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Gail Ylitalo

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By Gail Ylitalo
Thursday, September 09, 2004

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It waits for me. It’s been following me for years. I’ve studied the reflection in its horrid glass and always felt as if a piece of my soul had been captured.

Today I’d gone to the park to sit and collect myself. Slowly I began to relax as I watched the mothers with their children. I could still block out the random thoughts, but today a small boy had intruded into my world. He was the mirror that I had to hold up and stare into—losing myself to his reflection. Soon his thoughts became mine. The wind was whispering in my ear the sweet, innocent murmurings of a child:

“JJ really liked my sandcastles! She sure isn’t like those other kids! She doesn’t mind playing with me and getting all dirty! She’s nothin’ like my sister. JJ doesn’t make me feel like crying ‘cause I say things slow. We’re always the good guys beating up the awful meanies. I always have fun with her. Mama wants me to bring other friends over when I tell her about JJ. ‘You got lots of other friends,’ she tells me over and over, but I don’t say nothin’ to her. She don’t know about me and the fights at school. It makes me feel funny inside when Mama talks about me having lots of friends. Mama didn’t like JJ. She got real quiet and tried to be too nice to JJ at the class picnic. Yuk! JJ rolled her eyes and tried to make me laugh when Mama patted her head and called her ‘dear’. JJ says she’s used to people acting all sweet-like when they meet her. It’s because of her cracked mirror. I don’t know why she calls her face that. She don’t seem to notice other people, but I think she feels them.”

Foreboding was my shroud as I saw these wispy vapors of children not really here. All my senses were in some kind of chaotic state. I was with them, but not of them. I sat as a statue and listened to the small boy’s words:

“I don’t care about other people! JJ and me can take care of ourselves. We don’t need them or their fake smiles! I’m strong and almost grown. Daddy tells me that when I get mad. Daddy likes it when I fight. He don’t want me to act like a baby. I hear him and Mama talking about me when I’m suppose’ to be asleep. Mama said I was gonna be a misfit. That must be bad ‘cause Daddy sure got mad. He told Mama I was no such thing. ‘Boys will be boys,’ he told her. I wish Daddy would let me talk to him, but he’s always too busy. Besides, big boys can take care of themselves.

JJ said she don’t have no father. Something happened and he went away. She said he might be a spy or something. That’s so neat. My daddy does something to computers. JJ didn’t think that was so great, but at least I had a father. Her mama acted real nice at the picnic, and she didn’t care that JJ had me as a friend. She said I could come over to their house. I think I’ll go see her when school’s out for the summer. She always has good ideas about stuff to do. She said we might be able to go to the lake. Her mama always takes her there. Billy heard her tell me about the lake and said she couldn’t get in the water or she’d drown.

Boy, that Billy made me so mad! JJ don’t care if they tease us, but I get mad. I can take care of myself! I sure gave that Billy a bloody nose when he knocked JJ down! It hurts when you’re made fun of. I saw a movie where this boy was picked on ‘cause he looked funny, and he got tired of it so he ran away. He never came home—that’s what JJ and me should do. I bet it would be fun not having big people around to boss you. I didn’t get in any trouble for hitting that nasty Billy. Sometimes there are people around who are nice—it’s just running into them that’s hard. I don’t care about Billy even if he is gone from here! JJ thought I was really nice for helping her. She said it was all his fault for getting hit on the nose. I sure taught him to leave JJ alone. None of them bother us now. We can use the whole sandbox and they leave us alone.”

The fragile girl was weeping beside me. She sent chills up my spine, with each sob followed by a tiny hiccup. My mind was filled with visions of neglect and loneliness. Tears fell from my own, now shuttered eyes. The bench I sat upon ceased to exist. An invisible cord now attached me to them. I could sense only them and their childish perceptions. The more they lingered in my mind the less I became. We were merging and I had no control over this. Where had all the others gone? The boy continued with his ghost-like perceptions:

“Sometimes JJ looks funny when she watches the other kids playing—like it makes her sad or something. They used to treat us bad and make fun of her, so why the big deal? She has me as her friend, and I won’t let nothin’ make her cry. I tell her not to cry, but she says it hurts when they ignore her, and then we remember Billy. He went home and got his daddy’s gun…”

A light touch on my arm stirs me from their reflections.

“Sorry, but the park’s closing. It’s not safe after dark,” said the security guard. He didn’t wait to see if I’d leave but scurried off like the rats in the alley behind my house.

Forcing myself to move, I slowly shuffled along the sidewalk. They were happy to have me with them.

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