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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing


There's a woman at the end of the bar who can't believe the way we coddle people these days.

Car seats for children. Food stamps. Half-way houses! All of these things confound this woman. To hear her tell it, allergies could be cured with repeated contact, asthma is an excuse for those who are "afraid to try", the addicted can get clean in jail and seatbelts are "stupid" because "if it's your time, it's your time".

"Nobody wore a helmet in my day," she bawled over her beer, "and we all turned out just fine!"

Sure you did, lady. Except for those of you who didn't. The ones who didn't wear a helmet and suffered avoidable traumatic brain injury because of it didn't make it to the bar tonight.

And then I remembered the girl I can't fully forget...

There was a girl in my 7th grade class. Try as I may, I cannot remember her name, not even enough to fictionalize it; yet I remember her face, her manner. She was pale and thin, looked like she didn't sleep. Her clothes were dirty and may have been from another era. She was disheveled. Not in a cool, hipster sort of way -- hipsters had yet to have been invented -- but in a forgotten and clothing-as-cover-only sort of way. Everything she wore was too big, matronly even, right down to the 50's style bra discernible under her inevitable white cotton blouses. The unfilled cups of those bras collapsed under the weight of the material, becoming odd lumps of confusion.

There she sat in the row next to me, head bowed, mute. She didn't speak, ever, even when the teacher asked her a question, something that blew my mind every time it happened.

How do you not answer the teacher?

She showed up one autumn day with a black eye. Later in the year her arm was in a sling.

I avoided her, just as, it seems, everyone else did. She was marked somehow. I think we were afraid that she was contagious.

In retrospect, I can't help but wonder about me at that age and speculate as to how much of my brain I was using.

I can't help but wonder if mandatory reporting on the part of the teachers and doctors in her life might've changed things.

The woman at the end of the bar blathers on, but I've turned her off.

She's saying nothing.

48 comments:

R. Jacob said...

On the plus side I might find you in a bar, where the more you drink the more handsome I become. I did have a woman tell me one time that she couldn't drink that much. Ouch!

On the downside the unseen abuse children sometimes encounter. I did an angry post about it here. http://rjacobpost.blogspot.com/2011/10/fathers-duty.html

It was something I had to get off my chest. Have a wonderful Sunday.

Rene Foran said...

So powerful, Pearl.
Thank you.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Poor little soul. I wonder what ever became of her and if the cycle continued.

Ms Sparrow said...

I have the same retroactive moments that you do. In high school, I was walking down the hall when a tall motorcycle-gang-type kid saw an undersized pale redhead kid coming toward him. He grabbed the kid by the scruff of the neck, opened the door to the girl's restroom and threw him in. I was disgusted and full of sympathy but said nothing. It still bothers me--and that happened over fifty years ago! Bullying and abuse have effects that far outlive the event.

Scarlet Blue said...

Don't blame yourself for not using all of your brain when you were young and innocent, you're using it now and that's what matters.
Sx

Joyful Things said...

I am amazed when people say "look at me, I turned out okay" when really they didn't. And I think people are still mute when it come to helping others get out of a bad situation - we see it every day and cannot get involved. I am guilty of it. Fear, maybe? I don't know why exactly but your post motivates me to stick my nose into other peoples business and then I remember intervening when a mother was in a store ,beating her child, saying "I told you (whack)not to hit (whack) your sister" (whack whack whack). My intervention did not end well.

powdergirl said...

I have actual nightmares about watching abuse and doing nothing. Its awful, I wake up sweating,sick and cold. Don't know why that is as I'm a pretty good little intervener in my waking hours. Probably because, same as you, the times I feel I failed to help never leave my conscience.

aBroad said...

Oh yes, looking back can be painful .. often.
My hope is she grew up with knowledge that children shouldn't have to learn and used it to help other children.
Some day I will tell you about the boy who stood up for me on my first and last ride on a school bus.

Hilary said...

At that age, you simply weren't capable of using your full brain. Don't dwell on that. We know better now. Thankfully, our kids know better at the ages when we faltered. Sadly, everyone knew/knows a child like this one. Well said, Pearl.

Camille said...

There were far too many little girls and boys such as that when I was a child. And later on, as a teenager and into my twenties, I still saw such things and did nothing. You see, I was raised to mind my own beeswax, look the other way, and shaddup. I woke up when I hit my 30's and discovered intervention as a powerful tool. I'm hell on wheels now. I do wish it hadn't taken me so long to catch on.

thecubiclerebel said...

This is a really good post. The "lady" sounds absolutely ridiculous. She sort of reminds me of people who say they don't lock their doors because they live in "safe" neighborhoods (when the devil is everywhere).

Oy forever.

Vapid Vixen said...

That is heartbreaking. I think we all have things from when we were younger we wish we could change. If it's any consolation at all, our brains hadn't fully developed so, unlike the adults, we weren't thinking at full capacity yet.

darlin said...

My heart goes out to both the young lady with the bruises and the old woman (assuming she's old due to the no seat belt law) slobbering into her beer.

No child deserves to be abused, there's no excuse. Children only know what they've learned and nobody can blame a child for not reaching out and helping the young lady with the broken arm and bruises. We 'other' people within society, if you're not like 'us' then 'we' are too afraid to approach the 'othered' individual. Mass media creates norms, stay within those norms and you won't find yourself an outcast.

How often do you see a billboard of an abused child with a help number on it vs. the billboard of an almost naked lady who really could use some food and would lose ten pounds instantly if she deflated her chest? The media fills our heads with garbage, garbage which so many of us buy into, the garbage spewed out is our norms and what we judge others from.

The woman at the end of the bar is full of sheer ignorance, she knows nothing better than what she finds at the bottom of her beer. She sounds like she's full of regrets, looking for love in all the wrong places...someone could write a country and western song about her life. I wonder what her childhood was like to have led her to the bar all alone babbling into a beer.

I miss your writing, I'll be back when time permits. Have a wonderful day.

Thank you, now I'm warmed up and ready to go... this to get this darn essay out of the way and start all over again. ;-)

Charlotte Ann said...

Thank you Pearl. It helps to know I'm not the only one that has lived through not saying enough ....the younger me did that and I too wake in a cold sweat and berate myself and feel the guilt.

Belle said...

As a child, you would not grasp what was wrong with that girl. Yes, she would be better off today. I read that abuse of children has gone down 50% because of schools and doctors intervening and probably because the children call and tell people. It isn't hidden as much as the old days.

When people bring up the 1950s and say it was better back then I just laugh. All the evil was hidden from view. No one talked about incest, no one knew the President was sleeping with women, no one knew the government was experimenting with prisoners. You just can't get away with shit as much now, and I like that.

Eva Gallant said...

We didn't know enough back then about abuse. Hopefully, we would do better, confronted with the situation today.

Shelly said...

Gosh, that hurts my heart. As a teacher, we are trained to report even the vaguest suspicions of abuse these days, but back in the day, folks just kind of looked the other way. I hope things turned out better for her.

jabblog said...

We all look back and remember things we saw and might have done something about. Most times they're not as graphic as your memories. What we could have done is past - what we might do, somehow, is present and future. The lesson is to keep watching, listening - and then things might improve (though I'm not really hopeful)

Linda O'Connell said...

It is so important to empower young children and teach them what to do and say in difficult situations. I used to to scenarios with my 22 yr old granddaughter when she was four. She would say, "Let's do another 'criminal' story and I'll tell you what I'd do." Indeed!

jenny_o said...

That woman at the bar? She'd also be the first one blaming "them" (officials of some kind) for failing to have passed a law to protect her from whatever thing ended up hurting her. Stupefying!

Michelle said...

Really time to " freak out" on REAKES & FLAKSTE..." Darlin"....
POMMEN to ALEN COVE just gave up QUARK CAPTAIN!
And JENNY O knows who that is, don't ya " Darlin"?
Not only that, ASOGGEL sinking all those PRUSH SHIPS of FERR!
Ah, well..next will be TOM HANKS and that's pretty much " Hollywood".
GEOLOGIE = REGIS PHILIBAN?
QUARK & SCOMAN?
Seems a lot more than" nothing" goin' on.

Pat said...

That teacher should have spotted it and taken action.

Michelle said...

Pat..as in BUCHANAN ?
One more for " KANSAS KINGS".
Not only that but LEUPPR is probably going to put everyone on this blog in hell.
Better tell GUY.
They say he 's on HEROIN?
But why not?
He's a " GIFT".
LEUPPR...COUTES...DISEESE...URAMU....FOCK WORMS.
Louisiana is going to get a lot of " credits " in this movie.

Julianna said...

Yip. She turned out just fine, because sitting at a bar blabbering to a captive audience, drowning yourself in beer is definitely "turning out just fine."

Mandated reporting is only as good as the follow through now a days. Sadly, the ones they investigate aren't usually the ones that need the attention. One DCF worker told me that 80% of their cases are made up by the disgruntled spouse. UGH.

mrwriteon said...

Very poignant and honest, dear friend. I think we've all had people like that poor girl in our lives about whom we had suspicions but did nothing. As for the loudmouthed asshole at the bar, when her liver fails we can only hope somebody says: "You only have yourself to blame."

The Elephant's Child said...

I find myself torn in a number of directions. I am all for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. And for helmets, and seatbelts. I also worry that children are being overprotected and missing out on childhood as I knew it. Which did involve some risks.
Drat you Pearl, I didn't want to have to think today.

Jeanne said...

The whole "life was better then" myth makes me crazy.

It's right up there with, "Get rid of government programs and let the churches handle charity." Having worked in the non-profit world, I'd just as soon not leave things to people's charitable instincts.

Doubting Thomas said...

Great post, Pearl. Thank you for sharing. As kids, we often avoid situations we don't know how to handle, or can't get our minds around. It's hard to remember being a kid at times, when so many things in the world often didn't make sense. I think you were using all of your brain - it's just hard to comprehend things sometimes.

- DT

Jerry said...

Well said.

Amber Star said...

You know..I don't think life was better "way back when" either. And apparently it wasn't better for the girl whose story you have told here. It was bad enough that it has stayed with you all these years down to the details of how her bra fit. At that time in your life you had no way of making a change for her. Don't blame yourself.

I wondered if the woman at the end of the bar might have been the girl you described and life's hardships might have turned her so bitter.

HermanTurnip said...

Although I do think we've evolved (devolved?) into a nation with an entitlement mentality, we should be there to help those who simply can not do for themselves. We should never forget about compassion for others.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Excellent post, Pearl! I'm sure it will touch a lot of hearts today and hereafter.

Back in the day, at least my days in school, reporting wasn't mandatory and the teacher who discovered my brother's abuse threatened to call police and did manage,with such threats, to stop the abuse for a time. It meant a lot to us that someone cared enough to take a chance. But a lot of people don't know when and how to intervene. And when you're a child, too, it's hard to know what to do when you see another child who is different and possibly being abused. So many get further abused by classmates. It's so sad -- both to be the abused girl you remember and the drunken, bitter woman at the bar.

Lazarus said...

Pearl, my cyber friend, you REALLY do have some serious writing talent. Loved the "lumps of confusion" line, among others. Please sit down and focus and write a damn book, not a chapbook. You can combine humor and pathos and 1,000 other emotions easily, seamlessly and in a very entertaining manner. OK, that's the end of my spiel. Please, just do it!

Susan in the Boonies said...

There was a little girl in my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade class that I acted like I was allergic to. She always smelled like Karo syrup, and the smell grossed me out. In retrospect, I think she just needed someone to give her a bath, and wash her clothes. It makes me sad when I think about her now, and how absolutely oblivious I was to her need for a friend.

Crystal Pistol said...

It's not just children that turn a blind eye to those who need someone to step in.

Yesterday we went to a church dinner. A father grabbed his teenage daughter by the neck and shouted at her two inches form her stoic face. She was clearly used to this treatment. He pulled her away from the crowd and to his car. No one helped her. Later all the men were angry and upset they had not acted on her behalf. It all happened so fast.

Day late and a dollar short. Guess we could all step out of our comfort zones more often.

Tempo said...

A bittersweet story Pearl, I guess we all knew kids like her...some of us were her. Looking back there were times I kept silent when I should have stood up..but I was only a kid!

River said...

99% of the above commenters have said what I would have. I don't remember any incidents like that at school, but I do remember when I first started working, after a couple of months a friend took me aside and suggested I buy some deodorant. Which I did. It wasn't until months later that I wondered why my mum wasn't teaching me these things! Later still, I took a girl aside myself and went home with her where she showed me that her house had no bathroom and the girls all slept together in one room on very grubby mattresses on the floor. I showed her how to do a daily spongebath with a basin of warm water and then apply deodorant. When her mum spotted me in the street one day, she thanked me, and once again I thought, why didn't her mum teach her?

Jocelyn said...

You are the blog worth visiting. Thanks for slicing through all the crap with your smarts, your fabulous writing. Thanks for this.

vanilla said...

Nothing, yes. And yet poisonous.

the walking man said...

Silence is easy...it is too bad the woman at the end of the bar took the hard route.

The Jules said...

I like to think that "nothing" wasn't actually done, and she got help.

In the ambulance service we're trained to watch for signs of abuse and to raise concerns via the appropraite channels, as are teachers. Wonder if that was the case back then?

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

If kids had the empathy and mental wherewithal that adults have, I am certain that the world would be a very different place. Ouch. This story really hurt to read. :(

Pat Tillett said...

That was really good Pearl. Sad and good...
Times have changed, people don't usually keep things like this quiet now (but not always). You know my life and that I'm really going to relate to this post... Have a good day!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Ten bucks says that woman at the bar is a card-carrying member of the Tea Party.

Pauline said...

Your line "I think we were afraid that she was contagious " says a lot about what keeps most of us from recognizing and reporting abuse. Congrats on your POTW.

Lolamouse said...

I'd like to think that such blatant abuse wouldn't go unreported today, but we still ignore way too much. People don't want to "get involved." I, too, remember a kid from grade school who, looking back, I'm sure now was being abused. At the time, I didn't realize. If I could go back...

Tabor said...

Congrats on your POTW...glad I stopped by.

Hilary said...

wow......that was incredible.