Fall 2009, #16
       "Woodchuck vs. the Hank Williams Zombie"

Dancing With Stuart

     by Frances Grote

            Be careful.  Maybe you are thinking you want to know about my mom, but maybe you are just stupid like me.  Stupid people do not know to stop.  If you read all the way to the end of her story it could make you sorry, just like me and Dad and maybe Stuart who took her dancing.  You could be sorry even if she is not your real mother.  If you like her, by the time you make up your mind if it is a good idea or not for her to die, it will be too late.  I know.  If you are feeling scared you should stop here.  I am not bad.  I am telling you this in case you are stupid and need some help.
            If you are waiting to know more before you decide, I can tell you by the time you are sorry, it will be too late.  It is hard for me to think what other things I should tell.  It is easier if I repeat, but the rule is no repeating.  My mom made that rule, but also the teachers at Resource Center.  They will hit you if you repeat.  I used to go to the Resource Center before Dad married my mom.  Dr. Sanders does not say if he likes repeating or not, but I think he does not like the no-repeating rule.  He says repeating is not the same as telling.  He is only saying this because he wants me to tell what happened.  He does not ask, but I think he is trying to trick me so I will tell.
Dr. Sanders smiles a little when you tell something.  I think he is pretending his smile is a prize for you.  I think he would like you to pretend he is working very hard to squeeze the smile out for you.  I do not tell him things.  I do not like the smile.  Also, he likes to think he is right, even though he is mostly wrong about things I know. 
            Dr. Sanders is wrong about telling.  Telling is not good.  If our house had a no telling rule, we could still be okay.  My mom started telling first.  She started telling me she was going to buy the sexy underwear, and she was going to go out dancing.  She said she could tell me things because nobody pays attention to what I say anyway.  And plus, no repeating, she said.  Right? she said.  She thought that was funny.  It made her laugh.  Then she said she hooked up with Stuart.  Hooked up made me think about fishing and towing trucks like Dad has at his shop, and I said was Stuart a big fish she pulled around.  She laughed again and said, See what I mean?
            Stuart.  His name is like garbage smells when the bag does not get changed for three days.  I did not mean to tell Dad about Stuart, but I was screaming and Dad wanted me to stop.  When I said about my mom dancing with Stuart, Dad cried.  I did not want him to cry.  If he hit her and yelled at her maybe she would stop.  She would stop dancing with Stuart and stop buying her sexy underwear.  But he didn’t.  He cried.  And then he told her to get out, to go away.  I did not want her to go away, so I had to help her.  Dr. Sanders would give me a hard little smile if I say that.  He has his own kind of stupid because he does not know I will only tell that inside my head.
            Make a picture of the word mom in your brain.  That is how my mom used to be before she went dancing.  She looked like a real mom on TV, but she was not.  She did not like to explain stuff.  She would get mad at me sometimes because it is hard for me to understand.  If I made her explain too many times, she would not let me stay there.  She would lock my door.  So I always remembered I should be quiet and not talk and not ask if I did not understand. 
She did not like special things before she went dancing with Stuart.  After she went dancing with Stuart she was like one of the hermit crabs from Resource Center that goes out of its shell when it does not like that shell any more.  When you see it, it is a strange thing.  She was something that was not my mom underneath.  When I had a broken arm I thought when they took the cast away I would have my same arm as before.  They said it would be good as new.  It was new but it was not good.  It was all wrinkly and white and smelly, like how your thumb looks when you sit in the bath too long except if it smelled like dirty feet.  The something else inside my mom did not smell bad, it looked like it wanted to go to a party.  It made me afraid.  I remember when she came here to be my mom.  What if she kept changing and then I would not know which one was my mom any more?
            Dr. Sanders bothers me.  He thinks if he makes a game he will trick me and I will forget that I am not going to tell.  Sometimes he pretends the stuff he is waiting to hear isn’t really bad and if I tell him it will all be okay.  Then he uses tricking words.  He says we are going to do exercises.  He says he is suggesting things to help me address issuesI had with my mom so we can examine them.  Sometimes I sit and listen to him and wish that the fingernails on the first two fingers of both my hands would be sharp and long, like the claws on those birds that hunt.  Then I could take my two fingers of each hand with their sharp claws and make marks on Dr. Sanders’ cheeks when he says his tricky words.  I could make his face look like the inside of my head.
            When I feel like remembering, the first thing I remember is Lancôme.  I am good at remembering the letters on that box.  The pointy little hat on the ‘o’ helps me, plus it could be two words, land and come.  People do not think I am smart enough to figure stuff like that out.  I should tell that to Dr. Sanders.  Not the part about me being smart, the other part, about the make-up.  He would not care about me being smart with the letters.  He will listen to me saying it started with make-up and think I am not right.  This would be a good trick.  He will want to keep me talking.  So he will have to tell me I am right even though he will believe I am wrong.  He will look at me with his head a little sideways, like a bird in a pet store trying to get something to eat without asking.  He will never understand about Lancôme, about how some stuff that makes you smell like coconuts and oranges ends up with you being dead.   He would like it better if I said it started with the blood on her underwear.  But that was not the beginning.  So maybe I will not get to that part. 
            I think I know why Dr. Sanders wants to be a doctor for stupid people.  He thinks he is putting together a puzzle.  Maybe there are other jobs that do that, but I think Dr. Sanders is not smart enough to do those jobs.  Maybe I should tell him he is not smart enough for this job either.  He would not have to get upset.  There are lots of good jobs for people who are not smart enough for other jobs.  Dad used to tell me that. 
            Dr. Sanders has rules too.  He does not tell me things to make me feel good.  He says that is something I must do for myself.  He says he wants to help me do that.  I guess he thinks helping and making you feel good are not the same things.  I know more about doctors than I am supposed to and I know he breaks rules, just like me.  He is not supposed to tell me what he wants, but sometimes he does anyway.  And sometimes he likes to ask me questions that make me mad.  I think he is getting even because I will not tell.  When Dr. Sanders wants to get even, he uses a serious voice.  He thinks that will fool me, but he is not very good at getting even.  Maybe that is another reason he wants to be a doctor for stupid people.
In case you think my mom met Stuart when she was dancing or buying the sexy underwear, you are wrong.  She met Stuart before, when she went out for coffee one time.  You think, some people go out for coffee.  But my mom did not go out for coffee because she would have to take me, and when the coffee machine screams I scream too and then people have to take me out of there.  My mom went out for coffee after the dentist.  When you go to the dentist that is a good reason not to bring somebody you have to watch, so Dad would not be mad if she left me with a neighbor.  Dad does not like my mom leaving me with someone.  He says only if she has to.  My mom went to get fillings and then she went out for coffee, and her side of her face could not move and part of her lip too. 
            You know I was not there.  This is just how she told me.  Once she started telling me stuff, she told me all the stuff, about the way it happened and what Stuart said and everything.  Maybe she thought I did not know that she was breaking the no-repeating rule.  But I am not that stupid.  “No repeating,” I said.  I like rules.  I am pretty good at following rules most of the time.
            My mom smiled then.  “No repeating,” she said. 
            One time she just started talking about how Stuart is not handsome.  Then she said she does not need to explain herself.  I did not think she needed to explain either.  I am pretty sure I know what not handsome looks like.  Then she said she does not need to make excuses, that excuses just make you look like you think what you are doing is not okay.  And if you don’t make excuses or explain, nobody can tell you that you were right or wrong. 
            Stuart was there, she said, at the coffee shop, when her face did not move after the dentist.  She said the coffee shop is where women go to meet a second husband.  I did not understand.  She already had Dad for a second husband.  She did not say about her first husband, if he was nice or mean or how he went away.  Oh well.  That happens sometimes, that I think of a new question.  That is one of the things that is too bad about being dead, that people keep thinking of questions they want to ask you even when it is too late.
            Sometimes she went places and did not wear her wedding ring.  Like when she went to get her nails done.  I know, because she would let me hold it up to the sun and make it sparkle when she took it off, for a minute, before she put it away.  Maybe she took off her wedding ring to go to the dentist too.  Stuart was wearing his wedding ring.  She told me so. 
            She told me Stuart was dressed fancy.  Not like some men who make a lot of money even though they always look dirty or sloppy, she said.  He had a white shirt.  She said his tie was untied and his top button was open, like he just finished doing important work, even though it was before lunchtime.  She told me all about him.  I did not want to know.  But I did not say so.  “Timothy,” she said, “you are like the perfect girlfriend.  I can tell you anything.”
            It was too hard for me that she said I am a girlfriend when I am a boy.  I wanted to tell her I am a boy, but I was scared and that made me scream, so I had to stay in my room.  I told Dr. Sanders that.  I told Dr. Sanders I did not understand how my mom did not know I was a boy.  I told him that even though I dress myself and take my own bath, Timothy is a boy name and I look like a boy and my mom should know, even if Dad forgot to tell her when they got married.
            “I’m sure she did know,” Dr. Sanders said.  “Although when she married your father there were probably a whole lot of other things she didn’t realize.”
            Then I told Dr. Sanders how my mom told me she dribbled coffee on herself because half her mouth was not working and Stuart gave her a napkin.  This time Dr. Sanders did not say anything for a long time.  It is not fair that I tell him some secrets and he never tells me any, even if I would not care what he knows.
            I did not want to tell Dad.  I have accidents when I am confused.  I started to get confused after Victoria’s Secret.  I had to go with my mom.  She had to take me everywhere with her.  She was all skinny now, from dancing with Stuart.  She showed me a picture of the clothes in the Victoria’s Secret magazine that came in the mail.  They were funny looking.  She said we were going to buy those things.  When we got to Victoria’s Secret, they wanted me to go in the little room with her.  “Would you mind taking your son in with you?” the Victoria’s Secret lady said.  They did not say so, but they did not want me in that store with just them, without my mom to watch me. 
They are all dressed in black in that store.  They wear jackets that do not button up all the way.  You can see their chests.  Those jackets make somebody look, even if somebody feels bad looking.              Everybody has to look because when somebody shows their chest like that, all soft and round, it is like their chest is saying, do you want to touch me?  Do you want to see if I can fill up your hand?  Do you want to know if the skin feels all smooth, like a butterfly wing when you brush it with your thumb?  Except you know you better not.  Even if you are really stupid, you know that.  Even if it makes you hurt, you know that.  They do not think about their open jackets.  They are only thinking, “I need to sell eight more Infinity Edge bras before the end of my shift.”  I know, because I heard one say that.
            But my mom is worse than a Victoria’s Secret lady.  In the little room, she stands in front of the mirror and takes off her shirt and then takes off her other stuff and then she puts on the thing from the magazine and it covers her up again except now you know everything that is in there, and she says, “What do you think?  Do you think Stuart will like this?”  But she wasn’t showing it to Stuart.  She was showing it to me.  “Don’t tell your Dad,” she said.  “Remember, this is Victoria’s Secret.”
            When Dr. Sanders made me really mad, I told him about Victoria’s Secret.  I thought his face would turn red, but it did not.  He did not say anything.  So then I said in Resource Center they told us it is wrong for someone to touch you if you do not want them to.  “Did your stepmother touch you in a private way?” he asked.  I did not know what that means, so I did not answer.  Then Dr. Sanders said, “Did you tell your stepmother you didn’t like it when she let you see her that way?”  I did not know I was not supposed to like it, so I did not answer that either. 
            Sometimes Dr. Sanders reminds me of a show Dad used to watch on TV.  It is the one where the people are supposed to be on vacation, but they have to dig in the dirt to see if they can find something old, and then everyone gets excited.  Dad always said even someone stupid like me would know there was something buried in there for them to find.  He said, I bet after they finish making a big deal about that old hunk of bone they wait until nobody’s looking and put it right back in there again for the next sucker.  That is how it feels when I have to talk to Dr. Sanders, like he is a digging tourist. 
One time I heard Dr. Sanders tell a nurse that you can only go so far with low functioning Asperger’s.  He said you could do things for the acting out and the OCD, but nobody had come up with anything effective to combat the absolute concreteness of the thought processes.  He said that meant he had to be very careful how he communicated, because everything gets taken so literally.  Are you wondering how a stupid boy could remember all that?  I can remember everything people say.  Sometimes I remember too much and my brain is so full I would like to make things go away.  But no matter how hard I want to, that does not make me forget what happened to my mom.
            She was in the laundry room rubbing a stain stick on the underwear from Victoria’s Secret.  The stain stick said ‘Shout’, so I did.  That scared her.  “What do you think your father would do if I told him how crazy you are?” she yelled.  Her face got all curled up like a bad dog.  I did not say anything.  I was not afraid what Dad would do.  He does not pay attention to things about me unless I bother him.  But it is scary when my mom gets mad at me.  So I stayed quiet. 
She went back to rubbing the stain stick on the underwear.  “Are you going dancing with Stuart again?” I asked. 
            She looked at me and said, “Who is Stuart?” 
            That made me more worried than her being mad, that she did not know Stuart any more.  Then I thought, maybe she is just trying to fool me.  I said, “Did Stuart do something to your underwear?” 
            She said, “There is no Stuart.” 
            I was really scared then.  I started to scream. 
            “Stop it!” she yelled.  “Just tell me what’s wrong, like a normal kid, would you?” 
            I wanted her to stop yelling.  I tried very hard to do what she said.  “There used to be a Stuart,” I said. 
            She said, “There is no Stuart now, okay?” 
            I did not understand.  I started to cry.  I was really scared.  How could Stuart go dancing and mess up my mom’s underwear and then not be any more?  If people disappear, can they come back?  What if someone does not want to disappear?  What if someone disappears like Stuart and you do not want them to? 
            That is when I saw my mom was not there any more.  I started screaming again, but she was still not there.  I ran into the kitchen and into the living room, but she was not there either.  I ran upstairs to her room, but I am not allowed in there.  The door was open and I looked in and she was not there.  And I was still screaming so Dad came out and said, “What is wrong with you, boy?” and slapped me like they used to do at Resource Center sometimes when they had to put me in the closet.  I did not want to get in a closet again, so I had to tell Dad what was wrong with me.
            That is two mothers I have killed now.  The first one by getting born and this second one by getting scared.  I guess Dad married my mom because he figured since I could not get born again, this mother would be safe.  So even smart people do dumb things.
            In a minute I will be ready.  Then I will think how it looked.  Dr. Sanders keeps saying something will be fixed if I remember.  I am stupid, but he is even stupider if he thinks I do not remember.  Maybe he has never seen anyone’s head do that.  Maybe he wishes someone’s would, just so he could see.  Maybe that is what people wish when their fathers yell, “You stupid idiot!  You think you should’ve told me that about your mother?  What do you think I’m going to do now, you useless bag of shit?”  Maybe if fathers say that to their sons, the sons will want that to happen to the fathers’ heads too.
            Dr. Sanders says if I remember I can begin to move past this.  What does he think I am doing when the screaming starts?  And then they come, with the needle and the restraints and I watch them catch the animal.  I watch them try not to let him scratch them.  He likes to scratch.  It makes easy fast blood.  It makes everything on the outside red like everything on the inside. 
            Dr. Sanders will only believe I remember if I tell.  He wants words.  He does not believe I remember because it is only in pictures.  I tell him it is like silent movies.  He says silent movies had no sounds, but they did have words.  He is wrong again.  Silent movies had pianos.  The screaming is like pianos.  Except sometimes I hear the screaming inside and out, inside out, sucking the scream back inside me. 
            Maybe you could suck things back inside if you scream just right, put them back where they belong.  Then I would not tell my dad about Stuart and my mom’s secret underwear and she would not love either of them more than me and she would not care that maybe they will both disappear, because that is what she says to me, that is what she yells, “Now they’ll both disappear!”  and I say, “I was not repeating.  I just asked Dad how there is no more Stuart.” 
            And then she puts the gun up to the side of her head and yells at me, “Are you happy now?” and “Is this what you want?” and maybe if you could suck things back inside she would stop yelling questions at me so I could breathe for a minute.  If I could breathe for a minute, I would say, “I will not disappear if you don’t want me to.”  But she is yelling too much and I cannot breathe enough and I just want her to stop.  I cannot breathe enough and I cannot talk and I just want to make her happy.  But all I can do is look at her and look and look and then she yells at me, “You don’t think I can do it, do you?”
            Maybe when the screaming stops I will not say, “You can do it.  Here, I will help you.”