My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Dec 3

Why

Category: Life

So, I had a friend, Stuart. We met in middle-school, he was in 8th-grade, a year ahead of me. Back then I was in special-ed, where Florida likes to stick any kid with any disability, cognitive or physical. For pretty much all of grade-school I was always the only kid in class without a cognitive disability. I’d get “mainstreamed,” sent to a period or two of regular-ed, but I was mostly alone in both sides of grade-school academia. I was the “really smart different kid,” never picked on, but always an outsider. I made friends with my teachers, but until Stuart I didn’t have any peers. Stuart was better at math, and I was better at English, but we were basically a class of two doing the same work. We liked the same sci-fi and video games, we got to play trivia during last period. It was fun having Stuart around, school was less lonely. 

The difference between me and Stuart was that I was socially apathetic, while he was painfully shy. He could drive his own power-chair and write with a pencil, he got mainstreamed a lot more, but he had a really hard time socially. Kids tease each other innocently and not-so-innocently, but Stuart couldn’t handle either. Of course, this made him great to tease. I could take any joke, and give one back if I felt like it, but Stuart just couldn’t. He once came back in tears because someone kept making fun of one of the bumper-stickers on his chair. So, we got along because we were both very smart, had things in common, and I never picked on him. I mean, I can be cruel. I’ve said just the right thing in just the right way to make someone sob. Yet, I’ve had the same done to me. I watched my parents do the same to each other for over a decade. So, I try very hard not to use that weapon on other people, especially people who are unarmed.

Stuart went off to high-school and things didn’t go so great. All the clicks and social groups only made him more sensitive. I guess I saw him as a mirror of everything I didn’t want for myself. I wanted to go to regular high-school, not mainstreamed high-school. I couldn’t imagine being so socially paralyzed by my physical disabilities. It was awful of me, but I cut back on hanging out with him. I avoided going to his place and invited him less to mine. He just acted so much younger sometimes.

We grew up rather differently, his mom left when he was really little because she couldn’t handle a disabled son, so his dad over-compensated by completely sheltering him from practically everything harsh, and never instilling the idea that Stuart was different and that there are awkward facts about being disabled, but facts are facts. His dad wanted him to feel too normal. We’re different, we can’t go to the wash-room alone, we can’t feed ourselves. None of that is “normal,” so you do your best to accept the awkward things and live.

I had a much rougher family, intact, but completely unfiltered. I also have an able-bodied brother, and growing up our differences were never made into a big deal. Fact: I couldn’t play baseball with him. So, we’d play video games. Stuart was raised in such an idyllic way that he broke if he didn’t fit “normally.” I’ve had over a decade to come up with my own definition of normal, and I still don’t have one that’s entirely comfortable, but even as a kid I knew what I didn’t want, I didn’t want to be Stuart. Still, I should have been better to him, he needed company that made him comfortable, maybe I could have helped him. I try to be better today, stronger for people who need it. Obviously, I still fail sometimes.

Anyway, Stuart was my only disabled friend. One weekend he got a flu, and a few days later he died. I was his best friend and I failed him. Apparently, nobody really knew him. I went to his memorial service only to find out that Stuart kept hidden journals and notebooks. He wrote sad poetry and nobody knew about it. He had all that stuff in his head and it died with him.

So, when I almost died a couple of years ago, I had all sorts of thoughts in my head, but I was too afraid to express any of it. I had all kinds of worry that I couldn’t tell anyone, not even Sara. I’d always held things inside, still do sometimes, but for the most part I’m a pretty open book now. When I met Ira Glass, I decided that between that episode of TAL and my blog, nothing would go unsaid. Anyone who wanted to know me, depressed or otherwise, good or bad, could just look and see. I have a constant and honest record of myself. Absolutely nobody has to read it, but it’s here. I don’t want to go out like Stuart, unknown and misunderstood.

I just want at least one person to really see me, I don’t want to wind-down feeling alone. That is part of why I blog so unflinchingly.

16 comments

16 Comments so far

  1. Shannon December 3rd, 2008 5:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing that, Michael. 🙂

  2. Jenn Malatesta December 3rd, 2008 7:21 pm

    Hey, I was one of those “really smart but different” kids too! Our similarities freak me out occasionally. 🙂

  3. Jennifer December 3rd, 2008 7:22 pm

    Really thoughtful entry. Thanks for sharing. I think that we are all too hard on ourselves sometimes, and it’s good that you realize that now.

  4. Karen (the first one) December 3rd, 2008 10:08 pm

    You make such a great point. I think overall, the best writers are the ones who don’t self-edit, who aren’t afraid to be honest and truthful even when it’s painful, whether it’s about themselves or about what they see.

    It’s a large part of why I enjoyed your TAL episode, and why I hit the internet to learn more, eventually stumbling on this blog. For better or for worse, you’re telling it like you see it, and I appreciate that in your writing and your perspective.

    I think if you did try to edit yourself, we would miss your piercing insights – this whole entry, for example.

  5. Espo December 3rd, 2008 10:25 pm

    I know exactly what you mean. But ya know, he probably and most likely looked up to you. Wished he could be more confident socially, etc. Maybe if he had more time he would have come out of his shell. Its great how open you are on your blog. There iss no need not to be completely honest, your blog iss intriguing and wonderful. And I love it!

  6. Espo December 3rd, 2008 10:28 pm

    But I am wondering why my thingy to post is in part Italian??…lol

  7. michael December 3rd, 2008 10:54 pm

    Espo, I really have no idea. It just came that way…

  8. Will December 3rd, 2008 11:44 pm

    Wow

    you went deep

    thank you

    wow

    fears laid to rest

    nice to know to say the least

    A Toast, To Stuart

    Mike, That meant alot to us

    Stuart,

    Rock on brotha, rock on.

    The metaphors inherent in everything about the dynamic between all involved, the things immediately gleamed, wow.

    wow

    Thanks

  9. david December 4th, 2008 9:29 am

    There are many things one can say about this blog entry, many of those things have already been said in previous comments, but there is one thing that keeps striking me, you really are a brilliant writer, you really suck your reader into the story almost each and every time. I do hope that one day you will publish a whole book of your writings whether that be fiction, biography or observations…

  10. Laura December 4th, 2008 10:40 am

    I catch a lot of flak for being too “emo” on my blog. It’s funny because I read other people who seem to complain a lot and I don’t relate to them even though I too seem to complain a lot.

    Sometimes, I read what you write here and I feel bad that I’m unhappy. I know how horribly patronizing that sounds. The hell you endure from your trache changes alone…

    I found your blog after watching TAL (I tuned in to see what all the hype was about and it’s still the only episode I’ve watched). Anyway, I’m rambling but the point is I’ve continued to read it because I think you’re incredibly smart and insightful.

    I also relate to your depression. We come to it from immeasurably different places but I get how listening to Aimee Mann and just putting it out there helps. It helps you and it helps others. Don’t censor it. Don’t apologize for it.

    What I can’t relate to is how absolutely maddening it must be to have this great mind and be trapped in that body. I want to say I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry if that’s the wrong thing to say or the wrong way to say it…

  11. Ormolu December 4th, 2008 1:27 pm

    I’ve said it before and I mean it, even if you brushed it off – you’re an inspiration. You’ve inspired many of us here to embrace more honesty in our lives and I think that’s absolutely brilliant. I can speak for my own experience and have read others’ comments as well.

    Thank you.

  12. michael December 4th, 2008 2:46 pm

    Thanks, all. I really had no idea people would find this post so interesting. I wrote it in my head awhile ago, and just decided to type it for no particular reason.

  13. Lee December 4th, 2008 6:24 pm

    Someone told me that we all have at least one novel within us and that is the story of our lives. You write yours eloquently and in a way that allows people to relate in so many ways. Thank you

  14. Ziztur December 5th, 2008 4:57 pm

    I’ve never met someone who didn’t have a story to tell, so it makes me sad when they go untold.

    I think it is much better to live life unfiltered instead of hiding aspects of yourself from the rest of the world. People tell me I am the most outwardly introspective (ha) person they know.

    People are so afraid to let others see parts of themselves, and I wish they weren’t. You’re not, and that makes you awesome and real.

  15. Samuel December 5th, 2008 9:36 pm

    That’s funny that David mentioned about the book, because that is exactly what I was thinking while I read the post. Right on Michael.

  16. Jennifer December 8th, 2008 2:05 pm

    Honesty is always better.

    Hi. I saw you on This American Life and was really drawn to your story. I am just now finding your blog, but I think what other folks have said is true – you just have a really engaging way of expressing yourself. Thanks for sharing and keep it coming 🙂

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