For as long as I can remember, dad called me mouse. He said I was so quiet he never knew when I was there. I tiptoed from room to room, looking for places to hide. The clothes hamper perhaps, or up in the magnolia tree, if I folded myself tight enough I could fit in the living room of my moms old doll house and pull the roof shut. It was dark in there and I felt safe. But I never thought of myself as quiet. The thoughts in my head were so loud I never realized I was supposed to be speaking. Absorbed in my own philosophical musings, I preferred imagination to reality. My parents, a photographer and writer/ballet dancer, were caught up in their own world and preferred me and my sisters out of the way so it worked. My report card always said, “doesn’t pay attention in class”. “Doesn’t apply herself.” I was a B/C student at best, putting in exactly enough effort to squeak by, but not a bit more.
The play ground was lonely though. I watched kids walk two by two, or three by three, out into the school yard at recess and realized I was the only one alone. I wondered why everyone had someone but me. Was something wrong with me? Year after year passed the same, until 4th grade when I gradually began to understand making friends involved speaking to someone. Conversations swirled around me all the time, but I only half heard them. By the time I realized I should say something, or interact in some way, the moment had passed. One day I was sent home from school early with a fever. Mom picked me up and we were buzzing down the highway in her red VW bug with the windows rolled down while she smoked a cigarette. The car couldn’t go past 55 without the whole thing shaking violently and she was pushing it. I kicked my sandals off onto the floorboard and the vibrations tickled my bare feet. I stared out the window chewing my lip and thinking about the problem. Maybe it was because I was sick and too tired to fight it anymore, but I finally decided I needed help. I would ask moms advice. This was a big moment, it was something I had never done before. Finally I spoke. To her credit, she showed no reaction. Foot up on the dash next to the steering wheel and arm hanging out the window she looked straight ahead and casually blew a line of smoke at the windshield. I could tell she didn’t want to scare the mouse. I began speaking hesitantly, then built up speed talking faster and faster, pleading with her to understand the direness of the situation. The words tumbled out of me. With a 10 year olds limited vocabulary, I explained that I felt completely out of control and I thought something might be wrong with my brain. I told her I wanted a friend like everyone else, but whatever disorder I had kept getting in the way. I desperately wanted to be normal and I recognized I wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to stop thinking long enough to be like everyone else. I tried and simply couldn’t make myself stop and pay attention to what was going on around me. It was too hard. My heart was a lump in my throat. The words had been jumbled up so long I was almost crying as they tumbled out. Then I stopped and waited. I needed her to understand and have a solution. I wanted her to rub the back of my hair and tell me it would be ok; that we would figure this thing out. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.
Until she yelled at me.
Mom had listened intently asking the occasional question until I was done. A long moment passed after I stopped speaking. I leaned toward her praying for a solution, needing more than anything for her to help. Begging for her to say something genius that would solve all this. She waited thoughtfully, then squinted her eyes and took another long drag on her cigarette. Quickly as if she had made a decision she blew it out in a frustrated puff, smothered her cigarrette in the ashtray, then COMPLETELY let loose on me. “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? That’s the dumbest thing I have EVER HEARD! You’re telling me YOU CANT CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND?! Do you think IIIIIII can control your mind for you? What the hell do you think I can do to help?! I can’t fix this for you! YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN FIX THIS!!!! If you want to talk- TALK, if you want to stop daydreaming all the time- do it dammit! OH. My. God. LISTEN TO YOURSELF! You’re not stupid. FIX IT! YOU CONTROL YOUR MIND!”
I was frozen; Shocked. My mom wasn’t much of yeller and only cussed in dire situations, like when she dropped the cast iron skillet on her foot, or there was a rat in the house. Here I had poured out my heart. I had pleaded for help. I genuinely couldn’t figure this thing out. I was pretty sure something was wrong with my brain and she was telling me to get a grip?! She had not an ounce of sympathy for what I had been going through and to make it worse- she was my last resort. If she couldn’t help no one would. It wasn’t the reaction I had expected to say the least. I cried all the way home. When we got there she pulled up into the driveway, jumped out of the car, grabbed her purse and slammed the door leaving me there to finish hiccuping and crying.
My mom was a strategist. Neglectful, but rarely mean, she knew sometimes to wake someone up you have to slap them. I didn’t realize it then, but she had given me exactly what I needed. She had freed me. I now knew no one was going to come to my rescue. I had to save myself. Like she said, “No one was going to fix me, but me”. The next weekend there was a slumber party at classmates house. I was only invited because she invited all the girls, but I was determined I was going to make a friend. I didn’t that day, but I took big steps towards it, and little by little I forced myself, through a sheer act of self discipline to take control of my myself and who I wanted to be. It was hard; but that year, I was voted class president.