When I was a baby, I was a climber. I was slow to walk, eager to climb. I walked by holding onto things long after most kids were comfortable walking freely. I would hand-hold around the edge of a room rather than walk through the big open space in the middle. On the other hand, I was climbing stuff way before it would even be considered normal or reasonable.
I hated my crib. Before I was able to walk, I learned how to pull myself up and (apparently) do some sort of chin-up and get myself over the railing. I would then fall four feet onto the floor below. Mom would hear the thud, then me crying. She’d come up, comfort me, wait for me to nod off, put me back in my crib, and go back downstairs.
Two minutes later: THUD. Whhaaaaaaaa!
I loved Chex cereal. They were “cookies”, my mom told me. “Ck-ck”, in my own parlance. At one point I pushed a chair over, climbed onto the counter, stood, and tried to grab the box. I messed up and fell, cracking my brow on the way down.
I was too young to remember it, but when I scrunch up my forehead I can still see the stitches. I wish I could understand the logic inside my brain that decided: “It’s too dangerous to cross this room, because I might fall. But dive-bombing out of my crib, even though experience has revealed this to be an unoptimal course of action? No problem!”
This is the only picture ever taken of me interacting with dogs, and it will probably be the last. Ten or fifteen minutes after this picture was taken, I was on my way to the hospital, deep in the throes of an asthma attack. My face was swollen and I couldn’t breathe properly.
I don’t have a single friend or relative that I can safely visit. Everyone, everyone has dogs. Or cats. Or both. My parents (mom and step-dad) only keep outdoor pets, but the regular practice of snuggling the animals has carried the dander into the house where it infuses the furniture.
This allergy makes the holidays very awkward. Lots of people have some minor allergy, or know someone with allergies, and so they think they understand my problem. It’s hard to make people understand how severe it is. “Oh I know, Shamus! I have allergies, too. Don’t you hate it when it gives you the sniffles? Have you tried shots? Don’t worry, I’ll put the dog outside when you visit.” Uh… no. This problem is actually in another class entirely from regular ‘allergies’. This is a condition that could possibly kill me in the right circumstances, and even a short twenty-minute exposure can make me sick for hours or days. I’m not lazy, it’s not that I don’t like you, and I’m sure your house is wonderful, but if you want to see me you need to come to MY house. No, it doesn’t matter how often you vacuum or that your dog “barely sheds at all”. It’s poison to me, and unless you plan to change the carpets, get new furniture, repaint, and completely purge the duct-work, that isn’t going to change.
If my kids visit someone for any length of time, they have to take a shower and throw their clothes in the laundry, lest their toxic dander slowly infest our own house.
It’s a shame. I really loved those puppies.
I was a strange kid. When I was very young, I made some sort of connection between people and their cars. Someone would visit, and I’d look out the window and observe that their car was outside. Certain cars always went with certain people, and I could tell who was knocking on the door just by seeing what car was parked outside.
One day, a friend of the family got a new car, and I freaked the hell out. I refused to speak to him. I hid in the other room, because the car outside wasn’t right.
Of course, it didn’t take much to make me afraid of someone. Grow a beard. Shave off your beard. Wear a great big coat. Show up bare-chested. I was regularly alarmed and confused by the people around me. I know a lot of kids are like this, but I had an unusual level of anxiety about it.
It’s 1976, and I do not like changes in routine. Dad is long gone. Mom works all day in Pittsburgh. During the day my brother and I are sent to the children’s’ daycare center at the YMCA. The kids are divided by age. Babies in one room, toddlers in the next, then preschoolers. Each room has maybe a dozen kids and two adults caring for it. There are toys and crafts and various quasi-educational activities to keep us busy.
I generally keep to myself. I like building and drawing more than I like stories or playing with other children. The adults are usually nice, but sometimes they take us for showers. This does not sit right with me.
I don’t know when or how it’s decided, but every once in a while they line us up and march us off to the showers. I do not like the showers.
It’s not that I don’t like being clean. Or wet. It’s that I don’t like having other people take me places and do things with me without my consent. I don’t like having my routine broken, and I do not like being treated like a piece of laundry to be washed. I take baths at home, and I see no reason for any of this.
I can tell we’re headed for the showers today. That’s the only reason for them to bring us through this area of the building. The men joke with the women, asking if they need any help, and the women say no. I do not get this, but I do understand we’re going to have a shower. My heart begins beating faster as we get closer to the women’s locker room. My fight-or-flight response kicks in. I begin breathing hard. I know they’re going to drag me in there. They always do. They’re stronger than me. I walk along, wondering when I should make my move.
I draw the line at getting undressed. They insist. I refuse. They scold. I dig in. I am not changing my mind, and no promise of rewards or threats of punishment will ever change this. I belong to me, and I decide when I bathe.
The fight begins. I give them my best. I make them work for it, the whole way. I stand there in the shower, fighting and screaming the whole time. I shove and I elbow and I push the soap away. I get soap in my eyes, but I don’t care. All around me are rows of perfectly happy children, all getting showers without a fuss. I don’t care. If they want to be pushed around that’s their problem.
Finally the adults (sometimes two of them have to work together to get me in there) get sick of the struggle (or maybe they decide I’m clean enough) and leave me. The other kids are done already. I know the shower would be shorter if I didn’t fight, but I don’t care. I rinse off on my own and get dressed. I do not speak to them again for a long time.
I’m starting to figure out who I am as my personality takes shape. I don’t like being made to do things against my will, I don’t care to follow the crowd, and I don’t like interacting with other kids.
Next year I begin school.