Chapter Description: Trauma doesn't always set in all at once...
Puckered lips planted a wet sloppy kiss right on my cheek. I let out a confused and angry yelp, thrashing my arms and legs, batting away and slapping Ivy even as I fell out of my chair. “GAAAAAAH!”
I landed on the carpet and kept scooting away, my eyes fixated on the Zoge’s ‘baby girl’ like she was a deadly cobra and I’d just been bitten. My ears became deaf to Ivy’s sudden and surprised shriek and my heartbeat thundered in my chest. In my periphery, I registered everyone else staring, some with jaws open and bits of cracker crumbling from their mouth.
She’d kissed me. Ivy Zoge had gone and kissed me. Had she been an actual child instead of a woman close to my own age dressed like an eighteen month old, I might have thought it cute in an innocent sort of way. Something to be corrected, yes, but no harm no foul.
But Ivy wasn’t really a kid, just a doll that had been conditioned to act like one. She was, unfortunately, a peer. An acquaintance at best; a strange one. but still a peer. Janet had already kissed me, and I’d already lost count of how many times I’d had my cheeks condescendingly pinched, but it was different with Janet. In a weird way, my Amazonian ex-friends got a pass. I didn’t expect as much from them.
It’s not like Ivy had wrapped her arms around me and stuck her tongue down my throat. She didn’t try to make me grope her or flash her tits at me or grab my junk. Had she been as young as she acted, it would have been kind of cute.
So many emotions: I wanted to scream; to curse at her. To fucking smack her upside her head, if not punch her in the nose and hope for blood. I wanted to yell and flail and cry in frustration and surprise. I wanted to run, to waddle over back to the door that led to my own classroom and claw at it and pound on it; or better yet, make for the front door and just dash out into the open in some wild hope that I could make it all the way to the street where a car would slam me into the pavement and put me out of my misery.
I wanted to spit at her; or hide behind Beouf and point accusingly. I wanted to insult her and call her a dumb ugly Helper Doll that was too dumb to know that every other Little with a pinch of sense despised her and for good rason. That she’d creeped me out long before this and that her very presence was anathema to me.
I wanted to say anything and everything that I could just then to hurt the dumb girl. Big words. Small words. Take your pick.
Fortunately, some small part of my past life still remained. “No!” I pointed.at Ivy. “Not cool, Ivy! Not cool! I do not consent! I DO NOT CONSENT!”
The stunned silence was met with giggles and cat calls. “Oooooooooo!”
“B-b-but,” Ivy stuttered. “You said I could give you a kiss.” She seemed genuinely stunned. Shocked, even.
The Littles at either table were laughing harder. I heard fists pounding down on the table.
“Ivy…” Zoge started to say.
We ignored them. “No,” I repeated myself. “You asked if you could give me something!”
Beouf was eying us. “Clark…”
“A kiss is something,” she insisted. Her bottom lip was starting to shake and shudder. “It’s a very special something.”
“That’s a lie by omission!” I shouted. “If you wanted to give me a kiss or a hug or anything where your body touches mine, you should have asked, first!”
“I DID!” she whined.
The Amazons were quietly approaching us. The other inmates were leering and jeering, happy to have the entertainment.
I put my hands on my hips, tilted my head, and tapped my foot. Even in a sailor suit and diaper, mannerisms I’d developed as a teacher came so naturally to me. “So if I asked if I could give you something and you said yes, it would be okay to give you a punch on the nose?”
More howls of laughter from my unwanted audience. Thankfully adrenaline, indignation and tunnel vision helped me blur them out in the moment.
Speaking of howling… “NOOOO!” Ivy yelled. “A kiss is a good thing!”
“NOT IF I DON’T KNOW IT’S COMING!”
Her entire posture was changing. Ivy Zoge was deflating like a used parade float right before my eyes. “Would you have let me kiss you if I had told you?” she whimpered.
Ivy burst into tears and threw herself on the floor, burying her face in her hands and kicking her legs. She was saying something, but it was either in Yamatoan or just too garbled from her sobbing and bawling that I couldn’t begin to figure it out.
Zoge bent over and picked her up. Patting her back and saying something in Yamatoan. She looked at Beouf and jerked her head towards the front door. Beouf quietly nodded and Zoge walked out the front door, shushing and cooing the woman-child in soft soothing tones. With Ivy out of the room, my peripheral vision cleared up, and I got a full view of the rest of the room.
Some, like Tommy and Jesse, were shooting sad looks towards the door and shaking their heads. Others, like Shauna, Sandra Lynn, and Mandy, were glaring at me like I’d just kicked a puppy. Billy, Annie, and even Chaz were making mock kissy faces at each other and laughing like they’d just seen high comedy.
Great. A big dumb baby woman forces herself on me, I explain it as best as I can (and rather civilly if I do say so myself) and I’m the asshole. I stood my ground a few feet away from the rectangular table. I was shaking with rage, and despite the fact that I wasn’t wearing any pants, I felt like my skin was on fire like I was running a high fever.
Beouf took a knee next to me and placed her hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not in trouble.”
“Let me and her Mommy worry about that. I’m very proud of how you handled that, Clark.”
It took a lot for me to keep staring straight ahead instead of snapping at her. Proud? What did she have to be proud of? People can be proud of other people’s behavior and accomplishments if they helped develop it; a taught skill for instance. ‘I’m proud of you for bringing up your grades. That extra tutoring we’ve done has really paid off.’
Or if they’ve seen a person’s struggles and wanted to note the improvement. ‘You’ve got your drinking under control. I’m proud of you.’
Beouf had no claim to either. Being ‘proud’ of me was just something condescending to remind me who was in char-
“You handled those big feelings so much better than you did at the shower,” Beouf said. Oh...oh yeah. That. “I could tell from the look on your face that you really wanted to say something nasty to hurt Ivy, and you didn’t. Good job controlling yourself, kiddo.”
A whole host of new words and what to tell Beouf boiled up into my brain. I bit my tongue and stared off into the middle distance, instead. “I think he’s gonna cry…” I heard someone whisper.
“Do you want a hug?” Beouf asked me.
Silently, I shook my head. Even I wasn’t sure if I had actually shook it or if my tensed up muscles were still just vibrating. Either way. I didn’t want it.
My mentor stood up and looked around. “Class,” she said.” Before we transition to whole group, I just wanted to tell everyone that Clark did the right thing.” All eyes were on her. “What’s our touching rule in this classroom?”
Hands shot up. Shauna, with dark skin and her black hair done up in beads was called on. “Nobody can touch you without your permission,” she said with a kind of rote quality. Then she hastily added, “Except for if a grown-up needs to help you with something.”
“That’s right. And what should you do if someone is touching you in a way you don’t like, what should you do, even if it is a grown-up?”
“Tell a grown-up,” the class responded in unison.
Annie’s hand raised, but she didn’t wait to be called on. “Why isn’t Clark in trouble? He didn’t tell an adu-...I mean grown-up.”
Beouf smiled as if Annie’s trying to throw me under the bus was simple precociousness. “No, baby, Clark isn’t going to get in trouble. What he did was use his words to express his needs. It was very mature of him.”
I shouldn’t have felt pride in that, but I did. A trickle of hope in a dried up riverbed. Maybe I could get through this after all. I wouldn’t be able to talk sense into any Amazon, but maybe I could over the long term talk them into a slightly less intense form of crazy. I also felt the stares of the other prisoners on me. In their eyes I was turning into the suck-up; the teacher’s pet.
In that moment, my attitude could be described as ‘Fuck ‘em’. It’s not like I was making any friends my first day. Might as well take my comfort where I could.
“Okay everyone,” Beouf clapped her hands together. “Snack time’s over, go check your schedules.”
As one big crinkling mass, we went over to the wall where our toddler visual schedules were. I took the black pentagon off the paint stick and saw the matching symbol over by the whiteboard. The other infantilized adults were taking their symbols to a basket just beneath the spot where the marker’s rested and taking a seat in the semi-circle just like they had after breakfast. More circle time stuff it seemed.
“Do I have permission to kiss you,” Billy asked Annie.
“Yes you do.” Annie said. The two snuck each other a peck on the lips and snickered. Billy looked directly over at me and I just pretended. “May I give you a kiss?” Annie said down to Chaz.
“Totally,” Chaz pushed himself up to his knees and got a smack on the cheek for his troubles. “Thanks babe.”
A new behavior had been introduced, and already a certain segment of the population were toeing the line, seeing how much they could get away with. Practiced behavior and a bit of bratting to test the waters and push the envelope. I’d seen it plenty of times with my own students over the years. How childlike.
There was no mention of Ivy, however. No murmurs of waiting for the girl, or wondering where she and Zoge had gotten off to. No idle hoping she was okay. Not even scowling or mentioning how she’d completely freaked out.
Thinking back to my real classroom, if one of my students had been so much as checked out early for a dentist appointment, there’d be at least two children wondering where they were, when they’d be back, and if they were feeling alright. Same went for late arrivals, absences, or any other break in the scheduled routines. Kids, real kids, can be brats in the worst ways; but they can also be tremendous busibodies in the kindest and most empathetic of scenarios.
More proof that we weren’t kids; just damaged adults forced to play along.
At the kissing exchange, one of Beouf’s eyebrows cocked up behind her glasses, but then she busied herself telling Littles to spread out and was playing with an in classroom sound system connected to her computer. Had she lectured them on public displays of affection, she could have reprimanded them, but her focus was on consent ironically enough, bodily autonomy. Woman was obviously choosing her battles. In some bizarre way, she still had the mentality of a veteran educator.
I took my spot in the semi-circle with the others so that my back was to the bathroom and I could see the classroom door. I caught a flash of Zoge walking by, a bawling Ivy in her arms. I couldn’t hear outside, but the body language said that Ivy was still having a full on meltdown. I leveled my gaze so that I couldn’t see more.
“Stand up everyone,” Beouf instructed “Spread out and make a circle. Give each other some room.”
Easy enough. We did. Plenty of space. It’s like no one wanted to touch me. “Ivy cooties,” I heard someone whisper.
“We’re going to start our whole group session with some movement games. Ready?”
“Mrs. Beouf,” Jesse called out. “Clark doesn’t-”
“I have a feeling he’ll catch on, quick.” A knowing smile was thrown my way. Beouf power walked to her computer and clicked a button.
A voice came out of the speakers. “Walk.” A voice said. Immediately a meandering, hum drum tune started playing. It was just shy of elevator music, the kind of background music those old cartoons would walk to while speaking exposition, even though the background was the same house, tree, and rock over and over again, ad infinitum.
Cartoon?! Out of paranoia I looked to Mrs. Beouf, trying to make sure there were no ear plugs or anything that might filter out a subliminal message. Of course there weren’t any. Beouf was a lot of things, but she was no Raine Forrest. In some ways that made it worse. In trying (poorly) to end my adulthood with poison and typical Amazon ploys, Raine was at least acknowledging it.
Everyone started walking clockwise around the circle we’d made. A few even did so with a bit of flare, purposefully swinging their arms or tucking in their elbows. Even Chaz crawled and bobbed his head side to side, as if strolling along on his hands and knees was the most natural and normal thing in the world.
We no longer looked like toddlers toddling, but like toddlers play acting at being adults.
“Gallop.” The tune changed to something out of a spaghetti western, hoofbeats and twangy guitar included. Immediately everyone started stuttering their steps, galloping like a horse. A few whinnies went up as boys and girls started imitating horses for good measure.
I sighed. I did know this game. Like the back of my hand, in fact. It was one I had my three and four year olds do. A generic track of stock music correlated to a type of animated movement. Next there’d be a quiet, almost spooky xylophone number for tip toeing around, and a frantic fast paced run, and a lazy gliding skate and so on and so forth. Then the track would randomize and play without the verbal instructions and the kids would have match their movement to fit the tune without prompting.
Good clean fun...if you’re actually a child.
I could do this game in my sleep. No concentration needed whatsoever. It was completely mindless to me. Was it degrading? Yes. Absolutely. But at least I didn’t have to sing any songs about what a baby I was or how Hi-Diddly-Dee a big boy’s life wasn’t for me, or whatever. If this was all I had to do, I could make it through my first day in Hell easily enough and get to see Cassie one last time.
Practically no conscious thought was required on my part. This was a bad thing. A very bad thing. Some people, when given a mindless activity, just zone out and let their minds go numb. They literally think about nothing. Hum to themselves. Get lost in a haze of their own amorphous thoughts. Other people, lacking mental stimulus, invent their own. Fixate and go deep into their own heads, whirling and whirling about until their brain starts turning into a blender.
If you’ve read this far, you don’t need to guess which type I am.
The front door opened and Zoge came in. She was still carrying Ivy, but the babied Little’s wails had downgraded into sniffles. The pair walked around our play circle in a wide berth headed for the bathroom.
I do everything I’m told and I have to play a dumb baby game in a wet diaper. Ivy throws a tantrum and gets changed afterwards. How was that fair?
A stray thought: What would Cassie think about Ivy kissing me?
Surely, she wouldn’t be jealous, or possessive. Ivy had gone Full Native. She was a Doll; the Amazon ideal of the perfect perpetual child. It’s not like some strange woman off the street had hit on me. Even if a stranger had made advances, it’s not as if I had reciprocated. I hadn’t kissed back.
It wasn’t cheating by any measurement. None whatsoever.
Cassie would be furious with me, though. I knew it. Deep down, she’d hate me for it. Not because a Little Girl had planted one on my cheek. That was a big nothing burger for my wife. What would make her livid beyond words was everything else.
I was adopted by my work friend.
My mentor was now my teacher and her assistant’s pet was my classmate.
I’d lost my job, my name, my identity, and my marriage.
I had been betrayed at every conceivable level. The very same support system of ‘good’ Amazons that had protected me from Brollish and the others hadn’t been saving me as much as saving me for themselves.
Cassie wouldn’t be furious with them, though. She wouldn’t be surprised. She’d be angriest with me.
How had she reacted with that Little in the restaurant? Or the one on the bus? If I had seen them with a kind of quiet pity, she’d viewed them with a simmering contempt. They’d played the game and they’d lost. They’d done something to deserve the treatment they were getting. Littles that ended up being rocked in a giant’s arms weren’t victims, they were losers who lacked the common sense and ruthlessness to survive in the cruel real world, and so were sentenced to a plush pastel one.
When I’d made Amazon and Tweener friends, my wife had warned me against playing with fire. She’d helped up our standard of living, and still maintained ties to her survivalist family. My own folks were locked up in a retirement fortress.
I was the only one stupid enough to play the game the Amazon’s way. I’d lost. I was a loser.
So how would she look at me? She wouldn’t even see me, would she? Even if Janet kept her word and Cassie would be safe, she’d never forgive me for leaving her alone. I was just another deadbeat husband who couldn’t pay the bills. Went to my job and didn’t come back thanks to management.
Just another statistic. Just another anecdotal post on mistuhgwiffin.web. A tragedy. A loser. My very existence right now was offensive to her. What if the love of my life didn’t want to see me?
Should I even bother trying to see her the one last time? And if I didn’t, what did I have left to hope for?
“Is he okay?”
“What’s he doing?”
“I think he’s pooping, again.”
“Nobody looks like that when they’re poopin’.”
“Clark?” I heard Mrs. Beouf’s voice break into my thoughts. “Clark, baby? Are you okay?”
I had stopped. At some point, unbeknownst to me, I had walked into the middle of the circle. And stopped. Frozen. Knees locked. Fists clenched. Eyes slammed shut. I was shaking again. Trembling. I wasn’t crying. I would not cry. Between all the terrible thoughts bombarding my mind, a single automatic command snuck in.
Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.
My breathing slowed and my teeth gnashed. I would not cry. I would not break.
Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.
“I think he’s flipping out.”
“Awww, is the poor baby gonna cryyyyy?”
“Clark?” Beouf asked again. “Can you hear me? Clark?”
I wouldn’t cry. There was as much chance of that as the morning dew raining upwards. No crying, as much chance as the sky turning green. No crying. There was as much chance of that as...as…
There was as much chance of me crying right then as my own wife being happy to see me one last time…
I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t crying, but it felt like there were fishhooks lodged in the corners of my mouth, pulling them downward towards the floor. And just as much as I knew I wouldn’t cry then, a little voice on the inside of my head also told me that I might never smile again.
My feet tilted and my knees buckled. Eyes still shut, I could feel the floor rushing up to greet me. Should I tuck my head? Or should I ragdoll and just bash it against the carpet. It probably wouldn’t hurt. Too much.
Giant arms snatched me and lifted me off the ground. “Gotcha! It’s okay, Clark. I gotcha. I gotcha, hon. It’s okay. I’m here. I gotcha.”
Finally, I decided to open my eyes. Melony Beouf was looking down at me, an expression of genuine worry on her face. The last time I’d remember her looking that concerned was when we’d found that essay. I’d cried in front of her then. I’d felt safe enough too.
Humongous steps carried me into the nap room. “Clark, can you understand me?”
“Can you talk, hun?”
“Yes,” I said weakly.
She placed me in a crib. I didn’t resist. I didn’t see much point in resisting just then. The back of her hand pressed against my forehead. “You don’t feel feverish. How are you feeling?”
Like the world was crumbling around me in new and devastating ways. I just shrugged.
“I think you’re a bit overwhelmed,” she said. “And that’s okay. You’ve got a lot to get used to. Things are changing all over the place and it’s all happening very fast. That’s common for early Maturosis.”
I gazed down at the pastel train bedsheets, not bothering to look at her. What the fuck do I do? Where did I go from here?
“I’m going to give you some quiet time to be in your thoughts,” Beouf said. “Give you some time to just be alone. You don’t have to take a nap but if you want to, you can. Okay?”
My head lifted just enough to make eye contact; it felt like my frown deepened to compensate. I nodded.
My mentor turned babysitter raised the crib railing and left the room briefly. She came back with my bottle and a rattle. “If you get thirsty,” she said. She leaned over the railing and shook the rattle.
The jingling pulse threw my brain for a loop. It was one of those rattles; like the kind from the shower. I swooned and laid back in the crib. Started sucking down even more water. Why not? I needed to be soaking if I was going to go to lunch dry and two hands holding a bottle left no room for a rattle that messed me up like a double shot of tequila. Problem solved.
“You can play with this if you want. If you don’t, that’s okay too.” Beouf walked back to the door. “Do you want the lights off or on?”
“Off,” I said. I didn’t want to see myself right then.
She obliged. “I’ll check up on you a little later, okay?”
I made no reply. Beouf left me alone.
What to do? What to do?
The tunnel vision that had kept me going forward now had a light at the end, but the light burned. What choice did someone make when every choice was a bad one?
If Janet had told me the truth, there was no need to visit. Cassie was smart. She’d figured out why I hadn’t come home last Thursday. The house was hers now. As was my bank account and any money the school still owed me as an employee. She was as set as she was going to get.
What could I say besides ‘Sorry’? Would it matter? Was there a way I could escape? A way she could rescue me? A way we could be together without us looking back over our shoulders for the rest of our lives? Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Life had given me a concussion, and I didn’t have a plan as much as I had scraps of hope, kind little lies that wouldn’t even let me get through the day.
Cassie didn’t need me. She probably wouldn’t want to see me. I just couldn’t let her go.
I might have dozed off, or I might have entered a gigantic feedback loop of jouskas on what I’d do IF I got through this first day. The second day still seemed so far away. I might have wet a little more or just strained my bladder trying to pass the time. No clue.
The bottle was about half empty, when something inside the room changed. The door to the nap room slid open and I sat up, hands shooting over my pelvis as if I had anything left to hide. I’d been left with my thoughts long enough to feel embarrassed again, so at least I had that going for me.
It wasn’t Beouf who walked in. Nor was it Zoge. This person was much shorter than either of them. Still, she was a sight taller than me. The Amazon fifth graders towered over me. She stood just barely the same height as them, on average.
There in the shadows of the naproom, Tracy looked at me on the other side of the crib bars.. “Hey, Boss…”