilight

he did.

Sadly, Tommy died in 2013.

19
FICTION

The Lost Year
Grace Lapointe

O
livia always had her long blond hair in a ponytail. drowned.”
Even though we all wore the same uniform at my
new school, I thought her shoes and hair barrettes I laughed. “That’s impossible. You can’t drown in a bub-
seemed like the right ones to have. She rolled up her skirt bler.”
above her knees and always looked right at the boys and
made weird faces while she put on her ChapStick. “Of course you can. You just stop breathing.”

Mrs. Renault, the principal, had assigned her to guide me Besides Olivia, I didn’t really know any other girls in my
around. That was exactly how she’d said it: “Olivia will class yet. The boys always said “hi” to me, though. Rob
guide you around and help you get acclimated.” Mrs. Re- held the door for me and sat with me at lunch. He liked to
nault always wore colorful sweaters and a lot of makeup mix different kinds of soda together until it made a disgust-
and called everyone “kiddo.” ing concoction. If he thought that would impress me, he
was wrong. I noticed he never offered to hold the door for
“So, do I have to carry your books?” Olivia asked me. Olivia.

“No, I can do it myself.” I didn’t want anyone to act like my “Don’t talk to Rob,” she whispered. “He touches himself.”
servant.
On my first Thursday at St. Agnes’, I noticed all the other
She didn’t really have to do anything, just walk to class sixth-grade girls were wearing white polo shirts and navy
with me and make sure I didn’t fall. I’m not sure what she sweatpants instead of their pleated skirts. I hadn’t even
would have done if I’d actually fallen, though. Most of the known that was an option. At the end of math class, the bell
classes were on the same floor, except history, which was in rang, and everyone else stood up and started marching out
the basement. There were no elevators, but the staircase was the doors. They moved in unison, like the cars on a train. I
narrow, so I could grab onto both railings at the same time. couldn’t even see where they were going. Where was Oliv-
It took me a long time to climb stairs, but I could manage. I ia? How did they all know exactly what to do? I felt almost
could do anything if I put my mind to it. queasy when I realized that the runaway train was leaving
me behind.
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 “Excuse me,” I asked the math teacher. “Where are we go-
oral sex is?” ing?”

“No,” I’d answer. She’d start explaining, but I thought She looked up from her correcting. “Oh. Outside.”
she must have been getting some of the details confused. I
started asking her questions about sex that I’d never ask my “OUTSIDE???” I repeated.
mom or look up on the Internet.
“Yes, dear. It’s gym day,” she said calmly, as if I already
One day Olivia said, “There was a girl who died here, knew this. On the tour, I thought Mrs. Renault had told
back in 1962. Before Father Duggan was here, when all Mom and me that gym was always in the auditorium.
the teachers were nuns. She fell into the water bubbler and
20
I tried to follow the rest of my class, but I couldn’t even see up in the concrete and run over by cars. The image kept
where they’d gone. I wandered around the corridors, which repeating itself in my brain, like someone was rewinding a
all looked exactly the same and were painted blinding videotape.
white. Every once in a while, there was a painting of Jesus,
but even those looked almost identical. I started to feel The rest of the class was playing soccer in a little grassy
dizzy, like I was walking in a maze. area. There were no benches in this park, just a white-
washed statue of some saint or bishop.
I finally found the back door and realized that I was sweat-
ing and out of breath. In the distance, I could see everyone “Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked the gym teacher,
running around in a park across the street. I stepped outside, Mr. Richards. He was tall, kind of young, and had spiked
my legs shaking a little. I usually needed someone to walk hair.
with me when I was outside and never crossed streets alone.
He looked surprised that I could talk. He smiled at me, talk-
Then I noticed someone coming towards me. I hoped it was ing very slowly, like he thought I had a mental disability in
Rob, but as the person got closer, I could see that it was a addition to a physical one. “Hi there. You can sit down in
girl—Olivia. Had she wanted to go and find me, or had the the shade over there, OK?” He pointed to a tree.
teacher sent her?
It was hard for me to get down onto the ground, so I leaned
When Olivia walked across the street with me, I tried to against the tree, trying not to get dirt on my clothes. Why
grip her arm for support. At least that was less awkward hadn’t I brought a book with me? I was so bored that I be-
than holding hands. My fingers felt clammy. I was trying came fascinated watching a little boy and his mother walk-
not to put too much pressure on her, but I felt her flinching ing their hyperactive Jack Russell terrier down the street.
away, like she thought I was contagious. Dear God, send a They stared back at me.
BOY next time! I thought.
When we got back to the classroom, Olivia said to me in a
“What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?” she almost flat tone, “You’re a lesbian.” It wasn’t a question.
screeched, trying to run away from me.
“Huh? No I’m not.”
“Sorry Olivia, I know it’s weird, but I kinda need to hang
on,” I explained. “Yeah, right. You were, like, grabbing me.”

“But you can walk OK when we’re inside!” “I just needed to hold onto something! It has nothing to do
with who I like.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s hard to explain. I have trouble with co-
ordination and long distances.” “Look at your hands.”

“Maybe Father will let you skip gym.” “What about my hands?” Did they look like a boy’s? Had I
bitten a hangnail?
“I don’t want to stay inside though. I’d become a pariah.”
“They say if your ring finger’s longer than your index fin-
“A what?” ger, it makes you a lesbian. It’s because of your hormones.”

“You know, like an outcast.” “That’s stupid.” I kept checking my index finger just to
make sure it was longer.
She looked at me like I was some exotic animal with two
heads. Olivia wouldn’t speak to me after that. She turned away
when I said “hi” to her. I overheard her telling the other
I stared straight ahead, not looking at her, like I was wear- girls that I was a lesbian who’d tried to molest her. From
ing blinders. I tried to block out the noise of cars roaring by then on, only the boys would eat with me at lunch.
and the feeling that gravity was pulling me down towards
the hard cement. I couldn’t stop imagining being swallowed

21
I wondered if Olivia was the person who’d stolen my jacket “So, how’s everything working out so far? Can you get to
the first week of school. I asked Mrs. Renault to tell Father and from class?”
Duggan, but they never figured out who took it.
“Yes.”
“We can work this out, kiddo. You should probably go talk
to Father,” Mrs. Renault said, with a big smile. “I’m told you’re very bright and you’re doing well.”

I was tired by the time we got across the street to the rec- I almost said yes to that, too. “Thank you.”
tory. The secretary met us at the door and told us Father
would be in momentarily. While I waited, I looked around “We’ll find something else for you to do during gym. OK,
his office. There was an icon of Jesus, holding open his Talitha?”
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. . . .“Good afternoon, TalEETHa.
Right then, Father Duggan walked in. I’d only seen him
What a beautiful name.” I’d never
from a distance before. He had glasses and gray hair, and heard anyone pronounce my name
he was much shorter and thinner than I’d expected. He was that way. It sounded so
wearing regular clothes (“civilian clothes,” as Mom would
say), with his white collar poking out from his sweater. I threatening—like “lethal.”
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, “Thanks. At my old school, the gym teacher adapted all the
mournful eyes instead of at him. exercises for me. And could you put me on the schedule
for the readings? I always read in my church at home. The
He said in a deep, musical voice, “Good afternoon, TalEET- priest usually just carries the book himself. They set up a
Ha. What a beautiful name.” I’d never heard anyone pro- chair so I don’t have to climb the steps, or someone helps
nounce my name that way. It sounded so threatening—like me. It wouldn’t be difficult at all.”
“lethal.”
“Of course.” He was looking down at paperwork on his
“Actually, it’s TALitha,” I corrected. 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
He smiled. “Ah, Talitha. I used the Aramaic pronunciation. by myself. After I left, I realized that I’d forgotten to ask
You know the story behind your name?” him about my coat.

“Yes.” After that, I got to stay inside during recess and gym. It
gave me more time to read anyway.
“In the Book of Mark, there was a little girl around your
age who was very sick. Her father, Jairus, approached Jesus No one had ever mentioned God at my public elementary
in the synagogue and begged him to heal her. But by the school. But every Friday at St. Agnes’, we had a prayer
time Jesus reached the house, the child was already dead.” service with readings and a sermon, plus Masses on holy
Even though I knew this story backwards and forwards, I days. Father always picked students to be the readers. While
felt like I was hearing it for the first time. He sounded like he processed down the aisle, the reader marched up the
a radio announcer. “Jesus took her by the hand and said, stairs to the altar, carrying a heavy missal. During the “Our
‘TALITHA CUMI! LITTLE GIRL, ARISE!’” 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
I jumped. Father Duggan was practically shouting. It was electric shock.
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.

22
I kept asking Father Duggan to put me on the schedule, but ever I got a question right, Olivia would snicker. Sometimes
he never did. Every other kid in my class got at least one one of the boys hissed, “Yessss, Miss Diassss!” One day,
turn. Sometimes they made hilarious mistakes, like: “He someone stole my homework from my backpack. I thought
prostated himself before the king.” I didn’t usually think I saw Olivia and her friends passing it around and copying
other people’s mistakes were funny, but soon, I started it.
laughing at them.
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
At first, I thought she was an abortion because the baby would have had a disability. I
couldn’t stop thinking about it. It made me feel almost like
pretending to be drunk for some part of an endangered species.
reason. Then I noticed that she was
After Father’s dramatic sermons, even Communion seemed
dragging her left leg and shouting anticlimactic. He rushed through the prayers of the Con-
long, nonsensical words in a secration. He’d shifted the focus of the Mass off of Jesus
snobby voice. 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
Father Duggan always used a lot of incense, which the whether they were Satanists or worshipped him instead of
priest at my church only used on Good Friday and at funer- God.
als. When I opened my mouth to sing, the bitter-smelling
incense hit the back of my throat and made my eyes water. While I was walking to class one morning, I saw Olivia
I usually sang along anyway, until I realized no one else stumbling around in the hallway. At first, I thought she was
was singing except Father. He sang every part of the Mass, pretending to be drunk for some reason. Then I noticed that
even the readings. Sometimes it sounded ridiculous when she was dragging her left leg and shouting long, nonsensical
he tried to cram in all the words. His voice was so low that words in a snobby voice. A bunch of other girls were watch-
it blended in with the organ. Even when he was giving a ing her and laughing.
sermon, it sort of sounded like he was chanting. I usually
didn’t pay attention to what he was saying, just the mesmer- I thought my heart had dropped into my stomach. Is that
izing rhythm of his voice. what I look like? I wondered. I wanted to ignore them and
just concentrate on walking to class. My eyelids felt weirdly
On the first day of religion class, Father walked into the heavy, like I wanted to cry but couldn’t.
classroom and said in his booming voice: “Boys and girls,
some people try to take every word from the Bible literally. Ever since that meeting in Father Duggan’s office, I’d never
But listen to Psalm 14: ‘There is no God.’” He closed the complained to an adult at school. But Mrs. Renault was just
Bible and smiled at us. That can’t be in the Bible, I thought. walking by. “Hey, girls!” she called cheerfully. “No one’s
He said, “Now let me read the whole thing: ‘The FOOL in trouble. Let’s just chat.” She asked us to gather around
says in his HEART, There is no God . . .’” I couldn’t decide her in a circle, like she was our buddy, not the principal. “I
whether he was a brilliant speaker or he’d tricked us some- know these years can be tough, but they’re wonderful too.
how. Believe me, someday you’re going to want these days back.
So let’s all try to be nicer to each other, OK? Remember,
“What’s the last book of the Bible?” he asked us the next Father and myself are always here if you need to talk.”
week. Most of the other kids were staring out the windows Then she walked back to her office, without looking at any
in a daze. He looked around the room. “Anyone? Miss of us.
Dias?”
In April, Mrs. Renault announced that the sixth grade was
“Revelation,” I whispered, staring at my fingernails. 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
“Yes, exactly!” he said excitedly. “Protestants call it Revela- field trips in elementary school and had never had any prob-
tions, as if there are all sorts of juicy secrets in there.” After lems getting around. I almost told her that nothing was too
that, he always called on me, even when I wasn’t raising my tiring for me, but it’s not like I wanted to go with them.
hand, and seemed amazed when I knew the answer. When-

23
“Of course you can go!” Mom said. “Do they need any Then she put a video in the VCR, a Biblical miniseries with
more chaperones?” cheesy music and special effects.

On the day of the field trip, we all had to be on the bus by “This is absurd,” Mom said.
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 “Seriously! The Israelites didn’t have blond hair and blue
and saying I was holding up the line. I hoped no one noticed eyes.”
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 “No, look at this. You all have to go up to the top of the
the bus, Olivia looked very carefully at me and then averted Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers, the Empire State Build-
her eyes, like I was repulsive. Her friends copied her ex- ing—and it’s all part of your grade.”
actly. They walked past me and chose seats near the back
of the bus, as far away from me as possible. Even the boys I looked at the long list of landmarks. We had to visit each
followed them. The only kid sitting anywhere near me was of them and “collect” an interesting fact or take a picture. “I
Rob, a couple of rows over. 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’d never told my parents about the I shrugged.
gym teacher making me sit under
“I thought she said they made sure the trip would be totally
a tree, Father not letting me be a accessible for you! Do they do this a lot? Leave you out of
lector, or anyone else excluding things?”
me at school. 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
Mom was sitting with the other parents and teachers, but better if I dealt with them by myself. I’d usually just nod
she immediately walked over and sat next to me. I almost when my parents asked me if I’d had a nice day at school.
said, “Please don’t, Mom.” Sitting with your mom on a field Sometimes I lied: “I had lunch with my friend Olivia.” I
trip wasn’t just mortifying—it was social suicide. But they was afraid that if I told them one little thing, the rest would
already hated me, so I had nothing to lose. 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
Mom looked exhausted. She had puffy, dark circles under almost whispering, but I didn’t even care if someone over-
her eyes and her long hair was disheveled. She’d started heard us. I thought it might take the whole five-hour bus
working second shift at the hospital a few months ago, and ride to explain everything.
Dad drove me to and from school on his way to work. If
she got home at midnight, she’d probably gotten about five I kept my voice calm, but Mom sounded like she was going
hours of sleep. It made me feel guilty that she had to get up to cry. “This is all my fault, honey. I wish I’d been home
so early and take a day off from work. 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
The inside of the coach bus didn’t look anything like a reg- could have found another school back in October.”
ular school bus. There was a TV screen in every other row,
and the seats were covered in what looked like a carpet. I I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted to transfer in the
had closed my eyes and leaned against the headrest when I middle of the school year. Somehow it seemed like failing
heard Mrs. Renault shouting over the traffic. or at least surrendering and letting people like Olivia win.
I was used to being able to handle new things, even really
“Good morning, kiddos! Some public school kids don’t uncomfortable ones like different kinds of physical therapy.
learn anything on field trips. So we’re doing something fun I couldn’t let it get to me.
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.

24
The bus finally stopped near Battery Park. It was one of playing on a loop, and I’d almost memorized the whole
those cloudy, depressing days when the sky is more white thing by the time we got our tickets. We took the ferry to
than gray. The sky reflected in the water, making it look Ellis Island because it was more accessible than the one to
creepy, almost silver. I stared across the harbor at the Statue Liberty Island.
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 Then Mom and I went back to Battery Park to wait for our
was carrying the torch. I can’t remember whether I smiled bus. When the rest of the class arrived, they were all talking
back. 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.
Most of them had shopping bags
or those silly green foam hats 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
that looked like Statue of Liberty down his phone number on a piece of paper, but I lost it by
crowns. No one even asked me the end of the day.
where I’d been.
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
Mom and I waited while everyone else stampeded out of novel, Mrs. Renault said, “Ladies, language.”
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 Mom said we’d come back to New York by ourselves some-
tour had started without us. Mom took my hand and ran af- day and see the Empire State Building and the Twin Tow-
ter the group, shouting that she wanted to give Mrs. Renault ers. But first, we had to find another school. Before I trans-
a piece of her mind. But they were already gone, following ferred, Mom wanted to have a meeting with Father Duggan
the guide at a much faster pace than I could walk. and Mrs. Renault. I thought that would be what Dad called
a “moot point.”
“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 only public middle school in my city had six floors, a
the day. thousand students, and security guards with metal detectors.
It was constantly in the news because kids were beating
I noticed a sign outside the visitors’ center describing all the each other up and joining gangs. The other Catholic schools
handicapped accommodations. You could read brochures in were decrepit and over a hundred years old. They had steep
Braille or even rent a wheelchair for the day, as long as you staircases and uneven floors. When Mom and I looked
called in advance. around at other schools, we remembered why we’d picked
St. Agnes’ in the first place. At least it had a much newer
“So they paid for a guided tour but didn’t care whether it and more accessible building than all the others.
would be accessible,” she said. “Unbelievable! You’re all
supposed to go to the top of the Statue’s crown, but there’s That summer, after we’d finally found an accessible pri-
no elevator up there. What the hell is wrong with this vate school in another town, it seemed like every story on
school?” the local and national news was about pedophile priests.
Dad stopped watching the news at dinner, but it’s not like I
“It’s OK, Mom,” I said, but that’s not even what I meant. I didn’t realize what was happening. It was everywhere. The
just wished she wasn’t so upset. papers included all the gross details. Even when they tried
to imply things, I could figure it out.
I realized that we couldn’t even get in because Mrs. Renault
had everyone’s tickets. Mom and I spent most of the day One afternoon, I had the TV on, but I was only half-watch-
waiting in an enormous line that twisted around the build- ing. Then I heard a voice say: “After over thirty years as
ings. The visitors’ center had a video about immigration pastor at St. Agnes’ Parish and School, Father James Dug-
gan has resigned following an accusation of sexual abuse.”

25
I put down my book and stared at the TV. The report said musty smell. I could barely see Father silhouetted through
that a woman had accused him of molesting her back in the the screen. I recited the Act of Contrition and mumbled
’70s, when she was twelve. The statute of limitations had a few boring things. The priest stands in for God, so just
expired, so they couldn’t arrest him. I wondered if he’d get imagine you’re talking directly to Jesus, I reminded myself.
defrocked. I imagined him giving a long, eloquent speech But I couldn’t—not when I heard Father’s booming voice.
saying he was innocent, and Mrs. Renault telling the report-
ers that he was so holy. But the reporter just said, “Duggan “My child, that was a lovely confession.” I had been going
could not be reached for comment,” and moved on to an- to confession for four years, and no priest had ever said
other story. anything like that to me before. “You are so spiritual. That’s
a gift, you know. You’re very conscientious. Do you know
Mom came running into the room. “Honey, did he just say what that means—conscientious?”
Father Duggan?” Her voice was shaky. She hugged me and
stroked my hair. I nodded, like he could see me. For some reason, my tongue
felt frozen. I wondered if he talked to everyone like this. Do
“I’m fine, Mom. Nothing happened. I don’t know whether you even know who I am? I thought. I was waiting for him
it’s true or not.” to give me my penance, but he just kept talking: “Now I’m
going to have to ask you to forgive me. Remember when
“Oh, thank God, Tallie. You’d tell me, right?” She turned you came to my office? You were so quiet. Before I had a
the TV off. conversation with you, I’d always assumed—” His voice
trailed off. “Well. Our Lord thinks people like you are very
“I tell you everything. Nothing happened,” I repeated. special, you know.”

When I went back to my room, I thought about that day Oh God, he knew who I was. I wasn’t anonymous behind
near the end of Lent when Father Duggan had held a Rec- the curtain.
onciliation service. He told us to remember that Jesus had
died for each and every one of our sins. That made me feel When he finished the prayers of absolution, I asked, “Can
guilty because it sounded like Jesus was still dying right I go now?” My knees felt glued to the carpet. I got up, my
now, and my actions were killing him. We all lined up in legs feeling tight and unsteady, and left the confessional as
front of the confessional, fidgeting nervously. I wished I fast as I could.
could have gone to some random priest I’d never met be-
fore—anyone but him. Of course I knew Jesus cured disabled people, but I’d never
wondered whether they wanted him to. I probably used
There were two booths set up in the chapel: one with two to have an answer for that too, but it was gone. That was
chairs facing each other, and one with a screen and a place the day I realized that I couldn’t sing anymore, even when
to kneel. I’d never seen a confessional like that before, and I was alone at home. Whenever I tried to sing, my throat
I don’t kneel, because it’s uncomfortable. But I chose the would close up, and no sound would come out.t
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,

26
PERSONAL ESSAY

Everyone Deserves a Turn
Bert Edens

I
t never ceases to amaze me how someone can say so the last. We knew this because she typically delivered that
much by saying so little. word as if it was a four-or-five syllable word, released at
full volume, almost exclusively when the classroom was
For our son Zakary’s thirteenth birthday, we were, for the dead silent. Laughter would erupt, and Lupe would rock
first time, having his party at a “big kid” place. He knew he back and forth in her wheelchair, grinning from ear to ear.
was now a teenager, and he wanted to celebrate appropri- Oh yes, she knew exactly what she was doing.
ately. So we booked the party at a local place bragging of
video games, miniature golf, water boats, and go-carts. It didn’t surprise us when Lupe and her mom showed up, as
Lupe’s parents were always very progressive about keeping
Past experience had shown us that few of the students from her involved in community activities. Still, it was a relief,
his special education class would attend. It was still a recent because she was certainly Zak’s best friend in class. While
shock to find that when he took a field trip to the mall in my wife and I talked to Lupe’s mom, Zak entertained her by
sixth grade, he was the only student in his class of sixteen repeatedly signing “Whatever” and rolling his eyes, which
who had even been to a mall. So our hopes for high atten- was guaranteed to elicit a giggle from Lupe no matter how
dance were slim, even though the weather was projected to many times he did it.
be perfect for early March.
Eventually, Zak got the itch to play video games and other
As the party progressed, the attendance was pretty much activities, so I took him to do that while my wife stayed and
as we had expected. One friend and his mom brought a visited with Lupe’s mom. Zak and I rode go-carts, played
present, chatted for a minute, then left. Two other parents video games, and even checked out the new laser tag facil-
stopped by without their children, dropped off their pres- ity. As we dropped off more tickets from the video games, I
ents, then left. There was even a friend who came, got his noticed that while my wife and Lupe’s mom were chatting
game tokens, and then disappeared to play games for a like the old friends they were, Lupe was certainly bored.
while, without so much as a word to Zak or a present.
Then it dawned on me, there weren’t any activities here
Lupe, a friend of Zak’s since kindergarten and her mother, which Lupe could get fully involved in. Or were there?
did attend. Lupe was a young lady with severe cerebral
palsy. As with many people with CP, we knew she compre- After thinking it through a bit, I sat down and talked to
hended far more about her surroundings than what she was Lupe’s mom. We talked about how long the kids had been
able to verbalize or communicate. We knew Lupe fit that friends and how each set of parents had taken turns watch-
mold, because she only had four words in her vocabulary: ing the others’ at various events. We definitely trusted one
“Yes,” “No,” “Mom,” and “Damn.” But it wasn’t the words another with our kids.
themselves that clued us in, but her use of them, primarily

27
So I asked the big question: Could I take Lupe for a go-cart Boy, was that the right thing to do. More wind in our faces,
ride? more rocking back and forth, more vibration from the mo-
tor. It all combined to increase Lupe’s excitement, and the
Predictably, the first reaction Lupe’s mom displayed was ride was soon sprinkled with frequent interjections of “Yes”
a combination of uncertainty and sheer terror. Sure, she and “Damn.” I started yelling and having fun. Zak started
wanted her daughter to have a good time, but she would be cheering from the spectator area. Even Lupe’s mom would
totally unable to protect her for a period of time, when there clap and yell as we passed by.
would be countless risks and variables. After considering it
for a few moments, she smiled and told me yes, she thought Eventually, the dreaded caution light came on, signaling the
that would be wonderful. end of our adventure. Even though the young man was nice
enough to turn the green light back on so we could ride lon-
As the parent of a child with special needs, I knew the leap ger, the line of people waiting their turn told me it was time
of faith Lupe’s mom was taking with me, and I didn’t want to park the go-cart.
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 Lupe was excited as we transferred her from the go-cart
patronage was slow enough he could make sure that we to her wheelchair, rattling off a series of “Moms” and
were the only ones on the track. Sure, it wouldn’t be the full “Damns.” Eventually she became subdued and just looked
experience, but it was something. around and smiled at us all. Zak started with his “What-
ever” gag again, but she only smiled. I’m sure she was tired
The next thing I checked were the shoulder harnesses in from the experience.
the two-seat go-carts. Not surprisingly, they looked a lot
like what Lupe used in her wheelchair. I felt comfortable When we returned to the party room, my wife and I talked
that they would secure her safely. Looking at the track one to Lupe’s mom, who was gushing in thanks and apprecia-
last time, I took a deep breath and went to get Lupe and her tion, mostly for thinking of giving her daughter an experi-
mom. ence nobody else would have considered. Admittedly, had I
not been the parent of a son with special needs, I might not
The young man running the track was nice enough to make have thought of it either. The more we chatted and laughed,
sure a two-seat go-cart was at the front of the row, so we the heavier Lupe’s eyelids got, and eventually she suc-
could get out easily. I couldn’t help but wonder if any man- cumbed to exhaustion. I hope she had many dreams about
agement types would have been as accommodating, likely the go-cart ride.
worrying about liability or other legal issues. I was very
grateful this young man was doing all he could for Lupe, I’m lucky I can tell this story. I also hope someday technol-
and I told him so several times. ogy will advance so Lupe can tell her family the story from
her perspective. My hope is that she remembers it even a
Getting Lupe into the go-cart was a bit of an adventure sim- fraction as fondly as I do.t
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.

28
POETRY

Jessica Goody

Senses
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 belie the fierce concentration
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.

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.

29
PERSONAL ESSAY

Not His Circus,
Not His Clowns
Phyllis H. Moore

I
t is probably not fear, because he circus brought clowns. They did not Fairy will bring you money. Put this
is not afraid of anything. Anxious fit, were not supposed to be there. tooth under your pillow and she will
sometimes, wondering if he’ll fit in, Faces were painted, bearded, reddened. come in your room tonight and leave
but not afraid. His hands, clammy on Clothes were exaggerated, embellished, you money.” He cringed, wondering if
the first day of school, his face white, inflated, costumes of the ridiculous. she would fly into his room. Would she
heart racing in his chest, taking deep Maybe they were not clothed at all, ani- be tiny or big? Does she walk? Where
breaths so he wouldn’t throw up when mals appearing on cue to deliver eggs, does she carry the money? Why does
he exited the car. Other kids laughed, animals who do not lay eggs, rabbits. It she do this? How many other houses
greeted each other, teased. He walked, made no sense to a mind wanting rou- will she visit? Does she have to come
cautiously, trying not to make eye tine, certainty, a mind already tilting, here? What is she going to do with the
contact. His world was different, a per- trying to hold on to the edge, grasping tooth? He posed all those questions and
ception he could not explain, needing what could be recognized and folding it more.
predictability, routine, calm. His sister into some kind of reality to ground his
picked out his outfit. He had no interest. body. Wondering as he is walking, if “I have money,” he said. “If you will
anyone notices the wobbling occurring pay her, I will just leave the tooth out-
Sirens, loud honking, even trays hit- in his steps, hoping his feet will land on side. I don’t want a fairy coming into
ting the metal shelf in front of the food a surface, unsure it is there, no depth- my room in the middle of the night. Do
counter in the cafeteria, pierced his perception. you know her?” Okay, no fairies. They
ears, sending jolts of pain to his hands don’t make sense, no business being in
and feet. Children were supposed to “Oh, come on. It will be fun. There are people’s houses at night, leaving mon-
like fireworks, the circus, fire trucks. all kinds of things to see. The rides, ey, picking up teeth. It is slightly gross
He cowered, shrinking from the chaos, the lights, those crazy clowns. You will if you go to that part of your brain that
holding his ears, closing his eyes. have fun.” Torture. That sounds like can reason.
“Look at that funny face. See those sil- torture. “You are such a party pooper.
ly people. Watch this colorful parade.” You don’t ever want to go anywhere!” An agent, plain clothes, no makeup,
No. It is noisy, out of kilter, not what It’s true. He doesn’t. There are things running interference for the absurd.
happens every day. It does not belong. there, things that send shock waves That is what he wanted, someone
Pain followed the noise. No one knew through the body, things that can make to keep the fairies, Santas, bunnies,
what he saw through the glasses he had you fall down, things that cloud an al- clowns and other farcicalities away.
worn since he was three, bifocals, try- ready skewed reality, things. Shoo them to the boundary of his vi-
ing to coax the weak eye to participate. sion, so the contradiction did not alter
“You lost your tooth. Hurray, the Tooth his already confused perception of
Holidays brought characters, like the what might be real. Later, much later,

30
POETRY

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 Cathy Bryant
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, Arm
doesn’t need a person. It’s a manipula-
tion that people invented, and he re- My right arm has not hurt for a week.
sented the assumption when he was a I can stretch it, roll it, bend it—just for fun.
child, that adults would think that was It almost might not be there, except
okay. He teetered. He knew he did. Ev- for the warmth. It feels unfamiliar.
ery day, he struggled to step, to write, I’m cautious.
to express his thoughts, but the things
he knew for sure were not clothed in My lover can be spontaneous and/or casual
the ridiculous, painted with red noses, with it. He rests his arm on it, or his mouth.
with orange hair, or loud. Again, warmth. And pleasure too.
I’d forgotten this. Breath on a bare arm,
Halloween was the worst. “Let’s and it doesn’t hurt, add to the weight,
just stay here and eat the candy you or make me tense up that bit more tightly.
bought,” he said. No need to walk the
streets asking for candy from other I do not have to put up with my right arm,
houses. Stay home, watch a movie, eat or do breathing exercises, or positive
some popcorn, and have some candy. visualizations. The drugs work, are enough.
The other stuff was not necessary. He A whole arm! I make a curve, sweep back
wasn’t scared, in fact he was fearless, and forth. I feel human and alive.
but why put yourself through a disguise I stick it out of a window and feel,
that is not necessary. He complied a oh bliss, the wind whisper over it.
few times, but only because others
insisted. No store bought super hero I’m trying not to be angry about
outfit, “Sam I Am,” something he put all the other parts. Angry at whom or what?
together. His palate only wanted choco- Sure, take time out to rail against—stuff,
late, no nuts. His Halloween bag would but hell—enjoy the arm. Wave. Gesture.
be poured into a communal bowl. He Let it flop. Lift something. Nudge someone.
didn’t care. This is my gift, for now.

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.t

31
PERSONAL ESSAY

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

T
hey tell me she will not have friends. At one point or legs. Perhaps this is when the seed planted itself. The seed
another, all of my daughter’s doctors and therapists that has grown into the fear that my child will be rejected
have said this. It has especially worried me as I plan by others as she grows older, and well into her adulthood. I
her fourth birthday party. I noticed it first on an online sup- remember looking at her spots and wondering if when she
port group forum that I found six months ago for parents of reaches junior high school, the other kids will tease her. I’ve
children with neurofibromatosis-1. This tendency, this pat- always thought of junior high as being the first channel of
tern. Many of the moms on the site ask for people to send cruelty, at least that’s how I remember it. So as I bathed my
their son or daughter birthday cards because they claim baby in the upright European baby tub sitting within our
their children have no friends. I’ve sent cards, but filed the normal tub, her hair wet and tousled, her tiny legs crossed,
pattern into the back of my head. her blue-green eyes happy as she mouthed a rubber water
bug, I went through a pretend dialogue in my head. When
Her disorder, or disease as some call it, affects cell growth the time came, I would reassure her that the spots made her
in the nervous system, which presents the possibility of distinct, like the gorgeous markings on animals. She would
tumors forming anywhere along nerves in the brain, spinal be my leopard baby and I would help her develop a strong
cord, and skin. Enlargement and deformation of bones and personality to match, to fend off the verbal brutalities.
curvature of the spine, high blood pressure, and juvenile
myelomonocytic leukemia may also occur. There is a high By the time Penny was one year old, I knew there were oth-
rate of developmental delays and learning disabilities as er issues arising. I had socialized her from the time she was
well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. eight weeks old. We began in a new-mother support group
at the hospital, which morphed into twelve of us breaking
It is caused by mutations of the neurofibromin 1 gene, off and forming our own mom’s group. We met each week,
which is located on the long (q) arm of chromosome 17 at took turns at our homes, and let our babies crawl on the
position 11.2. Chromosome 17. Such a small alteration in floor and pull on brain-stimulating toys or squeeze plush
my daughter’s complex DNA. Like a tiny rip that eventu- stuffed animals. Naturally, the milestone conversations
ally causes a tremendous tear in her physical existence. In began. My daughter fell to the back of that milestone race.
the medical manuscripts, there is no mention of a friendship The race that we are told does not matter, the race that we
deficiency. brush off while repeating the mantra, “every child is differ-
ent,” and yet, that race constantly runs within us. From the
Our daughter’s disorder first appeared by way of café au lait start of that race, my baby was social. She never cried when
colored spots—flat, light-brown spots on her skin. Penny I left the room or left her with a babysitter, and she crawled
was born with one on her forehead and many others, along up to others, especially adults, to gaga her “hellos.”
with tiny freckling that soon formed on her arms, torso, and
32
She did not walk until she was eighteen months old, at At two and a half, my daughter began to say “hello” to
twenty months old she began wearing glasses due to am- everyone she passed. At the grocery store, at festivals, at
blyopia in both eyes, and at her two-year check-up, her pe- story time, walking down the sidewalks. Some adults said
diatrician said that if she couldn’t speak within six months, “hello” back, most children did not. This infuriated me, I
we needed to find a speech therapist. At the time I scoffed. thought to myself, who doesn’t teach their kids the basic
I repeated the mantra. Shortly after that, it was a genetics social skills of greeting someone? My daughter would look
doctor who ran the blood test, confirmed my daughter had at me confused, wondering why they stared but failed to
NF1, and agreed with the pediatrician. “Yes, she needs a acknowledge her. Each time I shrugged my shoulders and
speech therapist. And a physical therapist.” said, “Oh well.”

I began to notice the reactions toward my daughter were By the time she was three, several medical professionals
becoming negative when she turned two. At parks, because had told me she would have difficulty making friends. She
she could not move like the other children or speak well was finally speaking coherently and continued to say “hel-
enough, they gave her strange looks and ran from her. Once, lo” to unfamiliar people. But now when she didn’t receive
as she crawled up some playground equipment while the a response, she would boisterously announce, “They didn’t
other kids her age skipped and monkeyed their way around say hello to me.” Each time I told her, “Maybe they didn’t
it, one girl looked at Penny and said, “You look weird.” hear you,” or “Some people just don’t say hello.” I said
I told the girl, “That was not nice.” She apologized and these things loud enough for the person to hear me. In some
walked away. My daughter, still on her hands and knees, cases, the person turned around and apologized then said
looked up at me smiling, clueless to the insult that had just “hello” to Penny, then she and I would smile at one another.
been thrown. This is when I began to feel a pain that I have This was also when I realized that my daughter verbalized
never felt before in my life. I have weathered many trage- everything at full volume. She did not seem to understand
dies in my childhood and adulthood. I have known extreme the inflection in her voice, regardless of how often I said,
sorrow and anxiety through abuse, abandonment, others’ “Let’s use our inside voice,” she simply did not get it.
addictions. But this was different. This was my child and
the pain I felt watching her being rejected by other children She entered preschool and I noticed many of the other kids
pierced the deepest part of my soul, bypassing the thickest kept away from Penny. Her loud voice put them off; per-
of scar tissue. haps it was her exuberance as well. She also seemed to lack
perception of personal space. I shrugged most of this off,
But Penny is happy. She spends the majority of her days believing that many three-year-olds are unaware of auditory
smiling and releasing a gregarious laugh, cracking herself and physical boundaries. But as the year progressed and the
up and making my husband and me bellow. She pretends others in her class began to adapt to individual margins, the
to take our bellybuttons and makes up silly walks as part rules of interruption, and appropriate volume, my daugh-
of her bedtime routine. She is jubilant as she talks to her- ter remained in her animated state. I volunteered in her
self while playing with fairy dolls, hording stuffed animals classroom once a week and noticed that she played alone.
on her bed, or filling her play tent in the living room with Sometimes when I went to pick her up and arrived early, I
small, colorful mountain rocks, cloth pieces of smiling watched her on the playground from my car. I observed her
fruits, my magazines, and miniature flashlights she has wandering around by herself, unable to adequately climb
pilfered from the kitchen drawer. She excitedly lays out the the equipment or swing on the swings. All of the other
bingo cards after dinner each night or helps deal the UNO children laughed and ran in pairs or small groups. And yet,
cards. Whenever she meets other children she says, “Hi, my Penny’s teachers and in-class occupational, physical, and
name is Penny.” So I’ve told myself, she will be okay. She speech therapists adored her. They were impressed that she
is blissful, she will make friends. 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

33
me that when I had to keep her home for four days due to but sometimes “checked out” when people spoke to him.
a respiratory infection, all of her classmates asked about This is something that Penny had recently begun to do. I
her, desperate to know when she would return. Somewhere have always discouraged it, telling her that she must answer
in their developing miniature relationships, they liked her. people when they speak to her. The woman also told me
This gave me hope in the friendship realm. that when her son went to university to study for his dream
occupation in the field of psychology, after only one semes-
Penny is required to have yearly neuropsychological exams. ter the school kicked him out. They wrote a formal letter
So far at each one, she has tested two years above her age stating that he did not have the required personality to be
group in intellect when it came to language, conceptual- a psychologist. They wrote that patients would not be able
ization, and analysis. This also seems to create a barrier to relate to him because of his deficient social skills. A sick
between her and other children. Her speech is lucid now, feeling in my gut turned, especially when she told me he
but it’s her vocabulary that causes them to stare at her with had never had a girlfriend, and only had one friend. I told
dumbfounded expressions and then walk away without myself, one good friend is all you need.
acknowledging what she said to them. At the last exam,
the neuropsychologist confirmed what I had been dragging The original mom’s group dissolved long ago. People
along in the back of my mind despite my hopefulness, “Yes, moved out of state, or across the city. People developed dif-
it’s true, these kids have a hard time making friends.” 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
Even though some of these moms time went on, I noticed that she did not play with the other
knew of my daughter’s disorder, kids, she wanted to hang out with the moms. She could
certainly hold a conversation with us as she sat and nibbled
they were impervious to its her snacks. She is a healthy eater, but tends to lack the
influence on her perceived recognition of having a full stomach. Her pediatrician has
shortcomings. 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
But I mentally skated over her remarks. Penny has no prob- make comments and I became defensive.
lem speaking to random people if she has a question about
what they’re doing or about something in her immediate My daughter is plump because she can’t move like other
surroundings. She knows the names of all the employees in children her age. She is in physical therapy, occupational
the grocery store floral department and at each trip, without therapy, swim lessons, and dance lessons, and yet she re-
hesitation she politely asks them for the standard free bal- mains chubby. Fast food has never touched her lips, she has
loon. I would confirm to myself, my kid is social. Then I never had soda and only drinks orange juice when she has a
spoke to a woman who used to run a support group for the cold. She eats fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts,
parents of NF1 kids. She has a son with the disorder. He is yogurt, olives, and hummus. She does not like meat. She
twenty-eight now and as she and I spoke on the phone, we gets the occasional ice cream or cake. And still, she is just
laughed and marveled at how similar our children seem to short of the “obese” label in the medical charts. Even her
be. She described behavior or habits that her son had when pediatric nutritionist assured me, it’s not what or how much
he was my daughter’s age, and we thought it amazing how she’s eating that’s making her fat, it’s her lack of movement.
spot on they were. They both recognized every letter in the
alphabet by the age of two but could not sing the alphabet But it is the fat kid who is made fun of. Penny quickly
song; they both knew how to spell their names verbally at became the target of other kids in the mom’s group, and I
an early age but struggled to write letters; they both meticu- became the target of the moms. Some of them made state-
lously organized items but not in a keep-it-neat sort of way, ments insinuating that I did not talk or sing to my daughter
rather in a categorical way; they both experienced fatigue enough when she was a baby, and that is why she is behind
even after getting a good night’s sleep and an excellent physically. There were statements made about the amount
nap. Then she described a trait that unsettled me. She told of food I let her eat even though she was the one snacking
me that her son often initiated conversations with others

34
on figs and pepitas while their kids ate cookies or “fruit sickened me to think that this little girl was about to unravel
snacks” made of high fructose corn syrup and Red No. 40, verbally all of the things she hated about my little girl and
Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 artificial dyes. They drank why she didn’t want to be her friend, but fortunately, the
“fruit-flavored drinks” while my girl drank water. 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
I waited for the mother to tell her group, and preschool was out for the summer, Penny would
have no friends. The predictions would be correct. Yet
daughter it was not okay to say around the same time, I met two exceptional women, both
things like that in front of people. with backgrounds in the science field, one with a little girl
a bit younger than Penny, and one with two boys—one
But she did not. 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-
Even though some of these moms knew of my daughter’s
ing at the moon, searching for bugs, and making s’mores
disorder, they were impervious to its influence on her per-
around the campfire. This, I thought, is how it’s supposed to
ceived shortcomings. One mother said more than once and
be. And then dread overtook me and I wondered how long
loud enough so that Penny could hear, “She sure loves her
it would be before these children began to suspect there was
snacks.” Another one explained to us that her daughter
something odd about Penny, and they also would abandon
wanted to know why some people were fat and had big
the friendship.
bellies. While Penny stood directly in front of us, her little
belly hanging out because she had recently gone through a
Several weeks ago, an MRI revealed Penny has two brain
growth spurt and I had yet to buy her longer shirts, the mom
tumors. Gliomas on both of her optical nerves. The eye doc-
said in a saccharine-sweet voice, “I told my daughter that
tor and the oncologist at Children’s Hospital described them
people have big bellies because they eat too much food.”
as “complex” due to the fact that they reach to the back of
This same mother told me she had recently read an article
her brain. During his examination of my daughter, and the
that stated some kids are simply sedentary and prefer sitting
consultation with my husband and me, the oncologist ex-
in a corner with a book rather than playing on a playground
plained to us that there was a possibility of her going blind.
or joining sports teams. She also twice emphasized to me,
They will monitor the tumors through MRIs, and if there is
“But the article was very old school.” In other words, that
any change in her vision, she will need to have chemother-
way of thinking is no longer accepted, so get your kid off
apy twice a week for an undetermined amount of weeks.
her fat butt and moving. Is it required of me to repeatedly
He also told us that NF1 kids have a difficult time socially.
emphasize to people like this that my daughter has a genetic
Again, the friend thing. He explained that kids are instinc-
disease in order that they accept and befriend her?
tive and when they get the feeling that there is something
“off” about another kid, they no longer want to be around
One day Penny wanted to play with a little girl in the mom’s
that kid.
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
After the genetics doctor examined Penny for her required
with Penny.” My daughter ignored her and continued to
yearly physical check, she said she wanted me to take
draw on the pavement. I was thankful for her unresponsive-
Penny to a behaviorist to begin working on some of the
ness. Ten minutes later when the girl picked up a large,
social issues. She said it’s crucial that we begin addressing
red ball to bounce, my daughter asked her if she wanted to
early on the fact that my daughter has no conception of in-
play catch. Again the little girl said, “I don’t want to play
terruption, and is now frequently unaware when someone is
with Penny,” as she stomped her feet, crossed her arms and
speaking to her even when the person is standing directly in
frowned. Apparently the mean kids are making appearances
front of her, despite the fact that I continue to address both
long before junior high school these days. I waited for the
with Penny. She also addressed Penny’s difficulty focus-
mother to tell her daughter it was not okay to say things like
ing—something the neuropsychologist pointed out as well
that in front of people. But she did not. Instead, she wanted
during her own testing and examination, and then recom-
to hear why her little girl did not want to play with mine. It
mended a book on children with ADHD so that I could pre-
pare myself for “the antisocial behavior that is on its way.”

35
Her private speech therapist recently determined that Penny The birthday party I am throwing for her takes place in two
may have auditory processing dysfunction. Sometimes the weeks. To say that I’m a wreck about it would be exaggerat-
message from someone speaking makes it to her brain, and ing, but I am uneasy. I have invited ten little ones (none, by
other times her synapses fail her, dropping the communica- the way, from the mom’s group), and I figuratively bite my
tion between neurons. The therapist explained this is prob- nails in the same manner Penny literally bites hers as part of
ably why my daughter has a way of directing people, in or- her daily fidgetiness. I will continue to do so until we arrive
der to control the situation. She said kids will interpret this at the large gardens with the owl cupcakes and owl party
as “bossy” and probably won’t want to be around her. favor boxes of wildflower seeds, and wait for the guests. I
have not told my little girl who I invited. She gave sugges-
The next evening at her swimming lesson, I watched my tions and I followed her lead, but I have not spoken much
daughter invasively lean into the other kids’ faces, telling about it, other than generating excitement over the fact that
them not to splash and to stay next to the pool’s edge when it’s her birthday. I don’t want her to be disappointed. Yes,
it wasn’t their turn with the instructor. Both rules had pre- it goes with life, but I can make an exception for a four-
viously been given by her instructor. But after a little girl year-old on her special day. I think at least four kids will
slipped, fell under water, coughed, and received concern show up and I know that Penny will be ecstatic when she
and cuddles from the instructor, Penny did not leave the sees them. I think this is how I will approach it as we move
little girl’s side. She sat next to her on the edge and asked through her tweens, teens, and adulthood. I will silently
her more than once if she was okay, then reassured her that expect a few friends, but I will hope for more. I’m sure the
it would be all right. How can a little person with this much professionals would smile at me with sympathy, feeling
empathy, this much warmth, this much concern not have that I am grasping. But I will never tell Penny what they
friends? How is it possible that all of the professionals are have predicted. Chromosome 17 may determine many bio-
predicting that my little girl will go through life without the logical limitations, but I won’t allow it to determine social
communal circles that bind most of us? limitations. I see how she gleefully approaches people and
accepts them into her life. I see how she believes she will
The other day in her music class, one of the fathers leaned always have friends. And despite the prognosis, doctors,
over and told me how “cute” Penny is. He commented on therapists, mean kids, awful moms, and the occasional mal-
how outgoing she is and added, “It is so important for kids function of neurons, I have realized that I believe in Penny,
to be that way. I can see Penny will always be social and too.t
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.

36
POETRY

Yuan Changming

Hallucinations
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?

37
FICTION

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, “He’s autistic Mom,” Mark said. With the source of his
which was forbidden in the Preston home. amusement removed, he picked up his hamburger and be-
gan to eat.
“Put your phones away,” their mother said. “You know the
rules.” “I don’t think it’s very nice to laugh at someone just be-
cause he has something wrong with him,” their father said.
The two burst out in laughter at the same time, causing their “You can laugh at people for things they can change—like
father to intervene. they’re cheap, or they brag, or something like that. You
don’t laugh at people for things they can’t change and that
“Guys—c’mon, you heard your mother.” aren’t their fault.”

“He’s so funny,” Mark, the younger, said. “It’s okay, Dad,” Steven said. “Ricky doesn’t mind.”

“Who are you talking about?” their father asked. “He probably doesn’t even know you’re teasing him,” their
mother said.
“Ricky Theobald,” Steven answered. “Look at this,” he said
as he handed his phone to his father, who took it and turned “I think he knows but he doesn’t care,” Mark said.
it off.
“So you admit that you tease him?” their father said.
“Perhaps this will put a lid on things,” he said as he put it in
his pocket. “Mark?” The boys pursed their lips and shook their heads inconclu-
sively while they tried to decide how to respond.
His father extended his hand and Mark gave him his phone,
but not before he broke out laughing one last time. “You can’t avoid him, Dad,” Steven said. “He comes right
up to you and starts bugging you.”
“What did he say?” Steven asked.
“He has no sense of personal space,” Mark said.
“He wants to know my birthday—he’s going to tell me
what day of the week I was born on.” “Still, I think you could be a little more sensitive,” their
mother said.
“Whoever it is, he must be pretty smart if he tells you that,”
his mother said. “We have fun with Ricky,” Steven said. “And he has fun

38
with us. If we ignore him he gets mad.” the assistant principal—“do you really dye your hair?”
When he would come out with such cracks in a perfectly
“He’d rather be around us than lonely,” Mark said. innocent tone of voice and a straight face, it was hard not to
find him likeable.
A quiet descended on the table as adults and children ob-
served a temporary truce in the wars of parental discipline. But the invitation, which Mark made in a jovial manner,
The parents recognized that their children had a point. The touched off a manic phase in Ricky’s life. He was so excited
sons didn’t press their temporary advantage too far, fearing at the prospect of joining other boys on an outing, and one
an escalation. not under the auspices of the school, that he could talk of
little else in the two-week run up to the event.
“I tell you what,” their father said.
“Hey Evan, are you going to the lacrosse game with Mark?”
“What?” Mark asked. he asked one boy out loud in the cafeteria, causing some
hurt feelings among two boys on the fringes of high school
“If you guys want to prove to me you’re serious, and you social acceptability who had not been invited. Why had
aren’t just being mean to this boy, why don’t we invite him Mark chosen to invite Ricky, they wondered. Was there
along to the lacrosse game?” Mr. Preston had a block of something so bad about them that he preferred a handi-
tickets to see the new local indoor lacrosse team for Ste- capped kid to them?
ven’s birthday. He’d bought them at a discount through his
firm, which did some work for the team’s owner. “I’m going to a lacrosse game with Mark!” he had blurted
out in social studies class one day when the teacher had
The two teenagers sat in silence. Mark shrugged, “It’s fine asked if anyone wanted to discuss a current event.
with me, it’s not my party.”
“That was very nice of you to invite Ricky,” said Mrs.
Steven’s eyes made the circuit around the table, from his Forman—a gray-haired, bespectacled teacher with a formal
brother, to his father, to his mother. “I don’t care. Every- manner—who tried to incorporate ethical principles into
body’s cool with Ricky.” her instruction. Mark smiled but simmered silently within,
avoiding the admiring smiles of girls he had no interest in.
“How many tickets did you buy?” the mother asked.
When the day of the game came, Mark and Steven had
“Twenty. I figured twelve or thirteen kids, and the rest for basketball practice after school and their mother was out
me and any dads who want to come along. Would Ricky’s with friends, so their father was home alone when Ricky’s
dad like to come?” he asked Mark. 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
“His parents are divorced. He lives with his mom, his dad’s England winters—there was a thin ring of rust around the
in New York.” wheel wells, and a ding in the front fender. He suspected
that she hadn’t made out well in the divorce, and hadn’t
“If he can’t come, fine, but I want you to at least ask him.” much in the way of marketable skills to maintain an affluent
lifestyle and care for a hyperactive, loquacious boy at the
Mark shrugged and gave his father a look of adolescent in- same time.
difference, as if the punishment—since that’s what it was—
would have no effect on him. Ricky got out of the passenger side and started to run for
the house, but his mother stopped him with a sharp call.
In truth, he didn’t think it would because Ricky was in fact, “Ricky, hold on a minute.”
a fun, if sometimes annoying companion. He would say
things out loud that others would only mutter under their Ricky went around to the driver’s side of the car. His
breath, or behind an adult’s back, like “Hey Mr. Byrum”— mother got out and the two stood talking so quietly that Mr.

39
Preston couldn’t hear them. He had come out on the front His boys were dropped off by their carpool and entered the
porch to greet Ricky’s mother, but when he saw they needed house, where Ricky greeted them like a happy dog, talking
time together he stepped back inside and out of their line of even more excitedly than before.
sight. He peeked around the doorframe when he heard the
boy begin to run again, and he opened the door to say hello. “Did you guys win your game?” he asked.

“Hi Mr. Preston, is Mark home?” Ricky blurted out. “Is his “It was just practice, Rick,” Steven said.
room upstairs?”
“So you didn’t keep score?”

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

His boys were dropped off by their Two more cars pulled into the driveway, one dropped off
carpool and entered the house, two boys and drove away, the other parked with two boys in
the back seat and a father, Will Harris, in front.
where Ricky greeted them like a
happy dog, talking even more “Anybody need a ride?” the man asked out his window as
excitedly than before. 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 boy blew past the man and was up the stairs in three The two boys got into the Harris car and Mr. Preston gave
bounds, then down the hall to inspect the room of his class- Mr. Harris five tickets, waving as they drove off. He went
mate. The man watched him go, took a few steps up and back into the house and told his sons to get their coats and
said “He’ll be home in a little while. Would you like some- get in the car. Ricky walked with Mr. Preston to the garage
thing to drink?” and on the way noticed a picture of a much younger Mrs.
Preston, when her hair was long, touching her shoulders
“No thank you, I’ll just look around. Does Mark have any with a flip.
models, like airplanes or cars? Do you let him have a BB
gun?” “Where did you meet Mrs. Preston?” Ricky asked.

“Uh, no to both. Why don’t you come on down, the guys “We met in college, Rick.”
will be home in a minute.”
“How’d you meet her?”
“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 “It was at a dance.”
was on tracks, then entered the older boy’s room.
“Did you just go up and talk to her?”
“I, uh, don’t think Steven would want you in there.”
“Let’s see. There was a bunch of us standing around, and
“That’s okay, it’ll only take a second. Does Steven shave? we found ourselves next to each other. The others started
Does he wear after shave? Does he have a girlfriend?” dancing so we did too.”

The man smiled. “You ask a lot of questions—and very “Did you take breath mints before you went?”
quickly too.”
Preston laughed. He could remember worrying about things
“I know but I have a lot of questions in my mind. Ms. For- like that when he was in college, and figured it was a good
man says it’s good to ask questions; there are no bad ques- sign that Ricky cared enough about his effect on others that
tions; then she tells me not to ask any more questions.” he did as well.
The father listened while Ricky puttered around in Steven’s
room. The boy had a nervous energy that he was not pre- “I think I probably did, Rick.”
pared for. He had been expecting a quiet boy after having
heard the report of his ability to calculate dates many years Once they were on the highway into the city his boys be-
in the past. came subdued, laughing in low tones as Ricky peppered
them with questions.

40
“Do you play lacrosse?” he asked. “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
“I do, he doesn’t,” Steven said. would try to pay him.

“Is it hard—could I learn?” They parked in a lot near the arena and met some others
at a statue of a hockey player outside, their agreed-upon
“You have to be able to catch the ball with your stick.” landmark. Mr. Preston handed out the rest of the tickets, and
they joined the stream of people flowing into the narrow
“Is it different from baseball?” walkway that fed into the entrance.

The boys laughed. “Yes,” Mark said. “Just because they “You guys watch Ricky,” Mr. Preston said. “Try to steer
both have a stick and a ball doesn’t mean they’re the same.” him away from strangers.”

“How are they different?” Ricky asked. “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.”
At first Ricky was enthralled by the
scale and pace of the place—the They climbed two ramps to a mezzanine where their seats
were located, and the boys and men began to sort them-
convex of the dome above, the selves into two groups that sat together by age. At first
players warming up on the floor, Ricky was enthralled by the scale and pace of the place—
the convex of the dome above, the players warming up on
the scoreboard with flashing lights the floor, the scoreboard with flashing lights and loud mu-
and loud music. 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
“Well, the big difference,” Steven said in a tone that reflect- conversation. He turned to the adults, who were chatting
ed his critical view of the relative merits of the games, “is in quietly among themselves.
lacrosse you can hit other players with your stick.”
“How did you meet Mrs. Harris?” Ricky asked Mr. Harris,
“You can?” Ricky asked, incredulous. who was startled both by the substance of the question and
the blunt manner in which it was asked.
“Yeah, to try to knock the ball out of the other player’s
stick,” Steven said. “Huh?” was the only reply the man could produce at first.
Mr. Preston realized he should have briefed the other fa-
“Are there fights?” thers on Ricky’s condition.

“Not really. You get your aggression out just playing.” “How did you meet your wife?”

Ricky turned quiet, and gazed out the window. It had started “Well, we, uh, worked together when we were both starting
to rain, and the car’s tires made a sound like wish which out.”
went down in pitch as they slowed to pay the toll at the end
of the turnpike. “Do you have a picture of her then?”

“How much does it cost to go to a lacrosse game, Mr. Pres- “No, I don’t.”
ton?”
Mr. Preston moved to steer Ricky away from the men,
“Don’t worry about it, Rick. I got a bargain on these.” standing up and calling out to his sons.

“But how much would it cost if I bought a ticket for my- “Mark, Steven.”
self?”
His sons looked up.

41
“Why don’t you guys take Ricky and get hot dogs and “When you get through, you’re gonna know everybody’s
drinks?” As he said this he nodded at Ricky, who was stand- love life,” said a young man in the row behind the group
ing up and facing the group of seated men like a lawyer who sat with his arms and legs draped over the empty seats
speaking to a jury. on either side of him. “What you wanna know all that crap
for?”
The three boys went off with a few of the others to the con-
cession stands, and Mr. Harris gave Mr. Preston a quizzical “It’s very important,” Ricky said with a trace of defensive-
look. ness. “It’s the most important thing in the world, who you
end up married to.”
“He has autism. I . . . uh . . . encouraged the boys to invite
him. To . . . include him in their activities,” Mr. Preston “Not me, man,” the young man said, as he lifted a cup of
said, omitting the boys’ perceived misbehavior that had beer to his lips. “I ain’t never getting married when I can
prompted him to do so. get what I want for free.”

“Oh,” Mr. Harris said. “Well, that was good of you to do.” Ricky turned around to face the game, his lips pressed
tightly together. He felt the need for someone outside the
“Like a lot of kids with autism, he has incredible mental group, someone he didn’t know from school, to validate his
powers for some things, like doing numbers in his head, but belief that there was nothing better than a happy home with
he’s pretty, uh, primitive in his social skills.” a mom and dad living together under the same roof with
their kids. He needed it to even up what the young man had
The men nodded with pursed lips and distant looks in their said. He looked across the aisle at another, older man, one
eyes, as if imagining what their lives would be like if they who had scowled at him during the national anthem.
had sons like Ricky.
“How’d you meet your wife?” he asked the man.
The boys returned with cardboard drink carriers, popcorn
and hot dogs, then settled into their seats as a booming “That’s none of your goddamn business kid, and I wish
voice came over the loud speakers to ask the audience to you’d shut your trap so’s other people can enjoy the game.”
stand for the national anthem. Ricky was late getting back
because he had stopped to buy a pennant as a souvenir, and Ricky’s face reddened, and he stood up. “It’s a simple ques-
so he took the seat at the end of the row. tion. I could ask you a lot more complicated questions you
couldn’t even answer.”
The boys lowered their voices as a florid singer launched
into “The Star Spangled Banner,” but Ricky—missing the “Kid—I told you to leave me alone. Do I have to call secu-
announcer’s cue and not very sensitive to ceremony in the rity on you?”
first place—continued to talk loudly, drawing stares from
people around him. Ricky made a move to charge the man but before he could
reach him he was grabbed from behind by Mr. Preston.
The game began and the boys were, on the whole, attentive “Easy, Rick, easy. Let’s get back in our seats, what do you
to the action. Ricky was the exception, continuing his chat- say?” He signaled for Mark and Steven to escort Ricky to
ter, asking questions whose relationship, one to the next, the other end of the row, where the other fathers were sit-
was apparent only to him, in a voice that projected several ting.
rows from where he was sitting. The crowd was sparse,
though, so there were fewer people to be disturbed by his “I’m sorry,” Mr. Preston said to the man. “He has autism,
logorrhea and so no one objected. we were trying to give him a good time. He doesn’t get out
with kids his age much.”
The action held the boys’ attention for awhile, but soon
their interest began to fade, most visibly in Ricky’s case. “Pretty damn inconsiderate if you ask me,” the man said.
He returned to his inquiry into how men meet their wives,
and after asking all of the fathers he hadn’t asked before, he Mr. Preston tried to form his face into an expression of
turned to the boys who came by themselves. apology, but found that he couldn’t.t

“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?”

42
POETRY

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.

43
FEATURED ART

An Artist at Heart
Sandy Palmer

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

“Art, and even sometimes ability, is in the eye of the tions would be suggestive, and abstract . . . .” She accepted
beholder.” it for what it was—a new way of creating art.
~ Tammy Ruggles
Ruggles always enjoyed art but never considered it as a

I
vocation—it was always more of a hobby. She had a pas-
nstead of picking up a brush and dipping it into paint, sion for helping people and pursued social work in school,
Tammy Ruggles decided to dip her fingertips into acryl- choosing literature and art classes as electives. After receiv-
ics and start painting in a tactile way when she became ing her bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in
legally blind. As strange as it may sound, it made perfect adult education/counseling she became a social worker. She
sense to her. She couldn’t see the tip of a paintbrush but she pursued her passion for ten years and was working for child
could feel her fingers gliding on the paper. In her mind’s and adult protective services when her vision began to dete-
eye she could see the rural landscapes of Kentucky with riorate. Driving was a requirement of the job in rural Lewis
its barns, creeks, fences, trees and rolling hills, even if she County, Kentucky, and when she could no longer drive, she
couldn’t actually see them very well anymore. Intuitively was forced to retire. “I became legally blind at the age of
she began to stroke, swirl, and blend the colors. “My lines 40. I lost my profession, my ability to drive, and my place
would be off, my colors would be incorrect, my representa- in the world . . . I lost my identity.”

44
Tammy Ruggles, Ben Cartwright, Sharpie marker sketch, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

With a lilting southern accent, the artist explains that she contribute . . . I began to wonder if I could turn my passion
began wearing glasses when she was only two years old. for writing into a profession.” She began writing a small
“I always wore glasses but lots of kids wore glasses. My column about parenting and social problems for the local
mother never sat me down and said, ‘Hey, you have this eye newspaper. She also submitted articles to magazines and
problem and you’re going to lose your vision.’ I appreci- websites and began making money by writing, sharing her
ate that in a way. I never felt like I was that different from expertise, and sharing her story.
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 With computers and adaptive software, she was pursu-
in the front row so I could see the blackboard. As a little ing her love of writing but felt that art might be beyond
girl I didn’t seem to notice it and it didn’t seem to bother her grasp. She could no longer see well enough to sketch
me. I was so used to it that it was just a part of who I was.” celebrity portraits with black Sharpie markers the way she
It wasn’t until she was 40 years old, when she had to retire, used to when she was younger. Someone suggested that she
that she really felt the impact of her visual impairment. It try finger painting. She admits that the thought of a blind
was also then that she received a formal diagnosis—retinitis painter might sound a bit absurd. Since she would be able
pigmentosa. to feel what she was painting and rely mostly on intuition,
she was intrigued and decided to give it a try. “I know my
Raising a young son, she worried about how she would pay finger paintings miss the mark when it comes to perfect an-
her bills and make ends meet, especially since she could gels, perspective, and other elements, but I trade perfection
no longer drive to a “typical” job. After taking two or three for the joy and pure harmony I express when I paint images
months off to adjust to the realities of her new life, she I recall from my childhood in Kentucky.” She was encour-
says, “I decided I would have to think of some other way to aged by fellow artists and mentors and the feedback she
received was mostly positive.

45
Tammy Ruggles, Yellow Landscape, acrylic finger painting, 2013, 8.5” x 11”

Before long, her paintings were accepted by a few local rapher? I was under the impression you had to have good
galleries and published in literary magazines and art jour- vision to take pictures. But the more I thought about it, the
nals like Vibrant Life and Art Times Journal. The satisfac- more the idea grew inside of me, like a seed.”
tion of sharing her creativity with others was enhanced by
the opportunity it gave her to use her art to help others by She decided to buy a point-and-shoot camera and it sat
showing them art is possible for people who have visual on the kitchen counter for several days before she worked
impairments. She began painting in 2013 and by the end of up the nerve to give it a shot. “Oddly, it was the positive
the year she had completed a few hundred finger paintings. feedback I received from my finger paintings that gave me
She was happy with what she had created and no longer felt the final nudge to take my camera out of the box and push
driven to paint. It was time to move on. the power button.” She walked around the yard, took some
pictures, transferred them to her computer, and viewed them
As a young girl she enjoyed taking pictures but didn’t take on her large monitor. When she did that, she was able to see
photography classes in college because back then 35mm things in the photo she could not see with her eyes. She dis-
film was used in cameras and film had to be developed in a covered the camera could see for her and show her what she
traditional dark room. She had night blindness and couldn’t was missing. “Having RP dictates my style, in a way. I need
see anything in the dark so she wouldn’t be able to develop to do high contrast black and white because I can see it bet-
her photographs. She also had trouble seeing all of the di- ter. I do color to a lesser degree because colors are harder
als and settings on cameras. She says, “The funny thing is, for me to distinguish. As beautiful as they are, colors in a
I was always a fine art photographer in my mind and in my picture all blur together and I can’t make out what things
heart.” She even has a picture of herself when she was five are very well.”
years old with a camera around her neck.
Just as she did with her writing and finger painting, she be-
Since the way we take pictures has evolved over time, Rug- gan submitting her photographs to magazines and journals.
gles began to wonder if she could try her hand at photogra- Some of her photos have been published in Midnight Echo,
phy now, since digital cameras have auto focus and there’s Pentimento, Floyd County Moon Shine, The Notebook, and
no need for a dark room to develop film. She says, “The others. “I use my art instincts and my art education to take
thought seemed ridiculous at first. A legally blind photog- the pictures, and I let the camera do the work. When I look

46
Tammy Ruggles, People Admiring a Newborn, acrylic finger painting,
2013, 8.5” x 11”

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

47
Ruggles, as early as age five, showed an interest in photography.

Tammy Ruggles

at it on the computer, with the large screen, it comes alive. Look through the viewfinder of a DSLR camera, slowly
The camera catches everything.” She was driven to take turn the focus ring, and bring the subject into sharp focus.
pictures for about two years, feeling compelled to prove Perfect. Turn the ring as far as it will go in the other di-
that she could do it. And she did. She’s a legally blind pho- rection and everything is out of focus. That’s the way the
tographer who has been recognized for her work. “When I world looks to artist Tammy Ruggles. Everything is blurry.
get ahold of something like that, I feel like I’m going to lose And it’s getting blurrier. Her Sony RX100 captures every-
it so I get really compelled to do as much as I can while I thing. When she looks at photos on her forty-seven-inch
still can.” screen it connects her to the visual world. Magnifying the
image helps her to see what she missed when she took the
It is no longer a compulsion. She takes pictures for the photo. She delights in seeing expressions on the faces of her
sheer joy of it now. She still carries a camera with her wher- grandchildren, her grandson’s ever-changing hairstyles, or a
ever she goes because, “it is the worst feeling in the world flower in a field that she wasn’t able to see before.
to see something that would be a good picture and not have
a camera to capture it.” She doesn’t photograph people often but says she especially
likes photos she’s taken of her family because she is able to
“I was scared to pick up that camera when my vision got see what they look like on her screen. Regarding her other
worse because I thought it was something I wouldn’t be photos, she says they keep her connected with creation. The
able to do. I had written before so I knew I could do that. artist is retired and enjoys spending time with family and
I had to take a little step of courage and I found inclusion friends. “I’m just letting things happen now without push-
through photography. I found acceptance as an artist. I had ing anything. I’m not stopping out of frustration. I’m happy
doubts. What if it wasn’t good? What if they laugh? Maybe with what I’ve done.”
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- To see more of her work visit http://tammyruggles.
dation. I wanted to see if it was possible—not just among deviantart.com/gallery/.t
people in the visually impaired community but the art com-
munity in general.”

48
PERSONAL ESSAY

Go Fish
Andrea Carlisle

M
y sister, Marla, liked to play cards. Specifically, imagine her going anywhere without music.
she liked to play a game called Go Fish. During
her lifetime, we played many thousands of games A few days later, Alice asked the same question about the
of Go Fish. You can play with two people. cards, and I answered.

The rules are simple: Deal six cards to each player. One “Did I already ask you that?” she said. “What’s wrong with
player asks the other for something she already has in her me, anyway?”
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 I knew her memory had failed her even more seriously
pairs pile up. Whichever player ends up with the most pairs when she asked why. “Why did Roger put cards in her
is the winner. If you have a card I ask for, perhaps that five I hands?”
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 I reminded her of how much Marla loved playing Go Fish.
have the card I ask for, you tell me to “Go fish.” Alice frowned. “Did she?”

The thirty-sixth anniversary of Marla’s death fell on a Mon- All our family members played Go Fish with Marla many
day this year. She died on my father’s birthday. He died times. Alice, my brothers, my father, or I sat with Marla on
twenty-one years after she did. Twenty-one sad birthdays. the sofa, at the kitchen table, on the front or back porches
of our various houses, in the car, in waiting rooms, at the
A few days before the anniversary, my ninety-nine-year-old homes of relatives and friends:
mother, Alice, seemed to be on and off track about my sis-
ter’s life. She could remember some things, but not others, Do you have any jacks?
things I thought she would never forget.
No. Go Fish.
“Who put the deck of cards in Marla’s hands at her funer-
al?” she asked me one day. “Did you?” Do you have any sevens?

It was my father who’d made sure she was buried with a Go Fish.
deck of cards. The family agreed she would like that. I was
the one who put an amber necklace I’d brought back from Game after game after game with red Bicycle cards. We’d
the Middle East around her neck. She loved music and the worn out a deck of cards by the time she was ten. My par-
necklace had tiny silver bells attached. None of us could ents bought her a new deck.

49
Do you have any eights? “Do you have any sixes?” I asked.

Go Fish. Gradually, the game came back to her. Sometimes she
would draw from the pile and her eyes would widen be-
Do you have any twos? 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
Yes! she did this, when she fell into that unguarded delight of
knowing and not caring that I saw her knowing, she remind-
Sometimes we played first thing in the morning. Marla ed me of 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 “Did Marla know these numbers?” she asked me. “Did she
house allowed coffee, and she was the youngest. She sipped know the difference between a six and a two?”
her coffee while we played.
“Yes, she knew all of them. She knew the face cards, too.”
When I left for college, we continued to play on my visits
home. We played every time we saw one another long after She shook her head. “Why can’t I remember that?”
I’d graduated from college, until she died at twenty-seven.
“Do you have any fours?” I asked.
I don’t know how long the second deck of red Bicycle cards
lasted. Maybe a long time. But it was probably her third, “No. Go Fish.”
fourth, or even fifth deck that was placed in Marla’s hands
the day we—my brother, Michael, my parents, and I—at- We played five games. When it was time for her to go to
tended her funeral and said good-bye for the last time. dinner, I left the apartment and drove over to Mississippi
Street in North Portland. I planned to meet a friend for din-
It disturbed Alice a great deal that she had no memory of ner and then attend a reading at a bookstore. I parked my
Marla playing cards. “Why can’t I remember that?” She car, walked a few steps, and stopped. There, directly in
kept bringing it up and then scolding herself for not remem- front of me, as if they’d fluttered down from the sky, play-
bering. So I visited the residence where she lives and found ing cards covered the sidewalk. Red Bicycle cards.t
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.

50
POETRY

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.

51
PERSONAL ESSAY

A Profound Teacher
in Disguise
Carol Keegan

T
he wisest teachers with the The stroke had nailed me, stopped me to explain my fate or show me how to
greatest impact on your life dead in my tracks. Suddenly extricated prevent recurrences.
don’t always promote them- from old life plans and routines, and
selves with academic robes, creden- literally unable to run from pre-stroke Here I was now, moving toward the
tialed résumés, or guru reputations. In tensions in my life, I’d returned to cam- old dining hall table without any com-
fact, looking for them solely in those pus with no firm understanding of what forting storylines to soothe their fears.
guises narrows your field of attention had happened to me or how to go on. I Worse, I had not yet made sense of the
so much you fail to spot the real sages. had just lugged my new, broken body stroke in my own mind, so I was raw
The trick is to be open to wise words back there anyway, not knowing what with vulnerability to anyone else’s in-
and examples, regardless of what else to do. terpretations of my story. From now on,
you’ve been told a wise person should every time I brought my new body and
look or sound like. Walking up to that table again—three- its dark learnings into a conversation, I
legged this time—it seemed my job was certain innocent healthy “normals”
It was like that with me, when Frandzy was to convince these old friends to would see little but the death in me.
Baudalin showed up just two months recognize me without feeling repulsed. Until one old friend at the table proved
after my stroke in 1973. Actually, he’d If ever I knew my old self had died me wrong.
been there all along—sitting at the and that I must muster up some new
same dormitory table, three meals a life for myself, I knew it in the pall of Frandzy’s bodily presence at the table
day for the past year and a half. But returning to our old table in the caf- was unchanged: this huge-smiling,
the day I returned to campus and our eteria. As Frandzy, Margaret, Bob and cerebral-palsied undergrad from Brook-
old table at the cafeteria, the limpness the others saw me coming, I knew they lyn, with the clenched hand and severe
up and down the left side of my body were shaken by the liabilities I now stutter was his old self. Before the
and the wooden cane in my right hand embodied for them (If that could hap- stroke, my tweedy, supercharged grad
spoke for me: Carol was back in grad pen to Carol . . .), and I felt the power student persona had seemed to signal
school and her old room at Bromley of their needing not to be me. Not to we would never have much in common
Hall in Athens, Ohio. Back, but not re- be in any way like me. My sudden ill- beyond our Bromley Hall dorm address
ally back. ness had immersed me in taboo experi- and the habit of choosing the same
ences of near-death, powerlessness, cafeteria table. But now, my tripod-self
second-by-second uncertainty about my seemed to elicit a new, deep alliance.
future. Not even a definitive etiology
A new Frandzy emerged, determined to

52
make me his protégé. He enrolled me Quite the pair we were, walking the The model for our work during those
quickly in his hard-won, noncredit life- hills of Athens, Ohio—first with, then early evening walks may have been
survival course. He set a bet with me: without my cane. Male/female, black/ focused on physical health concerns,
by April, when my parents planned to white, mathematician/social scientist, but over the years I kept coming back
visit, Frandzy would have weaned me Afro with mustache/ballet bun at the to the more fundamental questions our
off the cane as a surprise gift to them. nape of the neck, Brooklyn/Scranton, course of study explored:
He would take the cane from me, to explosive stuttering/bourgeois diction,
ensure I never willfully relapsed. clenched joints/ataxic limbs. An odd, When we’re at our neediest, how
odd couple immersed in our shared do we open up our field of vision
As a twenty-four year old who’d fallen progress. Wandering the campus, we enough to spot the wise ones
one Saturday morning from Ph.D. can- were more focused on the process of whose counsel would best sustain
didate/adjunct dance faculty member moving than on our arbitrary destina- us?
to stroke survivor/physical therapy tion each night. All around us were
student, learning to walk again was tan- centers of learning for every conceiv- Once we’ve mixed their stories
tamount to learning to live again. Hav- able field of study except the life-rein- with our own and conceived new
ing fallen so far, now I could appreciate vention course Frandzy was helping me ways of understanding our di-
the determination with which Frandzy improvise. lemma, to whom can we convey
had mastered both tasks repeatedly. So our discoveries?
I accepted the deal and set about taking Looking back forty years, I can see
each step he called out of me. Every Frandzy was really one of my earli- How do we pass along the gener-
day after dinner at Bromley Hall, this est life coaches. And I like to think he osity; find others who remind us
mismatched pair walked the campus. gained as much from the confidence I of ourselves and the deep connec-
Practicing my new walk, the second I’d invested in him. I hope he knew I chose tions we too once needed in order
acquired since birth. to study with him because I respected to go on living?
(as much as I needed) the rich life
curriculum he had salvaged from all Answers to profound queries like these
his surgeries, physical therapies, and can appear, if we just throw open the
determination to defy the odds society drapes in our daily interactions with
stacked against him. Desperately, I people on the periphery of our lives.
tuned into my own need to learn how At first glance, they might not look
he’d done it. My pre-stroke self had like philosophers, but with a little
never seen Frandzy’s survival skills or imagination, we can choose to pause,
his generosity. absorb, and emulate their rich stories of
survival.t

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

53
FICTION

Reinventing the Wheel
Barbara Ridley

I
wouldn’t normally have been there in the afternoon. He finally wrestled his umbrella into submission and moved
Talk about wrong place at the wrong time. But my an- on. I scooped up a basket and made for the dairy section. I
thropology class got out early, and I’d heard that chick- pulled the fridge door towards me, propped it open with my
peas were on sale. Two cans for the price of one, according armrest, and grabbed a pint of milk. A pint is about all I can
to Laura. So I decided to pick some up myself on the way manage. One percent, a compromise. I prefer two percent,
home. I just love chickpeas. There’s something about that and Laura is all about nonfat, but I like tea with milk, and
slightly crunchy texture and the not quite round shape that’s the nonfat makes the tea a gross gray color, so we’ve agreed
so adorable. I like to add chickpeas to just about anything: to split the difference.
soups, stews, salads, you name it. I also needed milk and
bread, but I thought I could still fit six cans into my back- I knew bread was near the checkout registers, so I headed
pack. next for the chickpeas. I’d just turned the corner and was
cruising past the tomato sauce when I first heard the com-
A light rain had set in just before I reached the store. A man motion up front. I heard a high-pitched scream and then
who walked in ahead of me stopped to shake out his um- a lot of shouting and a rumbling as if a display case had
brella. It was a black, fold-up sort. Except that it wouldn’t. toppled over. For a split second I thought it was an earth-
It got stuck as he was trying to ram it into his basket. He quake, and I remember looking up at the stacks of Barilla
stood there, blocking my passage, cursing to himself, obliv- and Newman’s Own towering above me, and thinking I’d
ious to me sitting behind him. I noticed an odd stain on the better scoot further down the aisle towards something softer
back of his right pant leg. It reminded me of the birthmark like the pasta.
on Gorbachev’s forehead. Sounds weird, I know, but I’d
been watching a PBS special the night before on the col- I should explain that this is a small store, not one of your
lapse of the Soviet Union, and I couldn’t take my eyes off mega-huge supermarkets where you get totally lost and
that large red mark on Gorbachev’s bald head. And now I overwhelmed. That’s why I like it. Plus, now that I’m back
couldn’t take my eyes off the stain on this guy’s pants. This in school, it’s on my way home and most of the clerks know
stain wasn’t red, more grayish-white, but the same shape, me which helps. There’s talk of them expanding, or pulling
more or less. Just behind his knee. I couldn’t figure out how it down and replacing it with something big and fancy, but
it got there, or what it might be. I tipped my head to the the community is divided between those who think they
side, wiped the rain off my forehead with my sleeve and need a cereal aisle the size of a football field, and those in a
stared at the stain, trying to figure it out as I waited for him tizzy at the thought of construction and traffic—so the City
to move out of my way. Council is gridlocked worse than Congress and nothing has
been decided.
54
I moved a bit further down the aisle to see what was hap- at the front of the store, up a couple of steps, behind a low
pening. wall where they stack the dog food. I remember Laura go-
ing in there once when we returned a pot of moldy cottage
“Don’t move!” A loud barking voice. 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
“Stop! Everyone, stop! Right where you are.” could see papers flying and heard something heavy crashing
to the floor. The guy was putting up a struggle, the glasses
I’d reached a spot where I could see two of the checkout flew off, and then it looked like they were tying him up and
stands. Doreen, the clerk who is always very nice to me, wrapping thick duct tape across his mouth. That’s going to
was straight ahead, her hand clasped over her mouth, look- hurt coming off, I thought—a genuine wax job on his beard.
ing deathly pale. Behind her a tall thin guy in a ski mask
brandished a shotgun. 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
“Oh my God!” someone screamed. knew the asshole that had a hold of her, smashed her head
hard against the computer screen above her till. I mean re-
“Shut the fuck up! Don’t move!” ally hard, several times. There was blood on her forehead
and nose. I believe I screamed then too, and a woman who
The guy giving the orders was to my right, out of sight. appeared out of nowhere and who was right by my side
yelled: “Sweet Jesus, leave her alone!”
“That means you too, Fuck-face. Don’t move!”
At that point, the guy with the deep growly voice swooped
The person I assumed to be Fuck-face backed around the into my aisle with a weapon that looked like a machine
corner, heading straight toward me, not looking where he gun. I don’t know if it was a machine gun—what do I know
was going. I was forced to back off too, to avoid a collision. about guns? But it was huge, looked like it could have come
He stopped right in front of me. It was Gorbachev-pants off a tank in Iraq. He wasn’t wearing a ski mask like the
again. He had a six-pack of beer in his basket, along with others, but a loose-fitting black hood that also covered all
his umbrella, nothing else, and he was blocking my view. I his face except his eyes and mouth. He looked like Darth
wanted to see what was happening with Doreen, but I was Vader.
scared to move. I tipped my head and leaned way over to
the left, almost knocking my joystick with my boob. “Everyone down on the floor,” he shouted. “Now! Face
down on the floor. Now, now, now,” he barked.
“No one moves, no one gets hurt, okay?” This was another
voice, lower-pitched and almost soothing. It also came from He pointed his gun at the woman next to me, an overweight
somewhere over to the side, beyond my field of vision. black woman in her thirties. She whimpered softly and low-
Gorbachev-pants, who clearly hated to follow directions, ered herself to her knees, steadying herself on her shopping
took two steps to the right. This gave me a better view, but cart. She wore tight purple knit pants, and as she bent over
also left me very exposed. The guy with the shotgun now she exposed bare flesh: large love handles both sides of her
had Doreen in a vice-grip, his elbow cocked under her chin, waist, and a dip in the center at the spine. The label on her
and he was pointing his weapon towards my aisle. I was pants hung in this gap; Petite XXL, it declared.
directly in his line of fire.
The gunman swung into the next aisle, continuing his rant.
Everything started to happen at once, but also somehow in
slow motion, like a video clip you’re trying to download “Down on the floor, now, now, now!”
that keeps getting stuck. The guys with the guns and ski
masks seemed to be everywhere. It turned out there were Then he was back a few feet in front of me. He whipped
only four of them, but they sure took up a lot of space. I Gorbachev-pants across the face with his weapon.
saw two dash behind Doreen to the manager’s office. It’s

55
“Don’t fuck with me asshole. I’ll blow your head off.” He the only way out. It seemed to work. He stared at me. He
cocked his gun. “Down on the fucking floor!” seemed flummoxed. For good measure, I then—sort of in-
advertently but not really—jerked my joystick with my el-
That’s when he turned and saw me—as in actually noticed bow and my chair lurched forward. He recoiled and darted
me for the first time. into the next aisle.

“What the fuck. . .?” 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
For good measure, I then—sort of money I guessed—and he jumped down the steps to make
inadvertently but not really—jerked a getaway. The others followed and Darth Vader turned in
a final swoop of the aisles, brandishing his enormous gun,
my joystick with my elbow and my before making his exit.
chair lurched forward.
But they were stuck. The doors were locked.

“What the fuck?” he screamed again.
This would have been a good moment to drool. I used to
And then I heard the sirens. El Moreno’s finest were on
drool a lot as a kid. They gave me some medicine for it,
their way.
which helped, but which also—well, never mind, let’s just
say it didn’t agree with me. The drooling got a whole lot
“Which of you motherfuckers did this?”
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
He swung his weapon around again in a wide arc, but ev-
swish up some saliva from the far recesses of my mouth,
eryone except me was lying on the floor. His eyes fixed
but it was a no-go. I briefly considered mimicking a sei-
on me. Did he think I’d had something to do with locking
zure. I don’t have seizures, but my best friend from camp,
the doors? Surely not. But I stuck my tongue out again and
Latisha, used to have them really bad. She was also good
lolled my head to the side, just to be on the safe side. The
at pretending to have one if she wanted to get out of doing
sirens were getting louder. Darth Vader spun around, hunt-
something she didn’t want to do. So I have a pretty good
ing for Plan B.
idea of how to do a seizure.
“Out the back!” he yelled.
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
He leapt over a woman lying face down in front of the
I opted instead for looking as helpless and unaware as pos-
chewing gum and People magazine display. The others
sible. I tipped my head to the side, rolled my eyes back in
scrambled after him in a mad dash to the rear. The tall thin
my head, and let my tongue hang out. I guess you could say
one looked over his shoulder as he ran, and bumped into
I was mimicking some sort of seizure. I was definitely try-
the corner display, knocking over a stack of special-offer
ing to get out of something. I didn’t want to lie on the floor.
macaroni and cheese. As they sprinted down the aisle next
to mine, for some reason I felt compelled to watch their re-
The only time in living memory that I was on the floor was
treat. It was as if being the only one standing—in a manner
last year when Laura had to go visit her mom in Connecti-
of speaking—I had to usher them out. So I inched myself
cut, and Cecelia, my morning relief person, tried to help
forward, carefully rounding the head and shoulders of Gor-
me with my shower. She didn’t have a good grip on me and
bachev-pants and the scattered macaroni, and turned to the
then my legs did what they often do—the left one trying to
right. I watched them disappear past the frozen foods and
do the tango and the right the can-can—and we both fell
through the double doors at the back of the store.
over backwards in a slippery mess. Well, we sort of glided
backwards. Luckily neither of us got hurt and we were able
Two cop cars screeched to a halt in front of the main doors.
to have a good laugh about it.
A blur of blue hunks leapt out and ran toward the entrance,
But I couldn’t see me and Darth Vader gliding gracefully
to the floor. So I focused on looking as goofy as possible as

56
weapons drawn. One put his face up against the glass, the African Savanna.
shielding the reflection with his free hand. The doors were
locked for them too. My heart was pounding in my chest. I crept in front of the
manager’s office, seeking some kind of shelter. My chair
Everyone else was still face down on the floor. It’s odd had mercifully been in the shop the week before to fix a
when I think about it now, but no one said a word, and no loud rattling noise coming from the drive train, and I had it
one moved. Except a guy in front of me, right by the door. on the lowest tortoise setting—but even so it seemed like it
I recognized him as one of the baggers, very young, not was making a racket. I winced with each turn of the wheel,
more than a kid really. He’s always embarrassed when I say and leaned all the way forward, trying to duck out of sight.
anything to him. He pretends to understand me but doesn’t, My basket was still on my lap, with its lone pint of milk. I
and just says “Yeah, ok” to whatever I say. Now he propped shoved it forward, dangling it off my knees.
himself up on his elbows, peered down the aisle, and started
to crawl forward on his belly towards the manager’s office. I glanced over my shoulder. I caught a glimpse of Gor-
bachev-pants crawling on his hands and knees in that direc-
I was left on my own, close to the doors, with the cops star- tion too. I didn’t like the thought of him getting in my way
ing in at me. The rain had eased off, and a stream of sun- 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
I had to get away from the passed. Dave—that was his name—I saw it on his badge
entrance. I was sticking out like and remembered that I’d sort of known it all along.
Doctor Livingstone in the middle of “They’re back,” I said. I wasn’t enunciating well because
the African Savanna. 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
shine lanced through the dark clouds. I pointed towards the my arm towards the back of the store.
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 “Yeah, OK,” he said.
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 Perhaps this is all he ever says.
walkie-talkies but they didn’t move.
Then I heard more commotion from the back: screams and
But then things turned really nasty. I heard a sound like a more cursing, the f-word bouncing off the walls, coming
door slamming out beyond the frozen foods, and a whole closer. I spotted a hiding place to the side, behind the flo-
lot of cursing and shouting, and then Darth Vader and his rist’s stand. I managed to position myself behind the roses
gang were back. And now, he was in a major bad mood. and the spring bouquets. I sensed a movement at my feet
He smashed a fridge door with his gun, shattering glass and realized Gorbachev-pants was squatting behind the
everywhere. He rampaged through the refrigerated section, azaleas. Goddamnit, I couldn’t get rid of him. He gave me a
splintering door after door, and then started hacking at stuff weird look, I couldn’t figure it out—it was like he couldn’t
on the shelves. Bags of chips and crackers flew everywhere take his eyes off me, and it suddenly struck me that maybe
and he yelled “Motherfuckers, motherfuckers” at the top of he was coming on to me. I was wearing my jaunty green
his lungs. and black scarf that everyone says is so becoming, and
which coordinates with my green neon frame and spokes.
Evidently, Plan B had failed. The cops must have been He wasn’t so bad looking himself now that I stopped to
out back too. The gunmen were surrounded. We were sur- think about it: sort of old, maybe forty, but with bright blue
rounded. eyes and an angular jaw. A gash across his right cheek,
where he’d been hit with the gun, and a bruise developing
“No one fucking moves!” Darth Vader shouted as he made over his cheekbone added a certain rugged appeal.
his way up the aisle.
Another scream brought me to my senses. This was no time
But I had to move. I had to get away from the entrance. I to flirt. Darth Vader and one of the ski-mask guys marched
was sticking out like Doctor Livingstone in the middle of

57
toward the front of the store, each brandishing their weap- feet and joined the others. I thought he would look back at
on, and each propelling a customer in front of him as a me but he didn’t. The gunman now stood right next to me.
human shield. Darth Vader had hold of an elderly woman He hesitated. He loosened the mask where it clung to his
by the scruff of her neck, practically lifting her off her feet; neck; I could tell he was sweating underneath. I caught a
she dangled like a marionette, clutching her purse to her glimpse of bare flesh at his collar bone: coffee-colored skin
chest. I’ll never forget the look of utter terror on that poor decorated with a tattoo, a teal and scarlet serpent curled
woman’s face. Her eyes were popping out like saucers and around vine leaves. I quickly looked away and remembered
her mouth gaped wide, the veins bulging in her neck. my helpless pose, lolling my head to the side.

A surge of rage boiled up from somewhere deep in my bel- “Hey, T.J.” he yelled across the store. “What about the re-
ly. Images flashed in front of me like a series of pop-up ads: tard?”
Nurse Ratched forcing me into cold metal braces the day
after my leg surgery when I was ten years old; the jerk who T.J. huh? Even at this distance I could tell that Darth Vader
stole my cell phone from around my neck on the number 19 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, He left me and dashed toward the office. The customers
I’d felt scared but not mad. Now, I was furious. I think could not all fit inside; some were sitting at the foot of the
that’s what got me revved up for what happened later. steps, and Doreen sat with her back against the wall. One of
the gunmen crouched in front of them; the others were flat-
I didn’t have a great view of the front doors from there, tened against the stacks of dog food, their weapons trained
but I could see enough to tell there was now a huge police on the main doors.
presence outside. They must have rushed in from the whole
tri-city area. I got a glimpse of a fire truck and red and And then nothing happened. No one moved. No one said a
blue lights flashing across the rain-soaked parking lot—the word. I could hear the muffled sounds of the police walkie-
whole shebang. Darth Vader dropped his hostage onto the talkies outside, and the faint hum of the fluorescent lights,
floor in front of the manager’s office, and kicked her in the nothing else. We seemed stuck in a time warp. I couldn’t
ribs. She yelped in pain. tell if it was minutes or hours. One of the gunmen slumped
down on his haunches, his head between his knees. I felt
“Get the fuck in there,” he yelled. Then he pointed his gun stiff, I needed to stretch, but I was afraid to recline my chair
at where Dave must have been crouching. “In the office, all because of the sound it would generate. I loosened the scarf
of you.” around my neck and shook my hair free. I tried as best I
could to rotate my shoulders. The stupid basket was still on
The other guys began rounding up the rest of the custom- my lap. I considered dropping it to the floor, but any noise
ers, seven or eight of them altogether, herding them up the seemed taboo. Good thing, because I was going to need that
steps. The woman in the purple knit pants cried “Sweet basket—though I didn’t know it yet.
Jesus, sweet Jesus,” over and over until one of the guys
kicked her in the stomach. I was maybe twenty-five feet from where the others were
gathered on the floor. I noticed some movement at the edge
And then I saw Doreen. She had been hiding under the cash of the group, and realized Doreen was waving at me—ever
register, but the tall thin guy wrenched her into a standing so slightly, her hand hidden between her legs. She glanced
position. She clutched a wad of blood-soaked Kleenex to over at the gunmen, and then she stared at me, somehow
her forehead with one hand, and held her cell phone in the lurching her eyes to the left without moving her head. I
other. She tried to hide the phone behind her back, but he turned to look behind me and then looked back at her. She
tossed it to the floor and poked his gun in her ribs. As she nodded almost imperceptibly, just an inch or so, and then
was yanked away, she turned her head in my direction. Her she started to gesture with her pointer finger, like a baseball
forehead was a mass of congealed blood. She gave me this catcher, and then her thumb, pointing to the left. I looked
intense look. I didn’t get it at first; I guess I just thought she behind me again, gently, quietly moving my chair, just a
was worried about me. Yet she kept staring at me. I had the quarter turn. I saw the magazine racks and the Clearance
sense she was trying to tell me something. I just couldn’t Items 60% Off stand, laden with leftover Easter candy,
figure it out. 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

58
looked back to Doreen. She did that thing again with her emergency push bars across its width. As my footplates
eyes, more urgently this time, darting them back in her made contact, I used the basket as a battering ram and
head, and jerking her thumb back and forth. I turned my pushed down with all my might. I didn’t have it at quite the
chair a little further. right angle; the basket skidded and almost fell off my lap,
but I caught it and tried again, lifting it higher and slanting
And then I saw it. Way in the corner, beyond the magazines. it more towards the floor. The bar gave way and my chair
Another door: Emergency Exit Only. barged through.

I looked at Doreen, my eyes wide. She glanced at the I landed in a posse of heavily armed police officers. They
masked men, still huddled by the dog food, all their atten- gaped at me in disbelief. One jammed his foot in the door to
tion focused on the front door. She gave me another tiny prevent it closing behind me and peered cautiously inside.
nod.
I turned and sailed across the parking lot, my hair flying
I knew what I had to do. I quietly, quietly turned my chair behind me in the breeze.t
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

59
REVIEW

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 mind: “Take a deep breath. Slow down. Pet Bunker. Don’t
that helps her heal from debilitating clinical depres- think. Just be.” She sees in him a kindred spirit who warms
sion. Through vivid depictions of her mental state and the cold world. As she begins to return to herself, she finds
simple language steeped in New Age philosophies, Barton’s that strangers extend compliments to her, and friends soften
memoir journeys towards rehabilitation and recovery. in sympathy.

Lacing flashbacks to her childhood within the chronologi- New Age language links her life to Bunker’s. From the mo-
cal narrative, Barton exposes her tortured, self-lacerating ment she holds her puppy in her arms, she feels her spirits
thoughts. She pairs her psychiatrist’s official diagnosis with lift. When he rolls around in the mud and earthworms, she
the self-loathing she has internalized from years of dealing sees a connection between his love for “worms [that] in-
with an abusive sibling: “Ugly, Weird, Stupid, Fat, Unlike- visibly feed the soil” and his role in her own life: “he was
able, please meet your newest teammate: Depressed.” In feeding me, giving me essential emotional and spiritual
1996––the year of her breakdown––the words “clinical nutrients.” Similarly, she indulges in imagining that “dogs
depression” had hardly entered public discourse; instead, choose their owners” and “Bunker knew to wait for me.”
“bad days” and “rough patches” excused her systemic In these comforting images of spiritual connection, Barton
unhappiness. As early as she can remember, she endured leashes Bunker’s life to her own. He gives her a reason to
verbal and physical assault from her brother, Clay. Memo- live. Soon she determines that the two, bound by fate, epito-
ries flood forth in which he punches her, calls her a “slut,” mize the perfect pair. Just as depression paralyzes Barton,
breaks down her door, and puts graffiti on the doorframe. she perceives a parallel when severe hip dysplasia immobi-
Inevitably, his words scar, just as the insults he inks into lizes Bunker. To fund and care for him during his physical
her doorjamb remain. His curses––“Loser,” “Lesbian,” recovery from corrective surgery, she must first heal her
“Whore,”––promote acerbic thoughts that lead to a desire to own mental wounds.
end her life.
The obstacles of depression present no easy answers. Yet,
Barton historicizes her path to recovery by placing her dog, ironically, Barton’s memoir moves briskly. In simple, ac-
Bunker, at the center of her healing. With Bunker’s entrance cessible language, Barton brings readers inside the dark
into her life, and his light-hearted joy and nonjudgmental thoughts of her internal struggle. The second half of the
kisses, “the blackness of [her depression] loosen[s] its book shows her determination to move on. As anyone wit-
grip.” Along with the confidence she recovers in therapy, nessing a similar story––in a friend or sibling––can attest,
Barton finds that her dog’s presence staves off the flood Barton’s narrative will stir readers with her testament to the
of self-deprecating language always running through her potency of dog medicine.t

60
POETRY

Nancy Scott

Dress-up
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.

61
FICTION

The Complete Works
of Min-Ju Kim
Tristan Tavis Marajh

S
unlight streaked gently into the the teeth-brushing, gargle and spit, no- Hyejin’s urgings were her personalized
dark room through the blinds and nonsense shower, breaking a bite off version of the same thing Dr. Chung
settled on the blanket that cov- an apple’s flesh in the kitchen. “Min- recommended to Min-Ju create: struc-
ered Min-Ju’s curled-up form beneath. Juuuu,” Hyejin implored, putting on ture. She thought about trying Hyejin’s
She turned sluggishly, raised a piece her heels by the doorway. proposed version, but she couldn’t bear
of the fabric off her head and peered at the manufactured artifice of it. Didn’t
the clock. 11:04 a.m. Late, by all stan- “Uhhhnghh?” Min-Ju responded wea- Dr. Chung, MD—and especially Fel-
dards. Which was the real her, really? rily from beneath the covers; hair over low of the Royal College of Physicians
This . . . creature, awakening with the her face, some in her mouth. (Canada)—ever hear of the saying: all
heavy hopelessness that seemed to be structures are unstable?
the unspoken condition of existence, “Get up. Have breakfast. Go for a run,
or the one who could get up and carry take your iPod with you. Go see a com- The other option, though, was the
on despite it, even if doing so felt like edy film. Take a walk after. Rinse the abyss. There was still yet that other op-
pretentious fakery, a sad theatre? Even green beans, and we’ll stir-fry them for tion too, unspeakable yet ever frequent
the furniture, in its material neutrality, dinner.” in her mind, but Min-Ju didn’t think
seemed to mock her. She drew the blan- she could go through with that either. It
ket over her head again, pulled herself “Uhngh-huhngh,” the creature beneath would be like killing her Appa too, who
into a fetal position and squeezed her the covers mumbled. Hyejin wondered wanted nothing more than to garden,
eyes shut, but sleep didn’t return. In- which task this was a response to. see his daughters and read. A curious
stead, the jagged, disturbing knowledge sight Mr. Kim was now; sitting cross-
of the accumulating wasted mornings “I’ll see you later. Get up.” legged and bespectacled in the library,
bore down on her, like boulders rolling with his dense beard and Blue Jays’
down a mountain slope. Another murmur from her sister and cap; a man in quiet forgiveness and ac-
Hyejin, shaking her head, left the con- ceptance that his younger years could
She could hear Hyejin moving about do. Min-Ju heard the door close and the have been more wisely spent learning.
upstairs; her sister’s disoriented foot- lock turn. She was alone. “How is your writing coming, my jagi-
steps moving from the bed, evolving ya?” he would ask Min-Ju, as if it were
into more determined ones as she went something inevitable and supposed
through the business of starting the day: to happen—a matter of fact as sure

62
as springtime. Min-Ju knew this was Ju looked up and toward the doorway, had eagerly requested on the way from
formed from a belief in and a love for with the bewildered face of someone the airport, Min-Ju discovered that she
her that she couldn’t fathom and even suddenly summoned, but who wasn’t would have to show Song-Yi the city,
if she tried to, she could picture herself expecting to be at all. and not so much her city.
collapsing from within. She too, was
after all a structure, able to be brought A girl, a teenager of about sixteen, And so a gloomy Min-Ju and an excit-
down by invisible, silent forces. was standing near Hyejin as they both ed Song-Yi zoomed up the CN Tower,
pushed off their shoes. Min-Ju squinted, then dipped flatbread at an Ethiopian
It was only when Min-Ju felt like her trying to figure out who this was. The restaurant. They sailed to the Toronto
body was feeding on itself that she got girl was the effortless, and thus envy- Islands, then ate noodles at The Thai
up from the sofa. She went over to the inducing, slimness of youth, pretty Express. After wandering through the
glass doors that led to the balcony, part- with porcelain-smooth skin and soft, sprawling gothicism of the University
ed the blinds and peered outside, a re- acquiescent hair tied back in a sensible of Toronto and then the quirky Royal
cent, solitary tendency she didn’t quite ponytail. “Ye,” the girl said, smiling Ontario Museum, they walked down
know the reason for. What she knew enthusiastically, causing the word radi- Bloor to the Fresh Vegetarian Restau-
now, though, was that her childhood ant to form in Min-Ju’s mind. Min-Ju, rant. They had biryani at a Pakistani
suburbia was a prison, this prostitute of suddenly aware that her own hair was joint before trekking near the sand-
a city was all about the money, and it a wild, tangled mess and that she was stone cliffs at Bluffer’s Park. And all
teemed with creatures of alien races— wearing sweats and sweat, decided that the while, as a spirited Song-Yi oohed
males and females of each finding each she would shake the hand of this girl, in wonderment, her camera flashing
other and perpetuating the precepts of who evidently knew of her, instead of at architecture, markets, natural earth
their species, pushing strollers, walking approaching her to offer a smelly hug. formations and colorful cultural festi-
the malls, opening businesses, and clus- She rose, walked toward Hyejin and the vals—even while jamming with sub-
tering in communities. Each not seem- girl and offered her hand. way musicians. Min-Ju’s mind was in
ing to have much to do with groups that tumult. Outwardly she was the patient
weren’t theirs, and each not seeming “Hello,” she said. guide standing by, presenting herself
to care. Upset at this separation and and the city’s attractions dutifully to
wondering if she was the only one af- “Anyoung hashimnikka,” the girl said, Song-Yi, but capital-P Present she
fected, Min-Ju would write furious bowing as she took Min-Ju’s hand. wasn’t.
commentary and search for prospective For a moment Min-Ju was startled. Oh
publications to send them to, believing right; she remembered: “respect.” Can- On the second night of the second week
that people needed to know. Skilled im- ada’s nice policy of multiculturalism of Song-Yi’s stay, Min-Ju couldn’t
migrants are chosen as permanent resi- talked about respecting each other’s bring herself to finish the warm, tzatzi-
dents based on their ability to settle in differences. What the hell was respect ki-dipped pitas that she and her cousin
Canada and take part in our economy, anyway? had taken out. She was disgusted with
the government’s website said. Money. herself, even as she had taken the first
And now Min-Ju had a new responsi- two bites and tried to maintain some
These were the thoughts Min-Ju was bility: show Song-Yi, the sisters’ new semblance of presence with Song-
scowling about at the computer screen guest and second cousin visiting from Yi. It was the incident at the bus stop
when she heard the door lock turn and Seoul, around the city. Song-Yi would earlier. To ESL-hampered Song-Yi, it
the door creak open. A light switch be staying three weeks. As they sat initially looked like a man quarrelling
was flicked on and a swash of light around the small table near the sofa, with a woman, the latter taking it with a
flowed into the living room where she eating the pineapple pizza Song-Yi sheepish what-am-I-going-to-do-with-
sat. “You remember Min-Ju, right?” him smile, but the man’s words had
she heard Hyejin say in Korean. Min- been so ugly and abusive that Min-Ju
herself felt wounded. Song-Yi had
edged closer to Min-Ju, locking her

63
arm in her cousin’s, as thoughts of tell- Min-Ju again pictured verbal aggres- bleary-eyed and holding onto a pole,
ing the man off clenched in Min-Ju’s sion, even slapping—a scene in her Min-Ju neglected to make the posi-
mind; but just as suddenly—almost si- mind so detailed and intense that she tive choice. What a sad state this place
multaneously—a mental scenario of the believed it would really happen, should was; this city. A man coughed absently
man’s violent reaction flashed, causing she say anything. And so she did not. into a handkerchief. Another person
her to freeze. His shaven, tattooed head absently rustled a newspaper. Min-Ju
and bulging forearm veins didn’t help Later: then thought that if anyone had been
either. A streetcar then pulled up with a observing her, they would gauge her as
melodic, oblivious chime, and the man “You could have called out the waitress a sorry, sad, lonesome woman. They
and woman entered it. It wasn’t the on her tirade. It was ugly, nasty, and might even inwardly object to her be-
car the cousins were waiting for, but you left her in ignorance. This is what ing on the streetcar, ʼcuz you can’t trust
they may as well have entered it too, fear does, Min-Ju.” those melancholy mental types. At least
because the whole scene stayed with my hair’s alright, she thought. Out of
Min-Ju for the rest of the day; upset- At the end of each day out in the city an obligation to appear somewhat tran-
ting her even more because she realized with Song-Yi, Min-Ju continued to sit-normal, she raised the folded news-
how pathetic she’d become. And now, write to herself things she knew she paper she was holding and looked at
back at the condo, comforting carbohy- could have done or said in response to what was on it. A few paragraphs into a
drates were an indulgence with which the injustices of the day. It is the little piece, she was struck with a realization:
she couldn’t let herself continue. Put- things that kill, and this was self sur- not only was she reading, but she was
ting the pita down and leaving Song-Yi vival now. Either she would act with also understanding—even experiencing
dozing on the sofa, she went up to her courage when courage was called for, mentally what was on the page. It was
room, opened a drawer and pulled out a or continue on in a fearful state, rotting pointedly noticeable to her, because
stack of paper: the discontinued novel away. She couldn’t let herself live with focusing while reading was something
Appa always asked her about. In frus- the realization that silence in injustice she struggled to do while in the throes
tration, on the blank side of one page, is the same as siding with it. of despondency. The piece was about a
Min-Ju wrote: man encountering and communing with
* * * plant and animal wildlife in the coun-
“You did not say anything to that man, tryside; a personal essay by a former
Min-Ju. You should have.” At the airport on the day of Song-Yi’s urbanite who had moved to be near his
departure, Min-Ju felt like crying as parents.
Things were easier written than done her cousin dissolved through the doors
for Min-Ju. During the euphoric World to the departure gates, waving back at Later, at night:
Cup fervor in the city streets, Song-Yi the sisters. Their cousin had embodied
asked to take in a match among its fans a free, exuberant spirit and a genuine “Min-Ju, look, humanity supports you.
to experience the festivity. Infestivity, liking of Min-Ju’s company, unwaver- This adds quality to your composure
more like, Min-Ju thought. Still, she ing even when Min-Ju thought her own and actions and it will heal you.
took her cousin to a pub where Portugal depression was obvious and affecting.
versus Italy was airing. Min-Ju cared Some days later, as the sisters were Live as if humanity is watching, Min-
little for the whole tournament. It was having dinner, Min-Ju commented that Ju. It will lift you up (because you are
a gross manifestation of the diversity Song-Yi was one of her favorite people. very much identified with pain and de-
problem, which was again evident Hyejin, chewing kimchi and rice, spair). It will help you recognize beauty
when their waitress—after some idle smiled to herself; happy her sister now as well; e.g., the musicians today.”
chatting—went on a pro-Italy hurrah- had favorite people—and that she was
ing, which inevitably meant Portuguese now venturing out of the condo. That same evening, having departed the
bashing. The arrogant raving and the streetcar and making her way through
cackling scorn in her voice were so * * * Finch subway station, Min-Ju had
pronounced that Song-Yi sensed it too. heard the sound of two musicians; a
Min-Ju wanted to ask why are you even Min-Ju increasingly began to realize cellist and a violinist playing together.
living in this city then, but the woman that the difference between depression The music was the raw, aching beauty
was so raucous in her convictions that and forward-movement was a choice. of humanity itself, rousing and moving
And the gray area in between—very inside her something strong and pure, a
easy to settle into—was in itself longing for everyone to live according
still depression. But as she stood in
a crowded streetcar one evening,

64
to such a sound. An abrupt, heightened triumph, the unshackled Saturdays. Ac- one young man, who broke out in a shy
awareness of this humanity now bus- cording to what she wrote, learned in grin before quickly looking down at the
tling before and around her, cracked settings both social and solitary, Min-Ju floor. He looked up at her again, and
her senses open; she had become an started to do. Washed in suffering and smiling still, he winked both his eyes at
amazed, speechless witness to the mov- now scrubbed fresh by her own words, her at the same time, as a playful adult
ing flesh and limbs and vibrant earthi- every movement in each moment felt would to an infant. The subway car was
ness of these limber and fragile forms, intimate and new, a discovery in the almost full, but it was just the two of
the pristine, shining now. Min-Ju doing. Presence, she later read, is what them Present. Whatever ill a boy did to
paused for a moment. She straightened meditatives would have called it. After a girl, and a girl did to a boy, it was all
up and approached the musicians, plac- two years of existing in slumped mode, forgiven.
ing change inside the cello’s opened Min-Ju straightened her posture. She
case and smiled at the two men. “Thank helped laden commuters carry their * * *
you,” she said to both of them, before grocery bags and smiled happily with
slowly walking away. Hell may be oth- the drivers of streetcars and buses, At the interview in the ESL center, the
er people, she thought, but so is hope. chatting often. More than one driver school’s principal held Min-Ju’s ap-
declined to take her fare. She formed plication up, peering down at it through
* * * friendships with seniors and schoolchil- thick-rimmed glasses. “There is a two-
dren at the community gym and helped year gap on your resumѐ,” she pointed
With the tunneling urgency that drove students with homework at the library. out, looking up at Min-Ju, waiting.
her to put pen to paper, Min-Ju con- She ate consciously; savoring fruit in
tinued writing herself into a moving, a pure, essential way that she hadn’t Min-Ju drew a breath in. “That,” she
functioning life; intelligent design and before, and she groomed herself with- said carefully, before a wide grin
evolution now intertwined. Though she out indecisive pretension. And so, she broke out across her face—“that was
now arose early, the personalities of the carried on. In the trains, Min-Ju found when I did the greatest work of my
employment days had become unfamil- that looking away from the young men life.”t
iar to her: Sunday’s loveliness, the con- whose eyes she met, hurt her more than
crete Mondays, the quietly despairing it probably did them—it hurt humanity.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Thursday’s So one morning, on her way to a job in-
hindering irrelevance, Friday’s cheerful terview, Min-Ju smiled, then winked at A longer version of this story was
published in the Nashwaak Review.

65
PERSONAL ESSAY

Cleaning
Lois Soffer

M
y son Parker will have a job at the airport next Earlier this year, my husband, Andy, and I looked into a
year. Parker loves the airport almost as much as program for students with special needs, at a local college.
he loves going to the carousel and to the zoo. He Students are taught according to their own personal goals,
could watch the planes move up and down the runway all which we loved. And even more important, they are in-
day long. He knows all the airlines by their logos and loud- cluded in university life. With the right support, we thought
ly identifies the planes as they come in for a landing. maybe Parker could make it. He has always loved school,
and we wanted him to have every advantage before facing
The job begins in August. A bus will pick Parker up and the work world. But Parker isn’t ready to leave home—not
drop him home every day, which he is thrilled about. Parker nearly—and the college program requires students to live
will wear a badge around his neck and tells everyone about independently. For now, anyway, this would be out of the
it. He also shares that he will clean airport windows and question.
mop the floors. He’ll make coffee and wipe down tables in
one of the airport’s restaurants. When he told his brother, When Parker entered kindergarten, we were asked to fill
Perry, about his job duties, he proudly announced, “Curity.” out a survey about him. There were questions about his
Perry looked at me, puzzled, and I told him Parker will be history and his needs. About his strengths and our hopes
working in security. He’ll collect the bins that hold the trav- for him. The survey was in preparation for a community
elers’ belongings after they go through the X-ray machines. meeting with important adults in Parker’s life. We invited
Then, he will stack the empty bins and return them to the my sister, my father, and some dear friends who love and
beginning of the line. Parker will also get to vacuum, which know him well. We asked Parker’s preschool teachers to
just happens to be one of his favorite things to do. come and contribute, and his babysitter, too. When Andy
and I arrived, we were stunned by the size of the group. The
My son is about to graduate from high school. He has been circle of chairs covered most of the space in the double-
educated in the top rated public school in Missouri, where sized classroom. The principal was in the circle, along with
he will graduate with a 3.7 grade point average. The fact Parker’s future teachers. Both Parker’s physical and speech
that the required studies have been modified, since kin- therapists had come. The school cook and the janitor were
dergarten, to reflect Parker’s abilities and needs doesn’t also there. We told the janitor Parker would be more than
diminish our pride in his accomplishments. There will be an happy to help him vacuum the school. Everybody laughed
asterisk by Parker’s name on the graduation program, indi- and we relaxed, a bit.
cating that he is an honor student. I double-checked with the
principal, just to be sure.

66
We had been nervous about the meeting and anxious about permarket. He was cleaning shelves, sweeping floors, wip-
our choice to send Parker to public school. When Parker ing down counters. Things he already did well.
was born, in the mid 1990s, attitudes about including stu-
dents with special needs were just beginning to change. But Parker loves to clean. He always has. When he was a tod-
Andy and I believed fervently our son should be fully in- dler, we discovered Parker especially loved vacuum clean-
cluded in the classroom and, indeed, in society. The purpose ers. He loved to vacuum and he loved to watch people
of the meeting was to allow Andy and me to “introduce” vacuum. He loved the sound of it. The feel of it. There was
Parker, to share the dreams we had for him, and also, our clearly some neurological something that was calmed as he
fears. We told the group it was important for Parker to feel worked. When he vacuumed, Parker’s whole body was en-
safe and successful at school. We wanted him to find a way gaged. His long, skinny leg would bend deeply at the knee,
to communicate. At the time, he was able to speak only a as his equally skinny arm pushed the vacuum back and
few words, in spite of his clear desire to express himself. forth with all his might.
We said we wanted our son to be accepted and loved by
the children and teachers. And that, eventually, we wanted He cleans at home all the time. When our housekeeper
Parker to be out in the community, working, like everybody comes, Parker rushes downstairs to put all the cleaning sup-
else. plies in a bucket and bring them to her. He usually insists
on doing all the vacuuming. He loves to spray the Windex
As Parker approached the end of high school, we were of- and wipe the windows. The housekeeper is gentle and ac-
fered the option for him to stay in the school district—the cepting of Parker, and lets him be in charge. Of course, our
“special” school district—until he turned twenty-one. He house never looks very clean. Parker’s handprints are all
would work, they said, and take classes in daily living over the windows, his smudges cover the doors and cabi-
skills. After twenty-one, the guidance and support Parker nets. Our home has been messy and chaotic since he was
has gotten throughout his life, will disappear. We will most a toddler. We have learned to let go of some things, and a
likely be on our own to find him a job and everything else perfect house is just another one of those things.
he needs. Activities, a social life, somewhere safe and sup-
portive to live. Since Parker was young, we’d heard terrible When Parker’s fifth birthday was approaching, we asked
stories about adults with special needs sitting home all day, what he wanted for his birthday. “Ah-doom,” he answered
unemployed and alone, playing video games or watching immediately. “You want a vacuum cleaner?” we asked, as-
TV. We said yes to the program and to the airport job. tonished. “Eth,” he whispered emphatically. I decided Park-
er should have his vacuum. It was the one thing he wanted,
For the past couple years, Parker has worked in a super- I told Andy, and what a great gift it could be for Parker’s
market every morning, as part of his education plan. A full grandfather to give him. It would be an honor, I said—lay-
day of academics was proving difficult for him. There just ing it on a little thick—to make his Parker’s wish come
weren’t enough high school classes appropriate for Parker’s true. But it was something else, as well. It was a challenge
level of understanding. The proposal was for him to work to Andy’s father and a challenge to ourselves. A challenge
half a day and go to school the other half. Initially, we re- to let go of our preconceived notions. A challenge to listen
sisted the idea. We wanted Parker to be in school full time, to and accept and love our son, just the way he was. And
like all the other students. But the idea of splitting up the Parker wanted a vacuum cleaner.
day sounded reasonable. He would learn skills required
to be a good employee. He’d have practice working with All of us have to let go of goals and wishes throughout
strangers in a professional and appropriate way. And the job our lives. As our children grow, we let go of some of our
tasks, themselves, were designed to help him learn organi- dreams for them. Indeed, we are continually letting go of
zational skills, use money, and work more independently. our children. We are forced to let go of loved ones and of
We knew Parker’s favorite responsibilities would involve our health. Somehow, we manage to live with the knowl-
interacting with the customers and his supervisors. So we edge that we will ultimately let go of life, itself. Some of us
decided to go along with the plan. But soon it became clear do it gracefully. Others never stop fighting it.
that Parker was spending a lot of his time cleaning the su-

67
The letting go is something Andy and I have gotten pretty But he was never invited on a play date. There were no
good at. It started when we came to terms with the fact birthday parties after elementary school, not for him. In
that, if we wanted children, we would need to adopt them. middle school, Parker went to some bar and bat mitzvah
Then, when Parker was four months old, we learned he had parties. The temple had mandated all the students be in-
significant disabilities. The adoption agency responded by cluded and Parker couldn’t wait to go. Putting aside my
telling us we could return him. Return him. Even facing pride, I would call the mothers and asked if they minded if
devastating hurdles, we knew we had to say no. We felt we I came to the party, in case Parker needed my help. Most of
had made a commitment to love and care for Parker the day them were gracious. Parker was thrilled. But since then, and
we took him home, and we couldn’t break that commit- throughout high school, there hasn’t been a single invita-
ment. We wouldn’t have been able to face telling Perry. We tion. Not to a party, or movie, or school play. Not to a foot-
wouldn’t have been able to live with ourselves. ball game, and certainly, not on a date.

Letting go looks different when there are children with Perhaps Parker will have a social life at the airport. He’ll
special needs involved. We declined invitations to friend’s be working with seven other young adults with disabilities,
houses, to parties, to restaurants for the first decade of Park- so who knows? Sometimes, I fantasize that one day Parker
er’s life. His screaming was too unpleasant. He constantly will have a girlfriend. Or a date. Or that maybe, one day, the
ran away from us in public, towards ceiling fans and garage phone will ring. I’ll answer and try to act natural, as I yell,
doors, items with which he was obsessed. It seemed our “Parker, pick up the phone! It’s for you!”
family was always making some sort of scene. Andy and I
were exhausted all the time. It was simply easier to just say People often ask how Andy and I have managed so well,
no. and I never know what to say. I’m not really sure why
we’ve remained strong when so many parents of children
Though he had always been fully included, things changed with significant issues come apart. When my boys were
when Parker entered high school. As his classmates ex- young, I decided to stop working, so I could be more avail-
celled, he struggled and, “regular” classes were deemed able to my family. It was a sacrifice and a loss that prob-
inappropriate for him. Parker started to spend most of his ably saved us. Or maybe it’s that for most of Parker’s life,
days in the company of students with different types of is- we sought support and advice everywhere we could. Andy
sues. At our urging, the administration let Parker take a few and I had a sitter come when the boys were young, so we
courses with his typically-developing classmates. He stud- could get out of the house once or twice a week. We held a
ied cooking and theatre. He was in the choir. These things weekly business meeting at the kitchen table, so we could
pleased us and delighted our son. But, by his senior year, get routine details out of the way and make space for each
most of Parker’s days were spent with just one other girl. other. And there were years of therapy. Perhaps it’s the
She had significant challenges, as well. Parker loved her. combination of all these strategies. I don’t know.
But it wasn’t what we wanted for our child.
Maybe it’s come down, simply, to a gradual acceptance
Wanting desperately for Parker to be included in the social of our circumstances. We slowly let go of our vision of an
aspects of school, Andy and I took him to a high-school ideal family. Andy and I no longer focus on the old dreams.
dance, once. I struggled with what to wear and settled on a Instead, we have watched our son become his own, amaz-
skirt and heels. That was silly. Nobody there would be look- ing self. Sweet and funny, with an uncanny memory and an
ing at me, much less care how I dressed. Parker was shy unparalleled love for people. Parker is the happiest person I
when we arrived and had to be coaxed into the gym. But have ever loved. He is the happiest person I’ve ever known.
once he was comfortable, he started to enjoy himself. Then
Parker told us he wanted to dance. To dance with me. I These days, we do a lot with an organization devoted to
don’t know why I hadn’t anticipated this. He took my hand people with special needs. Andy serves on their board.
and I swallowed hard as we stepped onto the dance floor. We’re always going to their fundraisers. Parker plays
I forced myself to focus on Parker and pretended I wasn’t basketball on their teams and attends their summer work
decades older than every other person in the room. And we programs. He loves the staff and his teammates. Of course,
danced. After a while, a sweet and pretty girl with long, this is not what we wanted, either. It’s been another sort of
blond hair and a bright smile asked Parker to dance. I could letting go. But Parker is having a great time at spring break
have kissed her. Parker wanted me to stay on the floor with camp, where the theme is Hollywood. On the first day, ev-
him, so we had a dance threesome. Parker had a blast. erybody entered on a red vinyl carpet. The paparazzi—the
counselors—snapped Parker’s picture as he walked by.

68
POETRY

When I yelled good-bye, he didn’t bother to look back at
me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Parker’s graduation party,
which will be huge. Friends and family are coming in town
to celebrate. People who have helped care for him will be
there. There won’t be any other high-school students, but
there will be aunts, uncles, and cousins. Three grandparents
will fly in. All people who have let go, a little, of their own
dreams, to make space in their lives—in their hearts—for
this wonderful, complicated young man. Michael Mark
But mainly, I’m picturing the graduation, itself. And worry-
ing. Will Parker be willing to walk down the aisle? To wear
a gown? We won’t know till that night. There is no way in The Good of a Thing
the world they’ll get a cap on him. And I already warned
his teacher that Parker might refuse to take his diploma. They pull to a stop and contemplate
She said she’ll make sure there’s an assistant, if he needs the long stem.
one, and they will practice a lot. We’ll see. I do know one
thing, for sure. The place will go wild when Parker’s name “An orchid,” she forces from her mouth’s
is called. Every time I have visited the high school, I’ve side. “Was.”
been stunned by all the people who call out to him, who
are delighted to see him as he struts down the halls, waving A stroke put her in the wheelchair.
happily. He may not have been invited to parties, but my Diabetes took his legs.
son has changed his school and his entire school district.
The principals of every school Parker attended thanked us “Someone should dump it,” he says. “What
for entrusting them with our son, for he has changed their good is the thing without a flower?”
communities.
When the speakers announce dinner,
Parker will do well at the airport. He will wait happily at the they roll off to their rooms.
door, every morning, for his bus to arrive. He’ll have a lot
to say about the planes speeding down the runway and his Later, the cleaning woman will throw
teachers will need to remind him to talk quietly. Parker will the plant away or ignore it or
work hard and learn more than they expect. And in turn, we
will expect more of them. Once he is settled at his new job, take it home in a plastic bag to nurse
we’ll encourage the teachers to lighten Parker’s cleaning back to health, leaving
responsibilities, to give him more challenging work. And if
all goes well, they will listen, and he will change their com- the vase dusted clean
munity, too.t enough to see one’s reflection.

Previously published in Camel Saloon (now defunct).
Reprinted by permission of the author.

69
PERSONAL ESSAY

Jay’s Pawfect Pal
June Capossela Kempf

“J
onathan is different,” the hand. He pulled her wheelchair around Our application was answered with a
principal told us. “It’s very like a Husky hauling a sled team. But warning: The training program for dog
subtle, but he is not like other the dog’s most impressive perfor- and master was “TOUGH”—so harsh
six year olds . . . that disarming smile mance was to purchase a poster from it had been dubbed: “Boot Camp.” As
and friendly attitude is appealing, but a nearby vender with money he held we sorted through the packet of instruc-
there’s something that sets him apart. in his mouth. The transaction was a bit tions, we learned that Jay was expected
Jay is a free spirit and may need special drooly, but efficient. After each task to pass an interview, a psychological
training.” was completed the girl lavishly poured evaluation, and a home inspection. He
on praise, “Good Dog!” needed letters of recommendation and
Jonathan “Jay” was born with muscu- medical necessity. This was going to
lar dystrophy which would place him Then the dog rested his sweet warm be a long drawn out process, but that
in a wheelchair before he reached his head on her lap, breaking into a broad failed to deter Jay. He immediately got
eleventh birthday. During most of his trusting doggie smile. Such a display of to work filling out the attached ques-
school days he remained isolated from unconditional love sold Jay. “I need a tionnaire.
the mainstream in an imperfect setting, dog just like that one . . . .”
often suffering the bitter sting of rejec- “Mom, they want to know what I do
tion. Canine Companions for Independence when I get angry,” he said.
(CCI), dedicated to providing assis-
On that summer day, when he was tance dogs to those who are physically “Just put down the truth.”
fourteen, we took him to the New York and emotionally disabled, had its roots
State Olympics for the Physically Chal- planted in Santa Rosa, California by He sat at his desk, disgusted and ex-
lenged. Jay was drawn to a demonstra- Bonita “Bonnie” Bergen in 1975. hausted—trying to decide on an an-
tion by the Canine Companions for Quickly, the organization spread to five swer. Finally a sinister smile erased his
Independence at the edge of the field. regional centers throughout the U.S. usual angelic expression as he queried:
There he saw a beautiful girl working Fortunately for us, the Northeast cen-
a yellow dog from her wheelchair. Jay ter was located right on the campus of “How does ‘kick the dog’ sound?”
instantly fell in love—with the dog. Farmingdale University in Long Island,
NY—less than twenty minutes from “Like you don’t want the dog.”
The girl put her dog through his paces. our doorstep.
She issued commands. He instantly “Well I am pretty mad now . . . I’d kick
obeyed. He picked up an object she something—if I could.”
dropped and gently placed it in her

70
Two hours later he emerged with the ears?” she asked. She gently tugged at a survey was distributed among the
questionnaire in hand. the one pointed ear that contrasted with participants asking for first, second,
the other folded over “Labrador”—type and third choices, Jay put Barney’s
“Here, it’s done.” ear. “We think he’s a little Border collie name down in all three slots. I guess
mix which makes him a very good dog the message was received and Barney
“How’d ja answer THAT question?” I for the job. He has a quirky personal- was selected to go home with us for a
said. ity—a will of his own. Sometimes he trial run.
follows orders on his terms.”
“Well I didn’t say I’d kick the dog.” “This is no guarantee that you’ll get
She gave a fascinating history of the Barney.” I told Jay. However, he was
Jay handed me his script: “It varies. dog: Barney wandered into a New convinced that Barney was his special
Sometimes, when I get angry I curse. Jersey shelter around Christmastime. “guardian angel.”
Mostly I go to my room and blast my Someone at that shelter recalled that
music. Sometimes I can’t do anything CCI was considering using mixed At home, Jay was to establish a bond
but cry—that’s when I could use a good breeds in the program; so they called with Barney. No one in the family was
dog the most.” the Farmingdale Center. On a cold to make eye contact with the dog’s big
Christmas Eve, Ellen and her team warm and trusting eyes. Since we had
In a week we had collected all the made a run to the shelter, examined to care for Jay’s personal needs with the
medical certification and references Barney and took him back with them. dog by his side, we managed that with
needed to qualify. We sent the applica- He was quickly placed with a “puppy some difficulty. On the seventh day, Jay
tion to CCI and waited an eternity until trainer” where he became acclimated made a startling announcement:
a dog and a training slot could be found to family life. After a year the dog was
for Jay. returned to the center where Ellen took “I can’t go through with it . . . . It’s too
personal responsibility for this more hard.”
“Anything worthwhile is worth waiting intense phase of the training. It was
for, Jay. It can’t be easy to find the right important to her that Barney wound up Getting up at 5:00 a.m., struggling to
dog for anyone.” with the right candidate. She was frus- get ready and on the road by seven, fol-
trated that he couldn’t find someone to lowed by a grueling training day was
Finally, we were summoned for the first bond with in his first two attempts and taking its toll.
training class. now she feared he would be rejected
from the program. “What about Barney? I thought you
“As you may notice, Barney is a little loved him.”
. . . different,” his trainer, Ellen Torop, Jay was first to recognize the similari-
explained. But he’s a good dog. Look ties he shared with Barney. The person- “I do—but I just don’t think I can make
at that smile . . . . He got through his ality traits, the imperfections, the spe- it anymore. Maybe Barney’s not meant
training classes with flying colors. He’d cial training, the rejection—and above for me.”
make a great companion for the right all—that “free spirit.” “I want Barney,”
person . . . .” Ellen seemed to hold a he announced. It wasn’t like Jay to give up. Maybe if
special spot in her heart for Barney. he got a good night’s sleep, he’d feel
When Jay realized that the decision differently the next morning.
“This is the third class Barney has was not his to make, he became si-
come through without bonding with lent—contemplative. But he fell into “If Barney is really your special angel,
anyone. As you can see Barney is not the routine and worked with three dogs: you’ll get him—no matter what!” I
perfect; he has no pedigree. He has a lot Madison, Sandy, and Barney. They all said.
of Lab features, but if you look closely seemed to match Jay’s temperament,
. . . see the bushy tail and . . . these but Barney was Jay’s favorite. When

71
At 5:00 a.m., the wall shook as Jay gave the wrong commands to Sandy Jay began letting Barney buy lunch.
pounded his head against it—sum- and Madison . . . then I gave the right
moning us to get him up. This time the ones to Barney.” * * *
“Boom, Boom, Boom” reverberating
through the house, was accompanied by Jay and Barney became an inseparable A slight cold—a winter allergy
a loud “Woof!” team. Together they forged friendships, morphed to congestive heart failure
providing inspiration and motivation suddenly leaving Barney alone without
“Let’s go!” Jay ordered. wherever they traveled. Most impor- his master. Even as Jay languished in
tantly Barney gave Jay a new focus and the hospital for ten brutal days, Barney
On the ninth day, thinking we were self-confidence he never had known was deep in the throes of grief. He
pretty hotshot doggie handlers, Jay de- before. In an interview, Jay said, “Until would lie by the door, curled up in his
cided to bend the rules a bit for our last now people concerned themselves with blanket and look askance at us each
assignment of the course—a “restau- trying to motivate ME to do things. time we came home without Jay. Fi-
rant trial”—but not at McDonald’s as Now, I’m responsible for motivating nally my friend, Kate Horn, offered to
suggested. He chose to go to the 59th Barney.” bring Barney to the hospital to see Jay.
Fighter Group hangout at the airport. Although unsaid—we all knew the visit
We approached the door with two other For three years the dynamic duo was meant to say “Goodbye.”
patrons. We talked to them briefly ex- worked CCI demonstrations. Little by
plaining our outing and both gentlemen little the once shy and introverted Jay After concocting a scheme to smuggle
laughed. A garden hose was draped developed a charismatic and outgoing Barney into the hospital, with Kate
across our path so they chivalrously personality—proficiently presenting posing as a CCI trainer, we opted for
jumped ahead, lifted the hose, forming Barney to groups and audiences all honesty and simply got permission for
an honor guard for us to pass beneath. over the county. a canine visit. The reunion of a dying
This time I looked at their smiling faces young man and his faithful dog was
and realized—one belonged to Neil Before Barney came into his life, I was treated with reverence by the staff that
Armstrong. in the habit of speaking for my son; but left the two of them undisturbed for
now all that has changed. I was aston- three hours. Then it was over.
“You’re . . .” ished at a fourth grade assembly when
Jay took charge at the end of the demo, Barney walked the last mile by his
“Shhh!” he signaled. fielding questions from students and master’s casket as it was brought before
teachers with poise and humor. “Is he the altar of God for a final blessing.
We complied and then were seated a spayed?” one kid asked. Before anyone Recognizing a divinely created bond,
few tables away from the publicity-shy could muster a snicker, Jay coolly re- the priest made sure Barney was also
astronaut. We dined heartily while Bar- plied, “Yes. Barney had to be altered so showered with the holy water—for now
ney, unassumingly, took his place under he won’t be distracted from doing his the dog would suffer a sad and pain-
our table. job. Next question?” When the event ful bereavement. His grief and ours
was done, the principal wanted to know was softened by the decision at CCI to
* * * if Jay was pursuing a teaching career. reassign Barney to us. For a while, we
To my amazement, Jay answered affir- remained connected to our son through
Upon the completion of training, Ellen matively. His life had taken a complete Barney. But soon the aging and griev-
presented Barney to Jay at the most turn for the better. Jay now had a pur- ing dog’s health failed too, and Barney
touching graduation ceremony I ever pose and a new direction to follow. was once again reunited with his master
attended. Everything seemed to be go- to explore every inch of heaven forev-
ing smoothly so I wondered why Jay While attending Dowling College in er—as a team of very special angels.t
appeared uncharacteristically nervous. Oakdale Long Island with Jay, Barney
distinguished himself as a goose chaser,
“I cheated. Do you think they’ll take chic magnet and a bandit. Perhaps a
Barney back?” miscarriage of training that taught the
dog to handle money and to retrieve
“You cheated! How?” caused some confusion when Barney
found money on the café floor. Both
“When I was working the dogs, I kinda dog and master needed retraining after

72
POETRY

Ron Riekki

My Cousin, His Cerebral Palsy, His Tattoos
Winter, in the Upper Peninsula, can kill you.
It sets the homeless on fire and makes the poor
cuddle deep into each other’s arms until they are
nearly forgotten. There isn’t much compassion
when you’re made of ice. You tend to cover
yourself with skulls. Your actual skull on top,
hovering above it all. I think of the demon
Chernabog in Fantasia, this thing so dark
and high above it all. And your shoes, the sides
all torn from walking with your knees collapsed
inwards, dragging through cities. You say no girl
ever touched your knee until your wife and now
you will clutch her to you tighter than the tats
that are branded, fragments, promised to your arms. Nancy Scott

The Sixth Child
She lived in a crib her first three years,
in a closet, often not fed.
Mom said she only had five.
When rescued, Annie could barely sit.

Today, with thin arms, she circles her food
and waits.
If she thinks you’re not looking,
she squirrels away cheese, raisins, grapes

deep in her pockets, under the rug,
between the cushions.
You give Annie what she wants
and don’t let on.

Previously published in the author’s book, Running
Down Broken Cement, (Main Street Rag, 2014).
Reprinted by permission of the author.

73
PERSONAL ESSAY

Letting Go, with Love
Tammy Littlejohn

I
remember when my son Thomas, was a little boy and I told him I believed him. I’d just been praying over him in
I let him go to the skating rink by himself. I had never the ICU. But after that comment, he didn’t make any sense
let him do that before. I loved him so much, I wanted to for months.
keep him safe. But his brother was sick. I had to stay home
to care for him. So I let Thomas go and have fun. Oh, it was We sent him to the Madonna Brain Institute in Lincoln, Ne-
hard and I was worried. But there were other teachers and braska. My parents stayed in Lincoln with Thomas, while
parents watching the children. I gave him some money to my fourteen-year-old son and I visited on the weekends.
buy a hot dog in case he was hungry. This was no easy day Thomas couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t feed
for me. I prayed he would be OK. himself or shower or do any of the things we take for grant-
ed. But his determination helped him recover. That was in
When I arrived to pick Thomas up, I observed him skating 2006. Since then, he has done a lot of therapy. He finished
around the rink by himself. Before that day, I had always high school and earned his Eagle Scout badge. Thomas was
held his hand. He seemed happy, skating by himself. Then, a speaker at the 100th Boy Scout Anniversary celebration at
I noticed that he had stopped. His skate was untied. He had the capitol building in Topeka, Kansas. He talks about the
never tied his skates by himself. In fact, he wore Velcro power of prayer wherever he goes. Many people tell me,
shoes every day. because of him, they have asked Jesus into their hearts. I
know my son has a purpose. And I am proud of him. But we
To my amazement, without anybody’s help, he tied the are still working on some things.
skate himself. When he looked up, he saw me and smiled a
very big smile. “Mommy, I tied my skate myself.” I smiled We still have therapists. It has been a difficult road for
back. I was proud and told him. Then he told me he was him and for our whole family. Thomas has had seizures
hungry. for years. He has chronic pain. My son would still give all
his money away. People have taken advantage of his good
My child with a big heart had given his snack money to a heart. It hurts me to see this happen to him. So I am very
girl to feed her. I had to tell him that had been his choice protective, but I realize, there must be a balance. My son
and I didn’t have any more money to give him. But he was needs me sometimes, but he also needs to be independent.
still happy and so was I. After all, letting go just a bit al- Being a twenty-seven-year-old man means he wants to do
lowed my son to grow up a little, accomplish something many things his own way. Having family around makes him
new, and feel proud of himself. safe, but I have to let him grow.

Since then, my son had a traumatic brain injury playing I realize I am back at that point where I was when he was
football. He has had to relearn to walk and talk and do al- little, and I had to let him do things on his own so he could
most everything. It is hard to let go and let my son grow. grow to be an independent young man. Believe me, it isn’t
easy. I want to pave the way for him, protect him, and keep
Thomas was sixteen when he had a head-on collision with him from all harm. He will always have the safety of our
another football player. His head had a slow bleed inside. home if needed. However, I do understand that Thomas
Five days later he was in a coma. It was scary. I love my wants to experience life on his own. I guess my job is to
child so much, and I was told he only had a ten percent continue letting him go with love.t
chance of living and if he did live, he would be a vegetable.
After being in a coma for five days. Thomas woke up.
He told me “Mom, I was with God.”

74
POETRY

Mary Doyle Johnston

The Space Between Us
I would talk to you
as before
In cool evenings
when the wind blew
Lacy gray clouds
across a navy blue sky
And the stars and moon
held distant audience
of us.

I would talk with you
as before
On so many dreary evenings
when a light mist covered
The crimson leaves
that carpeted the gray paths we trod
And the chattering chestnut-streaked squirrels
held noisy conversation
because of us.

I would walk with you
as before
Quietly at your side
when lonely bitterness
Drove black clouds
across your life
And empty dreams and visions
held mocking court
within you.

I would walk with you
but,

As before—
I cannot reach you,
cannot touch you,
And mine is the greater sorrow.

75
POETRY

Mary Doyle Johnston

Transformations
I III
Soft green gives way to blued roughness, Frosted lemon slants through pale gray,
Straight gold heat replaces diffuse yellow warmth, Pillowy off-white lint
Fluffy white turns to wisps of silvered hardness, Shrouds the serrated gray, black and white
Flat sorrel covers irregular cream speckle. Monuments of a flooded and
Violent past.
Blue-green needles against a cobalt sky,
Bright hot rays reflected from ocher slabs, Titanium white, floating into place,
Slivers of leaded white racing south; Sharp, interlocking edges rest on the ground.
Cinder-grayed slush mounds against white,
Titian gilded walls above a broken floor of sienna, Pierced by blue-green pyramids.
Washed by creamed khaki ribbons flowing
Counter to the journey north. Charcoal limbs against white,
Black-spotted white posts reach upward into gray-blue sky,
Needles for lace, Surrounded by straight, dark poles,
Jagged yards for rolling miles, Skirted in shades of green,
White and hunter for flax and olive, Crimson drops decorate hunter green.
Novel for familiar.
Encompassing, muffling, blanketing,
II Demanding quiet, stillness,
Bursts of crimson and gold amid greens, brown Preserving
Russet patches, and grayed slabs. Time, energy, life.
Cool gusts pluck at the colors,
Whisper threats and prophecy
Of the gray, black and white to come.

Charcoal wisps rush across a leaden sky,
Yellow-brown husks scuttle across the lawn,
Settle against fences, in crevices,
Mat down with rain and new layers,
Mulch for dormant bulbs beneath.

Gathering, settling,
Drawing close a cloak of warmth,
Storing reserves
For sleep.

76
William H. McCann, Jr.

William H. McCann, Jr.
Failed, 1959
At three and four
I wore a football helmet, Letter: April 11, 1962
Drooled
Dear Mommie and Daddy,
such that my words could not be understood;
We got up early yesterday morning.
And walked by swinging my right foot in wide arcs
We boarded a big orange school bus and went to Chicago.
making for a most awkward gait.
Phenobarbital
We went to the Museum and I saw a lot of machines.
Helped control my seizures.
I saw how baby chicks come out of the egg.
Yet, falling was a daily,
We saw ducks, pigs and a farm.
even hourly, occurrence.
One of Dr. Frankenstein’s failed experiments.
We went into a coal mine to see how they get coal.
They showed us how it works for a fire.
We saw a lake, we saw clouds and heard it thunder,
Saw it lightning and rain.

All of us ate in the cafeteria.
William H. McCann, Jr. Mr. Bartlett asked me to help him.
I went and got napkins for the children like a big boy.

When I was Six, 1962
I had a good time.

I fell asleep on the bus on the way back to school.
Thrown out of every kindergarten
In Lexington, KY Love and kisses
For not being able to “sit still” Bill
And “play nice with others”
My parents took me to
Cove School in Wisconsin
And
left
me
There.

77
ARTICLE

Seeing and Hearing Differently
Sarena Tien

I
n the honors hallway at Randolph- Watching Derek and Brennan com- professors and students can interpret
Macon College, a felt pair of the municate with each other is an enlight- “reasonable” very differently. A dis-
little green aliens from Toy Story ening experience: Derek knows sign abled student could claim that he needs
adorns each door. Each alien sports a language, and Brennan will occasion- the professor’s notes, but the profes-
student’s name across its chest. One of ally repeat words out loud to let Derek sor might think the notes shouldn’t be
these aliens has its ears ripped off, and know he’s following the conversation. shared because they can be found in the
another alien is missing its eyes. Neither student seems bothered by his textbook. Then the professor and stu-
disability: in Estes, you can see Bren- dent engage in a battle of wills, which
Freshmen Brennan Terhune-Cotter and nan signing animatedly to his room- tarnishes their relationship. “Luckily,”
Derek Dittmar playfully removed the mate and Derek carrying around a cane, says Derek, “this has not happened at
alien body parts to create symbolic rep- accompanied by friends who help him R-MC.” He adds that his R-MC pro-
resentations of themselves. Brennan is get food. fessors have been more accommodat-
deaf, while Derek is blind. ing than those he encountered in high
In Derek’s opinion, Randolph-Macon school. They ensure that assignments
Brennan was born deaf, and although does a great job of accommodating dis- are correctly prepared and that lectures
the disorder is genetic, he’s the only abilities. “Unfortunately, the burden are given clearly with all informa-
deaf person in his family. He can still of a fair and equal education [at most tion presented verbally. “I have never
hear a little bit, but seldom uses hear- schools] is often put upon the disabled learned as deeply or thoroughly as I
ing aids. Having grown up around deaf student,” he explains. “It is common for have at R-MC,” Derek says.
people, Brennan communicates mainly schools to reply to questions with ‘you
through American Sign Language. Col- figure it out and let us know.’ R-MC, Brennan attended a national deaf high
lege is the first time he’s been in a hear- luckily, is not one of these schools.” school in Washington, D.C. where all
ing environment. classes were taught in sign language
Derek’s and Brennan’s college expe- and the 150 students could sign flu-
Derek has Leber’s Congenital Amau- riences differ vastly from their high ently. Because students and professors
rosis, a rare genetic condition in which school ones. Back in high school, at R-MC speak verbally rather than
the center of the retina is damaged. He Derek had an Individualized Education through sign language, Brennan uses
and his twin brother are the only mem- Plan, a legal document that explained interpreters in class who convey the
bers of their family with this disease. his diagnosis and required accom- material to him. “In high school,” he
No cure currently exists for the type modations. Although the Americans adds, “there were very few, if any,
of LCA Derek and his brother have, with Disabilities Act of 1990 states linguistic or cultural barriers because
though Derek wears a pair of high- that people with disabilities must be everyone was deaf.”
prescription lenses. given reasonable accommodations,

78
R-MC’s Office of Disability Support their culture and community. They’ve so he could write music and perform
Services works to ensure that, like developed their own culture, which has solo. “There’s a reason everything in
every other student on campus, Derek a “nationally connected community, the world has—a rhythm: the heart, the
and Brennan have an equal chance of art, and media,” along with their own ocean, even the rain. Writing music and
excelling. Both students agree that Dr. language. “It becomes something to be performing is something that I’m called
Jack Trammell, who’s in charge of the proud of, not to be ashamed of,” Bren- to do,” Derek explains. “I have a gift,
college’s Disability Support Services, nan says. “I think this level of closeness and I want to use it to make someone
is a tremendous help. “Dr. Trammell is and support felt among members of else’s life better. And that will make my
phenomenal about advocacy and mak- the deaf community [is] unique to deaf world better too. It’s not hard to make
ing sure I get what I need,” Derek says. people, because of our unique status as the world a better place. You make a
a linguistic minority.” connection with someone who makes a
Derek uses a laptop and headphones connection, and soon many people are
in class, tests in an alternate location, Brennan stresses that being deaf has connected. Music is a real connecter.”
and receives materials from professors helped him to grow as a person. “I’ve
in accessible formats—electronic or had to work against the obstacles that Through his music, Derek wants to tell
Braille—in a timely manner. For Bren- come with being a linguistic minor- people with disabilities that “There is
nan, the college provides interpreters in ity as well as the stereotypes of being hope. You don’t have to stay where
classes and meetings. ‘disabled,’ which is why I don’t really society puts you.” Everyone has a
like to use that term to define myself,” voice, and Derek uses music as his. “I
Even when Derek and Brennan aren’t he explains. “The hardest part of being can sing about my struggles with a lost
in class, the college works just as hard deaf is far from the inability to hear—it friend, and my songs can help to heal
to ensure their safety and success. is the inability to communicate fluently the wounds. But someone else can take
“Members of Residence Life warn with the outside world. However, you that same song to be about a love gone
me of sidewalks under repair, hazards learn and adapt so much from overcom- sour, and that same song and those
in the road, and a host of other small ing those obstacles.” same lyrics can mend those wounds.”
things,” Derek explains. Once, a mem-
ber of Residence Life even met him Derek shares a similar viewpoint on Derek isn’t the only one who views his
near a construction zone in order to blindness, saying that “I would not be “disability” in a positive light. Bren-
establish an alternate route. “It is a new the person I am today if I was fully nan adds, “I think being deaf, to me, is
situation for everyone,” Derek says. sighted.” Society often places limits so much more than just the inability to
“The college is not used to working on people who are blind, and Derek hear—it’s the inclusion into a welcom-
with visually impaired students, and I, provides a shocking example from his ing and unique community and culture,
being a freshman, am not used to col- hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, linked by a similar set of experiences.
lege. But having a team so willing to saying, “Literally, the blind school is It’s a beautiful thing, really.”
learn, try new things, and ask questions right across the street from Raleigh
is such a blessing.” Prison, and I’m not sure which one has Society may consider Brennan and
more security.” But Derek believes that Derek disabled, but they’re bright,
Brennan has an alarm that wakes him “We should not be confined by our lim- eloquent young men who refuse to be
up by shaking his bed and a doorbell its; we should be encouraged by them.” constrained by social limits. “I feel that
that substitutes for knocks at his dorm In a society that often judges people we are made up of everything we have
room door. Otherwise, he favors self- on the basis of first impressions, Derek faced and the bad things that happen to
sufficiency. “I prefer to manage every- tells himself that the worst-case scenar- us help turn us into the man or woman
thing else on my own,” he explains, io is having people remember him for that we are today,” Derek says. “There
“but if I ever need assistance, the col- his blindness. “My job is to make them are definitely a lot of things I’ll never
lege is always willing to help.” remember me for me,” he stresses. be able to do, but there are also oppor-
tunities because people are more will-
Regardless of society’s stereotypes of Music provides Derek with an outreach ing to let you try.”t
those who have disabilities, Brennan for accomplishing that goal. At sixteen,
agrees that being deaf has its benefits: he started playing an acoustic guitar
deaf people share a collective pride in

79
POETRY

Blair G. Sweeney

Handmade Kites
Room 10 bursts with eight-year-olds
making a huge class map of the USA.
They bend and reach, scribble state names,
capitals, state birds.
Clear voices race in cadence,
the seasons of learning in full swing.

Heavy trudges and shrieks signal Room 9
across the hall. The door is closed.
Nine boys and one girl
each have a reason to land here
where a walker bumps the desk, wheels reverse
roll back to his seat on next try.

Today Room 9 makes kites.
Heads down at their desks
each child fastens batten by batten,
and wraps white cloth on a cross
as looped string tumbles to the floor.

They imagine soaring shapes
across a wide open dome.
They see themselves looking up at last,
happy in the sun, masters of their own ship
as the poplars bend east in the breeze.
Almost ready for launch, they raise a hand
for teacher to tie the final knot.

But she takes them outside on a windless day
so ten kids lurch across pavement
murmuring invocations of lift
dragging handmade kites behind them:
sailcloth diamonds scraping through mud
hoping for air.

Room 10’s prize is a wide map on display
drawn by twenty-five kids.
Room 9’s prize is a kite made by fists uncurled,
now ripped and shoved in a backpack.

But from the playground gravel and wind-piled sand,
from her braced feet and the wheels that steer his walker,
the uplift that will raise them
from the bottom rung is coming.
Elusive breeze, it whirls and circles
and when it finally bursts
it will crush the known horizon.

80
Mary Ellen Talley

Regarding the Previous Ease
of Doing Two Things at Once
Directions lie
somewhere in the student locker
where he left them
before the accident
when eating red and black licorice
had seemed
so damned simple.

Velocity of the brain
repairing itself John Smith
is related
to effort exerted walking
down the hall
and quantity of licorice Scoliosis
available for chewing. for Tara
This urgent dance rolls forward,
deceptively simple. Some spines are stacked more like sticks
Spider veins branch hands than bricks, some like dominoes. Some
across knuckles clenching rubber grips backbones bend to and fro, butt to brain,
while the guy learns to use the walker, like spiraling staircases of tiddlywinks;
hold licorice, while others smile, keep a straight face,
talk on lung’s air, or grimace. And then there are those,
take a bite, chew ’n walk bent like a river flows; and so, my love,
all at the same time. your curvature goes. But you should know
not a backbone among us stands perfectly
straight, and everybody wears a brace.
Some people are born into one, some
saddled along the way; others suit
themselves without even knowing it.
A brace can be a Band-Aid or a badge,
a straitjacket or a shield. Wear it
on the inside or the out, but wear it
you will. Strapped, snapped, or Velcroed,
sun up and down. It can be a shell,
my dear, thick or thin, or a cocoon.
It’s up to you, my sweet embraceable you.

81
FICTION

Just One of the Moms
Marlaina Cockcroft

T
he cluster of moms stood at the edge of the play- “They’re not doing nearly enough with handwriting,” said
room, uniformed in hoodies and yoga pants. Kerry Carton’s mom. Kerry had texted her once or twice about
eased in to join them, hoping they wouldn’t notice play dates and had never heard back, even though, at a pre-
she’d opted for jeans. Yoga pants, she felt, were for yoga. vious birthday party, Carton’s mom had said, “We should
get together, here’s my cell.” Why would someone say that
She waited for a conversational opening, wondering why if they didn’t mean it?
it was considered more mom-like to quit caring about your
appearance. Their hair was ponytailed or scrunchied away “I know!” said Branden’s mom. “His t is OK but his s . . .
and they wore no makeup to soften their tired, sharp-eyed all over the place. I told him, no more iPad games until his
faces. Kerry couldn’t bear to leave the house without con- s is right.” The other moms found that funny. Kerry sup-
cealer and lip gloss, and pulling her curly hair back would pressed a sigh; they didn’t even own an iPad.
wreck it. Will this hurt Jason too? she thought. That I don’t
look like the other moms? Their money was going toward the behavioral therapist and
the weighted vest and the pricey omega-3 supplements that
One of them, who she thought might be Branden’s mom, her husband called snake oil, but that she bought anyway,
was complaining about the academics at their kids’ school. just in case it worked.
“It’s just not at the level it should be. What are they doing, a
worksheet a day?” She glanced over at the rainbow-colored play area, where
the party guests were shouting and tumbling their way
“I know,” agreed the woman next to her, possibly Kiara’s through the padded tunnels and into the ball pit. She could
mom. “They’re not doing anything with math or geography. spot her son by his red long-sleeved tee. He seemed all
I asked my daughter what state she lived in and she didn’t right, following the herd of children, mouth stretched in a
know.” The other moms made horrified noises. grin. Still, at any moment he could push too hard, cut in
line, grab someone’s toy, not understanding personal space
Jesus, they’re in kindergarten, Kerry thought but didn’t say, or no pushing or don’t take things. He was five, going on
because she was the newcomer. No one here knew Jason three, as the therapist described him. He didn’t understand it
had been asked to leave his preschool. She was trying to was wrong, or else he couldn’t stop himself.
connect with the other moms, because he needed friends.

82
He also didn’t understand about running in parking lots. “He threw them at me,” Jason said. “It was a game.”
Kerry knew the only way to keep him safe was to clutch his
arm whenever they were in an open space, until he whined Kerry winced. Jason never understood when a game was
about Mommy hurting him. She’d watched enviously as the over. She could picture it, Branden throwing one or two
other moms and kids headed across the lot to the play center balls, Jason laughing and throwing back—four, five, six,
for the party, everyone walking nicely, no running. What seven, until Branden got scared and told him to stop, but
was that like? Jason would be too caught up in the game. . . .

The other moms were laughing about something Kiara had Every day Jason got in trouble at school—running around
said at school. Kerry pretended to laugh along, though she at circle time, taking everyone’s toys, refusing to join the
hadn’t heard it. She said, “What is everyone doing about group—and now this. She knew this would be the last party
lunches? It’s so hard to figure out what’s safe.” Jason got invited to for a while.

“Oh, I know,” said Carton’s mom, smiling at her as if she’d She put Jason down and they walked back to the party.
just realized Kerry was there. “No peanut butter, one kid is They’d missed the end of the play session and the guests
allergic to dairy, someone else is allergic to gluten. I can’t were in the concrete-walled room in the back, eating pizza.
give Carton soy nut butter and jelly every day.” No one acknowledged them when they came in. Jason ate
his kid-size half-slice sitting next to Kerry in the corner,
Branden’s mom shrugged. “Branden doesn’t eat anything instead of at the long table with the other children.
but Lunchables anyway. They want to take the Lunchables
away—they can buy him lunch. I’m done.” Everyone sang to the birthday boy (Kerry had already for-
gotten his name), and after the elaborately sculpted Trans-
“I wish I could use nuts,” Kerry said. “Jason really needs a formers cake was served, Jason, uncharacteristically, picked
lot of protein.” There was a slight pause, and then the other at his piece instead of wolfing it down.
moms continued talking. Kerry realized it had not been her
turn to talk. Was she ever going to get this right? She leaned The birthday boy’s mother smiled brightly as she handed
back to check on Jason again, then heard the crying. She Jason a goody bag, but no one else did, and Kerry was
and Branden’s mom charged over to the ball pit. glad to be outside at last. Jason peered into the plastic bag.
“Wow, candy!”
Jason was standing in it, wailing. “He pushed me!”
Kerry silently groaned. Candy was about the last thing he
Branden was backing away from him. “He threw balls at needed. “Hey buddy, let’s go to the playground and we’ll
me and I told him to stop,” he yelled. His mother coaxed have the candy later. OK?”
him out of the ball pit to soothe him.
Jason beamed as if absolutely nothing had ever been wrong.
Kerry could feel eyes on her as she tried to calm Jason Sometimes that annoyed Kerry, how he could switch moods
down, but he’d reached that point where the anger and just like that, but today she was glad of it, so she didn’t
fright became self-sustaining, and he screamed. She picked have to think about how many potential friends they had
him up, carrying him away from the others, and said, low frightened off today. “Let’s go, Mommy!”
and urgently, “Breathe. You must breathe. I’m not put-
ting you down until you breathe.” At last he drew a ragged They drove over to the playground, Kerry debating how
breath, and she said, “Good. Keep breathing.” He did, and long to wait before tossing the candy in the trash and pre-
slowly the fury left him and he curled into her shoulder. tending they’d lost it. She studied him in the rearview mir-
ror, his soft little-boy face, his innocent brown eyes. Not
“Why were you throwing balls at Branden?” she asked.
“You know you’re not supposed to throw things.”

83
for the first time, she wondered whether she was really Kerry called out, “No, Jason, give it back!” She glared at
equipped to raise him. him until he handed the truck over.

Jason jumped out of the car as soon as she unsnapped his Kerry turned her head to see the other mom. She’d looked
harness and was halfway to the playground fort before up at the sound, but didn’t appear upset. Still. “I’m so sor-
she’d slammed the car door. She sighed and followed. ry,” Kerry said to her. “My son has ADHD. He’s not good
with social skills.”
He clambered around the climbing bars and up the steps to
the wooden tower, threw himself down the slide and bound- “Oh no, it’s fine,” the other mom said. Kerry hesitated,
ed up to do it all over again. Kerry realized there was anoth- looking back at Jason. He and the other boy were going
er boy doing the same, and Jason ran after the boy, joining honk honk, then giggling. Kerry felt the tension in her
in without asking. Kerry didn’t think she could face another shoulders ease, just a bit.
scene today. She was liable to drive him home and sit him
in his room until bedtime, just so she could cry in peace. The boys hopped to their feet and began to race around the
fort. The party began to recede in Kerry’s mind, like a bad
The other boy’s mother, short-haired, in cargo pants and dream.
jean jacket, sat on a bench nearby, studying her phone. Oc-
casionally she glanced up to check on her son. The other mom smiled. “He’s adorable,” she said. “What’s
his name?”
Jason and the other boy were sprawled in the dirt, absorbed
in the toy truck the boy had brought. Jason said, “Let me Finally, Kerry smiled too.t
try!” and took it from him.

84
PERSONAL ESSAY

The Day the Lights Went Out
at Kellogg Bowl
Erick Mertz

I
stare down a cluster of bowling I turn around. What greets me are The Kellogg Bowl is ancient, aged
pins in the second frame when a unexpected, enthusiastic cheers from poorly in the way old cinder block
peculiar feeling courses through my Rich, my client with a developmental buildings often do. They become the
body. I sigh. I quiet my body and stride, disability, who already has a strike in eyesores you’re sad to see razed for
wobble-kneed toward the fault line hand. He rises from his seat and greets new, more modern construction. When
and arc my right hand back creating a me enthusiastically as I return to the I offered Rich our options over lunch,
straight line with my left. scoring table. he smiled.

How did I get here? “Great,” he shouts as he replaces me at “Either one,” he says. “Fine with me.”
the ready. “That was a good job.” I fall
The twelve-pound, puce colored ball, into my seat and look up at the anti- I have known Rich for a long time.
deeply scarred from decades of being quated, sixteen-bit scoreboard. In terms As we catch up on our week apart, we
tossed down the Kellogg Bowl lanes, of the score, I am already down badly recognize simultaneously that he has
leaves my hand. A simple, white pen- to Rich. Then another epiphany comes worked at his pet store job for almost
nant representing someone named as I watch him follow my five-pin ten years, a job I secured for him while
Yamisaki, champion of 1994’s greater frame with a solid nine. Score doesn’t in high school transition, and helped
Clackamas County bowling league matter. him maintain as his case manager over
hangs crooked on the wall above the the last decade. Now out of that role,
pins. The bright reflection on the glossy What matters is that you’re here. contracting back with the same agency
hardwood points at the headpin, as I once helped run, Rich has become my
though I require further direction. The Rich and I selected this bowling alley community inclusion client. This means
ball hits the ground with a resounding from two, only a few miles across the that every Monday afternoon we go out
thud, rolling cacophonously, widely highway from one another. Their Mon- exploring recreational options he would
missing my target and grazing two pins, day afternoon prices were better, and not be able to otherwise access. Today
which are charitably added to my previ- developing budgeting skills are among was supposed to be hiking and a dog
ous score of three. the goals for our time together. walk but because of the deluge of warm
rain, we chose bowling instead.

85
Our lane is at the far left end of the al- could have gleaned that from paper-
ley. On the cinder block wall someone work, but they freely told the story. In My primary responsibility as Rich’s
has painted a white on black back- the formative years to follow, Rich had case manager was to help find appropri-
ground mural depicting, continuous witnessed a parade of young, vulner- ate supports for his many goals. On a
from left to right, an old time music able people passing through his house, caseload of forty-five, his goals were
show, an alien/UFO invasion and a some staying a short time while others among my favorites. He wanted to par-
mountain lake scene amid a mid-sum- stayed for the duration. When we first ticipate in Cycle Oregon, an event he
mer frolic. At first glance the muralist’s met, Rich was nineteen, transitioning trained for with his neighbor. As a part-
choices makes little sense, aside from out of high school, an age when most time pet store employee, fascinated
whimsy, but then I make what seems young men focus decidedly on “me.” with rodents, Rich bred rats and sought
like a logical connection in the constant Not Rich. He would prove an excep- support setting up a small business sell-
country and western music soundtrack tion to so many of my preconceptions. ing the litters back to his employer, but
and ads for Saturday night cosmic Acutely aware of the hardships and only on the condition that they become
bowling. Someone wants to connect the turbulent struggles of others, Rich ori- pets. When we discussed the reality
dots for me. ented himself around “we.” I appreci- that some of those rats would inevitably
ated that quality first when two younger become reptile food, I remember he
“What do you think of that?” I ask, foster girls interrupted his annual plan- smiled and shrugged, saying, “Oh well,
pointing to it. ning meeting, bawling to his unsuspect- I suppose a snake has to eat too.”
ing parents.
“Cool,” he replies. “Definitely cool.” More impressive than the uncommonly
Rich simply smiled across the kitchen expansive nature of his goals, Rich
Straight off, Rich’s promise that he’s table as they tended to them. “They’re exhibited a genuine streak of altruism.
“no good at bowling” proves empty. having a really rough time transitioning Before his placement in foster care,
He throws a spare and strike in his first to the house.” he had experienced a few of the hor-
two frames, a feat he follows up with rors that some unfortunate children do.
applause for my subsequent tosses. The After the first game and a sixty-seven Abuse. Instability. Drugs. Everything
only two bowlers at 2:15, we laugh as score, I find my stride: a strike, spare, was on a downward spiral. Rich’s
I corral my ball and attempt another strike, and then a hard nine. I begin to placement with his adoptive family
smooth approach of the fault line. feel my body’s gradual assumption of saved his life.
proper form, focus, muscle memory, a
“You can do it,” Rich shouts, still clap- groove of breath meeting execution. Sadly, stories such as Rich’s are com-
ping as I squeeze the ball with my mon. He internalized it differently
thumb and middle fingers. “Come on.” I discover something else in the morass though. He wanted to help. When his
though. As my performance improves, church put together a drive to adopt
I remember meeting Rich, eleven years score piling up more impressively, the a child out of an abusive situation, he
ago now. I still think back on our first score’s importance ebbs. This feels was front and center in their fundrais-
afternoons together each time I pull up foreign. I am, by nature, competitive. I ing efforts. He was tireless. He knew
to his family home, overlooking the old walk back after a good frame without what that child was going through and
highway and a noisy train yard. As a even glancing back up at the score- would do anything to help him finally
new case manager, I had never experi- board. I look at Rich instead, cheering find some peace.
enced the chaos of a fully functioning as he rises from his seat to address his
children’s foster care home. Rich’s hag- next frame. Our game. I distinctly remember walking out of
gard, yet kindhearted parents somehow that meeting. I remember being im-
found the time to be gracious to me on In the sixth frame, I drop a five and a pressed. I remember a feeling of awe. I
every visit. We would sit at the kitchen three, bringing my score up to a robust remember that I felt lucky just to know
table after my responsibilities were seventy-two. Rich begs for a high-five. someone like Rich.
over, talking about college football,
gardening, and the bittersweet task of “What’s up?” I ask. In the ninth frame of our last game, I
keeping up old cars. step to the line. I approach, hurry my
“You’ve got seventy-two,” he says. step and drop my arm to let the ball go.
Through those early conversations, I “You’re already ahead of last game.” Thud. It rolls. Its path begins on the far
learned that Rich and his sister were right side of the lane but arcs sharply
their first foster children, each adopted left. As it approaches the shadow
before reaching their fifth birthday. I around the pins the ball performs a bi-

86
zarre trick. Before rattling off into the tion with the flabbergasted attendant
gutter, it bounces off an unseen object, He shrugs too. Without a word, he van- before exiting into the rain. Running
careens sharply upward and left, bounc- ishes back into the store. across the parking lot, we find refuge in
ing off the cinderblock wall striking the my car.
hood where it shatters the bulbs over “No,” Rich replies, not realizing who
the pins. the attendant was talking to. “I have “Sorry we couldn’t finish the game.”
never seen that happen before.”
Everyone stops. The newly arrived “Don’t worry,” Rich says. “That was
bowlers a few lanes to our right gawk, “Well,” she says. “You guys can’t stay the best darn bowling day ever.”
jaws fallen to the smooth hardwoods. in this lane anymore. And I’ve got
Rich laughs. I stagger back, lose my league guys coming in here in a few Games go unfinished. Spares are some-
footing for a brief moment as the at- minutes, so I’ll say, you’re done.” times left open. Often the best we can
tendant hurries out from behind the Before I can protest, Rich replies. say is that we are better now than we
counter. “OK,” he says. were. Our finest, most memorable mo-
ments in life are often the product of
“What happened?” Then he bounces from his seat and genuine intentions—and chance.
finds his shoes in the wall of cubby-
I shrug. I try and explain, a narrative, holes. She is satisfied that he speaks for Rich reminds me that this is true. He
which only serves to infuriate her. both of us and shakes her head as she has for a long time now.
strolls back up to greet the small crowd
The pro shop attendant, a balding man of early arriving league bowlers. How did I get here? More like, how did
whose name is certainly somewhere we get here?t
memorialized on the wall of perfect Rich and I pay. We carry on a conversa-
games, steps out and scratches his glis-
tening pate.

“Ever seen that, Arlo?” she barks back.

87
PERSONAL ESSAY

A Walk and a Talk – Brothers
Defeat Willowbrook
Allan B. Goldstein

“B
ig steps. Take big steps,” I insisted. dress himself; he always could make choices; he always
wanted to learn—but people always did things for him, and
being human, he got used to it. “Help me. Help me. Help
me,” won attention and connection, so he only did what was
My fifty-nine-year-old younger brother smirked, knowing expected of him. My brother associated relationship with
we had hit upon something important. dependency, so as Eunice Kennedy Shriver had said, Fred
became lost in the system set up to serve him.
Swinging his arms to counter-balance each step along the
New York City concrete street, he strode forward, parting What did Fred lose by being lost?
the morning rush hour people-traffic before him.
Belief in his abilities.
“See, you don’t drift off to the left like a drunk man. A little
speed and you stay on course.” I had just instituted our new We were on our way to JobPath, an agency that helps peo-
regime: no holding onto my arm. “Long steps,” I continued. ple obtain meaningful employment. No more working for
pennies an hour whenever industrial piecework trickled into
Fred, a man with developmental disabilities, had been ac- his day habilitation program.
customed to holding onto someone’s arm while walking,
leading to inattention. His day program counselor claimed My brother demonstrated monumental change in the last
it was because of his eyesight; some claimed it was because few months, having just graduated to a group home with
of his poor balance. I, with the skepticism of a big brother fewer support staff. He had more freedom but also more
and fourteen years’ experience as his guardian, felt that arm responsibility. Now, he turned out the lights when leaving
holding was a learned dependency. a room; now, he folded his clothes and placed them in his
drawers. Now, he was often in the community, the Ameri-
Fred was engaged in becoming a person—the person lost can Natural History Museum being his latest sojourn. And
during sixteen years in the infamous Willowbrook State because there was no household cooking on the weekends,
School for the Mentally Retarded and twenty years in a the residents often went to restaurants. With increased
group home that had infantilized him—he always could exposure to typical people, Fred was having more model
behavior to copy, learning the give and take of society—no

88
crossing the street until the green man appears but looking brother, and observing that the professionals surrounding
both ways anyway. No blowing your nose and placing the Fred were overwhelmed and underpaid, I sensed that there
used tissue on the dining table. And since everyone had was more to my brother than someone requiring assistance
door keys, he stunned me when he instructed his build- to eat and get ready for bed. He showed me this during our
ing doorman that the first set of building entrance doors interactions: I was surprised when he understood during a
should have a lock, and that Fred should have a key. Fred’s telephone call that I needed him to inform a counselor that I
recurring smiles, energy, and difficult to understand but wanted to speak with her and the night in his bedroom that
unrelenting banter indicated enthusiasm for this challenging I told him Mom had died, and he pointed to the ceiling and
environment. said, “I’m next.” Abstract thought was not expected from a
person with Fred’s then anachronistic label of “severe men-
My brother was a man in control. Walking ten blocks from tal retardation.” I knew there was more to Fred when I had
his residence to his intake appointment at JobPath, an ap- to lecture him that he couldn’t flirt with all the girls and he
pointment I had been focused on for the past nine years, responded, “I like Michele the best.” I knew there was more
had led to this experiment of walking independently and to Fred when he pointed to my stereo system and asked not
not getting upset when bumped into. Fred has always how to work it (he had already stunned me by turning it on
worshipped me, so my attitude toward an endeavor often while I was out of the room) but why the sound came out.
became his. And I was annoyed by his inability to walk . . . The label “severely retarded” meant minimum expectations
with purpose . . . in a straight line. engulfing him and eventually infuriating him, which led to
his rebellion.
Five paces ahead of my brother, on this sunny spring day
along this stretch of Fifth Avenue just below 34th Street, I “Why is food stuck in his teeth whenever I see him?” I
turned to find a face of fury set behind cockeyed eyeglasses asked, attuned to the then medical opinion that plaque
atop a 5’ 2” body drifting toward doorways and glass walls. build-up had caused many heart attacks among people with
A setback? developmental disabilities. As it is, several of his teeth have
rotted and been removed.
Retreating to where he was standing, I said, “What’s the
matter?” “It’s his choice,” counselors replied, absolving their inef-
fectiveness, adding, “Your brother won’t shave . . . . Your
“Ehhh.” This had to be a reaction to the crowd of rushing brother won’t bathe . . . .”
people. Fred was sensitive to disorganization.
Fred played them and they didn’t know it. They were un-
“We have an appointment at JobPath. They will assist you aware that he was telling them he was unhappy, that he had
in getting a job. You said you want this. No more screwing become a person with mature needs. Instead, they men-
around. You have to focus. Put one foot in front of the other tioned medication, such as prescribed for another resident.
and move forward. Walk!” Patience is an attribute of sib- “Sometimes we miss the old Susan,” the then manager had
lings of people with disabilities; compassion is another. But said to me, referring to the “successful” deletion of person-
sometimes these are trumped by the additional sibling attri- ality. Fortunately, when I informed Fred of the possibility of
bute of persistence, propelled by a niggling fear of failure. moving, he said, “I gotta get out there!”

“Come on!” I said. “Long strides!” “He was probably incorrectly placed from the beginning,”
said the residence coordinator for Fred’s new group home.
* * *

I became Fred’s guardian when our mom died. Dad had
already been dead ten years. I barely knew my brother
before then. Our parents had been his connection to life
in the mainstream world. Now no longer the estranged

89
Today, my brother is referred to as having a moderate intel- “Mickey Mouse!” means his dream excursion to Orlando
lectual disability—but I believe he just has learning issues that I know we must take. And this morning, he wanted to
from lack of opportunities to learn. I think he has speech is- walk to JobPath.
sues because asphyxiation at birth diminished control of the
muscles that shape sound; I think he has “knowing” issues * * *
because of difficulty focusing his thoughts, exacerbated by
embarrassment when not understanding something—he’ll “Oh, I’m so sorry,” said a well-dressed, middle-aged
often stop a learning activity, saying, “My head hurts.” woman after colliding with my brother on a corner. She
None of these things should have prevented him from enter- had darted to make the light and Fred stood his ground, not
ing 1950s society. But they did. Doctors told parents what quite quick enough to maneuver.
they thought parents wanted to hear: send him away. Dad
wanted Fred to stay home. Mom didn’t want the 24/7 job, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the sincere porter rolling a rack
which was required until parents began networking to create of coats. He and Fred had brushed shoulders.
the services that exist today. So Fred went to Willowbrook,
where he was not shown how to defeat the characteristics “It’s okay,” I assured both. “It’s okay.”
that would define him as different . . . where his desires to
learn, to make music, and to have a life went unheard. And it was okay because in the past Fred would have
whined, complained, and violently reacted to being touched,
“In art class, he spends two hours focused on drawing all remnants of being hit by Willowbrook residents. But
these,” his proud program counselor recently said, display- now he simply reported, “He bumped me,” or “She hit my
ing work with Joan Miró colors and Jackson Pollock lines. arm.”
“You never know what talents you’ll discover in these
guys.” I witnessed the stride of an athlete, a man moving forward
while rhythmically swinging his arms . . . and laughing. It
These discoveries throw me into sadness—what could my had to have felt good.
younger brother have accomplished with a different his-
tory? When first meeting my wife’s infant godchild, Fred “That’s great, Fred! You look great!”
said, “You should have one,” acknowledging my childless-
ness. And “car” indicates his disapproval that I only rent. My younger brother no longer needed to hold onto my
arm.t

90
PERSONAL ESSAY

Listen to the Children
Stephen J. Bedard

I
have certain memories that I lock away in a special Picking my son up after less than twenty-four hours of
place because accessing them causes tremendous anger. camp was one of the most difficult things that I have ever
This is one of those memories. done. Although he seems low functioning on the outside,
he is extremely intelligent and understood what was hap-
My wife and I have five children; the two oldest have been pening. I was extremely angry and could not look the camp
diagnosed on the severe end of the autism spectrum and director in the face. They had made no effort to include
both are nonverbal. Our intention is to provide good experi- him, even after his successful camping experience the year
ences for all our children and this includes attending camp. before.

The previous summer, we had sent our oldest son with au- The following afternoon, I was sitting in our living room.
tism to a week-long overnight camp. He had a tremendous Our three youngest children, who were all four and under,
time, and we heard from others that the experience had been wanted our son to play with them. He often is in his own
very successful. We were eager to send him again. world, but that did not stop them. They kept at him and
figured out what he needed in order to join in the play. The
Many months before the next camping season, my wife next thing I knew, my son with autism was running around
made arrangements with the organization. Our son’s needs and giggling with the rest of our children.
were explained, and it was agreed that they would provide
an aide/worker to support him. While this gave me great joy, it also reignited my anger.
Why is it that people trained to work with children were
Our son was so excited to go back to the camp. Even with- unable to engage my son, and yet children, who would soon
out words, his smile spoke volumes about what he felt. We be starting kindergarten, were very successful?
arrived for registration and saw volunteers from the previ-
ous year who were happy to see that our son was back. It comes down not to skills and training but to motivation.
They remembered how much fun he had last year. That camp was not motivated to include a child with au-
tism, so they sent him home. My young children were moti-
That evening, I received a call from the camp director. He vated and kept trying until they broke through.
had no record of the arrangements my wife had made and
was not willing to assign an aide for our son. He indicated Perhaps “professionals” need to become more like
that they had no idea how to engage our son, and they had children.t
been keeping him in the sound booth away from the other
children. They wanted me to pick him up right away, but
since he was already asleep, they allowed me to do it in the
morning.

91
POETRY

Sean J. Mahoney

Triple Feature
And I happened upon No, we cannot go until
a grip of thug plaques all pathways detoured.
seated ’round a table, No, we cannot go until
napkins tucked in collars, response times deferred.
flossing and drinking
water. My water. *
They look at me,
their eyes terse and tiny hands A bad dream of the Brain Capades:
crooked, set apart body wide. skaters scarring my nerve
glass and I have no mind smoothing
“Why you here? my ice, no refreezing period.
You got nothin’ on us.”
Right. I settle in, curl on Blades. Precision glee and edge
the floor beneath them movement, gliding sheath to sheath,
hoping crumbs I catch T1 racing narrows of my grand
or detect can be reassembled column. A triple klutz. A slow cow.
as functional nerve Severing junction points, splaying my
and sovereign pain. ice open and revealing pristine
axonal floor beneath.
*
Airborne events: mile in ice crystals
I happen upon a pack of lesions the result of stabbing turns,
heading home after their shift a gorging, up and over
in my white matter, the bannister into stands full
mind picks hoisted of clueless medicines.
over their shoulders,
headlamps still brightly lit, *
overalls stained
with sheathy bits Features over, I take the push
and boots sulfur shiny. broom, straighten as best I can,
steady myself and gather
I ask if they are almost done tissue reserved for new damages,
in my shaft. If they will move ushering it in to rail cars under
soon on stellar working models. the floorboard. The track leading
They reply in unison: anywhere safer than here.

92
PERSONAL ESSAY

Please Give Us a Call
Tamar Auber

I
live most of my workday in silence, tapping away at my school like other girls hard work. As an adult, even with my
keyboard, stopping only to rub the head of my thirteen- hearing aids, the voice on the other end turns into a messy
year-old rescue mutt or grab another cup of strong, jumble of barely heard noise.
black coffee. I refill my mug so often, in fact, my mother
has warned me I am coating my gizzard with caffeinated I put the dog leash down and settle back into my chair.
goo. I don’t listen. I am always on a deadline. Besides, I am Staring at the email, I don’t know what to do. In a perfect
pretty sure death by gizzard goo is not a real thing, at least world, I tell myself, I would simply reply that I am a person
for humans anyhow. with a hearing loss and that having a phone chat is hard for
me.
Writing can be time-consuming, lonely work. I count my
hours and my mood by cups poured. On bad days, I run out In the real world, that does not always work.
of coffee and ideas before I am done. Most days, I surrender
to the rhythm and routine of the word strings I am creating, After mentioning my hearing loss, I have had editors find
tap after keyboard tap, sip after caffeinated sip. Today is an an excuse to move on. One even insisted that all their com-
especially good day. I have time and coffee to spare when I munication with writers was done by phone (even though
hit “send” on my last article. they told me so via email). So if the phone posed a chal-
lenge for me, I would not be a good fit. Even when the edi-
Standing up and taking a stretch, I tell my dog we can go on tors agree and make other arrangements to chat, I feel like I
an extra-long walk, maybe even hit the park. I just need to have revealed something about myself I don’t always want
check my email one last time. That is when I see it. to share.

“Dear Tamar,” the email begins before launching into a I pour another cup of coffee and try and settle down to write
cookie-cutter, “we liked your pitch” note. a response, attempting to force words into conveying, “I am
still capable of doing the job, and I really want you not to
I do one of those awkward happy dances that makes my dog make this phone thing a big deal.” Deep down, I know that
look up from her pillow and cock her head in canine judg- I am the one making it a big deal. I am afraid to be rejected
ment. again, afraid I will seem like too much trouble if I ask him
to accommodate my needs.
“Please give us a call at . . .” My heart sinks.
My last cup of coffee is long gone before I muster up the
The phone is not my friend. Growing up, I had bad hearing courage to hit “send” on my labored-over response.
that made hanging on the phone to gossip about boys and
I never hear back again.t
93
POETRY

Mary McGinnis

To My Eyes
I write to my eyes out on the high desert. I write to them when I’m half asleep. So that true
dream images will slip off my fingers. What I tell them comes from the inland sea of tossing
dry grasses and yucca stalks out in a field of dusty cholla and juniper bushes. Dreams and
images don’t lie. Images from the weeds and pack rat nests float up from inside me. They
illuminate and warm me, the way the sun does, reflected off the glass in the winter.

I used to think my eyes were the problem. Once a rehab counselor said that people might
look at them and feel uncomfortable. Kids sometimes said they looked funny. They’d come
up to me and ask me what was wrong with my eyes, and at one time I actually thought
something was wrong with them. Lately, I have come to know that my eyes have done no
harm. In the right setting, light glints off them, and they sparkle. Usually they’re neutral as
an arroyo. I’ve come to like their softness.

It’s what I’ve told myself about my eyes that’s been the problem. I’ve been on guard, plan-
ning my route through my life, preparing for every contingency so that having eyes that
do not see wouldn’t matter. I plan so I can feel grounded. In my waking life, I want to be
perfect. I’m alert, I travel light, I make a mental circle around my possessions. I don’t take
more than I can carry on my back or in my arms. It’s only in dreams that I don’t pack ev-
erything I need, forget to bring the name and address of the hotel where I’ll be staying, and
wait for a drunken passenger to bring me my suitcase. It’s only in my dreams that I am in a
bus station without a clue to where I’m going, without a quarter for the pay phone, or with-
out my cane.

Once, distracted by poetry and daydreaming, I left my backpack containing my slate and
stylus and scratch paper up at the snack bar at Bandelier National Monument. When I got
home and realized what I had done, I was disgusted with myself. I thought about how my
writing implements could be thrown in the trash by mistake, forty miles from home. There
must be something wrong with me to have forgotten them. But I had been betrayed by my
mind. My eyes had nothing to do with it.

There have been times I have let myself go, gotten swirled around and transported by the
liquids of myself: great sex, torrents of words, pinnacles of sound. Sometimes I can do it; I
can step back from my mind, and the voices from the past talk on and on in my head with-
out me. I’m there in the moment like a cholla, there being wherever I am, doing whatever I
am doing. I’m like my eyes then. I’m full of emptiness and light, opening the wind of now.
I am there; I am what I am.

Previously published in I Am Becoming the Woman I’ve Wanted, Sandra Haldeman Martz,
Editor Papier-Mache Press, Watsonville, CA, 1994. Reprinted by permission of the author.

94
Mary McGinnis

From My Eyes
we have given you what we could:
a hazel tint
the color of some fertile strips of land
next to a river—

we shift and flutter,
but the flashy impulse to see
doesn’t reach the brain—
it’s as simple as that;

we sing to you in a language of missing dots;
we touch your cheek with waters from the ancient
springs of salty water;
we’ve caught and held dust;

feed us with light—
we’re hungry for what we have missed
in our craters of silence and waiting;
we’re the parts of you that have opened and flowered the slowest;

we’re the deserted, desert parts of you
that will not bloom until another lifetime—
it will take some kind of Hopi spiritual dry farming
for us to sprout images.

we’ll come back as feathers,
lizards or a swamp lily;
you’ll come back as antennae,
salt, or leftover uranium.

there’s nothing wrong with us
that a little time outside the body and another lifetime
on this earth won’t cure;
next time around, we won’t be connected:

another woman, a woman other than yourself,
will see the moon from the bottom of the arroyo
and weep at the beauty of the light;
she will not stop to think about her eyes.

Previously published in: Listening for Cactus by Mary McGinnis,
Sherman Asher Publishing, 1996. Reprinted by permission of the author.

95
PERSONAL ESSAY

What’s Your Stand-Up About?
Paulina Combow

I
’m a comedian. I’m also the oldest My biggest concern was that I was ex- else can probably get them on faster
sister to a ten-year-old boy with ploiting my brother for comedy. Isn’t than he can, and he’ll be more than
Down syndrome. In comedy, we this his story? Why should I get laughs happy to let you do it for him. But he
talk about our lives. We have a plat- from it? But it’s not just his story, it’s also needs to know how to put them
form, no matter how tiny, to use as mine too. He’s a big part of my life, on, and to know the feeling of indepen-
we please. You can use it to talk about and a life is made up of experiences, dence when he does it himself. I was
your genitalia, rant about things you and experiences are how we tell our talking to a man whose daughter has
hate about the world, or share your story. I have the power, albeit a small autism. He told me when they are eat-
hilariously keen observations. One power, to take our shared experiences ing out, his daughter will ask for des-
observation I had was how strange it and tell our story. sert, and even after he tells her no, the
was that my little brother, Cameron, person serving them might bring her
was invited to go to the front of a line When you do stand-up, you get asked dessert anyway, on the house! People
of hundreds of families waiting to see a lot of weird questions, the most com- think they’re doing a nice thing by giv-
Santa Claus one Christmas season. His mon being, “What is your stand-up ing a child with a disability a cookie. It
legs work, he’s capable of waiting, but about?” I’ve never been sure how to an- makes them happy. But what people are
still one of the elves recognized his swer that, and any attempt sounds like really doing is going against the healthy
disability and escorted us directly to a little kid describing how airplanes eating habits and restraint that parents
the jolly old man’s lap. We didn’t say work. Since making these jokes into are trying to instill in their children for
no. I did a couple of jokes about how bits and telling them to various audi- when they’re not around to tell them
strangers feel sorry for my brother and ences, I’ve been getting feedback from no.
give him special treatment, so we just people, mostly from people who also
started taking advantage of it. I wasn’t have a child or sibling with disabilities My little brother was five when I
always sure how it would be received. and understand what I’m talking about. started comedy. It was a sensitive time
I put disabilities in the category of pos- Now that I have them on my side I feel for my family because he was going to
sibly offensive, right in there with race, a lot better about it, but I mostly want public school for the first time and be-
religion, and politics. I worked on the people who don’t know anyone with a ing incorporated with “normal” kids.
jokes, rewrote them, and retold them disability to also be in on the joke. We were concerned he would be picked
over and over again in front of different on and not be able to tell us. About
audiences until I felt my position was I could possibly affect some real once a week I had to talk my mom out
clear: people with disabilities may have change. For instance, people feel sorry of homeschooling him. There were
“special needs,” but they’re also just for my brother, so they will put his instances of kids picking on him, but
people. I wanted people to relate to my shoes on and tie them. True, someone more often it would be Cameron who
brother and how we find the positive in was the aggressor. He didn’t know how
situations. Unfortunately, not all people to express himself, or wasn’t being
see it that way. understood, so he got his point across
by pushing or shoving someone. That’s
when I came up with the story “Super

96
Cameron,” and have been reading it to Down syndrome. We all know the short ignorance. I also understand I won’t be
Cam’s homeroom the first week of each bus jokes or the comparison, “that’s like able to change everyone’s minds, but
new school year. It’s from the perspec- being the smartest kid with Down syn- each one I do is a win.
tive of a “normal” child wondering drome.” It totally pissed me off. I was
why the kid in their class is different. I offended. How dare they say that in my For now, I’m still working on making
read the story and then let the kids ask presence? Then a wiser comedian told disabilities funny, and being an advo-
whatever they want, and I answer as me I’d have to get over it, so eventually cate for those with disabilities. There
honestly as I can. It’s seemed to help I did. You can’t be offended by just the are comedians who have disabilities
them understand what Down syndrome things that affect you and not everything too, and they do a kick ass job. I’ve
means and that he can be treated like else. You can’t pick and choose what’s even started bringing my little brother
any other kid, not a fragile porcelain off limits and what’s okay. It’s the same to family-friendly open mics and sign-
figurine. as how a racial joke may not offend me ing him up. He’s been treated like such
because I’m white, but a sexist joke a celebrity his whole life, that he feels
Kids aren’t the only ones who can be would piss me off because I’m a woman. right at home onstage. Maybe the day
bullies, or say hurtful things though. It’s all or nothing, baby. If the joke’s not will come when he can articulate it
I’ve also had to grow a tough skin in funny, eventually that comic will dump himself, and I’ll have to go back to
comedy. Obviously we don’t use or it (unless they suck), and if it is funny, jokes about food (my biggest weak-
condone the “R” word in my family. then maybe you should learn to laugh at ness). He’s already done a great job
It’s not like I never said it. I was just it too. in nine years of showing people how
as guilty as anyone until it affected much a person with Down syndrome
me, and I understood what it felt like I’ve even heard of a fellow comedian can accomplish. Until then, I’m happy
to have someone I love labeled with saying I’m “not funny,” and I “have to to tell people what my comedy is about.
the “R” word. But in comedy, anything use my R***** brother to get attention.” It’s about my brother and me going
goes. I would go to open mics and have Of course it makes me sad, and I hope through the world like we own the
to hear people throw around the word my brother never has to hear words like place, taking the good with the bad, and
retarded, or hear the punchline of a joke that. But more than that, I understand it having a killer story to tell at the end of
be how someone looked like they had comes from insecurity . . . or maybe just the day.t

97
FICTION

Memorial Day
Kelly Brown

T
hey are halfway through the parade and we are “Can you put your phone away and pack up your trumpet?
stuck in a construction zone biting the inside of our We’re going to have to walk down to the park to meet up
cheeks, checking our phones, tapping on the steering with everyone.”
wheel to break the silence. We see the flags wave over the
top of construction trucks and hear the claps and laughter of “What am I supposed to do?” I turn to look at her as she
parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles watching their children fusses with his trumpet and helps him put it into the case.
march down Front Street. Her skin is turned down around her lips and they’ve lost the
plush fullness they had when we met. But her green eyes
“I told you to go around,” Meredith says and I nod my still make my heart sink far down into my gut. Even still—
head. Yes. even after David.

David, our nine-year-old sits in the backseat playing with “I don’t know. Park the car and text me. We’ll meet up.”
his cell phone. A small trumpet sits on the seat next to him.
It’s not buckled up and “in case of an accident” I wonder “OK.”
if it will go flying out the window like those children do in
drivers ed videos. His face is floppy. Slanted eyes stare at When was the last time we touched?
the screen that glows against his skin. His tongue, colored
blue from the jelly beans, sticks out the corner of his fish- When we go to bed at night I search through the depths of
lipped mouth. our cotton sheets looking for her. The smooth curve of her
foot. The hills and mounds of her breasts. Her back. Her
“David, honey.” thigh. Two days ago I placed a hand on her back while she
laid sleeping, or pretending to be, and she moved from un-
He doesn’t respond. Keeps typing and scrolling on his cell derneath it. Buried herself deeper into a fabric cocoon.
phone as if it’s more important than us.
I dreamt of David for months before he was born. I saw his
“Hey, David . . .” She says again and taps him on the knee. nose, hard and bulbous like mine. His eyes, soft and green
like his mother’s. I saw his feet. His hands. His ears. All
He still doesn’t respond, hands fly across the touch screen. perfect. All normal.
His eyes look wide and glassy, and I remember the start
they gave me when I saw them for the first time. Abnormal. When David was born I was disgusted. Where was his
nose? It was there, yes, but flat and pressed against his face.
“David.” I say sharply and her hand flies to my arm to shut His nostrils were too large. His ears, small and pinned back
me up. I never know how to speak to him. I never have. But against his head. The doctors cooed at his pink tongue,
he looks up from his screen, and I hold back a smile be- which always found its way between his lips, but I frowned
cause I know I did it right this time. at it. Kept trying to push it back in there like each attempt
would somehow change him back. Make him normal.
“What?” He says, and the “ah” sound in what drags out like
a slur. I remember. We have missed the last three speech She cried for a year. Each day she held him in his nursery,
appointments. his perfect nursery, and cried so hard his face was wet with
her tears. She hated me for leaving each day for work.
“Why can’t you stay and take care of him,” she’d whisper

98
at night when we laid in bed. Each day as I left, I felt her “Look for someone we know. They could send it to us,”
growing farther and farther away from me. she says, and we both start scanning the crowds looking for
a parent we might recognize. A mother of one of David’s
It wasn’t the end because it couldn’t be. Doctors told us he friends—not that there are many. I find no familiar faces.
would be fine. He could function like any other kid. But he
wasn’t “any other kid” and he never would be. We went to “I don’t know any of these people.”
speech therapists, physical therapists, behavioral therapists.
We did everything we were told to do. We lived with it. “Jesus. I’ll just ask someone,” Meredith says, and she starts
weaving through the crowd. “Excuse me, sir. Excuse me,” I
“I’ll park the car on 4th and meet you. Text me and let me can hear her shouting.
know where you are,” I said to Meredith. “Good luck, bud-
dy.” I turned back and patted my hand against his leg. My eyes are racing to follow her. Every single person in
this town is out for the Memorial Day parade. Everyone.
He didn’t say anything, hopped out of the car, and ran Her baseball cap, the one with the cardinal on the back,
through the traffic with her. His limbs looked floppy, but I disappears in the crowd. I unconsciously move forward and
could see the strength that carried him built up from years follow her footsteps.
of physical therapy.
The sound of drum beats is deafening in my ears. The
Traffic finally cleared and I parked the car and ran to meet Greenside band is directly in front of us. Except, it’s the
Meredith. She was standing under the awning of a local drums I see, not the trumpet section. I forget about Meredith
ice cream shop with a baseball cap placed over her brown and begin scanning the group for David. I look for his dop-
ponytail. ey-looking eyes, floppy legs. I look for his smiling face, his
strong limbs, and his pride when he’s carrying his trumpet.
“Barely made it.” She said to me.
I see Meredith dart off ahead and I begin to chase her. I can
“I don’t matter. Did he make it?” I stare at her wanting see him, through the sun hats and children atop their fa-
badly for her eyes to meet mine. I want her to see my sin- ther’s shoulders, I can see him. Does he see us? I want him
cerity. I want her to believe me. I want her to forget about to see us. See me, David. I am screaming, look at me. I am
the years before this. your father. Appreciate me. I am proud of you.

“Yeah. He made it.” She’s running head of me now. She pushes people aside and
shouts for him. I am running hard. My heart beats against
We stand in silence and I jingle the car keys in my pocket to the bones of my chest and sends vibrations through my ears.
help cut out some of the tension. Kids in colored uniforms I reach my hand out to grab hers and I feel her squeeze it
carrying red, white, and blue flags march down the street. back. She squeezes it and I feel electricity move through my
Parents shout and snap pictures while their kids continue fingertips, my palm, my wrist.
onward just like they practiced.
“David,” we shout together.
I can see the Greenside Middle School banner coming our
way. The green, silver, and white colors flash light over the David.t
sidewalks. The drums are snapping in time and the kids
walk along with it. I reach into my pocket for my phone but
find nothing. Previously published in 3288 Review,
May 2016. Reprinted by permission of the author.
“Shit. I forgot my phone. Don’t you have yours?”

“No. I was expecting you to have one!”

We both stare at each other, baffled as to how we’ll be able
to capture our own son’s achievement.

99
FICTION

The Slipping
Katie Booth

“A
re you sitting down?” “Ma’am? Can you come in?” “The hospital. I can’t drive.”

She hangs up the phone. “Are you sitting?” She is. He will be
there in ten minutes.
She sits but doesn’t answer. She presses * * *
the phone to her ear. He says he’s from “They didn’t call you know; no one,
some hospital. “Which hospital?” she The kitchen ceiling is soggy with wa- there’s no one, and they didn’t; she
asks, but again she doesn’t register the ter; the tiles wane with the weight of it. can’t talk she—”
answer. It’s nothing all that new, a week or so
now, something wrong with the pipes. He says more things, then; he’s coming,
He says, “Your mother’s here with us.” She tries not to focus on it, but the cabi- she hears that. They hang up. She fills
He says, “I’m so sorry.” Whether or nets haven’t been secured to the wall at a yellow plastic cup with wine. She sits
not he’s sincere is not something she the top for years. The tilt of the ceiling back down at the table, looks back up
notices. “She’s been with us for three has been keeping them in place. So at the wall.
days now.” Almost nothing else he says long as the bottom never comes loose,
gets through, though somewhere, he’s the angles won’t allow the cabinets to Her mother.
still talking. fall. Her husband, the failed mathemati-
cian, explains it over and over, the prin- Her mother filled with such pride, too
“For three days,” she says. Her mother ciple of it, the angles; even though the much pride. She won’t ask the ques-
is deaf. “Was there an interpreter?” cabinets are barely attached, they won’t tions she should; she’s been taught to
fall. And now they push into the bot- pretend to understand more than she
There was not. “I’m sorry no one con- tom, and the water seeps towards where does. She’s been taught that not under-
tacted you sooner.” they push out from the top. standing is weakness. She can read lips,
it’s true, but even that is such an inexact
“What hospital is this?” She stands and dials her husband. As science, and everyone knows that a sec-
soon as it stops ringing she begins to ond language, English, becomes almost
speak, but the words are slipping and impossible in times of trauma.
her sentences settle somewhere be-
tween languages. The woman tries to remain hopeful.
There are things she’s learned from her
“Three days since?” He tries to under- mother—not so much the pride, but the
stand.

100
way of acting as though the world is but firmly. She wouldn’t do it, not this Nobody but she ever thought to worry
as it should be. But now it seems laws time. about her home’s stability. On the
don’t make any difference at all, and outside, no one seemed to see how
she is tired of waiting for them. The When the interpreter came for her precariously everything balanced. The
hospital was supposed to hire someone. father, he came with a handbook to cabinets, the pipes, the whole house is
Her mother, with more integrity than look up the words; he did not know the slanted, and she has nightmares that
does her good, laying in a hospital language. And so she sent him away it falls into the lake. The whole side
room with no one. How could it be that and sat there between her father and of it slides off, her bedroom exposed,
no one called until now? How could the doctor and became the interpreter: the living room empties, the higher up
three days have gone by? bound by law to remain neutral, to be the bedroom the farther it falls, and as
only the doctor’s words. Her hands it does she regrets that they lifted the
It was surprising, but then again, it wouldn’t be able to reach to her parents roof, that they moved the bedroom up,
wasn’t. There was the law, the ADA. and they wouldn’t be able to comfort; and that they put in a new bathroom,
She was forty-three when it was passed, they were the doctor’s words. The and the water leaks into the kitchen and
right in time for her father. He was in beeps her parents couldn’t hear, swoosh the cabinets and everything, everything,
some hospital somewhere; her mother of the machines hooked to her father. readying for the fall. Her mother, three
and she were there to learn what was And her hands said it, just as the doc- days alone and dying.
wrong. She told the hospital they would tor did; they said “Cancer. Less than a
need an interpreter. She told them she year.” She waited, her mind divided: there
wouldn’t do it. She had to draw the line were all the things she would have
somewhere. And that was the first time language to do, all the people to call, all the
slipped from her; the first crack. arguments to be made. Who knows
All her life her hands were someone what other laws had been broken,
else’s words. She made her living this * * * who knows how many rights were
way, bridging one language to another: disregarded. But there was this, too:
court cases, doctor’s visits. Before it She tells me: “My hands trembled in her mother. Her mother, alone. Her
was her livelihood, it was her life. She the language for five years after I said mother, who would admit no weakness,
interpreted bill collectors, arguments, those words. I just—I just couldn’t stripped of strength. It seemed that ev-
evictions; she was only a girl. But now make them say anything else.” erything was balancing where it should
there were protections. Now places like be secured: pushing in somewhere
hospitals had to hire someone. They it shouldn’t, its weight leaning into
could not make her do it anymore. another failing structure. She looked
They would have to hire someone; that down at her hands; she watched for the
was the law. She explained it patiently tremor.t

101
FICTION

Louder Than Words
Celeste Bonfanti

I
’m not sure what the bell at school really sounds like, “Then Mrs. S says, ‘Ben, maybe you can sign the verses,
but to me it sounds like a bee got stuck in my head. See, too.’”
I don’t hear like other people. Without my cochlear im-
plant (CI), I don’t hear at all. And it’s not like my CI lets me “Why not? You’re an expert,” Missy says.
hear like you do. It’s complicated.
See, I’m the only deaf kid in the fourth grade. I’m the only
Anyway, when the bell rings and Mrs. S says we can go, deaf kid in the school. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only
I push my way through the hall and out to the bus. Missy deaf kid in the whole world. There are schools full of deaf
always holds a seat for me. For a little sister, she’s not bad. kids, but my parents don’t treat me like I’m deaf. They talk
I know it’s not cool to sit with your little sister. But between to me. I miss a lot, but I talk back. People understand me,
the noise of the engine and the noise of fifty screaming kids, but I can’t always understand them.
I have absolutely no chance of understanding anything.
Missy signs to me, so I just put my CI in my pocket and Except for Missy, who’s a grade behind me, the only per-
keep my eyes open. son I understand 100% is Miss M, my interpreter. If I don’t
watch her, I don’t really get what’s going on in class. I’m
“What’s new?” she asks. smart, but it’s non-stop talking in school, you know?

“I don’t want to talk about it.” “I don’t want to sign some dumb song by myself,” I say.

“Oh, come on,” she says. “Tell me.” “Just the verses,” Missy reminds me.

“Mrs. S says we’re having a thank-you breakfast for the “That’s bad enough. And Mom and Dad won’t even come—
parents next week and she thinks it would be nice if the they’ll be at work.”
class learns the signs for the chorus to this stupid song,
‘Love Like a Rainbow.’” “Can you say no?” Missy asks.

“What’s wrong with that?” she asks. The truth is, I probably can’t. And I’ll have everybody in
the whole place staring at me. Especially Chris.
“Well, as soon as she says, ‘sign language,’ everybody in
the class looks at me. I see Chris with that mean-looking The next few days are crazy. Every chance we get, we
smile of his. I don’t know how a smile can look mean, but practice “Love Like a Rainbow.” Miss M and I teach the
believe me, it does on Chris.” class the chorus. Chris just kinda flaps his hands around.
He wants everybody to know he doesn’t care. On the play-
“He’s a bully.” Missy looks serious. ground, he points and says, “Hey, Ben. What’s that thing on
the back of your head? Does it turn your brain on?”

102
He’s talking about my cochlear implant. When I was in first up for lunch is, “That sign language is the coolest thing I’ve
grade I had an operation to get an electronic inner ear. Part ever seen! You have to teach me some!”
of it attaches to the back of my head. It looks like a button
and it sticks on with a magnet under my skin. Weird, huh? Chris says something too quiet for me to hear, and Jerry
Chris thinks so. I try not to let it get to me, and most of the turns to him quick as a flash. “Yeah . . .? Well, Ben knows
time it’s OK. But signing the song is making me feel like two languages. How many do you know, Chris?”
there’s this gigantic spotlight on me, and Chris’s only mak-
ing it worse. Chris gets all red and, for once, he doesn’t say anything.

Then I get the stomach bug. I’m sick at home for three * * *
days, and Missy delivers my homework so I won’t fall too
far behind. The morning of the thank-you breakfast comes way too
soon. “You’ll be fine,” Missy says, like she’s the big sister
“Guess what?” she says through a mouthful of Oreos. Good instead of a shrimp.
thing she signs—I could never lipread through that mess.
“There’s a new kid in your class.” There’s French toast and pancakes, juice and scrambled
eggs in the cafeteria. About thirty parents are finishing their
“Boy or girl?” I ask. coffee when Mrs. S walks up to the microphone. “We want
to thank you all for joining us today. And now the boys and
“A boy. He’s kinda cute.” girls want to share something very special with you. Class
. . .?”
Oh, brother.
We all line up on the risers. Jerry is behind me. Just before
“And he’s nice,” she says, reaching for another Oreo. Mrs. S switches on the music, Jerry pats me on the back and
“When I stopped in to get your books, he said, ‘Tell your gives me the thumbs-up and a grin.
brother to hurry up and get better.’”
I block out everything but the words to “Love Like a Rain-
I do get better, and when I get back to school I spot the new bow.”
kid as soon as I walk into class. He’s taller than all the rest
of the boys. He’s got brown hair and looks like he plays The parents are all watching. I don’t forget any of the signs.
football or hockey. And he has the kind of open, expressive When it’s over, we get a big clap, and Mrs. S makes me
face that’s easy to lipread—well, as easy as lipreading ever take an extra bow.
is. I can see that he’s already popular. Even Chris is talking
to him. And when the new kid sees me, he comes right over. Afterwards, Jerry gives me a high-five. “Awesome, Ben,”
he says, shaking his head. “You’re a star!”
“Ben, right?” he says. “About time you got back here. I’m
Jerry. Nice to meet you.” He puts his hand out to shake, like There’s a tap on my shoulder, and when I turn around, I’m
we’re businessmen or something. Then he says something surprised to see Chris standing there. He says something
else, but I miss it. that I don’t hear in the noisy cafeteria, and then he’s gone.

“Sorry, what was that?” Now Jerry’s laughing.

“I said I hope we can eat lunch together. I got to know ev- “What did he say?” I ask.
erybody else when you were pretending to be sick.”
“He said, ‘Nice job.’How do you sign that, anyway?”t
He’s got this big, friendly smile, so I know he’s not being a
jerk.

Through the morning, every time I look over, Jerry is
watching Miss M signing to me. But it’s not staring, exact-
ly. It’s different. And the first thing he says when we line

103
POETRY

Michael Mark

Visiting
I am drifting towards her
like vapor.

Buddha and social workers teach us
not to assume what goes on
within each other’s worlds.

Regardless, I see me in her mind,
through the haze of disease and
hollowed corridors of her memory.

Is he real? she wonders.
He is my father.
He is my husband?

My name, as I repeat it, comes
to visit, too; the sound
folding into the outline of my body,
bringing me closer to wherever
she might be.

For this purpose, I wear the same
yellow button-down shirt
every time, my hospice badge clipped
to the pocket.

I never know what will find
the switch.

She has remembered my goofy laugh,
straightened up and pointed,
“There you are!”

And for those times when I never arrive,
when the visit ends and she is in one place
and I’m in another

like friends who unknowingly traveled
to the same faraway country,
and are one small, curved, crumbling,
street apart

or maybe she’s in the Ganges,
and I’m on the shore, head bowed.

I see that we come and go
in phases, happy when we find
each other, in our own mists.

Previously published in Wild Violet Literary Magazine,
August 2015. Reprinted by permission of the author.

104
Nancy Scott

Paul and Cheryl
Paul had Cheryl’s blond hair and blue eyes.
Ricardo beat her, said the kid wasn’t his.
When I saw the bruises
I asked Cheryl why she stayed.
Ricardo’s got AIDS, he needs me, she said.

Cheryl brought Paul in when he was two.
She looked pale and edgy. Ricardo?
Cheryl shook her head. He’s really sick.
All he does is yell. His mother’s here
but only to collect her cut. She’s letting
dealers use Ricardo’s brother like a mule.

Lifting the child to her lap, Cheryl said,
I have ovarian cancer. The doctors
give me less than six months.
Paul wriggled around, screwing his face up.
Cheryl jingled a key ring
trying to quiet him. It seemed useless to ask if
she’d pursued all her options. What will you do?

Paul started to wail.
I can’t leave him with Ricardo’s mother.
She held Paul to her chest where he calmed
to a whimper. My parents don’t want him.
She looked me straight on. I trust you,
she said. Would you take him?

*

The call came three months later, Cheryl
was dead, Paul placed in foster care.

Previously published in the author’s book, Running Down Broken
Cement, (Main Street Rag, 2014). Reprinted by permission of the author.

105
POETRY

Judie Rae

Dentist Appointment
She fears the bright lights,
the masks,
the metal tools that
scrape against her tiny teeth.

Poked by too many
white-coated strangers,
this child fears
being touched
by more

and so stiffens,
makes a plank
of her body,
becomes an impenetrable
frozen form.

A bribe, the promise
of a gift long awaited,
thaws her
enough that
she accommodates
the chair, though
she does not
relinquish her ironing-board
pose.

The dentist, honoring
this one small person,
is patient,
speaks softly to her,
shows her the mirror.
Her terror recedes
by inches.

Tears roll down
her reddened cheeks,
though she makes no sound.
Instead, she grips the armrests,
understanding the nature of objects
that do not give.

106
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Tamar Auber is a political writer, editor, and photographer. Andrea Carlisle is an editor. From 2008-2015, she wrote a
Her hearing loss can be a challenge in a fast-paced news en- blog about taking care of her nonagenarian mother, called
vironment, but “writing helps me add to the conversation in “Go Ask Alice . . . When She’s 94.” She published a book
a way that makes it my own.” She also believes that being of fiction titled The Riverhouse Stories. Her short stories,
“more visually oriented” makes her a better photographer. essays, and poems have appeared in many journals includ-
Both her writing and photographs have been published in ing Northwest Review, Calyx, Oasis, and Willow Springs.
many notable venues, including the fiction anthology, We’ve “Living in Portland, Oregon, I spend my time writing, edit-
Been Trumped, published by Darkhouse Books (October ing other writers, reading, and watching the river flow past
2016) and Media Global, a publication of the United Na- my front door.”
tions (September 2013).
Yuan Changming, a nine-time Pushcart nominee and
Stephen J. Bedard is a minister whose five children, two author of seven chapbooks, grew up in rural China. Now
of whom have severe autism, have taught him much about living in Vancouver, Canada, he coedits Poetry Pacific. His
life and faith. In sharing their story, he endeavors to convey poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in thirty-
that having a disability “does not mean an end to hope.” His eight countries, including Best Canadian Poetry, BestNew-
writings have been published in Autism Parenting Maga- PoemsOnline, and Threepenny Review. Changming’s mo-
zine (2016), Alive Now (2015), and Faith Today (2014). He bility has been significantly impaired by herniated discs and
also won the Word Guild Award in 2007. osteoarthritis.

Celeste Bonfanti is passionate about her work as a teacher Con Chapman is a lawyer and a writer. His humorous ar-
of children who are deaf/hard-of-hearing. She is a play- ticles have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and The Bos-
wright; many of her plays are written especially for chil- ton Globe. He also had a poem published in The Christian
dren. Her work has been published by Heuer Publishing. Science Monitor in December, 2013. Growing up, Chapman
She says, “I write because words can change the world one stuttered, which he says made him more introspective and
child at a time.” solitary. He enjoys Ring Lardner, George Ade, and James
Thurber—“. . . no one is writing like them anymore—so I
Katie Booth writes both essays and fiction. Her work has have to.”
been published in Vela Magazine, Pittsburgh Quarterly,
Mid-American Review, and Indiana Review. Her essay, Marlaina Cockcroft is a freelance writer/editor. Her es-
“The Sign for This,” was included in The Best American says and short fiction have appeared in Goldfinch literary
Essays 2016. Her first book has been accepted for publica- magazine, Strange Horizons online magazine, and The
tion by Simon and Schuster. Storyteller, under the pen name Marlaina Gray. Her son
has ADHD and autism. She says, “I think it is too easy to
Kelly Brown is a social media specialist who also writes dismiss children as bad or unworthy when you don’t know
both fiction and nonfiction. In 2016 her work was published what is really going on beneath the surface.”
in Holl and Lane Magazine (October 2016), The 3288 Re-
view (June 2016), Gone Lawn (September 2016), and SOL- Paulina Combow is a writer who is also a stand-up come-
ACE Magazine (April 2016). dian. She has contributed to “Solo-ish” blog in The Wash-
ington Post and to The Nashville Scene. Stories about her
Cathy Bryant is a writer. Her two poetry collections are younger brother, who has Down syndrome, have become
Look at All the Women (2014) and Contains Strong Lan- part of her writing and her comedy in an effort to increase
guage and Scenes of a Sexual Nature (2010). She won the awareness about disabilities.
Pen2Paper Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Poetry
Prize. Bryant struggles with mobility problems, pain, and Glenna Cook, now a retired manager from a phone com-
fatigue caused by chronic arthritis and fibromyalgia. She pany, writes poems, some of which have appeared in The
also has PTSD. She says, “I spent a lot of time sulking Avalon Review (Summer 2015), Quill & Parchment (Spring
about my health. Now I revel in whom I have become.” 2014), Gyroscope Review (Fall 2014), and Raven Chroni-
cles (Summer 2013). “Writing fills a space in my life . . . it
gives me a voice.” At eighty years old, she is healthy, ac-
tive, and even learned to play the violin at sixty-six.

107
Liz Dolan is a retired teacher. Her two poetry collections Katie Rendon Kahn describes herself as an entrepreneur.
are titled They Abide and A Secret of Long Life. She has re- Her writing has appeared in Topology Magazine and Linden
ceived fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts Avenue Literary Journal, both in 2016. She has also con-
in both poetry (professional/established) and emerging fic- tributed to Soul Vomit I and II (poetry anthologies raising
tion. She is a grandmother of nine, one of whom has Down awareness about domestic violence). Her most recent work,
syndrome. a poetry chapbook, Smoke Signals, will be published in
2017. Kahn, her mother, and her son all struggle with bipo-
Bert Edens is a customer support manager, a martial arts lar disorder.
instructor, and an author. He has published two anthologies,
Living Miracles: Stories of Hope for Parents of Premature Carol Keegan, Ph.D., is a forty-four-year stroke survivor
Babies (nonfiction, 2001) and Baby Shoes: 100 Stories by with motor disabilities who launched her retirement with
100 Authors (fiction, 2015). Edens says, “As the parent of a an emphasis on volunteer work supporting stroke patients.
son with special needs, I have a passion for helping others In 2011, she completed a thirty-five-year career as a social
who might need a little extra assistance or encouragement, science and marketing researcher for a variety of national
especially in the face of societal negativity. Perceptions can nonprofits. In 2012, she developed an expressive writing
and should be changed.” workshop, “Life After Stroke”— the online version guided
survivors through six weeks of brief writing assignments
Alisa A. Gaston is a writer whose essays have appeared in designed to support their understanding of the ways in
The Montreal Review (March 2011) and Brain Child (De- which stroke had transformed their lives.
cember 2015). She also contributed her essay, “In an Age
of Science,” to an anthology published by The Sea Change June Capossela Kempf is a writer whose articles have ap-
Program (October 2014). Gaston shares, “. . . I have gone peared in a variety of news outlets including Huntington
through much turmoil as a child and an adult. While those Review (May 2015) and Newsday (September 2015). Her
experiences have dragged me down, more importantly, they memoir titled Yo God! Jay’s Story, based on her son’s life
have ignited me. It is that heartiness that I want to pass on and his relationship with his service dog, was published in
to my young daughter who has a disability.” June, 2014 by Keith Publishers. Kempf won a second place
award from Angel Animal Network for a longer version
Allan B. Goldstein is a senior lecturer at New York Uni- of the essay that appears here. Jay passed away in 1996.
versity, Tandon School of Engineering. He earned a master Kempf shares, “. . . despite the 1990 passage of the Ameri-
of arts in disability studies in 2015. Goldstein has realized, cans with Disabilities Act, I am still shocked to discover the
relatively recently, the extent to which his life has been misunderstanding, mistreatment, and the public mockery of
defined by his younger brother’s disability. He states, “As our disabled community today. . . .”
an actor, I escaped into others’ lives; as an ESL instructor, I
assisted those seeking to fit in; as a writing instructor, I as- Grace Lapointe graduated from Stonehill College in 2011
signed disability-related readings; now, teaching disability with a bachelor of arts in English. She works for a nonprofit
studies, I am involving my students directly with disabled organization in the greater Boston area. Her work (fiction
individuals to show that having a disability is not a trag- and essays) has appeared in Mobius: The Journal of Social
edy.” Change (March 2016), Why I Write, Vol. 5, published by
Grub Street (October 2016), and The Deaf Poets Society,
Jessica Goody’s work has been published in Reader’s Di- an online journal (December 2016). Lapointe has cerebral
gest, The Maine Review, and The Seventh Wave. She has palsy and says, “My disability has always been integral to
also contributed to a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. my identity and my work. I’ve always been conscious of
She has won two poetry contests (first place in Magnets and being perceived as different and defying some people’s ex-
Ladders, Fall/Winter 2016, and second place in Reader’s pectations.”
Digest). Goody has cerebral palsy and says she writes in
order “to make myself heard and understood, to share my Tammy Littlejohn is a writer whose articles have been
sense of self and the world around me.” published in Teachers of Vision, Farm and Ranch Living,
and Kansas City Voices. She and her son Thomas are writ-
Mary Doyle Johnston is a retired nurse. She has two forms ing children’s books together and hope to have one self-
of artistic expression—writing poetry and drawing. She published soon.
struggles with chronic depression and has experienced deep
feelings of isolation. Johnston says, “I am an individual
who is independent but understands the danger in being
isolated from others. I want to protect my individuality but
also long to be connected to other people. I frequently find
it difficult to balance these two needs.”

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Allison M. Loose is a 2016 graduate of Pennsylvania State Erick Mertz is a writer and social worker. His articles
University with bachelor degrees in both English and eco- and poetry have appeared in Spectrum Magazine (2015),
nomics. She received the Henry W. Sams Award for Excel- Baldhip Magazine (2015), and Fireweed: Poetry of Western
lence in Literary Criticism. Loose says writing is the “best Oregon (1998). He has worked with people who have dis-
form of medicine, both to consume and distribute.” She de- abilities since high school, which lead him to a career as
scribes herself as having “insatiable wanderlust” and says, a case manager. As a result of those experiences, he finds
“I am still struggling to figure out my path in life.” connections with and inspiration from his clients.

Sean J. Mahoney helped coordinate and found the Dis- Phyllis H. Moore is a retired social worker, who with her
ability Literature Consortium (dislitconsortium.wordpress. husband, opened a bed and breakfast in a small Texas com-
com). In addition to his work in geophysics, he also writes munity. That experience became the catalyst for much of
poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Tethered by her writing. Her work has appeared in Fiction Southeast
Letters (Summer 2015), Open Thought Vortex Magazine and Yellow Chair Review. She is also the author of five nov-
(September 2016), Nine Mile Magazine (Fall 2016), and els: the Sabine Trilogy and two stand-alone novels, Tangled,
Antitheses Journal (Volume 26, 2016). Mahoney has MS, a Southern Gothic Yarn and Opal’s Story. Her nonfiction
which he says is “another tool to work with and through.” book is titled, Retirement, Now What?
He also reflects, “Writing is like breathing, in that I have no
choice in the matter.” Sandy Palmer studied graphic design at The University of
Akron and is a freelance artist who works with a variety of
Tristan Tavis Marajh graduated from the University of media. She contributes to Kaleidoscope as the writer of vi-
Toronto in 2007, earning a bachelor of arts with honors sual artist profiles, having joined the staff as art coordinator
and also received a graduate certificate from The Humber in 2002. Palmer is the full-time graphic design specialist at
School for Writers, in 2009. His articles and fiction have United Disability Services.
appeared in Good News Toronto (October 2011), The Nash-
waak Review (December 2015), and Ricepaper Magazine Judie Rae has had a long and varied career as a writer. She
(August 2016). Marajh struggles with depression and OCD. published three teenage romances and also wrote a Nancy
For him, “writing is life and freedom.” Drew Mystery, The Clue in the Camera. Her nonfiction es-
says were published in Sacramento Bee, Sierra Heritage,
Michael Mark is a hospice volunteer. His poems have been Tahoe Quarterly, and Outside California. She also wrote a
published in Rattle, Bellevue Literary Review, Tahoma Re- college thematic reader, Rites of Passage. She then turned
view and Cimarron Review (2016). He has received three to poetry and was published in such journals as Nimrod,
Pushcart Prize nominations. Wisconsin Review, Canary (online literary magazine), and
Mudfish. Her chapbook, The Weight of Roses, was published
Randy Martin graduated from Northwest Community by Finishing Line Press (2014). She taught college-level
College in 2004. He works as a carpenter, but also writes English for twenty-seven years.
poetry. His poetry was published in MUSE Literary Journal
in 2015. He states that disability is often not given the “care Melanie Reitzel is a registered nurse and a certified lacta-
and thought as to how it actually impacts [individuals].” He tion consultant. She earned a master of fine arts from San
believes most people feel, “Thank God that is not me . . . Francisco State in 2012. She had a prose poetry series in
but what if it was?” The North American Review (September/October 2004)
which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Another prose
William H. McCann, Jr. grew up with severe learning dis- poem series was published in Tulane Review (Spring 2011)
abilities which lead to his being sent from his home in Ken- and an article appeared in ZYZZYVA (Spring 2010). Reitzel
tucky to a residential school in Wisconsin. He is a poet and had polio in pre-vaccine 1950. She says, “I would not be as
playwright. He teaches developmental English and reading realistic and honest without the challenge of my disability.”
courses at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in
Lexington, Kentucky.

Mary McGinnis is a licensed counselor and a poet. She has
three full-length poetry collections, Listening for Cactus
(1996), October Again (2008), and See with Your Whole
Body (2016). She also contributed to the anthologies Fixed
and Free and Lummox 3 (2015). She was the featured poet
in Malpais Review (2015). McGinnis has been blind since
birth and says, “It is part of my daily experience, so is in-
herent in all I write . . . .”

109
Barbara Ridley is a retired nurse practitioner with thirty- John Smith is a retired teacher and poet. His work has ap-
five years of experience as a rehabilitation nurse working peared in Canary, a journal focused on the environmental
with individuals with neurological disabilities. She is also a crisis (October 2016), and Spillway (Summer 2015). His
writer of fiction and creative nonfiction/memoir. Her work book-length poetry collection, Even That Indigo, was pub-
has appeared in The Copperfield Review (Vol.15, Sum- lished by Hippocket Press in 2012. Smith says he writes
mer 2016), Ars Medica (Vol. 11, 2015), Still Crazy (Vol. because “It’s a way into and out of myself. It’s my alchemy,
VIII, July 2015) and The Writer’s Workshop Review (Vol. my prayer, a craft I can work at all my life. I believe cre-
9, November 2014). Her awards include first place in the ativity is essential to our health.”
Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition (2015) and the
Corona Worldwide Short Story contest (2014). She was Lois Soffer is a psychologist and mother of two sons with
born in England, but has lived in Northern California for significant disabilities. She is currently working on a mem-
many years. oir about one of her sons, with the working title Dancing
With Parker. “There is something essentially satisfying
Ron Riekki, Ph.D., will receive a master of arts from about telling my stories in ways that are illuminating, that
Graduate Theological Union in Berkley, California in 2017. others will connect with and will perhaps find some mea-
Over the years, his writing has focused on life and the lit- sure of hope.”
erature of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He has received
prestigious writing awards including: Independent Publisher Blair G. Sweeney is a communications manager. In 2011,
Book Award (2016), Shenandoah Fiction Prize (2016), and her personal essay appeared on “Epic Parenting,” an online
Michigan Notable Book (2014). “I don’t go out of my way resource site. She has had poems published in the Babylon
to write about ‘disability;’ it’s such a quotidian part of life Review (June 1998), The Brooklyn Review (May 1992),
that it naturally comes up in my writing frequently . . . one and The Olivetree Review (April 1988). Sweeney’s son has
of the main characters in my novel U.P. has cerebral palsy.” epilepsy and she says, “I’m driven to write about issues of
human rights after seeing how children with disabilities still
Casey Robb is a retired civil engineer and a former physi- get sidelined at school and in society.”
cal therapist. Her fiction has appeared in The Literary Nest
(April 2016), Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (October Mary Ellen Talley is a recently retired speech and language
2015), and Menda City Review (December 2014). Origi- pathologist whose experience working with children in the
nally from Texas, she now lives in Northern California and Seattle, Washington public schools has inspired much of her
says, “my love of adventure has taken me on trips around poetry. Her work has been published in The Unprecedented
the world, mostly by myself.” She has two daughters, one Review (September 2016, online). She has contributed to
adopted from overseas. three anthologies, All We Can Hold: Poems of Mother-
hood (Sage Hill Press 2016), The Doll Collection (Terrapin
Nancy Scott, from New Jersey, is a poet whose work has Books 2016), and Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets
been inspired and informed by her eighteen years as a so- Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press 2015). Talley
cial worker. We share two of her poems “Paul and Cheryl” says, “I often translate my experiences, observations, and
and “The Sixth Child” in this issue. Her poetry collections perceptions into poetry.”
include Ah. Men (Aldrich Press, 2016), Running Down Bro-
ken Cement (Main Street Rag, 2014), On Location (March Sarena Tien is a Chinese-American writer, feminist and
Street Press, 2011), and One Stands Guard, One Sleeps Francophile, working temporarily as an English teaching
(Plain View Press, 2009). Scott is an adoptive parent of assistant in a small city in northern France. She earned her
three and has opened her home to many foster children. bachelor of arts from Randolph-Macon College in 2016.
Her essays have appeared in several online venues includ-
Nancy Scott, of Pennsylvania, writes poetry, essays, and ing The Feminist Wire (April and September 2016), Bustle
creative nonfiction. She contributed to two anthologies, (September 2016), and As Us (December 2015, online and
Staring Back (1997) and Cup of Comfort (2002 and 2003) print).
as well as the journal, Disabilities Studies Quarterly (2005
and 2015). Scott received the International Onkya Award Gail Willmott has been a staff member with Kaleidoscope
(World Braille Essay Contest) in 2009. She has collaborated since 1982 and became editor-in-chief in July, 2003. She
with artist Maryann Riker to create two chapbooks, The Na- received both her bachelor and master degrees from the
ture of Beyond (2010) and The Almost Abecedarian (2015). University of Illinois. “Despite the occasional chaos that
We share her poem “Dress Up” in this issue. “Blindness ensues, this is a career I have loved for nearly thirty-five
influences my experience, and I find the humor and struggle years—getting to know our contributors as well as working
of life in my work.” with very accomplished and supportive colleagues.”

110
Tammy Ruggles, Birth, digital photograph, 2013, Tammy Ruggles, Awaken, digital photograph,
2998 x 5120 px 2015, 258 x 4908 px