Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tiny Tim Has a Telepathic and Very Dark Conversation With a Young Woman in Wheelchair

Note: Apologies to Charles Dickens and to people who love Dickens, especially Christmas Carol.

Imagining Tiny Tim as a young man somehow transported through time and space from 19th Century England to 21st Century America. When I mention the girl in the wheelchair talking, she is really using telepathy.

"God bless us everyone," Tim says to himself in a mocking tone. "Bloody hell," he continues as he moves a crippled claw to his mouth to take a drag on the cigarette he is having during his fifteen minute break. It's almost Christmas time and Tim shivers while he stands outside of the sheltered workshop where he works. He snorts with derisive laughter. A cripple doing menial labor. Some perverse irony in that, he thought. That strange girl in the wheelchair laughed all the time. She couldn't do much of anything. Often times she will drop things just to watch him pick it up. She annoyed the hell out of him. At the same time he sometimes couldn't help but laugh with her.

Fate, Tim mused, had been very unkind to him. He roundly cursed out Scrooge's ghosts. "Crazy old coot," he muttered. "All that talk about ghosts showing him the past, present and future." Why couldn't the bastard let him die. What kind of life was this working for pennies a day folding napkins and placing them together with a plastic fork and knife, sliding them into a cellophane wrapper and placing them on a conveyor belt where a machine sealed the cellophane shut? Tim sighed. He had been so optimistic as a boy. Back to work.

He was starting to fold napkins again when he heard a feminine voice speak. "We really are blessed," the voice said. Tim looked around. The only one next to him was the girl in the wheelchair who couldn't talk. She had dropped a whole bunch of plasticware on the floor. Tim picked it up. "Kind of ridiculous, isn't it," the voice continued. "expecting a someone with spastic fingers to do this kind of work." The girl laughed uproariously. Tim did a double take. "Wait that was you, wasn't it? But how...?"

"It's telepathy, Tim," she responded. And laughed some more. "I am so bored," she added. "Aren't you?"

"Is that why you keep dropping napkins and plasticware?"

The girl giggled again.

"My folks used to call it ablebodied fetch," she explained.

"Used to," Tim asked, as he bend down yet again to pick things up the girl had dropped.

The girl shrugged. At least that is how he interpreted it. Then he saw something he had never seen before. She looked very sad.

"What happened to them," he asked as he straightened up yet again.

"My mom threw herself in front of a trolley in Philadelphia," the girl said sadly.

Tim felt the color drain from his face. How could she laugh at all, he wondered. If his mother had done that, he wouldn't be able to function at all. At least his mother was still alive and sometimes she and his sisters came to visit. "And your dad," he was afraid to ask.

"My dad couldn't function without her," the girl explained. "No one to make calls for him or pay the bills. He lost the house I grew up in. Everything except his bicycle. He's homeless now and often can be seen muttering to himself and crying."

Tim put a hand on her shoulder. "I am so sorry," he said, reflecting on how his own dad died from a heart attack one morning while crossing the street. He missed his dad, but at least he died of natural causes.

"I see him sometimes," she continued. "Every so often he seems to recognize me again and comes back to embrace me again the way he used to," she said, with a catch in her voice.

"He was in jail for a while for defacing currency," she added. "That is when my mom ... you know... it broke her heart... one thing too many she wrote in the note she mailed from Philly."

Tim averted his gaze. He felt a tear slide down his cheek. All this time he had been so annoyed with her. He had no idea.

"Hey," she said. "At least I had her for as long as I did. The people at DCFS didn't take me and my sister away. They could have."

He looked surprised. She had never mentioned a sister before. Then again he never asked. "You have a sister? Does she ever visit you?"

The girl shrugged. "From time to time. She loves me. But I stress her out. She doesn't listen very well. My mom used to hear me. My sister only heard me on the outside. Just the noises you usually hear. My mom tried to get her to really listen, but she just wasn't able to. She does care in her own way. She sometimes sends me a check."

Tim understood. His sisters had their own lives. They had gotten married and had their husbands and kids to look after. Lives of their own. He sighed. He wished he had a life of his own. Instead of whatever this was. But at least if he opened up his mind and his heart, he could finally hear her and have someone laugh with during the day. He sighed and continued on with the piecemeal work they were assigned to do.

"How come I can suddenly hear you," he asked.

The girl laughed. "You're a tough nut to crack, Tim. I've tried dozens of times."

He looked away ashamed. He had been so bitter about his own circumstances that he never really tried to connect with her.

"I'm sorry," he said slowly.

"It is OK, Tim. Honest. I know you have had a lot on your mind."

Didn't excuse his bad behavior, he thought to himself. "Nah. Should have tried to talk to you. That way we both could have had companionship."

They worked a little longer in silence. So many things he wanted to ask her.

"How did you end up at this sheltered workshop," he finally asked.

The girl looked away as if to a far off place.

"She gave up," she said softly. "She just couldn't fight any more. And then when my dad went to jail for defacing currency, well, that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Tim thought for a moment. "Did she say goodbye to you," he asked.

"She didn't have to," the girl responded. "I knew." After a moment she continued. "She said goodbye, anyway, but we almost conversed the way that you and I are doing. That's how close we were."

They worked together in silence.

"She and I hugged heads."

Tim looked up. "What do you mean, hugged heads?"

"When I was a baby, my mom used to reach down and tell me 'hug heads,' and she would hug my head and I would reach up and hug hers. And that is what we did before she left for Philadelphia. That is how she said goodbye to me."

They worked on in silence. Tim didn't know what to say to this girl, this young woman who he had simply thought of as a bother.

"Wouldn't it be great," he finally said at last, "if they treated us as if we were fully human and not imbeciles just because we are disabled."

The girl nodded. "Yeah. Wouldn't it be great if others listened to me the way you just did."

"I am sorry that I didn't listen sooner," Tim said. He wondered if, by listening now, these shadows could disappear just like they did for Scrooge.

"That is OK. You are listening now," the young woman said. "That is really all that matters."

"Yeah," he said.

A few minutes later he added, "You are right. We are blessed."


  1. Debbie:

    This post reminds me of another time... I lived in a smaller city. There was an agency, for lack of a better term, that provided group homes and a "workshop" environment for what they called "developmentally disabled" adults. Their jobs were to learn some type of labor, usually pulling plastic bags out of a chute to then stuff into larger bags (at least that's how it was once explained to me).

    A small community college asked if I would teach a choir class for the adults who lived in these group homes. Singing is my passion, and I wanted that job. We had a great time singing and learning with each other.

    I will never forget a woman approaching me after a concert once, interrupting my conversation with one of the choir members. She began commending me over and over again about how much patience I had to work with "these people." I was really embarrassed how much she gushed over me... and I told her that this was the best choir I had ever worked with. They wanted to be there, they loved to sing, and they taught me about the sheer joy of doing something you love. In her eyes, they were a group I was forced, at best, to tolerate. I didn't even know how to respond to that (I think I was about 22-23 yrs. old)!

    I've watched a lot of your tweets and, after reading this post, I keep thinking about how often people are treated as 2nd (or even lesser) class citizens. I don't know how to change that. You have such a great voice, and I hope you don't let frustration with issues like this silence that voice.

  2. Thank you, Michelle.

    Too often we divide people up into us and them. Those who speak about "these people" clearly do not understand that we are all whole as we are. We all have flaws and we all have strengths. I can hardly carry a tune in a bucket, but I love to sing nonetheless.

    We all need to find a way to listen to one another. Set aside preconceptions and just be together. We need to all be accepted as part of the human family. Not just some of us.