Jolly

via Daily Prompt: Jolly

Jolly is a word I associate with Christmas and the Christmas season is in full swing. This year Christmas decorations started going up in the mall the day after Halloween and I was a grinch about the season starting so early but now, in the middle of December I’m in the Christmas spirit.

I now really appreciate the Christmas decorations, the Santas, the carolers and the gift wrappers at the mall. I appreciate the giving spirit of the Christmas tree in the center of the mall that encourages purchasing gifts for needy children and as a name nerd I appreciate seeing the childrens’ names. I was going through all the ornaments and texting the names to my fellow name nerd friend.

For the first time in over a decade I’m able to have a Christmas tree in my house because I’m not living with a Jewish stepfather who forbids it. Although as far as I’m concerned the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving, we just got our Christmas tree yesterday. We got a live, medium sized one from Home Depot. It would be nice if we still had the Christmas ornaments from my childhood but we don’t so we had to get new ones. We opted for plastic over glass because glass ornaments would be a disaster in a house with a very curious, playful cat.

Sure enough, as soon as we put down the Christmas tree stand in our living room Dr. Zeus got curious about it.  He was also curious about the ornaments and the packaging they came in. He took the package in his mouth and batted at the ornaments with his paws. Once they were on the tree he knocked some of them off. He hasn’t done too much damage to the tree at this point though and it looks quite beautiful. In addition to the ornaments it has a garland, a bow and lights.

The night we decorated the Christmas tree we listened to Christmas music and baked snowman cookies (I probably shouldn’t have eaten them all in one sitting but self control has never been my strong suit.) The snow that’s still on the ground from the season’s first snowfall further added to the ambiance.

Despite what Donald Trump would have you believe, there is no war on Christmas.  Thanks to him and his party, there is, however, a war on human decency. The horrible things that are going on in this world right now and the general crappiness of my personal life often leave me feeling quite depressed.  Yet when I look at my beautiful Christmas tree with my mischievous cat perched in front of it and I take in all the Christmas cheer that surrounds me, I feel jolly.

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When Online is Out of Line: A Danger to the Community

That thread with my name on it was started by Ninjamod6. It read:

“We have asked Kira to take a break from the board for two weeks.  We realize not everyone will agree with this decision but it was the best we could come up with. It’s not meant as a punishment but it’s a technique we have used in the past when we’re getting numerous reports about the same person- the person takes a break and everyone calms down-although usually it happens behind the scenes rather than out in the open like this. When she comes back we request that you cut her some slack and we have requested that she do the same with members she seems to have an antagonistic relationship with.”

A member we’ll call Hello Kitty asked the moderators if they’d made a determination about whether or not I was being bullied. A moderator replied that they’d issued some warnings to other people but they saw it as rudeness and dislike more than bullying because they’d expect bullying to be more insidious and to go on over an extended time period.

Regardless of what the moderators wanted to call what was being done to me on that board, I certainly felt like I was being bullied. It had been going on for years and it had been getting progressively worse. I knew there was more to it than just what was directly said to me on the board itself.

I knew members were talking trash about me and spreading rumors about me behind my back . I knew that they did it over private messages on the board, over Facebook and on their spin off board that only a select group of members from the main board were invited to. I knew that behind the scenes I was being reported to moderators, that a bunch of members had reported me to Facebook for having a fake name so that I would get kicked out of the board Facebook group. I knew that a large group of people were doing their best to make me snap, to make me feel unwelcome and excluded from a social group that was important to me, to get me kicked out of it.

Once a moderator had said they didn’t think I was being bullied a member called Hedwig  said she found the whole situation weird because unlike most forums this forum hid the identity of the moderators and that meant the people who were picking on me could be moderators.

A member named Mackenzie took offense at Hedwig’s comment. She said it was seriously disturbing to suggest that the moderators were the bullies and that she thought the moderators had made a good decision.  It’s not surprising that she reacted that way since I’m pretty sure she’s a moderator.

Ninjamod 3 piped up to assure everyone that none of the moderators had been picking on me under their regular member identities. I’m sure everyone appreciated that very definitive proof.

A member called Cookie said “I assume you also got numerous reports about some of the other participants in that thread . I know I reported one person in two different threads on Kira-related matters. Have those people been asked to take a break?”

The moderators didn’t answer that question.

The thread went on for about 10 pages until the forum administrator locked it. For 10 pages people criticized me, insulted me, judged me, defended me and analyzed me.  For 10 pages people picked apart everything I had done in the past and predicted what I would do in the future. My motives were speculated about. My personal life, my mental health and my disability were all up for discussion.

Here are some of the things I got to read about myself:

“Kira is an unrepentant antagonist and while I’m sure the two week break will do nothing to curb her hyper posting and combative spirit, I am happy for the vacation from it.”

“Kira spends more time on this board than anyone else can possibly manage. Sometimes I wonder if she sleeps. What really creeps me out is her encyclopedic knowledge of old threads and of who posts what. I think there’s been some tiptoeing around her because of her autism and her life crap.”

“It gets annoying when half the board has to tiptoe around Miss “I have autism!”

“Kira appears to be high functioning enough to use autism as an excuse for her aggressive posting behavior.”

“I wonder what happened to Kira. She graduated from college, had a job at a daycare and mentioned having a boyfriend at some point. Now suddenly she is too disabled to do anything besides post on the internet and apparently even living on her own is impossible. I think she needs more help than we can offer here.”

“I am shocked to learn her age. I thought she was 24 or some such with issues that made her seem like a teenager.  30?????!!!!? She really does need more help than can be offered here.”

“I wasn’t aware of Kira’s background until a thread where I ended up picking on her inability to clean a toilet. I had no idea that she didn’t have those basic skills. I had it in my head that she had been to college, was working, etc,  Guess I was wrong. I apologized to her but after that I was more aware of her attack mode and of how much time and effort she spent here. Her encyclopedic knowledge spooked me out.”

“Two weeks is a long time for someone who seems to spend her every waking moment online. I wonder if in the meantime she’ll find another board and become obsessed with them instead. I cannot imagine she will survive cold turkey. When she was posting while she was on vacation in Romania “I thought ‘This is not healthy behavior’.

I’ve noticed an increase in her defensiveness, her whining and her arrogance towards the board. She made a condescending comment to me but I didn’t want to give her the attention of responding to it and I know that if I did I would get the “I’m autistic!” line. I agree that she needs help we can’t give here but we can help the board by reigning her in when she can’t do that herself.”

“The things Kira posts are shallow and not thought provoking. She’s contributed to the board stagnation and is one of the reasons I don’t come here as much as I used to.”

“Nothing Kira posts comes from a place of wanting to create discussion-it’s just to boost her post count.”

“I’ve had Kira on ignore for a long time but she’s so difficult to ignore. I see her posts everywhere because people are constantly quoting her in reply and she posts so often in every thread that half the conversation is lost in the Kira vaccuum. I think she’ll be away for two weeks and then not change at all. The main reason I had her on ignore was her complete inability to see things objectively and deal effectively with human beings. Dealing with her is so tiresome. It’s decreased my interaction with this forum. I look forward to being more active while she’s away.”

“I’m just wondering if we can trust that Kira will stay away for these 2 weeks. With her being as obsessed with the board as she is it seems reasonable to assume she’d create another account to skulk about the board with. I really can’t see her staying away.”

“There’s a quote I think is relevant to this situation:  ‘The only common feature in all your dissatisfying relationships is you. That is extremely true with Kira.”

“Here’s how arguments about Kira always go:

One: I don’t like the way Kira posts.

Two: Don’t respond to her then.

One:  She’s  ruining the board for me.

Two: Then put her on ignore.

One: Then I miss things and things are weird.

Two: Post your own threads then.

One: She posts in my threads too, She posts everywhere all day long.

Two: Post in the pregnancy and parenting forum. She’s never there.

One: Okay but her reading and memorizing my information is creeping me out so I don’t want to put my stuff out there.”

Once again the nastiest comments of all came from Marcia:

“People have said clearly and unequivocally that they’ve left the board because of Kira. More, including me have said that they post less because of her. Now that she’s gone the board is already looking more active. Ignoring her is problematic. She’s made herself a part of this board. No matter how annoying and irritating she is, she is there. If you put her on ignore a bunch of threads become inaccessible to you and several more become incomprehensible due to her manic posting unless you unblock her posts to read them, which defeats the point.

This board is my main community outside my workplace and if I put Kira on ignore I have roadblocks limiting where I can go. “Can’t go down that road, she’s blocking it, I’ll go in to this shop , oh wait, no, she’s blocking the window. With the few other members I’ve put on ignore (and all have ended up banned), I’ve maybe locked myself out of one shop. Kira’s different. She’s everywhere and she knows everything every one of us has said and doesn’t hesitate to use that information when it benefits her. She’d be a danger in my community and she’s a danger in this community.

I am bitterly disappointed in the moderators telling us to cut her some slack. I really didn’t think that’s how we do things around here. Kira is going to come back here full of butt hurt about how she was bullied and got punished and it’s just not going to be pretty.”

I’m not sure why Marcia thinks I’d be a danger in her community but since her community is very far away from me, contains a lot of spiders and contains her, she can rest assured I will never set foot in it.

I was not full of butt hurt about how I was bullied and got punished. I was full of real, deep, genuine, justified hurt.

 

Tenterhooks

via Daily Prompt: Tenterhooks

I must apologize to all my loyal readers who wait on tenterhooks for my next blog post and are dying to hear what happens next in those epic sagas I publish on my blog. The problem is that while I’ve always had the ability to write well, I’ve never had the ability to write quickly and I’ve always struggled to limit the length of my writing. I don’t suffer from writer’s block these days. I suffer from having lots of ideas for writing but not enough time to write them all. Actually that’s not true. I have a lot of free time. I just don’t have enough time management skills.

Anyway, dear readers, I hope I’ve just made it up to you by publishing two short blogs within minutes of each other.

Patina

via Daily Prompt: Patina

I must confess that I did not know what the word patina meant. At first I thought maybe it was a bone in the leg but then I realized I was thinking of the patella. Then for some reason I thought it was a buffet or smorgasboard.  When I looked up the definition, I realized that not only did I have no clue what it meant, I’d also been mispronouncing it in my head. Then I wondered if there are any women out there named Patina.

I was trying to think of a way to incorporate its definition in to a blog post when I finally decided “Fuck it, I ain’t got time for that and there’s no sense in acting like it’s a word I’m familiar with and use all the time.” I guess you could say I carry the patina of being highly literate and having an extensive vocabulary but clearly that’s not always the case (and I wouldn’t be surprised if I used the word incorrectly in that sentence.) Thank you for teaching me a new word, WordPress.

Thanksgiving with the Family

I spent this Thanksgiving with my mother, my father, my brother, my dog and my cat in our house in the suburbs with its white picket fence. My brother flew in from Texas to spend the holiday with us. While my mom prepared Thanksgiving dinner, my brother and I watched The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade followed by The Purina Dog Show. As my brother snuggled the dog and cat I told him he should have been a veterinarian instead of a doctor.

My parents argued over how to serve the turkey and my mom was driven crazy by a mysterious beeping sound, the source of which took a while to find. We took those snafus in stride though, as they’re pretty par for the course. When my brother was a kid he was given a school assignment that involved describing his family’s Thanksgiving routine.  He wrote that before his mother prepared the meal she covered the fire alarms with tinfoil.

Once we discovered that the beeping noise was coming from the oven we gathered around the table to enjoy our meal. It was a meal that included turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, asparagus and a dish my brother and I dubbed ‘junky corn mush’ as children.  Dessert was pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We reminisced about the past, we pondered the future and we enjoyed the present.  My dad promised to sweep the leaves off the porch later and my mom reminded him that next week he needed to bring her to the train station.

After we finished the meal we squeezed together on the sofa, smiled and took a family selfie. Then we turned on the television and laughed over a sitcom together.

We’re like the perfect, stereotypical Norman Rockwell portrait of a loving, cookie cutter family.  Except for one small detail: My parents have been separated for twenty- five years and divorced for sixteen of those years.

The mom in this portrait recently left her second husband and now has a significant other in Chicago. The dad has a significant other in France who has two teenage children of her own and is around the same age as his daughter from his first marriage. The child of the mom’s second husband died of a drug overdose. The son in this portrait is a Trump supporter. Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog knows that the daughter has some pretty severe mental health issues.

The dog is currently at the center of a custody battle between the mother and her second husband. The cat- well, I guess the cat has the cleanest record of us all but he did begin life as a stray and has a chunk missing from his ear to prove it.

For the past 15 years or so my brother and I have gone to Connecticut with our father to spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s house, while my mother spent the holiday with our stepfather’s family. This Thanksgiving was her first Thanksgiving after leaving my stepfather. She didn’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone so we decided the four of us would celebrate Thanksgiving 2017 as ‘the original gang’ in her new house (That she shares with me. Another mark against the daughter is that she’s failed to become an independent adult.)

My dad was already well acquainted with our new house. In fact he paid for half of it. Sure, he was a little frustrated the last time he bought my mother and me a house so we could escape my stepfather and we returned a month later (right after our last dog died tragically and unexpectedly) but he was willing to take the risk again. This time we would be living closer to him. To my father family is everything.

It means a lot to all four of us actually.  Life didn’t turn out as planned for any of us. We’ve never been the most conventional family and we’ve had our fair share of conflicts with each other but through all the hardships, hospitalizations, deaths and divorces life has thrown our way we’ve been there for each other.  That is something to be thankful for.

Besides, sometimes even when life throws you lemons and curveballs, even when it breaks your heart and fractures your family and becomes abnormal in a thousand different ways, in the end you still get to enjoy a lovely holiday with your first husband, your pigeon pair of children and your color coordinated pair of pets in your cozy little house with a white picket fence in the suburbs. Just ask my mother.

Top ten things Trump and his ilk have ruined for me

1. Statistics- I’d heard that quote “There are lies,damn lies and statistics” but before the 2016 election I trusted statistics. Since statistics had Hillary’s chances of winning at around 97% I was confident she would win. Yeah, we all know how that turned out.

2. Red hats- Whenever I see someone in a red hat from a distance there’s that moment where I wonder if they’re just harmlessly showing their support for their favorite sports team or their alma matter or if they’re someone I should avoid because they want to Make America Great Again.

3. Tiki torches- They were a regular staple at outdoor meals at my father’s house but after Charlottsville I’ll just never look at them the same way again.

4. The name Donald- Before I associated it with a duck that was kind of silly and stupid but harmless and lovable. Now I associate it with that dangerous, unlikable orange idiot who occupies the White House. Mamas, don’t name your sons Donald.

5. Thoughts and prayers- Before it was a sweet way of telling people who were going through a hard time that you loved them and were concerned for them. Now it’s the stock phrase thrown out by politicians in the wake of every mass shooting in lieu of actually trying to do something to prevent gun violence.

6.  Snowflakes- Before they were those beautiful, magical, unique wonders of nature that fell from the sky. Now it’s a lame-ass insult that conservatives hurl at liberals when they suggest behaving with compassion and human decency or are upset by a lack thereof.

7. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”- Because you know that when Trump and his ilk say that they’re not just referring to the snow.

. The number 45-  I often use it in lieu of his name to avoid giving power to his name and it now seems much more unlucky than 13.

9. My relationship with my brother- I still love him despite the fact that he’s a Trump supporter but I’ve discovered he’s the stupidest smart person I know. We always vow not to talk about Trump with each other because it just results in raised voices and frustration but we always end up discussing it anyway. Arguing with him about Trump really is like banging my head against a brick wall ( hey, ‘wall’, there’s another term that’s been ruined for me thanks to Trump.)

10. The Republican Party- It’s been going downhill for a while now but a big orange straw broke the elephant’s back ( and then lifted the ban on hunting it for its tusks.) Now it’s taken the leap off of batshit cliff and the nail is being hammered in its coffin.

 

 

Underdog

via Daily Prompt: Underdog

We call my dog ,Lily, Underdog because she’s always going under things. If you’re looking for her and can’t find her, there’s a good chance she’s under the table. At our old house she was always going under beds but at our new house she’s discovered much to her chagrin, that the beds are constructed in a way that make it impossible for her to get under them. She’s just too big

She’s usually driven under furniture by sounds she doesn’t like- that sound could be thunder, fireworks, music, beeping, glasses clinking together or some sound that is perceptible only to her. She has very big ears and is very sensitive to noises. One time we were walking her through the neighborhood when fireworks started going off.  As there was no furniture around, she darted under a parked car.

Aside from noises, the other thing that tends to drive her under furniture is seeing an object she wants there, usually one of her toys. I said that she can’t fit under beds in our new house but she hasn’t quite accepted that fact. She still tries to get under the beds.  She thrusts her head under the bed and whines and barks, hoping that if she just tries hard enough the bed will magically shift to accommodate her or she’ll magically shrink.

While Lily is too big to fit under the beds, the cat, Dr. Zeus, is not. He goes under them quite a bit, especially when he’s mad at his humans and as you can imagine this drives Lily crazy.  The two of them like to play-fight and while Lily has the advantage of being bigger, Dr. Zeus has the advantage of being able to retreat under furniture. He’s taken an especial liking to the footstools in front of the sofa. I’ve taken to calling him Undercat.

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A Different Kind of High School Reunion

I enter the doors of my old high school. There’s a security guard sitting at a desk in the front hallway. I sign my name in a log book along with the time and date. It’s November 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving. Under “Reason for visiting” I write “Academy Alumni Event”.  After confirming that my name is on a list, the guard hands me a name tag, with a drawing of a knight, the school’s mascot, on it.  I put it on my chest, where I can feel my excitement building.

I’m not the kind of person you’d think would get excited about high school reunions. I wasn’t popular in high school and I’m not popular now. I tend to be reserved and socially awkward, to avoid social events whenever possible. I don’t have the kind of life that’s likely to impress anyone from my past and I often dread having to talk about my life with new or old acquaintances. This is a different kind of high school reunion though.

I ascend the staircase and look at the numbers beside the classroom doors. 211…216.. 219.. 222. I’m there. The location of the classroom that housed the class I knew so well and loved so much when I was in high school has changed but the atmosphere is the same. I rush in and envelop Ms. Madigan in a bear hug.

“Now that’s a good hug. This kid over here comes in and hugs me with one arm and I’m like ‘What kind of of a hug is that?’ She gestures towards one of the other alumni.  I don’t recognize him. I don’t know any of the alumni in the room. They were after my time.

I glance around at the decorations in the room.  There’s a bulletin board that says “Lettuce Taco Bout the Elements of a Story.”

“Is Mr. Giarelli responsible for that one?” I ask Ms. Madigan.

“No, I came up with it myself.”

“Where is Mr. Giarelli?”

“He’s teaching another class. He’ll be here soon.”

“And Delilah?’

“She’s coming at 11”

I call my mother and tell her not to pick me up until 11:30.

Two familiar faces enter the room.

“Hey, Phoenix!” I say to the adorable toddler in my friend’s arms.

“And hi, Zara” I say to my friend, remembering my manners.

Ms. Madigan takes Phoenix in to her arms. I snap a picture of them. Then I search through my Facebook albums on my phone and compare it to the picture I took of them at this time last year, when Phoenix was an infant.

An alumni enters the room with a puppy in her arms. Phoenix reaches for him.

Zara turns to me. “Phoenix loves him as much as she loved your cat. We’ll have to get together at your house again soon so they can play together.”

“Sorry I couldn’t join Zara and Delilah for lunch at your house that day” Ms. Madigan says.

“That’s okay. I knew you were busy at the school.”

“But you live near the school now so you could walk over and eat lunch with us sometime.”

“Yeah, I’d like that. Hey, did I tell you I ran in to James a few months ago?”

“Really?’

“Yeah, I was walking by my therapist’s house while I was waiting for my appointment and he said ‘Kira? It’s James, Ms. Madigan’s son.’ I said ‘Yeah, I thought it was you but I wasn’t sure and I was too afraid to say anything.  I’m glad you’re braver than I am.” We both laugh.

I walk over to the refreshments table to grab some pumpkin pie. In the center of the table is a ‘Gratitude tree’ with each paper leaf representing what each person is grateful for. I look at the words written on some of the leaves.  Among the gratitude expressed for things like health, friends and family, there is gratitude expressed for the Academy.

“How did the Thanksgiving feast go yesterday?” I ask Ms. Madigan.

“It went well. We had a lot of people come. Did we do Thanksgiving feasts when you were here?’

“Yes, I was around for the beginning of every Academy tradition. I started most of them.”

“This is true.”

I remember we were allowed to invite a guest within the school to our feast. At first my brother was reluctant to come eat with ‘the crazy class’ but in the end I convinced him. I remember when asked to name something I was grateful for I said The Academy.

A new staff member I don’t know walks into the room and introduces himself as Mr. Willis.  He announces that a video tape is being made in which alumni will be asked questions about The Academy.

“In answer to the question ‘What was the best part of the Academy?’ you all better say me” Ms. Madigan interjects.

“Should we have the oldest alumni go first?” Mr. Willis asks.

“No, because I’m the oldest alumni and I’m not ready” I reply.

As I buy myself some more time, I glance around the room some more. The journal question on the board is “How would you show other people that you are grateful for them?” The quote of the day is “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength.”

I pace over to the classroom supply closet.  On one of its glass doors is another quote. It reads “There are no endings, only new beginnings.” Underneath it is the year I graduated.

In the closet is the stuffed rat my classmate Ariel gave to Ms. Madigan back in the day.  Many years later, another classmate, Vanessa gave her another stuffed rat. In May I completed the trifecta and gave her a third stuffed rat. As the other teachers show off the flowers and chocolates they get from their students, Ms. Madigan can show off the rats she got from hers.

I pace to the sliding wall that divides the classroom in two. On the wall is a blue paper silhouette of a person. Around the person’s head are black and white images of smaller people with their heads drooped in to their arms, dark clouds hovering above them. They are surrounded by quotes such as “Wasted Talent”, “I was doing better,why am I like this again?”, “Lonely is not being alone, it’s the feeling that no one cares”,” I’m not smart enough and I don’t know enough about what’s going on”, “Life” and “Family.”

Beside the blue person is a list of student goals. One of them says “To go to a good college and get a good job.” In the background I can hear the alumni telling the teachers about their colleges, their jobs, their significant others and their children. The familiar waves of shame, jealousy, regret and longing wash over me.

On the blue person’s chest it says “It’s okay not to be okay.”

Mr. Giarelli enters the room. His mustache is gone but otherwise he looks the same as he did when he was my teacher.  “Hey, Kira!” he says as he hugs me.

“Glad to be back in The Academy?’ I ask.

“Definitely!”

“It’s where you belong.”

He sits on the sofa. I take a seat across from him where a circle of of alumni has gathered.  “Do you know Randall?” Mr. Giarelli asks gesturing to a young man on my left.

“I didn’t go to school with him but I met him at last year’s alumni reunion.”

Randall tells Mr. Giarelli he’s heard that Delilah left the The Academy and the program isn’t what it used to be. They discuss what’s changed and what the future has in store. Then the discussion moves to the past. Mr. Giarelli talks about how he decided he wanted to work with emotionally disturbed adolescents, how he used to work at an alternative school with Ms. Madigan and how that led to them working at The Academy.

“Shakira?” Mr. Wilson calls out. I laugh at the name error and then take my seat in front of the camera. The questions appear on the screen. I stumble and hesitate over some of my words. I’m not quite as eloquent as I’d like to be but I get the gist of what I want to express across.

State your name, graduation year and what you’re doing now.

“My name is Kira. I graduated in 2003. Now I’m tutoring English and blogging.”

What staff and students do you remember and why?

“I remember everyone. I remember the main staff, the teachers, Ms. Madigan and Mr. Giarelli and the therapist, Delilah. I remember them because they’re wonderful.”

If I went in to all the reasons why they were wonderful I’d be there all day. I think of Mr. Giarelli and his corny jokes that you couldn’t help but laugh at. I think that it somehow seems fitting that Ms. Madigan needed surgery for an enlarged heart because she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. I think of the Tuesday afternoons I would spend with Delilah, of her belief that she’s not warm and fuzzy and how I beg to differ.

“As for the students, I remember Vanessa and Zara. I’m still friends with them today. I remember Ariel, who was in the same graduating class as me and Vanessa. The staff called us The Three Witches of Eastwick. I remember Laila, who I had a love-hate relationship with. I remember Peter and Annie, who I rode the bus with.  I remember Evan and Toby and Jason and so many more.”

What was the best part about being in The Academy?

“The best part about being in The Academy was the sense of belonging it gave me. When I was in middle school I was fortunate enough to have teachers who took care of me and looked out for me. My freshman year of high school I didn’t have that so much. I felt lost and developed emotional problems. In The Academy I found my place. I learned so much, laughed so much and had so much fun.”

What would you have changed about The Academy? 

“I would have changed the behavior modification system with the rewards and the punishments and the purple sheets. It felt juvenile and condescending and it didn’t help me. I really wouldn’t have changed much about The Academy though.”

I can think of a bunch of little things that bothered me about The Academy when I was in high school but in the grand scheme of all that it gave me they seem insignificant and not worth mentioning.

What advice would you give to Academy students? 

“I would tell them to be grateful for everything everyone in The Academy is doing for them. I’d tell them to realize that even if they’re doing something they don’t like, they may have their best interests at heart. I would tell them not to think that once they graduate, they’re out of sight, out of mind.  The staff say ‘Once you’re ours, you’re ours forever’ and they mean it. If you haven’t talked to them in several years you can pick up right where you left off. They’ll still care about you and they’ll still help you. It happened with me.”

I walk back to the other side of the room. I say to Mr. Giarelli “One of the questions was ‘Who from The Academy do you remember?’ I’m sure you know I remember everyone.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll never forget that day we all played the name game where we went around the circle saying each others’ names. You knew everyone’s first name, middle name, last name, birthday, probably their social security numbers too.”

“She knows my kids’ birthdays!” Ms. Madigan says.

“You know, Kira, through you and  some other students, I learned not just to accept others’ differences but to appreciate them” Mr. Giarelli says.

I remember how in The Academy my pacing, my messy handwriting, my bluntness and my dark sense of humor were appreciated-things many other people just found annoying and inappropriate.

“So Kira… have you found some measure of happiness?’ Mr. Giarelli continues.

“Yes, I have.”

“What are some things that make you happy?”

“My dog,my cat, my writing, living by the pond.”

“Remember when we would take field trips to the pond?”

“Of course I remember!”

The clock strikes 11, the time when the Alumni reunion is supposed to end.

“Hey, do you want to get a picture of everyone before they leave?” I ask Ms. Madigan.

“Oh yes, thanks for reminding me. Everyone gather together for a picture.”

I squeeze in between Zara and Ms, Madigan and smile. Then I request that a picture be taken with my camera too.

At 11:15 Delilah walks in carrying art supplies in one hand and a sign with a motivational quote in the other hand. It says ‘It is what it is.’

“Hey Kira! It’s good to see you!” I kiss her on the forehead. Then I call my mother and tell her not to worry about picking me up. I’ll walk back home whenever I’m done.

When I turn around Delilah is saying something about being warm and fuzzy. Then she’s consulting an alumni who’s studying to be a psychologist about an issue she’s having in her own clinical practice.

Finally at around noon I head out of the classroom, Delilah and Ms. Madigan by my sides, struggling to hold on to all the things they have to carry.

“I can’t believe I actually thought the kids would all be gone by 11. Maybe next year you should have the event on a full day instead of a half day” Delilah says as we walk down the hallways.

“Then they’d stay all day” Ms. Madigan points out.

We walk out of the building and in to the parking lot.  I say goodbye. I hug them both and tell them I love them. They tell me they love me too.

As I head towards the route by the pond that will take me home I can feel the crisp November air on my face and a mix of emotions swirling within me but there’s one emotion I feel more prominently than all the others, an emotion that permeates my whole being. Gratitude.

 

When Online is out of Line: No innocent victim

Although the moderators of that forum had never really come down on my side or spoken out against the people who attacked me, this time some of the people who attacked me were so far out of line, I held out hope that the mods would defend me and admonish my attackers.

Instead I got a message from them asking me to take a break from the board for two weeks and assuring me that it wasn’t meant as a punishment. It felt like a punishment to me and I didn’t appreciate that I was the one that was supposed to remove myself and not my attackers. Since I was so wrapped up in that forum and it was my main form of socialization, being away from it for two weeks was not appealing to me.

I replied by asking if I was really being given an option or if I was going to be forced to take a break. I said that it didn’t seem fair that I was being asked to leave when other people were bullying me, that they would just see that they could make me leave by antagonizing me.

This was the reply I got:

“Well, we’d prefer that you take a break on your own but since you don’t want to, we’re closing your account for two weeks starting tonight. We don’t like it but we’ve run out of other options. None of this is fair or unfair. It just is.

No one is making you go away. You are being sent away to get some perspective. Maybe you can think of ways to spend your time that don’t involve this board. Maybe you can follow the advice you’ve been given and post threads that are more personally meaningful to you.

No one is bullying you. They don’t like you and they’re no longer being polite about it. There’s a difference. We’ll deal with those people but you’re no innocent victim in all of this. We’d ask that you stop flying off the handle every time you think someone is being rude to you. It only escalates the situation and you’ve been wrong about the other person’s intention more often than not. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and we’ll request that others do the same for you.”

I felt rather gaslit by that response and I found parts of it to be ridiculous. I don’t think I’d been wrong about the other person’s intention more often than not. The only instance I could recall in which I supposedly misread someone’s intention was when Marcia said something I perceived as a slight against me and she claimed she didn’t mean it like that. Considering Marcia’s history of attacking me, I think I can be forgiven for perceiving it that way.  Making passive aggressive statements to insult someone else and then claiming they’re misinterpreting you when they get upset about it is an emotional manipulation technique as is telling someone that their perceptions of reality are usually wrong.

Another way to gaslight someone is to tell them they’re always over reacting to things they have legitimate reasons to be upset about. Yes, I had certainly gotten defensive on that forum but I saw that as a natural reaction to being attacked, not as ‘flying off the handle’ in reaction to imagined slights. I didn’t just think people were being rude to me, I knew they were being rude to me. Sometimes it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt but sometimes there’s no benefit of the doubt to give. When Marcia called me a troll was I supposed to assume she was complimenting me on my brightly colored hair?

These people were ‘no longer being polite’ to me but they weren’t being rude to me?  Considering all the awful things that had been said to me on that forum, I was surprised at how hurt I was by the statement ‘They don’t like you.’ It’s human nature to want to be liked. Logically I know not everyone’s going to like me but I don’t like being disliked by a large group of people.

That subforum in which I was being reprimanded for posting threads that weren’t personally meaningful to me?  It was called Outside and Impersonal. The thread in which I was reprimanded? It was about something that was happening in the town right next to the town in which I lived.

The moderators, however, were absolutely right that I needed to get some perspective and find ways of spending time that didn’t involve the forum. Unfortunately perspective and better ways of spending my time were not things that would come to me easily.  Nor would they come to me quickly.

Reading and participating in that thread had been traumatic for me.  Every cruel insult, negative comment and nasty criticism was like a prick to my skin and left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach.  The notice that I had been suspended for two weeks left me feeling like I had been punched in the face. That night I went to a movie but I didn’t comprehend it much at all because I was so upset and my mind was so preoccupied.  Unfortunately my trauma was just beginning.

The next morning I contacted Bernadette.

“Hey, how are you?” I asked.

“I’m okay. I’m pissed that you were forced to take a break from the forum but no one who antagonized you was.”

“What’s going on on the board?”

“The mods started a thread with your name on it.”

 

 

 

 

Please don’t talk about me like I’m not there

“Is she autistic?” the woman asked my mom’s friend as I walked by.  I suspected she was talking about me but I held out some small hope that she wasn’t.  When my mom’s friend started to reply “She’s my friend Cathy’s daughter and she- ” all doubt was removed. I didn’t hear the rest of what she said because I left the room. I had no desire to listen to  people discussing me and my diagnosis right in front of me as if I couldn’t hear or understand them. If they were going to talk about me as if I wasn’t in the room, then I was going to leave the room. I’m lucky that I had the ability to make an exit.

I’m not sure what tipped this woman off. Maybe my mom’s friend had been talking to her about me. Maybe it was my pacing and flapping that did it. The fact that she hadn’t heard me speak probably heightened her perception of me as seriously disabled. People who hear me speak or read my writing first tend to be surprised to find out that I’m disabled in any way. People who see me pacing and flapping first tend to be surprised to hear me speaking in complete sentences.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. I’ve had people respond to my flapping, pacing and stereotyped movements by asking another adult who’s with me why I’m doing that and if they’re watching me. They ask the other person that question when I’m within earshot and eyesight. I know this kind of thing happens to other disabled people too. This latest incident happened when I was on vacation. No one ever gets a vacation from their disability. It’s with you 24/7.

Too many people seem to think being autistic or being developmentally or physically disabled in some way is synonymous with being deaf or unable to understand verbal communication. When that belief causes them to talk about me as if I’m not there it makes me feel invisible, inferior and dehumanized. It is rude, insensitive and inconsiderate.

I suppose I could have let that woman know that I heard her and understood what she said. I suppose I could have told her she’d hurt my feelings. That may have challenged the notions she had about me and made her think twice about saying something like that in front of someone else she thought was autistic but it would have been embarrassing for all three of us. I prefer to avoid confrontations with strangers whenever possible.

People with special needs, disabilities or differences are by definition different from ‘typical’ people and require some special treatment but they are people as much as anyone else is. There are some needs, characteristics and feelings that are universal across all humanity.

Regardless of their age, status, neurotype, ability or disability, people universally want to be treated with respect. They want to feel heard and seen by others, to be accepted for who they are, to know that they matter.

There are exceptions to every rule and we aren’t always going to know the right way to deal with everyone but when it comes to human interaction the most categorical and fail-safe rule of all is the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. If you wouldn’t want someone talking about you as if you weren’t there when you’re fully present, don’t do that to anyone else.