Read Life Happens Next Online

Authors: Terry Trueman

Life Happens Next (8 page)

The cop blushes. “Well, he's only eighteen months.”

The police officer looks toward me and says, “Hi there.”

When I don't say anything back, Mom says, “Shawn's profoundly disabled. He's not being rude—he can't understand or speak.”

The cop nods and looks at the floor. He takes a quick breath. “You've got quite a handful here, ma'am.”

Mom forces a smile.

The policeman says, “If you ever have any problem at all, please don't hesitate to call us, okay?”

“I won't, officer.”

They are walking toward the front door when Mom adds, “If you need to check in later, feel free.”

The cop says, “That won't be necessary, ma'am. I appreciate your cooperation and I'm sorry to have interrupted your day. Thank you.”

Mom says, “Thank you.”

The cop doesn't say anything more until they get to the door. “You take care.”

“We will,” Mom says. A couple moments later, his car door slams and his engine starts.

Mom watches as the police officer drives away. She turns to Rusty and says, “Shall we dig up Debi's body from the garden now?” She laughs. “I know, not very funny, but can you imagine that little pill calling 911 because I scolded her?”

Rusty stares at Mom intently. “And a better question,” Mom says, shaking her head, “is why am I talking to a dog?”

Rusty glances at me, and I wonder if he's thinking, “You talk to Shawn all the time too, and he never answers!”


hen Debi gets home, Mom welcomes her like she does every day.

“Hi, Debi,” Mom says.

“Hi,” Debi says, as happy and cheerful as can be.

Mom lets her set down her lunch box, her purse, and her backpack.

Debi comes into the kitchen.

Mom says, “Debi, you called 911 this morning, didn't you?”

Debi doesn't say anything, just stops dead in her tracks and stares at the floor.

“Debi,” Mom says again.

Still silence.

Mom, “You need to answer my question, Debi. I'm not mad at you, but we need to talk about this. You called 911 this morning, didn't you?”

Debi stares at the floor for what seems like about a hundred years. Finally she speaks so low I can barely hear her. “Yeth, Linny.”

Mom asks, “Were you afraid you were in trouble for cutting up my family albums?”

Debi says, “I sorry.”

Mom says, “It's all right—we love you, but you can't call 911 unless there is a real emergency, do you understand?”

“I sorry,” Debi says.

“Were you afraid, Debi?”

“Mad.... I sorry.”

“You were angry?”

“I like McDonnos.”

Mom smiles. “I know you do, Debi, and we'll go there for lunch on Saturday if you promise no more 911 calls unless the house is on fire, okay?”

“Yeth,” Debi says.

Now Mom says, “You can't call 911 every time you get angry.”

Debi nods and says, “I sorry.”

Mom gives her a hug, and as they are hugging, Debi asks, “Can I say some'tin?”

“Of course, sweetie,” Mom says.

I think to myself, this is Debi's eureka moment. She's going to own up right now, take responsibility, and apologize beyond her rote “I sorry” line. She'll show that she understands what happened and why Mom was so upset. She'll apologize!

Debi hesitates, but finally she speaks. “What's for dinner?” she asks, as if the whole previous conversation never even occurred.

Without missing a beat, Mom answers, “How about some homemade split-pea soup?”

“Dat sounds good,” Debi answers.

But this is what she says
afternoon when she gets home. It's part of her ritual. Every day she asks “What's for dinner?” and I'm convinced Mom could say, “Spoiled, sour-owl poop and a bed of rotting maggot-covered e-coli spinach,” and Debi would respond with “Dat sounds good.”

But who am I to poke fun at Debi? She can't rise above her limitations. And how is that any different from anybody else? Everyone has limits and blind spots. Being human means having a mix of both strengths and weaknesses. I think the majority of people who see Debi and me focus on our weaknesses and are oblivious to our strengths. I know I've been ragging on Debi, but she always tells the truth, or at least tries to, and she's got a great sense of humor. Plus she never acts out of cruelty.

I, of all people, know what it feels like to be misunderstood. And I've got that whole weaknesses thing totally covered. But whether people see it or not, there are a few strengths lurking inside each of us too.


'm in a wooded area, not really a big forest, just a small grove of evergreen trees, and the light dims, as if a dark cloud is passing before the sun.

I stretch out, my fists clench, my muscles tighten in my arms, my leg muscles flex too. Man, this feels incredibly great.

Looking into the trees, I catch just a glimpse—the tiniest, quick image—of a shadowy figure darting behind the thick wide trunk of an ancient pine. It's the same figure I saw when I was traveling in my earlier seizure, in that library by the raging river, when I woke up with Rusty in my lap.

This time I don't feel as scared as I did the last time, but I am curious. Why do I keep on dreaming about this dark figure? Who could it be, coming to watch me? Coming to spy on me and invade my dreams? Could it be someone I know? I've never had any dreams or seizure travels like this before, where something so confusing keeps happening. What the hell is going on?

I call, “Hi.”

I can't see the figure now. Why is it hiding from me?

I move toward the trees, and the closer I get, the more excited I feel.

Light streams down now, casting shadows through the branches. I look up and see the sun, bright, directly overhead, making splashes of light along the forest floor.

I reach the big tree and look behind it, anxious to see the figure. But no one is there, and again the sky darkens. Suddenly, I see the dark figure, far ahead, hurrying away, and this time it just evaporates, like molecules melting into thin air. A spirit? A ghost? Made of mist?

I awaken from this dream with sweat on my forehead and on the palms of my hands.

My dreams and spirit travels have always been the best part of my life. But now that I'm awake, I feel anxious. From the age of six I've always escaped my body, the trap that is my normal, waking life, through dreams and seizures. It's the only time I'm ever in control. Now, this strange, uninvited figure has ruined my great escape. I tell myself “don't be afraid,” but even as I'm thinking this, goose bumps cover my body again, and a shiver runs through me. I
my fear!


i, S–S–S–Swan,” Debi says, walking into the family room.

Of course I can't answer or acknowledge her.

She's quiet for a few moments, standing next to me.

My head shifts a little and I can see her staring through the window. Her light brown hair comes down almost to her shoulders. She's wearing a red T-shirt with something about a children's book festival on it, baggy gray pants, and black shoes with Velcro straps. She stands slightly stooped over, her mouth open a tiny bit. I can hear her breathing.

Several minutes pass. “Purtty,” she says, still staring at the view.

I think back to her the words “Sorry, Debi, I don't do chitchat.”

But she continues to just stand here, until finally she says, “I like McDonnos.”

Great, I think, she's starting up her McDonald's mantra again. Does she think any of us are gonna forget that invaluable factoid about her? As I'm thinking this and trying not to feel annoyed, she speaks again, so softly that I can barely hear her, “I miss Mom and Dad.” Her expression doesn't change. She just keeps staring out at the cold water, the cold world beyond our window.

A big lump forms in my throat. My skin tingles. I feel so sorry for her, and I realize McDonnos is not just a place for Debi. It's a fantasy where she can escape, at least for a few moments, her loneliness and loss. Of all the times I've wished I could speak, of all the words I've longed to say, I can't think of too many times when I wished it more than I wish it right now. But of course I can't speak. All I can do is think the words “I'm sure you miss them, Debi. I know what it's like to want to be with people who love you and not be able to be with them. I'm so sorry your parents had to leave you.”

And now something really strange happens. Debi reaches down and takes my hand. Her hand is plump, dry, and chapped. Other than the baths Mom gives me, or an occasional pat from Paul or Cindy, hardly anyone ever touches me. I can't do high fives or shake hands or give hugs, and people usually don't give them to me. They don't ever realize that I might like to be touched.

Debi's hand feels warm.

I'm guessing that everyone needs to touch and be touched by others every once in a while.


aturday morning. Paul, Ally, Cindy, and Tim are taking Rusty for a walk over in Discovery Park, just a couple miles from our house. Needless to say, I am not invited.

But that's okay, because Mom is driving Debi and me to McDonald's—it's Debi's reward day. Mom's always been as good as her word, and when she promised Debi a McDonald's lunch after the 911 fiasco, she meant it.

Mom parks our van in a handicapped parking space, right by the front entry to McDonald's. Debi unbuckles her seat belt and slowly opens the passenger door. She swings her legs out, glancing back at Mom and me. “I like it,” she says. Both Mom and I know what she means by “it.”

Mom unloads me, wheelchair and all, from the van, and asks Debi, “Can you go ahead of us and hold the door open, please?”

Debi looks confused. “I … no.”

Mom says, “That's okay, Debi, just go on in—we'll follow you.”

Debi walks to the door and pulls it open to start to walk through, when she seems to suddenly understand what Mom asked a moment ago. “S-S-S-Swan first,” she says, and holds the door open.

I can hear the smile in Mom's voice. “That's very nice of you, Debi, thank you.”

Debi says, “Welcome.”

It's a little past one o'clock and the restaurant is not very crowded. We get in line behind just one other customer.

At first my eyes don't focus on anything nearby. This happens a lot. You could put the most beautiful girl in the world right in front of me in a teensy string bikini—oops, that would be my brother's girlfriend—never mind. Let's say you could put the most delicious deluxe bacon double cheeseburger smack-dab, twelve inches in front of my face when I was starving. But if my eyes were focused on something outside the window, like a big piece of driftwood three miles away on Puget Sound, there'd be nothing I could do but wait until my eyes shifted.

Now my eyes do refocus. I see the counter kids in their McDonald's uniforms and the cooks behind them by the big grill. Finally I focus on the guy right in front of us in line.

Even from the back, I recognize him instantly. Long hair, black clothes, and black motorcycle boots. His name is Adam, and my brother almost killed him in our front yard last summer.

I flash back to that moment: Two bullies picking on me, this big kid Adam and his friend who lit a cigarette lighter under my chin; then Paul attacked them. Blood, gasoline, Paul's rage, and violence—it's like it all happened five minutes ago.

Fear pounds at my temples. Will Adam finish doing to me now what he and his friend started before? Paul isn't here. There's no one to stop this kid from hurting me. Mom and Debi can't do anything. I can only pray that he doesn't see me, or doesn't remember that day.

A girl at the counter brings a tray of food for him and says, “Thanks for coming to McDonald's. Have a nice day.”

“Thanks,” he says. He picks up the tray and turns to go to a table. The instant he sees me, I know that he recognizes me too. He freezes in his tracks. His eyes quickly scan the room, most likely to see if Paul is here with us.

I can't make myself not look at him. I can't do
but wait to see what he'll do next. A buzz pounds through my brain, fear, adrenaline, anger, and disgust at my helplessness. It's weird, but I feel more scared now than the night I was alone with my dad and he held that pillow in his hands, deciding my fate, life or death.

As my eyes shift away from Adam's face, he quickly gathers himself together and pushes past us, slightly bumping his shoulder against my mom's arm.

“'Scuse me,” he mumbles quickly to Mom.

Mom has no idea who this kid even is. “No problem,” she says.

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