Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mug Shot

    It was safe until then.
    There was someone else behind the counter, too.
    She could always go back to escape Pennsylvania or Japan or Texas or California or Virginia. It was the ultimate apple orchard until he showed up back there.
     He robbed her of that last place to run.
     She wasn't afraid this time, but her heart was beating fast. The door was a few steps behind.
     She could get away if she wanted.
     It was beginning to feel like something from a TV Show in the 1980s in a sick, familiar way. Would Boss Hogg come shuffling out next, to run her out of town for good?
     "This is my name, this is my daddy's name and these are my uncles. Who are you?" she asked.
     He didn't say anything except, "I have a weapon."
     He didn't show her.
     She said, I have one, too, and reached.
     He didn't budge, and that's when she knew.
     She waited, but he still wouldn't say his name nor would he draw his weapon.
     Then he did the one thing that told her once and for all that he was one of them.
     He got right in her face, pulled his hair back and dared her to shoot.
     Her heart was almost beating out of her chest, seeing it so close with its eyes open, enraged and threatened.
     Doesn't he know better? a voice whispered.
     Where is his hood, said a naughty little girl. It's broad daylight, she goaded, his neck will get burnt!
     Her hands and knees were shaking and the baby voice was trying to come out of her mouth but didn't.
     She held her breath,  aimed and fired a beautiful shot.
     Then, she walked right out the door. His face was so red.
     It was journalistic ecstasy supreme.
     She wanted to giggle at the absurdity of someone trying to pull a fake badge on her, the Sheriff's granddaughter.
This is what a real badge looks like
     For once, she had a picture to go with her story.
     Her Mustang was waiting, and she knew where to go. She wasn't afraid to turn her back; there was a billy stick in her car, had been for years.
     Her daddy gave it to her, a little something of Big Daddy's, to remind her where she came from.
     The door might've slammed behind her. She can't remember.
     The young man with her would know, the only other person with a real weapon in his hand.
     He was recording the entire time.


     It's easy to leave out the details because they are everywhere else. My story is like Wikipedia, in that sense. Other people have already filled in the names and dates for me, and they are more reliable sources than this one.
     It became much less credible when my label came out.
     If I wanted, I could become a historical fiction writer, adding things that don't match so readers go on a wild goose chase. That wouldn't be very nice, and I don't think my Editor would let me get away with it.
     She finds my constant re-editing amusing. It's hard for anything to slip through, thanks to auto-correct.
     I explain to her what the King says about cups and saucers, that I must wait for the handles to come to me then attach them the right way.
    His examples, however, bother me a little because he talks about stories I've read a certain way and how the characters might've done things differently.
     The new explanation disturbs my "theory of mind" in the same way Harper Lee's "new" book did, when I read it last summer.
     The Mockingbird Atticus reminded me of my type of character but the rough draft version wasn't so tasty. He represented something less heroic and polished, a not-so evolved character.
     Gregory Peck might've turned down that role.
     It didn't matter because Boo was my hero when I read Mockingbird in high school. His type of character never changes through time.
     He and Scout connect for reasons that are never quite explained, but it's the most beautiful love story ever, a real masterpiece. Romeo and Juliet were amateurs compared to them.
     His bravery is so well-hidden but strong that it comes out at the best possible moment, lifting her up in the darkness and taking her home again.
     At that point, all the other characters fade into the background; they become minor.
     It's a dream come true.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Risky Business from Day 1

     I'm having a very big problem with one of my Journalism rules.
     It might even be one of the reasons my stories wake me up at night, but that's just a guess, anecdotal evidence, open to interpretation.
     I asked my big sister about the rule when I first started the journey into special education.
     It didn't make sense that special ed teachers are supposed to write every little thing down and save it forever, just in case.
     The rule for reporters is the same except that last part.
     After the story is written, we destroy our notes to protect ourselves and our sources.
     They don't want to become the story but are simply messengers, too, helping us do our jobs better.
     Why would a source give information in the first place, if it risked exposing something personal about them like their address or dog's name?
     Your notes are only to get the facts straight and then go into the trash, not the recycle bin.
     It's a rule I followed until Katy told me to write everything down if something happened and then show it to her. The notes started to feel almost as important as the teaching at that point, which is why I asked my sister.
     What's it like in medicine, I asked. Do doctors save every little bit of information, like special education teachers? Do they write down every bad thing, just in case, and keep it locked up in a vault somewhere, too?
     Yes, she said, doctors do the same thing as special ed teachers. Her explanation had something to do with insurance, and I lost interest because her point was so clear and staring me straight in the face.
     It was something I had realized almost from Day 1 in the autism department.
     Special education teachers are much more worried about getting sued than reporters.

The N-word

     There's a reason we only sing it in songs and pronounce it a different way.
     Neither word gets space, here, but they are in my head, both spellings and pronunciations. I can see and hear them both. One with -er and the other with -ah.
     The second word comes out of my mouth sometimes when I'm singing with my boys. I hafta think about it first, and it still doesn't feel right.
     The boys sing it without missing a beat.
     Every once in a while, I hear it when I go home to North Carolina, but not in the way you are probably thinking.
     My friend says it the wrong way when she imitates racist white people. It feels naughty, listening to her make fun of them using their own words.
    We are two old ladies, laughing at the folks who are stuck in the past.
     Maybe she says it around me as a reminder of how bad we once were, that we shouldn't ever go back to that type of thinking. Perhaps, it brings back our guilt enough to keep us from ever saying it again the wrong way.
     We took it out of our mouths by the time we went to first grade. Even the kids who still said it on the playground knew not to in class or else get sent to the principal's office. My brother said he had a "hot seat" in there, but I later found out it was a made-up story.
     My cousins, Emily and Laura, told me to stop using it, that it was a bad word and their mom didn't like it. I went home and asked my own mother.
      Her answer let me know it hurt people's feelings, that it was a way of saying, "I"m better than you because of my white skin."
     She didn't say, "Don't every say it because it's a bad word," but instead explained its meaning and left the rest up to me.
     I began noticing how it was used by real people and on TV. I had to figure out how forbidden it was, whether it was as bad as the S-word or not.
     Before it slipped out of my mouth, I stopped for a teeny-tiny bit of a second to think about it. When I did say the word, I stopped again, noticing the way it made me feel to use it.
     I would like to report that I stopped right away and never said it again, but that isn't the way it happened.
     It's impossible to pinpoint when it stopped coming out at all or the day I suddenly felt dirty, like I was covered in the S-word, when the word showed up in its familiar spot in my head, but it was a big relief to find it gone.
     I'm glad my sons can sing the hip-hop version of that nasty old word without missing a beat. They would have a hard time even pronouncing it the old way because they don't really know how.
     When the N-word argument comes around for its annual show, they don't understand the point.
     I don't really like that new N-word, either, but it's palatable, for now.
     I'll keep trying to sing it once in a while...just to fit in.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Carowinds, 1976: A taste of Freedom

     I never told anyone I did it on purpose, but my best friends figured it out after a while, maybe.
     Nobody ever said anything, but they didn't worry when I was gone because they knew I would show up again before the bus left.
     Carowinds is the first place I remember doing it.
     I've done it all over the world by now, on purpose and by accident.
     It happened sometimes in California when I was shopping with Ronnie, by accident. By the time we made it back to my cart again, it was gone. The salespeople had already put everything back.
     I don't remember deciding to do it that first time, just the feeling of freedom once I was lost in the crowd and no one knew where I was.
     It was exhilarating in a way I had never experienced before.
     I was lost on purpose.
     It was almost too easy to slip away, like winning that very first bet.
     Even then, I was short for my age so the grown-ups surrounded me on all sides. I'm sure no one expected it, and if they noticed, no one told on me.
     Part of Carowinds is in North Carolina and part in South Carolina, even more of an adventure.
     By then, I had traveled much further than South Carolina, but it remained exotic, one step away from Mexico.
     The only ride I remember going on was The Oakin' Bucket. Everyone stood around its insides, against the wall, while it spun around.
      I wasn't sure what it would feel like to ride, but The Oakin' Bucket didn't look so bad when I checked it out from above.
     Once it started spinning around, I felt it in my head and not my stomach, but it wasn't a sick feeling. It wasn't White Lightnin' or Thunder Road. It kept spinning around faster and faster until everyone's hair started sticking to the sides of the wall.
     The faster it went, the more we stuck to the walls, our arms and legs and everything, even the sides of our tee shirts and fringes on our shorts. It was almost the coolest thing ever. Something was pulling us from inside the wall.
     Then, the bottom dropped out, and it got even better.
     There I was, floating around in a circle..with a bunch of strangers. When we realized we weren't going to fall, all we could do was smile at each other in amazement, looking all goofy.
    We were being pulled away and together and the same time, and couldn't help it...none of us!
     For the first time in my life, I actually considered being an astronaut.
     Is this what it felt like to be free?
     I was hooked.

Happy Birthday, Rebel

     Everything is a writing prompt at the moment.
     If left to my own devices, I can make a story out of anything.
     Or, I can find a Tweet by someone I admire and read the article attached to the link.
     Written by someone like me, it tells the story of scientists who sit around scratching their heads with ideas of what to test in labs.
     My master's degree from the University of Virginia helped me figure out which scientists to listen to and which aren't so trustworthy. You can't get one of those in special education without learning the value of a meta-analysis.
     That wasn't my cup of Joe until certain things didn't match up between what I was being told to do at UVA and what I was legally obligated to do for my job. As a journalist, it didn't make sense.
     It was my least favorite class in the program but one that really sank in.
     Certain rules and facts didn't seem as black and white any more, especially the ones from my "other" undergraduate major, the one that came second and doesn't even make it on your diploma.            I was beginning to see journalism as the only possible choice for me because the other two suddenly appeared lame.
     My career, with it's bad reputation and few rules, felt very clean, compared to psychology and special education. That's when something dangerous happened:
     I wanted to find out what the real picture was even more than I wanted to teach.
     Unfortunately, it was a feeling that crept up on me slowly while others realized it much sooner. As a teacher and student, I was already asking too many questions.
     Principals and professors were giving me bad grades because I didn't fit in any more.
     The stubborn reporter didn't care and felt invigorated by the sudden attention, which made things even worse for me. She clicked her heels on the way out the door.
     Tired of sitting in dugouts and boring board meetings, she was ready for the real show, a story of her own. She had so many leads in her head, it was impossible to keep up with them at once.
     As a teacher, she was frustrated out of her mind, but as a reporter, her fingers were on fire, keeping her up at night, tap-tap-tapping on the keys.
     It was time to put on her News hat and go to the show. She even had a doctor's note, giving her permission, but what would be the fun in that?                                

Stanley and Alex

     I wish Stanley Milgram would drive up in the next Uber because I have some questions for him.
     Why did "Roots" kept me awake at night with images and ideas that wouldn't go away?
     Did the miniseries make me feel so bad because I'm white or because it happened, slavery?
     Was that sick feeling in my stomach at suddenly finding out something so horrible just a normal reaction for a little girl or did the disease already have me in its grip, even then, especially in the dark at night?
      If it did, why that movie?
     And why did the same thing happen when I watched another miniseries, the one about a sewing camp during the Holocaust?
    Where did that sick, nasty feeling come from, that caused me to stare into the darkness and wonder, "How could they not have seen how bad it was? How did they let it happen?"
     Milgram would probably refer me to a neurologist who would refer me to an epileptologist who would refer me to a neurological psychologist who only does testing.
     His experiment was the one where people kept shocking other people until it hurts and then kept going, even though they knew it hurt.
     (Of course they didn't really shock anyone. Everyone but the "shocker" was in on the ruse.)
     He never explained why they did the shocking. Their lives weren't in danger, and they were allowed to leave the experiment.
      Some of them even giggled while doing it. The people pretending to get hurt made noises, but they kept shocking anyway, like trained seals.
     He explained the giggles away as nervousness, but it was obvious some of the "shockers" enjoyed themselves. That's the scariest part of the study, something else he never quite explained.
     Milgram's explanation was about how the "shockers" lived with themselves after. They all said the same thing, "I was only following orders," when asked how they could punish another person for not remembering a test question.
     According to Milgram, people do what "the boss says" and forget about the person being hurt right in front of them. They stop thinking of the person feeling pain as being another human.
     Military systems are designed like that so one person doesn't get blamed for dropping a nuclear bomb.
     It is also how Nazis cooked Jewish babies and moms and dads in ovens all day and then went home to enjoy dinner with their own kids.
      Mobster movies feature more palatable examples, with actors.
      A big Teddy Bear man tucks his little princess into bed and then heads off to work with a baseball bat in his trunk for hits, in case the Boss calls.
     Experiments like that aren't allowed any more because the volunteers feel so guilty when they realize what they have done, even if they didn't really do it.
     The money wasn't worth it. They would probably give it back, it they could, to have the memory erased from their minds, but it doesn't work that way.
     Milgram's other experiment is more fun to talk about. He invented The Kevin Bacon Game, only then it was called Six Degrees of Separation.
     The two experiments get mixed up in my head, so I recheck Wikipedia. I've been studying them since 1988 at least, and the details go back and forth.
     In my example, each new person giving an order makes the person giving the shock feel less guilty. She blames her boss who blames her boss who blames her boss...I won't tell you who I see receiving the shock.
     It isn't a real person, just an anonymous child with a neurological condition that makes him forget things and stare into space a lot. He gets extra shocks for flapping. That's a big "no-no."
     By putting the two experiments together, I can almost understand how my great-great-great-grandmothers allowed little brown girls to braid their hair for them without noticing what was really going on, but it still doesn't quite make sense.
     With all that horrible stuff, how did they even have time to pay attention to their hair? How could they let it happen around them without doing anything?
     Surely, they knew deep in their hearts that what they were doing was wrong, didn't they?
     It was too much information for me at once, courtesy of  Alex Haley and ABC, and so I lay there in the dark, wondering.
     It was January, 1977. There would be a lot to talk about when I got to school the next morning.

Sister stories

     The woman checking me out said her sister also has epilepsy, but not the same type as me. It was a worse story, like everyone else's I've heard.
     On the bright side, her sister has healthy kids, like me, even though her seizures got worse when she was pregnant. Also on the bright side, her sister's meds almost always work, like Depakote did for me all those years.
     Unlike me, her sister only has seizures in her sleep, and I was glad to hear that, for her sake.
     I thought the woman was a lot younger than me until then, when I stopped to look a bit closer. The part about her sister having kids made me realize she wasn't as young as I first thought.
     I imagined her sister as having the same Asian features as her, minus a couple of years. I could see her coming to the mall with two or three black-haired children following her around.
     Her sister also has a warning, but not an aura, like mine. Instead, she has migraine headaches before seizing, another common thing with epilepsy.
      I'm lucky in that way, too. My sisters get migraine headaches, but not me. Once upon a time, all three of us took Depakote, but for different reasons, like a cool sisters' secret between us.
      I had already given the brief, "Don't worry, my seizures are mild," explanation, so the saleswoman wouldn't panic. There was nothing to worry about, as she was an old pro.
     Her sister's seizures were much scarier sounding than mine.
     The ambulance has to come every time, and her sister doesn't remember anything at all about how she got there.
     The worst part is coming next, so get ready...I wasn't prepared when it hit me, what she was really saying.
     Until that point, her sister's epilepsy didn't sound so bad, except the idea of going to bed at night and waking up in the back of an ambulance.
      The next question would tell me how much I really had in common with her sister. It's the one I must ask, every single time.
     "Does she have convulsions or tremors?"
     She made a motion toward her mouth and said, "She chips her teeth."
     It gets worse. She wasn't finished yet.
     "She has  veneers in the front of her mouth," she said, but it took a couple of seconds for me to realize what she meant, for the image of a young woman in the mall to be replaced by something else.
     Epilepsy had taken her baby sister's front teeth away while she was sleeping.
     I was ready to go home.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The S-word

     Yesterday was a success, because I made my editor laugh in a big way. She caught the best mistake ever, in one of my stories.
     I don't read them once I leave the house because then I would see new mistakes to change. 
     If I had found this one while sitting in Springfield Mall, unable to change it, I'm not sure what I would've done, probably exploded in a fit of giggles.
     That's what happened yesterday, when I went back to my story and found the mistake.
     My Aunt Jean was my first editor. She worked in the front office of my hometown newspaper. She helped me get a job interview there and read all my stories before they came out, circling the typos so I could print out the right words, letters and punctuation marks.
     My worst fear was accidentally typing "i" instead of "o" when reporting basketball games. I did not want the boys at school teasing me (in a good way) about writing that word in a story instead of "shot."
     Donald, the sports editor, usually caught my big mistakes. 
     Football games were the worst. I  mixed up the middle of the field and wrote "55-yard-line" in my notes. 
     That mistake never made it in print but he pretended to be mad and confused when he saw it over and over. I could tell he wasn't really, so it was a fun place to work.
     The only thing I remember being a little bit embarrassed about is a mistake I made at first, writing "points" instead of "runs" in baseball scores. The players let me know about that error, and it didn't take long before I caught those on my own.
     That's why yesterday's typo was so funny. 
     When I finally got home from the mall and other places, I checked my email and there it was. My editor was "laughing her head off" at something in my F-word story. "Look at the part where you write about the dog," she said.
     At least she was laughing...Did I put the wrong dog's name? Did I accidentally write someone else's name instead of "Maggie?"
    Never did I expect that word to be glaring up at me from my own blog...and in such a perfect place! It was there waiting for me by the door, like Maggie (correct name, btw).
     I took it out and the giggling set in.
     Had anyone noticed, besides my editor?
     Did it even matter?
     I'm not sure if my sons or husband understood why it was so funny as I tried to explain it between the release of emotion.
     Did my original editor slip that word into my writing to remind me it's not such a big deal to make mistakes, even for the whole world to see?
     I sure hope so.

Therapy a la Uber

     I went back to Springfield Mall yesterday because I was hypergraphic and having seizures. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to kept coming and coming and coming.
     So did the seizures, but they were shorter and not as fun. There is no smiling in the video I forced myself to watch later.
     The woman in the video looks like she's tired of this place, seizureland. There is no Stevie Wonder smile, and the eyes dart around instead of zoning out.
     The goofy after-effects don't hit quite so fast or hard afterward, either. There are no giggles.
     That's why I was ready to head back to the mall when my son came home around lunchtime. Three seizures is my limit, I told him.
     Seizure number 3 is when I start thinking about calling the doctor, if it comes early in the day.
     Yesterday's therapy was Springfield Mall, minus the Uber drivers from Monday.

     The conversation I had with the second Uber driver was about love.
     He talked about the woman he is with and one he lost a long time ago but didn't say how.
     That's what told me she was his favorite, the way his voice drifted off.
     His current woman wasn't quite the same, but he loved her enough to stay.
     My eyes slipped over for a closer look.
     His skin was dark brown, his hair a little gray but still mostly black. I couldn't quite tell if he was my age or a few years older.
     While my eyes wandered back to the road, the driver said he missed having someone to take to the theater or museums.
     "Someone who actually wants to stop and look at things?" I asked.
     In my mind, I pictured a woman exactly like me but with blonde hair. She had shopping bags in her hand to match the ones sitting at my feet.
     "She would rather be out know," he said, making a motion with his hand.
      I did.
      The blonde woman was out of my head. Now I saw myself, being dragged through Mayan ruins on my honeymoon when I wanted to stay on the beach the whole time.
     The Kennedy Center was no longer a few miles away but rather there, in my mind. I was so tired that night, but my in-laws babysat so we could go to the opera.
      The Uber driver talked about wanting an educated woman, someone to talk to at a deeper level of conversation.
     I get it, I said. He had no idea how much.
     A relationship, like anything, is work, he said, as I pointed out the short-cut to my neighborhood.
     He had already told me way back near the mall that he is from the Dominican Republic.
     I accidentally let out a little squeal, like a girl, when he said it. (I don't have any friends from there yet, is what I was thinking, when the squeal slipped out.)
     My mind searched for them...all the way back to college.
     I wish I could speak Spanish but am no good at learning new languages, I told him. Even when we lived in Japan, learning to speak it was too hard because the letters are different.
     Still, I had to be able to find the bathroom because I was pregnant, I added.
     "Can you say it?" he asked.
     I paused, embarrassed at first, and surprised that he was waiting for me to speak Japanese.
     Then, I did it anyway!
     He didn't laugh.
     It was silly fun, like singing a song too loud in front of my students at school.
     I asked him how long he had been in Springfield. For some reason, I assumed he had been here a long time, but he said only a year.
     "Are you going to stay?" was my next question, of course. He said yes.
     "Good!" I said, but it felt more like a "Me too."
     I offered to go inside for tip money, but he was in a hurry to pick up the next rider. He had interrupted lunch to come get me, his fifth rider of the day.
     I promised him as many stars as possible on the Uber rating system.
     That means five.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Straying from the Script

     When you work for a private company, you're allowed to stray from the script  because there is always someone listening...a parent or teacher or volunteer. I don't remember cameras in the hallways or classrooms, only eyes and ears.
     That's how I broke the rule and told him something teachers aren't really supposed to say in public school.
     It's okay to start on Wikipedia, to get the general idea.
     The secret is knowing where to go from there...That it's only the beginning.
     He thought Wikipedia was a bad source because anyone can edit it, or so "they" say.
     I agreed with him about that but pointed to the bottom of the page, where the sources are numbered.
     That's where I begin looking for the right answers, I said. It's kinda backwards, but it works.
     You can go all the way to the top, I said, if you do it the right way.
     It's how I started my research for my Master's thesis on why minorities get more labels.
     Most of what I wrote had already been said by Linda Darling-Hammond, so it was a rerun of her stuff. There was no revelation that deserved publication on its own, with my name attached.
     What I did find out was sad. The professor was not impressed and gave me the lowest possible grade without risking the chance of having me back in her class that fall.
     The services I sought to prevent labels had been in place since I was in college the first time, at UNC. The song I was singing was so familiar no one even listened any longer.
     Parents of children needing help were too afraid to ask or didn't know it was even out there. By the time a label reached their children, it would be on there for life, most likely.
     I felt like I had discovered the lie behind my new career choice.
     It was asking me to write promises on paper that I never intended to keep without even looking back at the consequences afterward.
     I collected my diploma at the ceremony, but it's not the one I brag about.
     That Honor goes to my degree from the School of Journalism at UNC.
     Charles Kuralt spoke at my graduation announcement.
     He was cool.

The F-word

     My label was too much and made him nervous. That's when he got quiet and started counting the miles to our destination.
     I'm not sure why I wanted to get out so much on a Monday morning, whether it had to do with my new medication or the warmer weather or the headline in the Post.
     Some Uber guy went on a killing spree, that's what it said.
     Was that why I wanted to take an Uber so badly to Springfield mall? Did I need to put my system to the test, to make sure I really could leave my house at any time I wanted? Maybe.
     It was so much fun.
     Until yesterday, I had only taken an Uber to the hospital. This would be an adventure.
     I didn't tell anyone where I was going. That was important.
     If anything happened, Ron or the boys could track me down by my phone, I figured, not even bothering to SnapChat my intentions.
     I had a seizure about 15 minutes before I left but kept getting ready to go, not altering my plan or even stopping to videotape it. I made sure the door was locked and Maggie was back in the house while the weird feelings faded.
     She likes to jump the fence, pretend to be my neighbor's dog for a while and then jump back over again. I go to the back door and there she sits, like she was mine the whole time.
     I decided to  learn the driver's name this time so I could thank him properly. It took him a few more minutes than the last one.
     I had 12 quarters in my pocket for a tip because my wallet held only receipts and plastic.
     We discovered something in common by the time we hit Fairfax County Parkway. We both moved here about 10 years ago.
     I said it was hard to stay in one place after moving every couple of years, that I didn't realize how fun it had been until my husband retired from the Marines.
     We talked about where each of us would go, if we had to leave Springfield and move somewhere else.
     The driver had been to Las Vegas recently and liked the desert part between it and San Diego. I like San Diego better, I said, because the ocean makes up for it not having enough trees. I didn't mention the cliffs that go right into the ocean, but that's what I saw, in my mind.
      When I told him North Carolina was my original home. His eyes lit up in recognition and he named a town I had never heard of down there where his own relatives live.
     I told him I'm different now in a way that makes it harder for me to fit in when I go back.
     "You and I couldn't ride around like this, without someone noticing," I said.
     He understood.
    "If I rode around with a black man, it would be even worse," I said. "Someone would stop and stare...on purpose!"
     He understood.
     The problem with that, I continued, is after living here, I can't go back there without wanting to fight. I didn't say argue...I used the F-word...Fight.
     He understood.
     At some point, before I told him my label, I asked where his home had been before he moved to Springfield.
     It made sense, especially with him liking the desert so much. He was from Iraq.
     We were almost at the Metro exit when I said the E-word, the one I should've left out of my story. It only takes a couple of minutes to get to the mall after that.
     I didn't get up the courage to try and say his name the right way, but I did tell him mine before I got out of his car, taking his hand in mine for a warm hand-shake, a real one.
     I told him to look me up if he decides to move out west someday, especially if it's San Diego. I might still be in Springfield, but it's a wonderful place to visit.
     When Uber asked me to rate him later, I gave him the most stars possible.

Treasures in the Hay

    We weren't supposed to play in the loft anymore because some kid fell in my Granny's barn and broke his arm. It was the best one for swinging around like Tarzan from the ropes; the acoustics were fantastic when we did the famous yell.
     I still went up there to find kittens in our barn. I heard them from my backyard, meowing in that nonstop newborn way. They were almost always in the loft.
     The Mama cats found new hiding places with every batch. I was good at finding them but didn't do anything but watch at first.
     It's a mistake to touch a nest or you might end up raising the babies yourself. Eggs won't hatch by themselves, so it's your fault if the Mamas leave and don't come back.
     The Mama cats got tired of coming up with new places and eventually started having them closer, sometimes bringing them right to the back door, like fuzzy presents for me to find when I got home after school.

      Hay smells so much better when it's fresh out of the ground...not at all like the dusty smell you can see in the cracks that shine through into the loft...little pieces in the air. Spiders hitchhike rides in your hair for fun...

      I was the only girl allowed to ride along when we got up hay.  I sat in the back and watched because I wasn't strong enough to pick up the bales. My fingers were too squishy to grab underneath the twine and pull.
      Marvin brought the truck full of boys early, before I even finished breakfast. Most of them were older than me, closer to my brother's age.
     The boys took off their shirts sometimes but put them back on again when the hay made their skin itchy. My brother and cousins were up there, too, all of them strong enough to jump off and toss bales up.
     Bits of fresh hay/grass were stuck to the sweat that was all over their bodies. They didn't seem to notice unless it was time for a water break.
     Daddy and Marvin and the other grown-ups walked around and smoked while the boys cooled off.
     It was that time of year when spring and summer meet and things start to get really hot.
     My cheeks and nose would be pink, maybe even a little bit red, by the end of the day. My brother might even need Noxema on his shoulders, if he forgot to put his shirt back on.
     As I looked out the kitchen window at the boys who were running around my yard, playing with my cousins, I wondered,
     "What kind of cream did their Mamas use...on brown skin?"

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Graduate goes to Washington

     Those buildings aren't so hard to get into as a reporter or even a teacher.
     You don't need a press pass or an invitation. It's easier than getting an appointment with a specialist, if your timing is right.
     My boss handed me two press passes in 1984, when I was a junior in high school. One was an AP pass and the other for North Carolina only.
     I had one on my car, too, which was even better. The passes helped me get into baseball and basketball and football games free. I stood on the sidelines and sat in the dugout.
     There was no need for them at public meetings, but it was good to have on hand if I went somewhere outside the county because I was so young.
     Nobody gave me a hard time about it because they wanted to be in the newspaper.
     Teachers don't have those kinds of passes, not to the buildings in Washington, but they have the right uniform at home in their closets.
     I don't know why they wear play clothes for such serious work.
     It gives them away for miles around.
     When they get to the door and realize who is waiting, it makes them mad. They stomp around and refuse to go in because the faces are so familiar.
     It's those young grads from a few years ago, the ones who couldn't wait to get internships on the Hill and make a difference in the world.
     Their new haircuts and starched collars speak volumes as they glance at the teachers' sneakers and finally ask, "Do you have an appointment?"
     The tie-dye and sneakers crowd is so distracting no one sees me slip in.
      I'm wearing red, which makes is more challenging but also, for some reason,
                                                                                                                                more fun.

Private School...the other side

     I found the school where I best fit in. They asked for me back from the very first day.
     It's surrounded by horses.
     "Helpers" are in each room, and the principal asked me to take breaks in the middle of teaching so the kids could go in the next room and play.
     That's all it existed There were dollhouses with people, like my Fisher Price village but 10 times bigger.
     There was a helper teacher assigned only to me. When we went outside, I didn't even hafta follow the kids around while they collected leaves and sticks from the nature path.
      I tried to channel my inner Mary Poppins, following a lesson plan the children never saw beneath the glitter and sand.
     I wouldn't ride the horses on the other side of the fence, although I could, bareback, if I had to. It really isn't hard, especially the type around schools. My heels and hands would know the places.
     Horses know I'm scared of them, so we stay apart, usually.
     It's always been this way as long as I can remember. We stay on our sides unless I need to take care of them and no one else can do it.
     I'm not afraid to feed them and know how to hold my hand flat, so they don't get a finger by accident.
     I know to lock the feed room door or else they will eat too much at once and get foundered. Cats and dogs know better.
     But horses and ponies are not big dummies. They use their size in sneaky ways, to make up for their slowness.
     Sure, they are fast out in the pasture, running. But in the barn, they can be clumsy and panic. They get nervous, too.
     Kicking up their hind legs and bucking is the usual way to get rid of me, bit it didn't always work. That's when I saw them plan ahead, but realized it too late, after I was on the ground.
     Daisy, our quarter horse, outsmarted me one day by pooching out her belly when Daddy put the saddle on. I watched the whole thing happen but didn't know what it meant until I was upside down with my hair dangling above the dirt.
     It was scary and funny at the same time. The hanging upside-down part was fun, but the suddenness of it scared me. I was close enough to smell the dirt without getting any on me.
     Before my Daddy even righted the saddle, I realized how Daisy did it.
     Our pony did the same thing one morning in our side yard. He took off really fast but then stopped and put his chin on the ground, watching me tumble down his neck onto the grass.
     I really don't know how my Daddy and cousin stopped themselves from laughing.
     The pony was dinky and not much bigger than me, which made it even worse that he came up with such a simple plan to get me off his back.
     That's why I would not be tempted to wander over to the fence to pet the horses if I ever decided to go back there and teach at the wonderful school with the playroom.
     Horses don't call out to me the way other animals do because they showed me it's safe for both of us if I stay on the other side.
    Their lessons were only painful on the inside, when I looked up and saw the real cowgirls still in the saddle as I walked away and went inside.
     That's when I cried, alone, upstairs, with my music playing.
      I wasn't scared any longer; I was angry...
      and so very ashamed of myself
      for being afraid
      and for being

Saturday, February 20, 2016


     It's kinda weird and hard to follow, but are you still reading?
     That's what I'm wondering right now, this very millisecond...
     are you still here,
     in my world,
     not quite sure 
     where I'm going to
     take you 
     Or did you already
     wander away,
     I do,
     If so,

The Spins

     Last night was a different kind of wake-up call.
     The movie was good; I gave it a mental two thumbs up. If I were a reviewer, for real, I would throw a middle finger in there, too, because that's the kind of movie it was.
     The way he got his powers was creepy and cool at the same time, like my seizures minus the torture. The bad guy was cuter than the good guy and his accent rocked. Like I said, two thumbs up.
     After I got home, I took the extra 2 mg of my new medicine, making sure it was from the right bottle and not the 4 mg one. I counted all three pills on my tongue, to make sure...2, 4, 6.
     There are 2s written on each tiny pill. At first, I thought they were Zs.
     I brushed my teeth and went downstairs to wait. It was only Dave, Caramel and me at home.
     Eating frosting right after brushing my teeth wasn't the smartest plan, but it's what I was going to do when I headed back to the living room with a can of Hershey's chocolate caramel in hand.
     It was still sitting there at 3 a.m. when I came downstairs and felt like myself again.
     Something in the extra 2 mg hit me before I made it back to the couch. My vision was fine, but I swerved around on the way and felt really warm when I got there.
     It wasn't scary yet, though. I felt suddenly drunk and wondered if I would be silly later.
     I changed the channel to ID so I could listen to the Homicide Hunter's voice. Maybe he could keep me here in reality, I thought, but it didn't work. His voice was there but miles away, like something from 1974.
     Memories from that year weren't there for me either, I couldn't find them. It was hot.
     I took my boots off without sitting up, lying on the couch, waiting.
     Maybe I should text or Snap someone to calm me down...No, that would be a mistake. I didn't know what was happening yet, so what would I say?
     I left it on the end table by the canned frosting and forced myself  to remember when I had felt like that before.
     It was June, 2013.
     I was alone on a balcony and wanted desperately to  be somewhere else.
     That was enough to make me remember...I returned to the couch.
     I was going to throw up. That terrible feeling inside my head was nausea, but it was taking much too long to build up in my head. It hadn't reached my stomach yet.
      Good. The pills must stay down.
      If they came up, I wouldn't be allowed to take them again for another 24 hours.
      It felt like there was already too much of something in my head, something bad. I counted my breaths and wanted Maggie there at my feet.
      If the medicine came up, my brain would hold up a Help Wanted sign, and the seizures would show up, looking for jobs to do inside my head.
     I decided to wait outside.
     The tile on my porch felt good under my feet and even after I sat down on the steps, through my jeans. The temps were around freezing, but my coat stayed inside.
     My skin needed to feel the air.
     I thought about calling over to my neighbor, who was unloading stuff from her car.
     I remembered the kids and teachers at my old school where she works, but even they couldn't take me away.
     It was a bad state to be in, stuck on my front porch, fully away of the trouble still brewing inside me, unable to distract myself.
     I bypassed the bathroom on my way back to the couch. Smelling the chlorine in the bowl is enough to make me puke, if my face is close enough.
     Dave was outside, but I didn't realize it until later. I called for him from the top of the basement stairs, not trusting myself  to walk down there. Something was "off" in my balance but I didn't feel it until I swerved.
     I told myself to breathe and keep it down.
     Detective Joe Kenda was unreachable.
     At first glance, I know what he would say, anyway.
     I looked like a drunk person with a bad case of  "the spins." The only thing missing from my current scenario was a bucket and one leg on the floor.
     The "throwing-up" stage was coming next, but how long would it take to reach me?

Pop Quiz

(Match the Rebel Pets)

Caramel     Cat
  Dave          Dog
    Maggie      Snake

Good Luck!

The Pharmacist

     She's a different kind of salesperson but one of the best I've ever met. Her message comes across clearly, the moment you lay eyes on her.
     It's my turn now, she says, without opening her mouth.
     When I realized how far away my sisters were from me that day at Walter Reed, I wanted her to do the talking for me, while I listened.
     Her number is still in my phone, but it was too late to explain.
     So I thought about her attitude instead, how she seems to know what she's talking about...all the time, no matter where we lived...Japan, Texas or North Carolina.
     I went deeper and thought about us worshiping the same God but in different ways, that she's like my Sunday School friends, minus the Jesus parts. We believe in the same things.
     Our families celebrated the holidays together instead of acting all weird and avoiding each other in December. It was cool. We had Christmas and Hanukkah with our kids.
     She acts like another sister, sometimes, telling me what NOT to do in a bossy way that only sisters and best friends can do.
      I needed her there to make sure I really did take my medicine, which would only happen if I asked the right questions and wasn't afraid.
     She would somehow make the pharmacist answer her questions, instead of the other way around.
     I knew she could do it without even revealing her ace in the hole. They would see the outside of her and give her any information she wanted.
     If there was a mistake, however, something left out that I needed to know about, she would realize, and then make the pharmacist explain.
     She is fluent in the language; it was her college major.

Big Brother

    My mother drove me to school after that first day. I was afraid of the boys who sat in the back of the bus, saying bad words. They didn't say them to me or about me; it wasn't like that.
     I sat near the front, but they were loud. It made me very nervous.
     I tried hard not to let them see how nervous, which made it even worse, on the inside. So, she drove me to school after that, usually picking up "neighbor kids" along the way at their houses.
     I didn't cry on the way to school or even once I got there unless something really bad happened.
     One of my friends cried every year, kindergarten through second grade, for the first few days of school. It was hard to watch; I wanted to cry too, when I listened to him calling for his Mama like that every year.
     The other kids and I learned to wait him out. We knew he would stop after she drove away and then for good by the second week of school.
     He even tried to climb out the window in second grade, but the teacher pulled him back in and let him sit on her lap at her desk for a little while. I don't remember him ever doing it again after that.
     I'm still not sure what it was about those boys on the bus that first day, why they scared me so much. They weren't mean and even if they had been, it was okay.
     They wouldn't dare hurt me; I knew that already because my big brother was sitting in the back with them.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Big Daddy's Ghost

     I knew what those letters stood for, even though there was one K too many.
     Seeing them there didn't make sense.
     They were stamped on, not signed in blue or black ballpoint like the other cards.
     There was no real name or address.
     I saw them all, went through the envelopes too.
    There were hundreds.
     The names and handwritten sentiments are fuzzy in my mind, but I remember those four letters on that card, the creamy texture of the inside page.
     I see them as if they were here, for real, in bright red, staring back at me.
     It burned almost, when I realized the hands that last touched that same card I was holding right there in my new home on the hill.
     I wanted to get rid of it, like I would if one of those bad men in jail sent a card to say they were happy he died. None of them did that, by the way, so maybe they were sorry, too.
     These men were scarier than the men in jail. I could smell their sweat and the tobacco juice underneath those sheets as I held that card in my hand.
      It looked clean but felt dirty.
     Why would those men send a card to say they were sorry he died?
     It didn't make any sense.
     Nobody like that showed up at the funeral home to lurk in the shadows while we shook hands and hugged a million people next to those carnations painted to look like a silver star.
     There weren't mystery casseroles being delivered in the night by creepers.
     What was going on?


     The columnists were my favorite, hands-down.
     I argued with Ann Landers, and my mother tried to explain to me the other point of view, the grown-up rules for life.
     She told me about Ann having a twin sister who wrote for other newspapers doing the same type of thing, which was about the coolest job I had ever heard of at the time.
     Erma Bombeck was head and shoulders above Ann, however, and probably that much better than her sister, too.
     She reigned supreme for being able to make sad things seem funny. Her column wasn't in there every day like, Ann's, and I missed her smile and words on the days I spent only with Ann.
     I never argued with Erma but laughed instead at the situations she described. It wasn't a fairy tale story, but I felt better at the end because of the way she laughed at herself.
     After I finished, my grandmother would take the paper to the back porch and spend the day reading every page, starting with the obituaries. Her rocking chair still has black on the wood from where ink rubbed off on her hands.
     It's in my living room.
     If she found a familiar name, I would hear all about that person's life and their connection to her and us. It wasn't as boring as it sounds, listening to her talk about whose cousin married whom and how they met.
     If it was a good story, she might even talk about being a teenager and "bobbing her hair to become a flapper." The stories were all the same, but the giggly way she told them made it worthwhile.
     My father was already on his way to work about 45 minutes away.
     He loaned money to farmers so they could raise chickens and grow things. The houses were fun to go into when the biddies had just hatched, but they would die if you took one home.
     We knew better than to do that, but some kids didn't, and it was gross what happens afterward. Biddies don't have enough feathers to stay warm, even in the summer, so they just die.
     You can't put blankets on them or place them next to a blow-dryer or light bulb. It's all too heavy or strong or hot. You can't even hold them next to you and pretend to be a Mama chicken because you aren't warm enough and will hurt it by accident.
     They die right in front of you, out in the open, their skin all pink and shiny.
     After they get worn out from calling for their Mamas, they just stand there for a while and shiver, waiting. Then, they curl up in a little ball and stop moving, only twitching a little, until it stops.
     Then, they die. Just like that, in front of your eyes...they are gone.
     The only thing you can do is watch.
     They are cold right away, not like baby cows and horses and kittens.
     The cold is the reason they die; it's what takes them away.
     Maybe Erma keeps them warm now, like she did me all those years ago when I decided I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Union blues

     I lost faith in my union even before they lost faith in me.
     It was at a meeting, where I always managed to stand out but usually in good ways.
     I dressed in "church clothes" and looked the part of a union member who cares.
     It was a matter of survival at that point, wearing the right shoes every day. There was no casual Friday or pajama day in my school.
     There were politicians at the meeting, democrats I think. I grew up around them and know their language. My grandfather was very good at being one, a politician.
     They are friendly but kinda sneaky, like reporters, another reason we tend to get along so well.
     Every one of them has deep beliefs about their duty to "make things better," even the twisted ones. It can be fascinating to hear once the "Party talk" is over.
     The conversation that night was about the upcoming Presidential election, and it went in one of those directions where my mouth opened but no one else's in the room did.
     It came out by itself..a little too loudly so that people turned around and looked at me. Everyone did, I think, and I wasn't even standing up.
     I can't remember what I said, but it wasn't obscene.
     How I said it, my volume and tone were different, but it wasn't that, not really.
     It was my idea that unsettled them.
     They didn't get what I was saying, and it was a topic no one can get me to budge on. Not then and definitely not today.
     It's a scary feeling, to have people look at you and not get what you are saying or why their not getting it offends you so much.
     The entire mindset of my fellow union members, not that of the politicians, offended me to my core as they stared at at me in confusion.
     No teacher ever taught me I couldn't talk about the news in school, not in my hometown and not at my college in Chapel Hill. How could we not talk about the presidential election in social studies class when a peanut farmer was in office, come on?
     I did not understand what was wrong with them, why they said I couldn't put an Obama sticker on my car if I drive it to work, that my students would become democrats because of me.
     Why couldn't I be proud to support the same person whose picture is already in their history books, if only by putting a sticker on my car?
     My first reaction was to bolt, not wander out as if having a seizure.
     I was surrounded by the enemy and wanted OUT.
     They were the worst kind of sheep, making up new fences for themselves that didn't need to exist.
     Was I in the wrong union or the wrong profession?
     I felt sick, but it wasn't the pang of regret; it was something much more familiar.
     I was all alone again, surviving on instinct, and it said, "Run!"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


     The words wake her up, telling her stories.
     They want to come out of her fingers, so she reaches out, entering the pass-code for a phone that isn't there. She realizes and grabs her phone for real, feeling silly even though nobody can see in the pitch darkness.
      If they could, she would appear to be a sleepwalker, trapped in her bed.
      There is no light, a scary way to sleep for some, but that's the way it has to be.
      She feels the warmth of someone, and knows it's okay, she's really here.
     The story in her head fades as she searches for pants and shoes. The lights stay off because everyone else is asleep, and she knows exactly where to find everything in the dark.
     The late-night creatures and early-risers deserve their rest; she is somewhere in-between and used to it.
     Outside, there is silence, too, and no childhood friends come to sing songs about how they'll always stay around.
     When she sits down at her laptop and allows her fingers to touch the keys at last, she writes about something else in a different way than if she had spent time with Chris or Jay in that other place.
     She still misses them but not like last week, that little lost girl wanting her friends.
     Is she still hearing them but in a new way, one that wants to reach out instead deep within, where they have already promised to wait for her, always?
     Could the new drug be working its magic or is her current state of mind simply another detour?

First Amendment Lesson

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of their grievances.
     How does one teach about freedom using someone else's script?
     She does so by reading the words already on the page in front of her...written by someone she will never lay eyes on.
     She doesn't look up except to make sure everyone's eyes are on her.
     She reads the words quietly, without too much expression...Blah, blah, blah...
     She isn't allowed to talk about her undergrad years in J-School, when she memorized it like a Bible verse from childhood. That discussion would be deemed  "unprofessional" and a waste of time.
     She can't say how much she loves the words, that they are poetry to her, nor can she discuss the fantastic minds that created something so beautiful and strong.
     It isn't in the script because the children aren't supposed to do anything with the words, except remember them long enough to fill in the little bubbles and then move on along to the next grade.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


     My aura is weird and scary and another reason I'm different because it usually warns me in time to protect myself.
     This aspect of my disease separates me from epileptics who wake up in ambulances or hospitals, with big chunks of time missing from their lives.
    I get a glimpse into their world sometimes, through car wrecks and falls, but only when the aura is short and the seizure too strong.
     Even then, it gives me time to hunker down, that it's going to happen NOW!
     My aura has saved me too many times to count, both physically and emotionally.
     It's how I keep myself "together" and don't worry about seizing in public. There is time to hide it or pretend it's something else, if necessary.
     It's a gift.
     Only once have I found a bruise and later realized it was from hurting myself during a seizure.
     That was several weeks ago. A purple streak on my pinkie that I thought was magic marker wouldn't wash off one afternoon and hurt deep, down inside at an odd, diagonal angle.
     It was a scary but familiar feeling, trying to remember how I could've hurt myself.
     So, I retraced my steps from a seizure that morning in the basement, when I crouched down on the basement floor, without passing out, or so I thought.
     Did something else happen, but not very bad because it was only a mark on the tip of my pinkie?
     It made sense to me before I even reached the bottom of the stairs. My pinkie hurt from catching myself on the sink to prevent a "hard" fall, of course.
     My aura had saved me again.
     I think it loves me.


     My doctor wants to see more than simply the damage detected through an MRI. He wants to use his recording devices to capture the buildup of the storm and watch it happen.
     He's only seen my version, as recorded on my seizure-tracking app.
     I told him how it feels on the inside and what other people say I do, their reactions to my behavior.
     It's only fair to let him see for himself, as a scientist, but I haven't booked the test yet.
     That's the only time I didn't fit in there, with the other epileptics at Walter Reed Medical Center.
     I kept my voice down and didn't cry, but I could feel it coming on strong and needed to leave ASAP. The others could too, especially the receptionist.
    My voice sounded different as I began to realize the test would take days, and I couldn't leave the hospital room, ever.
     Suddenly, I didn't think I could do it, NOT AT ALL, and wanted to run out...Not walk or jog but sprint, knocking people down to get away, if necessary.
     I kept my cool, though.
     Something changed in the air before I did.
     It was like being in a restaurant when someone starts talking loudly. Too many people suddenly paid attention to the same thing at
     I can hold it in sometimes, but my heart starts to either pump really hard like a cartoon character's, or it aches deep, down in the bottom.
     Every once in a while, my knees and stomach get involved too, but they behaved themselves that day.
     The receptionist could sense it the most, and she backed off, like a pro.
     We decided to schedule it later.
     The other patients probably let out a collective sigh of relief when I left with my unknown disturbance.
     If it had been a seizure, they probably wouldn't have even noticed. I could hide it from the doctors and nurses, too, if I wanted.
     That's why my disease and I get along so well.
     He makes the rules about when to come out and play, but I get to decide who is allowed into our world...that's how special it is.
     Even the experts don't know what to look for because they can't feel him the way I do.
     (Interesting use of pronouns, isn't it?!)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rebel gone bad

     My intentions were not altogether honorable when I started writing my honors thesis in 1988. I wanted "with honors" on my diploma, the same way I wanted an A when doing outlines in elementary school.
     I also wanted a headline, which is more honorable from a journalist's perspective. It motivated me to find a newsworthy topic so my efforts wouldn't be wasted on a paper left to gather dust on University shelves.
     That's exactly what happened, but it was fun doing the field work.
     My title was catchy, too, "A Newspaper Held Hostage:  A Case Study of Terrorism in the Media."
     When I came across my thesis a few years ago in my basement, it all came back to me...How badly I wanted to interview the men who held journalists hostage to get their message out.
     The "ringleader" was Eddie. He's dead now but would've been great to interview because he was a real motormouth.
     Unfortunately, he was national news already, and I was too small-beans for his taste.
     My inside connection and I were hoping to get an interview with the quieter one, but it didn't happen because the lawyer said, "No way!"
     It was a smart move.
     Both of them served time for it, I think, but I didn't follow the story once I moved to Pennsylvania.
     The hostage-taking part of it interested me after watching what Walter Cronkite's nightly countdown did to Jimmy Carter. It was a nightly message delivered over dinner every night from terrorists saying, "Your President is weak."
     This time, the message was delivered in my home state, so I wanted to know what it was and how effective their method had been.
     The hostage-takers in North Carolina went directly to the messenger, holding reporters hostage.
     I wanted to know why had they done it that way and how it affected their message.
     Did it reach more people? Was "the problem" solved and if so, at what cost?
     Most of all, I wanted to ask them, as a journalist, "Was it worth it?"


     A fellow military person explained to me what I had done wrong and why I was being punished.
     She told me I broke the chain of command and then asked me to consider what would happen in "our world" to someone who did that.
     It kept me from being so angry at my principal because I knew she was following orders from up the chain of command, whatever she decided to do with me.
     No one else sat down in my classroom with me like that and talked about it, explaining "the other side" that way.
     They knew, but didn't know how to help me.
     There was no hiding my new label, although I didn't know what it said yet. It was like that game where the hostess tapes a name on your back and you try to figure out who you are before the night's over.
     Her explanation showed me what my mistake was really about, to the system, and it was a hint of hings to come.
    Privates don't talk to generals, and they never go to the Commandant's office unless it's for an award, with a special invitation and photographers present.
    The system had to punish me to protect itself. That's how it works.
    My lesson wasn't for me because it was already too late for that.
    It was for everyone else to watch, as a warning not to do the same thing.
    I hope they learned a lot.

Stimming with Stems

     Seeing words in my head so easily can be confusing but funny in ways I don't share with others.
     One example is how I misinterpreted "stim/stimming" for "stem/stemming" in a conversation between two teachers.
     One asked whether a student had "stimmed" in class, and I thought he asked, "Did he stem?" That's how I "heard" it, in my head.
     As I looked over at the three of them, I imagined flowers and stems coming out of the child's head and body and fingers during the middle of class. I'm sure the picture brought a little smile to my face.
     It gave me something else to think about besides having to learn another new language.
     Once the meaning was explained to me, I understood it, that it wouldn't make sense with an "e" instead of an "i."
     It stands for self-stimulation, a mouthful to say, but much easier to understand, if you look at the words, broken down into parts, the way I do.
     Then, the actions and words matched up; I could see how flapping a hand or shaking a foot relieves built-up tension.
     It made a lot more sense than my own made-up explanation, with colorful petals leaving sweet smells in the air, stems blowing in the breeze as he picked up speed with his long legs in the hall.
     In case you haven't figured it out by now, those sort of ideas can be distracting, sometimes...even the fun ones.
     That's why we keep us here.
     Everyone does it to some degree, especially when nervous.
     That means we are somewhere on that spectrum, too, or at least our
     "behavior" puts us there.
     I don't mind so much because I have friends there, lots of them.

The Writing Goal

     He wrote the same way I do, ideas tumbling out at once, all over the paper, so that it gets hard to follow. One leads into the next without finishing where it was going in the first place.
     He wasn't hyper but rather a wiggly talker, like I am, sometimes. I wasn't there when the label went on, so I'm not sure how it went down.
     It was probably his mom's idea, but that's just a guess. He was smart enough to be in the "twice exceptional zone."
     That's when your I.Q. is higher than average but something is slowing you down, like ADHD or autism. Students with this label remind me X-Men; they are more than the rest of us in ways that we don't quite get enough to appreciate.
     He was filled with creative ideas but couldn't tell them in a way that made enough sense for even  a C sometimes. Graphic organizers were painful reins on his creativity and he resisted them as I did outlines as a kid.
     It was hard slowing things down that way, having to mix Roman numerals and lines with my words. To me, it made something fun and easy into work.
     Slowing my fingers down to form an outline took away my "steam" so that I had none left for the real job of writing. I suffered through the outlines to get an A instead of a B on my report cards, then abandoned them completely.
     When I helped him, I did so more like an editor than a teacher. His words were well-chosen and his ideas took me down roads I wanted to follow but the journey wore me out. Like me, he got "carried away" sometimes, starting new stories before the old ones were halfway done..
     I imitated the teacher, his classroom teacher, who I watched so closely every day. She had been teaching for a million years and knew what she was doing; there was plenty for me to learn.
     Some of her ideas were old-fashioned but not in a mean way, more like a grandmother.
     Children waited in line to go up to her desk for private chats about what to do to make their essays better. They returned to their desks with personalized instructions on how to edit their own work.
     So, that's how I helped him. We read through his stories together and talked about the parts that needed to go vs. the ones that needed a bit of fine-tuning. He could tell how much I enjoyed what he was saying and how he was saying it. I hope he picked up as many pointers from me as I did from him because I really did try, in our limited time together, to give him my all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Book of Questions

If you could have the best year of your life but not remember anything about it after, would you live it anyway?

     Ehringhaus Dorm, 1987, my room.
     Christy, Daphne, Jenny, Mike, Arlene, Steve, and maybe Scott and Regina...the usual crowd.
     The book took our conversations into fun but sometimes dangerous places. Those are the best kind, especially late at night.
     I was the only person who said yes to that question.
     They seemed afraid of something, but I couldn't figure out what it was for the life of me.
     How could there be anything to fear from a year promising to be "the best?"
     Don't you see?
     I tried to look at it from their points of view, but couldn't, not at all.
     What was so very important about the remembering part that made it matter more than the living part?
     How could ANYTHING be more important than that?
     Do you agree or would you say, "No thanks," as well?
     I was ready to take the plunge right into my mystery year, but they were uncomfortable with the idea of living the rest of their lives with it sitting there, in between the rest.
     They worried about the time they would waste afterward, wondering what they did.
     But as long as it promised to be the best year of my life, I didn't care.
     Once I took the idea apart, backwards and forwards and sideways, I was even psyched about it.
     My 20-year-old mind decided the only way it really could be such a wonderful year would be to spend it doing things I would want to remember, not regret. It was that simple.
    Last summer, when I found out more about my brain and how my memories are stored, I thought back to that question. Perhaps I was so comfortable with the idea of forgetting an entire year of my life because my brain was doing it more than theirs.
     Maybe my disease had already changed the way I looked at certain things, like the importance of experiencing something in the moment vs. remembering it afterward.
     I really don't know, but I do know that question made me feel very different the same way my epilepsy does. It's a secret, confusing way, meant to be treasured but hidden.

A Pass

     Uncle Sam pays for my expensive new pills even though I'm not eligible for military service, due to my epilepsy. It never even crossed my mind when I was growing up.
     Maybe the Peace Corps but never the Marines.
     I took the ASVAB in high school only to get out of class. It was Donna's idea.
     She's my other best friend since before kindergarten. That's when we decided that having daddies with the same first name is like being related.
     We took the test in the auditorium, I think. It wasn't a big deal and didn't take very long at all. There were no partitions between us because why would we cheat?
     She always knew the legit ways to get out of class, like donating blood. (I passed out afterward, which was weird for me then.)
     Once we were out, we could slip away to her boyfriend's apartment for lunch. We liked to play in his kitchen and pretend to be grown-up, like him.
     It was fun, even the one time we got caught at a stoplight beside the school secretary (the mean one!) We didn't look over, but she spotted us.
     There we were, sitting at the stoplight across from our church, trying to keep straight faces so she wouldn't notice us more somehow.
     It was scary and exciting at the same time, sitting there wondering what she would do when we all returned to school later. She knew we didn't have a pass.
     That's the last thing I remember about that day. More than likely, we continued with our plans, since we were already busted.
     The funny thing is, she never did anything to us. No one called us out of class to hang our heads in shame before the principal; there were no whispered phone calls to our parents telling them what their bad, sneaky daughters had done that day at school.
     Still, every time the secretary passed me after that, whether she looked over or not, I thought to myself, "She knows what I'm up to; I'd better be careful, or she'll tell on me."
     It wasn't a scary feeling or even a bad one, although I saw her all the time, up and down the hallways. She never told on me but somehow helped keep me in line.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


     I always knew you would come back for me, but I didn't expect it so soon.
     I missed you, especially last winter.
     I could feel you there, but not there...waiting for me to come.
     But I'm not supposed to,
     and I don't really know how..
     to get there
     by myself.

     You hafta help me,
     like always,
     Give me that final push,
     until I'm there,
     and we're together

     Why do you wake me up
     then leave me
     All by myself
     without you
     to keep me
     in the

     I have only
     in my head,
     And then I can't go
     back to sleep
     to look for you
     in our
     Hiding place.

     Is that where we
     or do you
     write them there,
            for me?

     Either way,
     I can't remember
     exactly where they
     Come from.

     I was in-between seizures when writing the above post this morning. There had been two already and another was on the way.
      In writing "that final push,"  I thought of my boy on the swing (Nonverbal 1/27) and his expression upon finally reaching the place calling out to him where his chunky little legs were no longer too short to fly.

If your daughter has epilepsy...

     Do not be afraid to share my stories with her.
     Instead, find my mistakes and teach your daughter not to repeat them, please.
 For example...
     I didn't believe my disease would take away my consciousness until I drove my car into a concrete house on Okinawa in 1995.
     It was the scariest day of my life up to that point.
     I barely made it back onto a military base or else it could've been a bigger mess.
     Because they drive on the left in Japan, I didn't hafta cross through five lanes of traffic to make it to the gate before passing out. I didn't insult my host country by causing a major accident:-)
     I saw the guard, and
    "We made it through," was my last conscious thought until
     I came back again,
     And it was over.
     Even after that, I didn't go back on Depakote because I was worried it might hurt Tommy.
     My neurologist thought I was crazy.
     When I woke up on my kitchen floor with Jimi standing over me, telling me to get up, I  realized Seth was right...Not about the crazy part, but about me going back on Depakote.
     He knew it was the safest thing for both of us at that point in my pregnancy, and I didn't trust his expertise. My decision was based on fear, and it was wrong.
     Before Ronnie was born in 1999, I planned just as carefully as I did the other times. That's one rule I followed. Your daughters can, too, especially these days.
     My big sister said I had to plan my pregnancies, always, when she explained the disease to me at the age of 22. The warnings are right on the packages, lots of them.
     I went back on Depakote even earlier with Ronnie, after waking up in the middle of the night feeling "that way" a few my fourth month, I think.
     I didn't wait for them to visit me in the daytime, too, because I didn't want to fall down and hurt him that way.

     Share this story, please, so your daughter will be unafraid of this disease, like me, but more cautious in how she handles it.
     My breed of epilepsy sounds tame compared to what she is dealing with.
     Mine is an old friend to me, as weird as that sounds.
     I want your daughter to see her dreams come true, minus the scary wake-up calls.
     Her seizures sound sooooooooooooo scary to me.
     Mine aren't scary enough, which is the sweet, bitter pill I swallow every morning as I feel my mind calling out to them while I brew coffee.
     It tastes so much better than the new ones I swallow at night to keep them away.


     Art Alexakis sang to me during my most recent seizure, minutes ago.
     I was editing my earlier post, which I do even after publishing, sometimes. They never feel quite good enough to share, but I do anyway.
     When I read the part about my kindergarten being in Mrs. Davis' basement, I thought about where she taught, at my future elementary school...and there I went.
     As I drifted into Henry Siler School again, I heard his voice...Please don't tell me everything is Wonderful now.
     If it isn't, then why do I feel that way when the seizure fades away, always?
     Isn't now the place I come back to after the seizure, with a secret smile on my face,
feeling so very wonderful..?


     When I have seizures while medicated, I remember more.
     That's what happened just now. They're much shorter, I don't blink my eyes a lot during the "deepest part" because I don't go there, and I can follow my thoughts while seizing.
     It began, like so many of them do, in kindergarten. I was thinking about my friend, Angela, and she took me there. I even reminded myself not to think about "old times," that my mind could get stuck...and then it happened.
     I've known her forever, since before kindergarten even, so she could take me almost anywhere.
     I was outside, but it didn't alarm me at all, being there in the pre-dawn hours having a seizure.
     Once it began, I simply followed the thoughts, first about Angela getting sick and missing a lot of days and how I must've  been scared she wasn't coming back.
     By the time that thought was fading, I was already there, in my head, while walking toward the garage.
     A few more steps, and I was thinking of Jay, which really surprised me. He was my favorite teacher's son, a year younger than us. We had two teachers, but I only remember her.
     We went to the same church and so did Angela, which made kindergarten feel like a bigger family, sort of. It was a private kindergarten, in the basement of a fourth-grade teacher's house.
     We weren't allowed to go upstairs.
     I thought about Jay, and how we treated him nicer because he was Mrs. Spence's son and a year younger than us. He was a little guy.
     I can't really remember much about him that year except that he was there even though he was only four years old.
     We didn't mind.
     That's about it. Pretty uneventful memory, except for the missing Angela and Mrs. Spence and Jay parts. I've been wondering since last summer where my mind goes during all these "kindergarten seizures," and now I know a little more.
     It isn't such a bad place to visit, especially going back to spend time with Angela and Mrs. Spence and Jay. I can't do that any more with him; he left us in 1985.
    Feeling his 4-year-old presence with me in my driveway at 4 a.m. wasn't scary at all for me. It was just a memory, and in it, we were all there together, him too.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Just enough

     Yes, I was scared.
     It wasn't Petrified scared or Shell-Shocked scared.
     It was No Going Back Now scared, like the day Ronnie was born.
     I was thrilled when the doctor said, "We're admitting you."
     But then, I remembered how much it hurt before.
     It was funny, realizing I was thinking about it nine months too late.

     Nothing was funny about standing in the pharmacy line to get my new drug.
     I want my Depakoted life back or my life before I knew what my "spells" were.
     I want to feel like me again.
     My knees were shaking, but no one could see. I looked down and checked to make sure.
     "Can this really be this?"
     It was self-pity. I wanted to run from her pathetic whining and even threw a glance at the door.
     Instead of going through, I practiced what to say at my turn, scripting it out in my head.
     I tried to sound smart and tough, like my sisters, so it wouldn't come out in a tangled mess, the way I feel inside.
     The new pills couldn't work if I left them on the bathroom shelf, afraid of the side-effects. That could happen if I didn't ask my questions the right way.
     My eyes slipped over to where Tommy sat, but he didn't notice because he was looking down at his phone, trying not to see the woman in the wheelchair.
      She didn't have any hair. A scarf covered almost all the places where it wasn't.
      Later, on the drive home, Tommy described her as "the lady with cancer," which was okay with me because I didn't want him thinking she has epilepsy.
     I stopped wondering about her label after she rolled over next to me and we got to know one another, with our eyes.
     When I looked into hers, they were beaming with joy.
     The bald woman in the wheelchair was having a better day than the curly-haired woman in the cowboy boots. We realized this and almost burst out giggling at our shared secrets, but
instead smiled harder at each other.

     Looking back at the counter, I told myself to Get a grip!!!!!
     That's when I heard the music.

     Where was it coming from?

     It couldn't be a speaker because the sound was too clear...
     The baby grand in the lobby..maybe?

     I couldn't tell for sure, so I started walking toward it.
     Then, I caught myself.
     Nobody else was getting out of line to follow the sound of Beethoven, but they were feeling it.
     We all were.
     At first, I wanted to keep walking and didn't care about having to wait in line all over again.

     I still had to get closer to find out where it was coming from.

     But then, I reminded myself that it wouldn't be fair to Tommy. He was already in a hospital pharmacy with his mother on a Friday afternoon.
     I stayed put, sort of.
     There were plenty of stops I could make in my mind on the trail of Fur Elise. We've been friends for a long time, since I was a little girl.
     It's stuck in me, like my accent.

     Everyone else was listening, or at least hearing it, as the background music to their own thoughts.
     It was like being in church when everyone pays attention to the same thing at exactly the same moment.
     We were all connected by something we couldn't quite explain, something bigger than us.
     "This is too much!" I said, but only to myself, inside my head.
     It was a last plea to hold back the hot, drippy, noiseless tears building up inside my cheeks, eager to make their debut in public, the worst place.
     But they didn't come out.
     The music wasn't too much; it was just enough.
     I stopped wanting my sisters to walk me to the counter and say the words for me, in their strong voices and instead found my own, ready to speak.
     It was finally my turn.