Friday, August 22, 2014

Chapter Nine: What Will The Neighbors Think? (Imaginary Friends)

Imaginary Friends is a serial novel. New chapters go up every Friday. If you're new to it, you can catch up by starting from the Introduction or the first chapter.

If you're impatient to read more about Clay Dillon, click on "Books" above for ordering information for Nothing is Right, the prequel to this story.

Content: Child abuse, physical and verbal. Ableist language. R-word.

Clay paced in his room. He had the space for it, since his LEGO collection was still gone and his mother had just finished cleaning up the piles of broken toys that A.J. liked to leave strewn about like plastic caltrops. He was contemplating the nature of his failure to produce an imaginary friend again.

It seemed like such a simple thing to do, this pretending that there were other people around when there plainly were not. Still, Clay kept failing at it. Not just today, but always.

Today, though, he was not just failing to conjure up his imaginary friend. He was also having to deal with the way that his metal body made pacing difficult, and that was affecting his concentration. Every time he tried to move, the metal body was causing his joints to creak and groan. It hardly helped the situation that he was also creaking in the joints because of way his shoulder had gotten pulled.

That was how he had wound up locked in his room, after all. By falling down. Well, throwing himself down. He only got hurt, though, when he failed to hit the ground.

Clay shook his head.

No matter how many times he told himself what the situation was, he still had a hard time understanding. What kind of person would punish him for trying to help them?

He knew the answer. His father was that kind of person, and it was hardly like today was the first time he had been shown that. He had already seen it when his LEGO collection was taken away, and then again when he had bitten A.J. and both of his parents pretended that he had done it for no reason. What happened today felt different from what had happened before, though. If only because he had been getting along with everyone and done his best, only to wind up in trouble anyway.

Clay stopped pacing and sat in the middle of his room cross-legged. He closed his eyes and let his memories of the day play out against the green and red flares that his darkness always showed him.

His metal body fell away from him and he found himself back inside the scene outside, walking through the yard and picking up bits of discarded shingles that his father and uncle had thrown off the roof while they were working. Every once in a while, his father would point out a spot in the yard where a lot of shingles sat, shouting out to Clay that he needed to pick them up.

His muscles started to ache as the wheelbarrow grew heavier. With each pound of sand and tar that accumulated in its bed, Clay felt another degree of annoyance at his father's micromanagement. What did it matter if he left a certain pile of shingles until his next trip into the back yard? He was going to have to pick them all up by the end of the day. His father and uncle both said so.

When he ignored his father and went about the clean-up on his own, all it did was aggravate the man until he stopped working altogether and stood on the edge of the roof screaming for Clay to stop being “a fucking deaf idiot” and look up.

Clay did look up, if only because he did not want the neighbors to hear how unhappy his disobedience made his father.

“Are you stupid, or do you just think I am?” Mark Dillon asked.

Clay waited for his father to continue. He was sure that this was one of those times when Mark intended for his questions to go unanswered.

“Hey!” Mark shouted. “Don't pretend I'm not here. Look at me when I talk to you.”

Clay stared up at his father. The sun was over Mark's shoulder, but Clay stared without blinking. If his father wanted his attention, he would get it.

“Don't waste your time with all the little chunks. Go around getting the big ones.”

Clay scowled.

“Don't make faces at me,” his father said. “Speak.”

Clay considered raising both of his middle fingers instead of speaking. It would get him in trouble, but so would saying what he really wanted his father to know.

“I don't have all day, Clay. Use your words.”

That was it. Clay threw the shingles down at his feet.

“Shut up!” the words came out more like a screech than a shout. “Just stop fucking talking. You wanted me to spend all day picking up the yard, fine. It's hot and I feel sick and you wanted the roof done, not me. You're gonna make me pick 'em all up, big and small and everything, so just shut your mouth and let me do it. You got your job and I got mine. Stop fooling with me unless you want me to go play in the sandbox and you can do all this your damn self.”

Mark Dillon did not respond. Instead, he just sat on the edge of the roof and then, as if he was born to do it, he let himself drop to the ground. His hips and knees bounced his body as he landed, and he grunted.

Clay realized that he had made a big mistake.

“If you leave the little pieces, then we can all help you later,” his father said. His voice was very quiet. “If you used your brain, instead of just saving it for your T.V. shows and science fiction novels, you might realize that we're here to help you. No one wants you to break yourself doing this.”

Clay narrowed his eyes at his father. Earlier, when he had felt like his arms were going to fall off, he had asked to be allowed to go inside and read for a while. At the time, he had been told that he was being a wussy and that he could take breaks when everyone else did. Trying to make sense of his father's conflicting behaviors made his head pound even more than the sun and the weight of the wheelbarrow did.

“Do you have something to say to me?” Mark asked.

Clay shook his head. He was not trying to say no, he was just trying to shake the pain out of it.

“You really think cussing me out in front of the neighbors was right? Me, your father? And you, being eight?”

Clay kept shaking his head.

His father grabbed him by the arm and put his other hand on the top of Clay's head, pressing down.

“Stop it!” He hissed. “Stop acting like a retard, and get ahold of yourself!”

Clay tried to tear away from his father, but the grip on his arm was like a shackle. The hand on the top of his head pushed down harder, making Clay feel like he needed to crack his neck and amplifying his existing headache.

“Just stop! Stop being such a baby! You're eight years old, goddamn it, and you know better. What will the neighbors think?”

They'll think you're an asshole and I'm right.

The thought popped into Clay's head a split second after his metal body hardened over his father's grip, taking the pain of it away.

It was as if the words were elemental. They aligned with his emotions perfectly, but he did not feel as if he was the one who created them. He also found himself unable to summon any other words after them, or to make his throat work. The insult faded from his visualization, and he tried to snatch at it, to hold it...

Where the words had been just moments before, there was now just a hole in his vision that corresponded to a raw, empty feeling in his throat.

The scream rushed forth from the hole, and before Clay knew what was happening, it was pushing its way out of his throat, holding his jaws open, and pouring itself all over his father.

He felt a sharp tug in his shoulder socket and realized that his body had gone limp but his father's grip had remained tight. Then there was motion that ended in the darkness of his room.

Someone said: “If you want to throw a tantrum like a baby, then you can take a nap like a baby!” Then the door slammed.

A moment later, the voice said, “Don't let me catch you outside this room until I decide I'm ready to deal with you. If you do, you'll lose those legos forever.” Then Clay cried.

When his words came back to him, he wished that he could call his father stupid without getting grabbed. It was reflixive, now, for him to shrink away from his father whenever the man's voice started to flex its tone, and Clay did not like it. The way that his father used his fingers to hold Clay's attention whenever he felt insufficiently respected always left burning spots after he finally let go, and if Clay complained, then he was told not to be a baby.

If he kept complaining, his father would start to talk at length about his determination never to hit his children because of the things that Grandma Bayleigh used to do to him.

There was no point in talking back, because his father never seemed to absorb words unless they harmonized with the ones that poured incessantly from his own throat.

There was nothing to do but pace.

* * *

Clay opened his eyes, emerging from his recollection of the fight with his father. Revisiting the event again would be pointless, but he also knew it was something he was going to do.

He took a deep breath and then he pulled himself up from the floor. Until his memory came for him again, he could read Ender's Game. That would be good. He had just wanted a break to get to read, and at least he got that. Even if it did mean that he would have at least a lecture and probably some extra chores for “sass.”

Next: People Are Not LEGOs

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Counting Bodies: Anything Else Is Impermissible

Editor's Note: No, you do not get a chapter of Imaginary Friends today. Read this instead. Then go read everything I link to in this. Then go think. (Updating to add articles as I find them.)

It's been almost a year since I stopped all of my other writing projects and blogged about murder. That last time, I was lucky enough to be able to say that it was merely an attempted murder. The time before that, I was not so lucky.

In the time between the Alex Spourdalakis post and this one, we lost more people. A list (incomplete as it is) of the disabled dead this year would have to include at least Randle Barrow, Jarrod Tutko, Ayanha Comb, Robert Robertson, Olivia Clarance (along with her brothers Ben and Max), Lucas Ruiz Wigstrom, Ethan Saylor, and Yanira Serrano-Garcia.

The list is admittedly incomplete. And it only covers the last year and a quarter (this list goes further, but it is still incomplete). And most of them died at the hands of parents or caregivers. Yanira and Ethan, though, died at the hands of police officers acting well beyond beyond any reasonable interpretation of the phrase "keeping the peace." They died because of policies that viewed them as immediate threats and attitudes that allow people to see the disabled as less than fully human.

The Disabled dead come from all races, all walks of life. Their deaths are often under-reported, and the stories that do appear to alert the public are loaded with assumptions about the murderers' justifications for what they did. The comments on those articles are also on fire with people rushing to make excuses and provide rationalizations for the murders.

During that time period, we also heard about Kimani Gray, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and (now) Michael Brown. Not all of them were murdered during the time that this post covers, but all of them were in the news, as the earlier murders were tried and activists repeated the names of the dead who came before. These boys and men were not disabled. They were African American. And they were not killed by caregivers. They were killed by police officers and enraged, entitled citizens who had been empowered to carry and use guns in public. Citizens and police officers who viewed them as less than fully human.

Maybe those cops and vigilantes didn't consciously tell themselves that African American lives were lesser. Maybe they didn't have to--the message is visible at all levels of our society, from the way we treat Black lives in the arts and on television to the language we use to describe incidents of violence at the hands of police officers.

Longer lists of the African American dead can be found at The Root and Hip Hop And Politics. Like my list, they are incomplete.

Like the lists of the disabled dead, they are incomplete because of under-reporting. The articles that do talk about them, when you search Google, are loaded with language that carries assumptions about the murderers' justifications for what they did. The comments on them are also on fire with people rushing to make excuses and provide rationalizations for the murders.

The two types of dead are not the same, but they are similar. They also overlap, and seeking to advocate for one group necessarily involves advocating for the other. Not only because some of the Disabled dead are African American, but also because the shape and language used to excuse the deaths of one group are often recycled, appropriated, or otherwise applied to the other group.

Their histories of oppression are different. Their exact ways of experiencing dehumanization are different. Even the ways they died are different. (Well, except for Eric Garner and Ethan Saylor--that shit was exactly the same, there were just different underlying causes for asphyxiation.)

We must acknowledge that while those differences exist and we should know them, the effect is the same.

People are being murdered for reasons that are largely about the convenience of their murderers.

Don't take your eye off that. Don't let yourself calm down. Don't let it go away.

There's a reason we only take a moment for silence.

During this time, when the police and the politicians want to sell a narrative that allows them to "move on" and "achieve closure", it is vital that the Disability community stand with the protesters, the family of Mike Brown, and the larger online community that is working to increase the visibility of casual murder in our society.

It is not time to compare whose wounds are deeper. It is time to recognize the wounds for what they are--uniforms telling us that we are on the same side in this fight.

I have been quietly spreading the word about the events in Ferguson in the best way I know how. Not by speaking out (other than this post), but by amplifying the voices of those most directly involved with and affected by these events. In that spirit, I am compiling a bibliography of the articles I found to be most helpful at the end of this post. Please continue posting links in the comments.

And names. Post the names I don't know and I will know them.

Until the systemic and endemic racism in this country is addressed, the Disabled community can not adequately advocate against the murders within our own community. The policies used against African Americans will necessarily be turned against other marginalized groups, and African American Disabled persons will not be protected by our activism while racist institutions persist.

We would be moral monsters if we allowed our Disability activism to ignore this.

Anti-racism is a Disability value. It has to be.

Anything else is impermissible.

Name of Ferguson Police Officer Who Shot Mike Brown Revealed at BoingBoing
White St. Louis Has Some Awful Things To Say About Ferguson at The New Republic
Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet at DAME
Howard University Grad Mya Aaten-White Shot In Ferguson, Missouri at 4NBC Washington
What Happens To #Ferguson Affects Ferguson at
Antonio French Freed After Arrest In Ferguson, Mo. at USA Today
Ferguson Is An Occupation In Plain Sight And Words Aren't Enough To Change That at The Guardian
If Twitter Implements A Facebook-Style Algorithm, You May Not Hear About The Next Ferguson at Pando Daily
Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police at Black Girl Dangerous
Furious About Ferguson? Here's How You Can Help at
Ferguson Police Use Tear Gas On Al Jazeera America Team at The Huffington Post
Ferguson And The Cult Of Compliance at Al Jazeera America
The Death Of AL Bing at Disability Right Now
The Talk at TAG

Non-Article Resources (and article resources not from Ferguson) and Images from my Twitter feed (@MMonjeJr).

There's more. These are just what I saw from noon yesterday onward.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pig Pen is Happier Than Linus Part 2 (Imaginary Friends)

Imaginary Friends is a serial novel. New chapters go up every Friday. If you're new to it, you can catch up by starting from the Introduction.

If you're impatient to read more about Clay Dillon, click on "Books" above for ordering information for Nothing is Right, the prequel to this story.

As he paced the yard keeping one eye on his brother and occasionally shouting encouragement when one of A.J.'s sand castles exploded particularly well, Clay kept thinking about voices and thoughts and demons. He decided that whatever voice C.S. Lewis attributed to a demon was probably the same voice that made Grandpa Harry think that people really had imaginary friends. The more Clay thought about it, the more it made sense. It made sense, too, that if people like Grandpa Harry heard voices regularly, that they would expect Clay to hear them too.

Suddenly, Clay felt very anxious about the fact that he had admitted to Grandpa Harry that he did not believe there were really people who had imaginary friends. When he had this realization, he also felt very much the size and shape of the world around him.

Clay thought about exactly how far up the clouds were, and about how quickly he would become invisible if an observer were rising into the sky over him. In that same moment, he felt the full weight of knowing that there was something that the adults in his life understood as a basic part of their existence, but that he simply could not comprehend experiencing.

Then A.J. exploded a sand castle and giggled like a baby.

“Lets ask Mom if we can ride bikes!” he shouted.

“Not now!” Clay shouted back. “She told us not to ask for anything until lunch.”

“When is lunch?” A.J. asked.

“It's whenever she decides it is.”

A.J. nodded then, as if he understood exactly how this whole system worked but could not be bothered to feel any certain way about it. Then he began loading his bucket up with more sand.

Clay wondered about the fact that his brother was always so happy. His own early childhood had always seemed so lonely and so full of the boredom of waiting while the adults around him enjoyed themselves. A.J., on the other hand, always found joy in something, even if it was just hurting someone else. Loneliness did not seem to touch him, not unless he was left in bed too long during nap time or something like that. Then, and only then, did Clay see his brother cry from exasperation or destroy his own toys.

He wondered if A.J. had whispers in his head keeping him company all the time. It seemed like a good enough reason for the differences between them.

“Hey A.J.,” he called out. “Do you talk to yourself? Like, in your head?”

“I talk to myself out loud,” the younger boy replied. “I talk all the time. I just like to talk.”

“Do you ever make up an imaginary friend to talk to?” Clay asked.

“Well yeah,” A.J. replied. “I'm not crazy like you and Grandpa.”

The words hurt, but they did not make Clay angry. He was too surprised to find out that A.J. knew he did not have an imaginary friend of his own, and that the boy was also aware of what had happened to Grandpa Harry.

Clay wondered for the first time what was happening inside his brother. For Clay, the knowledge that the people around him were hurt by something he wanted to say would often cause him to be unable to speak. A.J., on the other hand, seemed to delight in provoking and then observing anger.

He turned his back on his brother and thought for a while about imaginary friends. If most people had heard voices whisper to them, and if there were actually a large number of them who really had conjured up companions out of nowhere, then what did it mean that he had not? Was this just a skill that he had never developed because no one taught him? Or was it something he simply could not do?

Maybe if I make up an imaginary friend I will stop being crazy, he thought. Maybe A.J. was trying to help me by telling me what to do.

Usually, Clay did not look to his younger brother for advice, but this topic was much harder for him to think about than most other topics were, so he was inclined to listen to anything that anyone said about it.

He summoned up a reserve of whatever energy it was that he usually put into stories and writing assignments at school, and he focused it all on trying to see a person standing in front of him. Almost immediately, it occurred to him that he had to know what the person looked like in order to try to visualize him.

Clay closed his eyes and thought about what he wished his friend looked like—himself, but a little less skinny, his hair slightly darker (still blonde, but not the white-blonde that it was—he wanted it to be a yellowish-brown), and green eyes instead of blue. He toyed with the idea of making his friend grown so that he could have tattoos and facial hair, but in the end he decided to keep his imaginary companion a child. He wanted to make sure that the constant visualization of his new friend did not put a strain on his concentration at school.

Having fully visualized the friend, Clay opened his eyes. The image wavered, like his imaginary castle had wavered, but eventually it stabilized. He was happy about that. He tried talking to his friend, but he could not make words come out of his mouth. It was too hard to hold on to the visual while speaking, so when Clay made a sound, the image of his new friend disappeared.

Eventually, he hit on the idea of listening to his friend instead. Unfortunately, he could not keep his new friend's voice from sounding like people he knew, either from real life or on TV. He also could not hear the words like they were real words. They stayed inside his head, the way that thoughts did.

After a while, Clay stopped trying. It was tiring, and he had become sure that he would not enjoy it anyway. Everyone else seemed to take this for granted, though, and that bothered him. It bothered him because he could not participate, but also because he was uneasy about the judgment of people who admitted that they heard the whispers and hints of some strange other pushing them to do things.

He looked over his shoulder at his brother.

“Did you hurt yourself?” A.J. asked.

“A little,” Clay called out.

“Do you need mom?”

“No,” Clay said. Then he turned and walked back to his brother. He had to just accept that people were like they were. He knew that. He also knew that the people around him were no different now than they had been before.

It was just that before, Clay had not known that they were all having private conversations with the voices. Now that he knew about their voices, though, he found everyone frightening. Even his little brother loomed large for a moment, like the demented rabbit in the Twilight Zone movie had.

Eventually, Clay concluded that if most people knew the voices were imaginary, then they would just treat them like a diversion or a fleeting thought. It would be no different for them than his visualizations were for him. And who knew? Maybe those people lacked some of his own perceptions. Maybe none of them had metal bodies that protected them when they needed to be determined or picture maps in their heads to hold together all the things that they had learned.

He knew that none of them had screams in their heads.

Clay looked at his brother again.

A.J. was just putting the finishing touches on a new castle. It ran the entire width of the sandbox and stood up high enough that its tallest spires reached to Clay's waist. He wondered at how his brother could make such a large castle so quickly. Maybe his voices organized things for him so that he could just follow directions, the way that Clay's visual maps helped him. Maybe A.J. was just good at sandcastles.

A.J. pointed to the castle and beamed. Clay clapped for him. Then A.J. jumped into the castle, thrashing and laughing in his own cloud of dirty dust as he reduced it to a blurry sand-angel in seconds.

At the end, A.J. sat up and declared: “Pig Pen is happier than Linus.”

Next: What Will the Neighbors Think?

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