Chapter Description: Still in the throws of grief, Clark inadvertently turns being a sobbing mess into an endurance sport
I cried all day that first Wednesday. It was spectacular! The best day I’d had at school since I’d come back. Big time fun and all it cost me was another sleepless night of telling Janet through the baby monitor how much she’d ruined everything until I passed out in the pre-dawn blackness. It was nice.
Like the previous day- shit; like most good things in my life- Wednesdays successfully marvelous antics didn’t come as the result of carefully calculated planning but from luck, the ability to adapt, and an Amazon’s crazy and arbitrary rules being turned against them.
Tuesday, I’d been super tired; punch drunk even. Everything was numb, emotionally speaking, except for that strange giddy thrill of taking a risk. Even then, the rush was felt through a filter. I still didn’t feel real. My brain had been in a kind of fog with a half-inch layer of cellophane around my personal reality.
Good. Good things had happened.
Wednesday went to a whole new level but in the opposite direction.
“Why is Clark crying?” Ivy asked when the bus pulled up and Littles started getting loaded off.
Tears were running down my face. Big ones. Dripping ones. My breathing was fine, more or less, save for the massive amounts of snot building up and pouring onto my upper lip. I didn’t scream or wail or bawl. I just cried.
I can’t even say why I felt like crying. I just…
I was standing there in my onesie and sneakers, and I saw Beouf carry out Mandy and Sandra Lynn, and Sandra Lynn’s outfit kind of looked familiar in a weird way. Not the design or cut, but a similar color and hue to something this one outfit that...nevermind.
“Mommy?” Ivy kept tugging at Zoge’s dress. She actually let go of my hand so that she could point to me. “Why is Clark crying?”
Whatever Zoge said in reply, I couldn’t understand it. Too low. Probably in Yamatoan.
The others noticed it too. “Clark? You okay? Clark?”.
My mouth drooped lower than the overnight Monkeez had in the morning. My breath was coming out in ragged little spurts like a sprinkler. If I ran my tongue past my lips I could taste mucus and everything from my neck up felt like it was on fire while everything south felt shivery and cold.
And it felt great!
So alive! The smell of the exhaust. The early morning sun through the treetops. The sounds of birds chirping mixing seamlessly with the fading echoes of students grumbling to the cafeteria for breakfast. I thought about all of it, took it all in, thought about Monday and just let myself go!
It was like there was a sunburn on my very soul. Every thought, every emotion led to pain and crying and heartache. It hurt so much, but in that hurt I knew myself to be well and truly alive! I could’ve stopped, I supposed, but why would I?
Stopping the crying would have been like stopping sex before orgasm. The feelings and pressure would have still been bottled up inside me and I would have been left feeling stunted and disturbed. And like laughter, this sadness doubled over and looped back in on itself; like when you laugh at a joke so hard that you stop laughing at the punchline and start laughing at yourself for laughing so long and hard.
I wasn’t just crying, I was crying at myself! If you can’t cry at yourself, who can you cry at?
“Mrs. Zoge,” Beouf said after taking stock of the situation. “Take Chaz’s stroller please.”
“Woo-hoo!” Chaz pumped his fists in the air. “Front of the line! Now everybody’s gotta look at the back of me for once!’
I didn’t move. Didn’t need to. Beouf picked me up and draped me over her shoulder. She started gently rubbing my back and shushing me. “Shhhhhhhh. It’s okay, baby. It’s okay to feel sad. Just let it all out. Be in your feelings.”
I was being picked up. I was being carried. Beouf was having to adapt to me. She was reacting to me. Even as I cried, there was this detached bit of reptile brain still calculating behind my own weeping eyes.
A Raine Forrest or a Brollish would have shoved a gagging pacifier into my mouth and left it there until I became mute and compliant. Beouf considered herself one of the ‘good ones’, and in that perception she had a weakness. Her own particular brand of Amazon crazy wouldn’t let her treat me like a hostage. I wasn’t actively resisting, so I had to be tolerated.
I let out a whimper. Not a full wail, just enough to work my lungs and be heard by those listening. Just enough to keep the negative feedback loop going.
I didn’t raise the volume in the cafeteria. No one would reasonably accuse me of attention seeking or making a scene. I wouldn’t resist. No accusing me of being disobedient or willful. As far as they could claim, I was just a sad baby.
Who knew why babies cried? Certainly not because of deep existential pain at having most of their personal identity invalidated and the love of their liv…
The point was I’d found a way to argue from a position of strength. To Beouf’s and Zoge’s thinking, it didn’t matter if I was turning myself into an inconvenience. There was no rule against crying.
So I cried while I was fed dry cereal. Others fed themselves, being allowed to pick with their hands. I sat there and cried and made Beouf have to spoon feed me. That only gave me more fuel to cry. The bitterness of my new lot made excellent fuel.
I cried on the way out. I cried during Circle Time, not singing along, and just buried my face in my hands and rubbed my eyes. Every now and then I’d let out a few muffled sobs to keep my physiology primed. Simple really. Elementary, even.
I wept during centers.
“Clark?” Beouf asked. “What’s wrong? Can you talk to me?”
Could I talk? Yes. Would I talk? No. They’d get my noise, but not my speech. Not at all. I allowed a “Ca...Cass….” And then I broke down into bitter sobs before muffling myself so as to pretend not wanting to disturb anyone else. It was amazing! So freeing!
Zoge was particularly uncomfortable. Instead of doing our center on making up animals, she gave Ivy crayons and bounced me on her lap. All that did was give me a rhythm to whimper uncontrollably to.
“Chō, chō ha ni tomaru.
Happa ni akitara sakura to asobu.
Sakura no hana no ue de.
“Teishi shite saisei shite saisei shite teishi”
The Yamatoan nursery rhyme didn’t have the desired effect on me. It only made me remember when Zoge- Zoge of all people- had watched out for me and saved me from this exact fate. Perfect crying fuel!
My sadness spread like a plague throughout the room. Eyes were on me. Faces frowning. Uncomfortable sighs and glassy eyes. My classmates weren’t as hardened as they might have wanted me to think.
“Clark!” Chaz shouted across the room. “Dude! Get over-...” He looked me in the eye and stopped. “Nevermind.” He muttered. I still don’t know what he saw in my eyes: the wonderfully vibrant anger and pain I was drawing from or the sadistic lizard king taking pleasure at everyone else’s reaction to it. Neither? Both?
Nothing worked: Bottles; candies, both sour and sweet; toys; pacifiers; trips to the changing table. None of it was resisted or refused. None of it worked, either.
Janet clicked in on heels and held me softly during her lunch break. It was nice. Comfy. Didn’t stop me at all, though. It was too nice knowing I was interrupting her lunch break. It was too nice to stain her blouse with tears knowing that she’d look down after her wasted time off and be unable to get the image out of her head.
So sweet. So...so...sweet.
Beouf tried again by taking me out of the room, across the walkway and to the playground. Fresh air; middle of the day; relative privacy I kept sniffling and gasping for air. I still hated that place. I wasn’t sure why, but just being there on that perfectly made playground bothered me in ways I couldn’t quite articulate at my best. Bad move, Beouf.
“I know you’re feeling really bad today, Clark.” she told me. “I think I know why. Your Mommy told me the other night. Your old house…? Aaaand...” She paused, clearly choosing her words carefully. “I know you’ve lost a lot. You’re going through a lot. It’s okay to feel these feelings. It’s perfectly natural what you’re going through.”
The grief was natural. The cause was anything but.
With everything flowing out of me at that moment, I hit a kind of rock bottom clarity. The most bitter, angry, resentful parts of me held their tongue and didn’t refute, even internally Beouf’s claims. She did know what I was going through. It was her job to know what I was going through. She very likely had a variation of this talk with every Little that came into her life at some point or another. It was very unlikely that I was her first ‘student’ to go through this kind of grief.
“I just wanted to tell you,” she stopped and course corrected. “Ask you…?” Her lips pursed. “I wanted to tell you that if there was anything you wanted to talk about I’ll listen. Your Mommy, Mrs. Zoge, and I care a lot about you and know you’re in a lot of hurt.” She placed a hand on my thigh. “Did you know that?”
Sitting on the bench where she and Zoge camped every afternoon; just me and Beouf...
Looking down at my legs I continued to sniffle, quietly percolating the next phase of my strategy. No strategy beyond waiting for the opening.
“If there’s anything you want to say, anything at all, you can tell me anytime. You can say ‘Mrs. B. I need to talk,’ and I can bring you right out here where no one will be able to interrupt us and I’ll listen. It’ll be just the two of us. Just you and me. You can say anything you want and I’ll listen.”
I looked down at my lap. Gingerly, I mirrored my fingers and thumbs together into a circle, as if I were holding a toasty mug of freshly brewed coffee. Just me and her. Just like old times…
That thought gave me enough fuel to rack my entire body.
Not disturbing anyone else, I gave myself the freedom to scream so hard that my uvula rattled in my throat. It was a mighty bellow from my perspective; a lion’s roar mixed with a whale’s song.
My old mentor shifted me over to her lap and hugged me, shushing me gently in an attempt to soothe me; attempting to quiet me moments after she’d reminded me of her own betrayal..
I went into the nap room, early and alone; them hoping that I’d cry myself out and go to sleep till at least Lunch.
Tracy slipped in looking worse than she had on Monday.. Her face had lines of concern and worry etched all over it. I’d seen this face from her before; usually when she had concerns for one of our students.
“Hey boss,” she whispered. “Mrs. Beouf gave our room a call. Even got permission from Ambrose to borrow me.” She scoffed and let out a bitter chuckle. “Pretty sure Ambrose thinks I’m ripping you a new one.’ She got out of her own head. ‘What’s up?”
Nothing. Nothing was up. I was just crying. The Tweener reached through the bars and offered her hand. I didn’t take it. I still needed to cry; had to keep the streak up; and the later in the day it got the more demanding it was becoming. Had to keep the game going.
“I know about your house.” Tracy told me. “I heard about Cassie.” Damn. Just came right out and said it. Tracy was always too blunt, too honest to read the room. Thanks Tracy. I needed that fuel. I needed that honesty.
Words didn’t even attempt to form in my mouth. Unless those words were “Hhhhhh...uwwwwwww…….hhhhhhh…..hhhhhh…...ahhhhhh….” and clapping my hand over my mouth when a particularly powerful surge welled up in me. Thank you, Tracy.
“That sucks.” Tracy said. Understatement of the lifetime. It more than sucked. “It more than sucks. ‘Sucks’ doesn’t cut it.” Could Tracy read my mind? “I just suck at coming up with better words. Do you wanna talk about it?”
I did not and made no effort.
“No? Okay. I get it.” She reached in and grabbed my hand anyways. “Look, Clark. I messed up. I’m gonna try and make it right. I’m gonna find her, boss. I don’t know how but I’m gonna do it. Simple as that.” She gave my hand a squeeze. I didn’t squeeze back. “I don’t know what will happen after I find her, but we’ll go from there.”
More promises that would be next to impossible to keep. More false hope. More fuel. I could have done this all day with what she was providing.
She waved goodbye and left me to be by myself and cool down. Wasn’t gonna happen, though.
Here’s a lesson about basic psychology folks: Every behavior is designed on some level to get an effect; an attempt at control. To avoid something. To get something in return. Plopping me in that dark quiet room in a crib was intended to drain me. No one to feed off of, nothing that could be avoided.
What the giants failed to understand was that I was already controlling the situation to my liking. Making them uncomfortable. Making them sequester me. Seeing the world through those bars, knowing that this was going to be my life from now on, it gave me something to draw power from.
Hope had left me, and after that hope came a kind of beautiful sadness. A power I had not yet experienced. Just when I’d reached my limit, all I’d have to do is think about how far I’d fallen and I’d regain the strength to quietly bawl again.
Oh to feel. To really feel. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Love was special, but the pain of its absence was exquisite like a cat-o-nine-tails lashing against my sense of self.
ALIVE! WELL AND TRULY ALIVE!
I cried all through lunch. Wept into my naptime pillow. Sniffled on the playground. Sulked and whimpered in the playpen Janet placed behind her desk for me. Kept it going and eventually faded into a quiet silence when we went back to her house.
I needed this. I really needed this. It was the happiest I’d been all week.
Janet wrapped me up in a blanket and rocked me. It didn’t diminish my happiness. She shushed and patted my back again. See previous statement. She said “I love you,” at least a thousand times and continually kept wiping my nose and eyes with tissue after tissue after tissue. Come to think of it, that might have been one of the first non-wet, non-baby wipes she’d used for me.
Bonus! The hits just kept on coming.
Dinner was much the same as lunch. No resistance. No real participation either. Just crying. If I felt this great tomorrow, I reasoned behind scrunched up and puffy eyes, I’d have to start early if I hoped to beat the record I was setting. World record? Probably not, but a new personal best for sure.
She kept looking at her phone, too. I got glimpses of it throughout the evening. Reading more Little Voices articles. Looking for Mommy tips; ways to manipulate me. Articles like ‘What to do if you’re Little can’t move on from their old life’ or some such bullshit.
Near bedtime, Janet put me in the crib standing up. She reached out and put her hand on my shoulder while looking me in the eye. “I know you’re feeling really bad today, baby.” she told me. “I think I know why.”
My tears subsided and my breathing slowed. Holy shit. Almost exactly like Beouf. “You’re going through a lot. And um...it’s okay to feel these feelings. Perfectly natural. Anybody would be acting the way you’re acting with what you’ve just gone through. It’s okay to cry and be in your feelings. Nothing to be ashamed about.”
I’d moved past shame for the day. That hadn’t been a concern. I started to pick up my tempo again.
“I wanted to tell you that if there was anything you wanted to talk about I’ll listen. Me and Mrs. Beouf love you. You know that, right?”
More fuel. Fantastic. I might be able to keep it up till dawn with all the momentum I was gaining. Beouf delivered the lines well. She’d been practiced enough to not seem practiced. Janet was clearly reciting stuff she’d just read off of a Little Voices website.
“If there’s anything you want to say, anything at all, you can tell me anytime. Anything you want and I’ll listen.”
The words out of her mouth were scripted, but the hurt in her face was real. She turned to leave and then circled back around. “I mean that. I really do.” She left again, turned out the lights, and shut the door.
Standing up in the crib, still crying, I choked out a single “I hate you…” towards the baby monitor.
The door opened and Janet came back in. She came back to the crib and knelt down. For the first time in maybe forever, I was above her eye level. “One more thing,” she said. “You can talk to me anytime, but I also want you to listen to this.”
She sniffed. “You’re angry at me right now. I know that. You hate me, and that hurts. Alot. Alot, alot. I’m your Mommy, now, and I’m never going away. I’m never going to stop loving you. I’m never going to stop trying to make you happy. I’m never going to stop learning how to meet your needs. I’m going to mess up...I’ve already messed up,” she choked back. She wasn’t crying but I could almost hear it in her voice. “But I’m not going to give up on you and stop trying. If you want to hate me, you can. I understand. You can hate me and yell at me for as long as you need to. When I became your Mommy I was making a promise. I’m going to keep that promise. I’ll wait for you.”
“And what if I never stop hating you?” It was the most I’d spoken since I’d woken up. It didn’t make my voice sound any less raw.
Part of me had expected Janet to condescendingly smile. Lips to turn up, head to go down. She did the inverse. “If you want to hate me forever, you have that right. That won’t change a thing about how I feel about you.”
She stood back up, laid me down, tucked me in, and left the room for the final time that night. My body, in crisis mode since the sun had come up finally came to rest and was refusing to get up. My head felt like lead on the pillow and my lungs begged me to breathe steadily for once. I wouldn’t be pulling an all-nighter tonight. Maybe tomorrow night.
I grabbed Lion and tucked him under my arm. “Good game, Janet,” I said to the baby monitor. “Good game.”