I hadn’t stepped foot in a classroom for five months. I was supposed to be in second grade.
The call was from a neighbor. She noticed I wasn’t wearing shoes.
The sound of what must be at least 10 dogs could be heard howling from behind a dilapidated fence. You can barely see our house. Unpruned bushes snake up the sides, wild and proud at their freedom. Little fences around what were once flower beds bow down to the wildness pouring over them like puss from a wound. The windows are clouded and muddy paws pound at them. On the front stoop an old chicken coop contains a two legged cat and an albino ferret.
The young social worker in her pencil skirt must have thought, “Wow, I’ve finally caught a live one.”
Now, three hard, clean raps at the door. My blood turns cold.
The door opens and I watch you take my mom in. I know at this point though…you don’t really see her at all. I see the way you hold your purse, the look of your new blazer and neatly made up face.. It doesn’t cover your fear.
The door is wide open now and I watch your eyes slowly scanning. The wild tropical plants that we used to keep the poisonous air at bay cover every inch of our now waterlogged and warped wood floors. Beauty and the Beast in french blares loudly, the sound becomes manic mixed with the desperate pounding of our dogs. I see myself through your eyes. I am not blind. I live my life like a werewolf. I know well the stares at my mom. The subtle movement of an uncomfortable waiter. The kind, life giving smile of a humble grocery store man. Every step. Every breath. I watch my mom, we might as well be one.
I am barefoot.
My hair is unwashed & tangled.
I wear only a large, stained men’s undershirt.
I am, feral.
Something from a textbook you highlighted with a fresh new pen.
Our life is here before you.
My mom, schizophrenia and I wrapped together like an infected organ.
Healthy flesh, turned to gangrene, so twisted you cannot see which one to cut.
I start a silent prayer. Each word must be right. Every breath must feel just so. I say them over and over again under my breath as I watch from the corner. I feel the air tighten as you cling to your rules, to your concern that masks your horror like a bad toupee. The dogs barking is getting louder. The pounding and the fans. The moisture in the air, the smell of piss and clorox and the protruding, jagged springs tearing out of our leather couches. Your questions are cold and ridiculous…when is the last time I have been in school? Do I usually wear shoes? Can my mom tell her about our day to day? I want to scratch her.
I am happy.
We are happy.
Our day to day is squirming newborn puppies with salty puppy breath. French in composition books. Long walks to the reservoir behind our house. It is messy letters and numbers scrawled in little pieces of paper in our car of the license plates my mom tells me to copy so we know which cars are following us.
It is the night when I curl up against her under our Army surplus store wool blanket on our mattress in the garage surrounded by our skinny dogs.
It is beautiful.
Teachers rattling off facts to bored, clean children with after school snacks. I have been in classrooms.Every couple of months I am placed in a shirt and pants and sent in. I feel the teacher’s looks at my mom…their half concern at me. The other kids are mean then nice. I feel myself float above it,. Every soft sneaker on a white tile, the sound of a pencil bag with long, shiny color pencils sharpened to a point, the way a girl touches the shiny hair of an American girl doll for show and tell, a fine, blonde hair boy with sniffles and red, chapped lips telling his friend he cannot share because of germs as he pulls a soft, white bread sandwich out of a ziplock.
I see it all like a Japanese boy in a bright orange vest looking at the regal lines of the Lincoln Memorial.
It is there.
I am intoxicated but I am not a part of it.
A meaningless interlude to soothe all the people we are making uncomfortable. To make a few bored adults able to check some boxes so they look away again and I can get back to my task, my life’s work; protecting my mom.