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david

David and I slide down the steepest side of a dirt and gravel hill. Our bodies rattle, plumes of dust rocket from our sneakers, we scream out in terror and joy. There is dust in our teeth, dust in our lungs. We have scraped our legs. Everything is blue sky and orange groves. Our stucco tract home is no more than a couple of miles away, but it might as well be gone. Our sister Sally is still there, neatly tucked into the sofa, reading, or playing Solitaire. She prefers to stay inside.

*

David tells me he sees visions of our dead mother all of the time. God inserts these images into his brain. God talks to him, too. He tells him to stop listening to Supergrass and Radiohead. I ask David, “If God told you to injure yourself, would you?” He hesitates before he says he doesn’t know. David was too young when she died. He doesn’t remember her.

*

David asks me if I have thought about my long distance phone service provider. I have not. He wears dark, shiny shirts now. Ties. Slacks. There is gel in his hair. He says “sweet” all of the time, like punctuation. He is a member of a pyramid scheme that has been banned in several states. I tell him I am not interested. I use very few words. I know I am hurting him.

*

David brings a Franciscan monk with him to Thanksgiving. The monk is a stereotype. He looks like Friar Tuck from that 1970s Robinhood cartoon. He wears a brown robe, tied at the waist with a rope. He is cheerful and round. He eats two slices of pie. I want to make fun of him, to shout to everyone, “There’s a monk at our table!” But he is kind and we take a photo together. I rest my arm on his shoulder and smile.

*

My friend Betony posts an Instagram of her brother on Facebook. His hair is brown, wind-whipped and frozen in place, and he wears a button-up denim shirt. He’s smiling. He looks like Betony, especially around the eyes. His fingers are curled around a tiny plastic figure. The caption says, “Love means making your brother pose with a Twilight doll.” I laugh when I realize her brother looks exactly like the miniature Robert Pattinson. They are wearing the same clothes. The hair, the complexion, it is all the same. Then, suddenly, I feel like crying.

*

David will propose to a girl this year. There will be a ceremony at the Catholic church where she lives and teaches. I am not invited. The news I receive about David never comes from David. I heard she has an extraordinary amount of siblings. 16? 17? Aren’t they all girls? That can’t be true. David holds signs outside of abortion clinics. He tells me he is praying for my children. David believes I should stay at home, but I can’t stay there. I can’t believe in God. We seldom speak, there’s too much to avoid. David will marry this girl and move back east, and there is nothing left to recover.

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but facebook

Scan 52

No friends, but a sweet Mickey Mouse watch.

I know, given my charming personality, that it is difficult to believe that I had very few friends in elementary, middle, and the beginning of high school. I was very large, my hair was very permed, and I had severe acne. I had several pairs of pleated pants, which I often wore with polo shirts and high top tennis shoes. I also had crippling social anxiety and terrible social skills. I rarely spoke, and when I did speak, it was always to say something fairly strange. I also had a fierce temper. When provoked, I would retaliate, and I got into many fist fights as a result. It was all really very pleasant.

Given all of this, I wasn’t invited to many parties. But one day, Jennifer, a girl at my bus stop, invited me to her birthday party. She was fairly popular, at least in my opinion. By fairly popular, I mean that she had friends.

I thought very hard about what to buy her for her birthday. It had to be cool. Very cool. I thought Spencer’s was a very cool place to shop, and so I wandered the aisles of whoopie cushions and sexual innuendo and finally decided on a necklace that said, “Bitch.” It was edgy. It was gold-plated. It was definitely cool. I purchased this necklace with my babysitting money and confidently strode out of the mall.

When I got to the party, I was happy to discover that Doritos were present, but I also realized that at parties you have to talk to people. I started panicking, which, for me, is always accompanied by profuse sweating. I told her I had to get going, and I started for home. I remember the enormous relief of stepping outside alone, the pressure of coming up with something to say dissolving instantly. It may have briefly crossed my mind that she might take the gift the wrong way, but mostly, I still believed she would think the necklace, like me, was incredibly cool.

Things did not go well at the bus stop the next day, and, because I am dumb, it took me almost a year to figure out why. Jennifer believed that I was calling her a bitch. Because of course she would. I gave her a necklace that said “Bitch.” What else was she supposed to think? She did not think I was very cool.

I still think back on this event and cringe.

There are several other horrifying and embarrassing things I said and did in high school, but eventually I started making friends, stopped perming my hair, and ditched the pleated pants. I tried to learn from the people around me. The social skills started coming along, but there were still huge mistakes.

In college, I was a little drunk at a party, and someone made the mistake of asking me about my thesis. And I told him about it. Oh, did I tell him about it. For something like an hour, maybe two hours. Maybe more. Because he was too nice, he kept asking follow-up questions, and I kept right on talking. I was so silent in high school that the pendulum swung much too far in the other direction. Once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. (See also: this blog.) And I still think about that poor, kind guy and how I ruined this party for him. I had hoped I would never see him again, just like I have never seen Jennifer again.

But Facebook.

I thought about sending him a message the other day, just to say, “Hey, I’m sorry I seemed so crazy all of those years ago. Really, I’m not crazy. See? Look, I’m super normal. And nice. And not weird at all. Well, a little weird, but not weird, weird.” But I thought the message might have the opposite effect, and I am guessing he has no interest in wasting more minutes on me talking at him.

Social media means that we can’t say and do horrifying, embarrassing things when we are young and never see those people again. I take comfort in the fact that social networks didn’t exist back then, not to the extent they do now. (Friendster doesn’t count.) And to those of you who see me embarrass myself now, and there are many of you, it used to be so much worse. Be glad you know me now. Yes, I still overshare and say strange, inappropriate things, but at least I’ve stopped perming my hair. That’s a start.

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the evidence

We take a lot of photos, and they mostly end up on our phone, on our computer, on Facebook. We rarely print them out to hang on the wall or enclose in a physical album. Most of the time, we forget about them. Today is Elliott’s birthday, so I thought I’d try to find a baby photo to post on Facebook. I scrolled through iPhoto, way back to Elliott’s 1st birthday party. Elliott was wearing a silky blue “1st Birthday” crown with a matching onesie. He didn’t look upset, really. It’s something closer to alarm, and it is in every photo. Even in the few in which he smiles, his, wide, worried eyes don’t match his curving mouth. He slept most of that day. He tasted his first cake, and then he went to sleep. In fact, he slept for nearly six hours, which was not normal for him. We hadn’t gotten the diagnosis of autism yet, but I knew something was wrong. All of the photos from that day reveal a beautiful and confused little boy, held by a depressed and overweight mother. This was a hard time. The photo album before Elliott’s First Birthday is Ben’s First Trip to Disneyland, during which the sensory processing problems we did not know he had, coupled with his severe language delay, reveal an overwhelmed and miserable little boy. Not the trip we had envisioned. This was also a time, unfortunately, during which I felt it was completely acceptable to wear a do-rag out in public, even to Disneyland. And then to be photographed in that state. These were desperate times.

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Elliott’s first birthday

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the decidedly unhappiest place on earth

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me. do-rag. Disneyland. not okay.

Last year, we sang happy birthday to Elliott, tentatively gauging his response. Would he be overwhelmed? Would he want any cake? We created a “safe” room for him to retreat into, with his favorite movies and music videos playing on loop. He used it once or twice, but not much. He had a friend over to celebrate, a huge first for him, and they played together the entire time, pausing for hugs and smiling together for the camera.

This year, he’s been talking about his birthday for weeks. He helped plan it. He invited two friends from school to a small party at the local bowling alley. He chose where he wanted to go to dinner. He jumped into our beds this morning, excited for the day to come. Ben made him a present and played Happy Birthday for him on the piano. There will be cookies at school, and cupcakes at dinner, and there will be new photos, too. He will smile in the photos, and this time his smile will match his eyes, because every year, he is happier. Every year is better. And I know how fortunate we are for that.

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