Month: January 2013

Selective Mutism: Disorder or Extroverts Pathologizing Introverts?–Examining the Natural and Childhood Sources of my Quietness

I really struggle with this one.  I fit all or most of the selective mutism characteristics, because I am very quiet, even as an adult, and I’m also very shy.

But the more I learn about introversion, the more it sounds like quietness is a perfectly natural part of introversion, because of the way our brains process information and social situations, as contrasted to extroverts.

Since I am also very quiet most of the time even in groups of friends I’m familiar and comfortable with, my shyness is not the direct cause of my quietness.

Rather, it’s because I need time to process and come up with responses, which often leaves me left in the cold as extroverts talk over me when I try to talk, or the topic has already changed by the time I come up with a comment.

Or I just plain don’t have anything to contribute, because I don’t know enough about, or am not interested in, the topic.  Whatever I might say, others say before I get a chance.

I used to go to planning meetings for my church’s GreekFest, but stopped because I had nothing to contribute, and somebody even mentioned that I say nothing.

I’ll say almost nothing at a general assembly meeting for my church, then get home and e-mail thoughts to the parish council, thoughts which I could not properly formulate till I was at home with my keyboard.

While at home, with my husband or parents or roommate or best friend, I can be quite the chatterbox, though if I have nothing to talk about or my brain is taken up with my latest perseveration, I say nothing.

If I’m called upon to read aloud–at church, at school, wherever–I can do it with ease.  People have often complimented my reading skills, from as far back as at least middle school, and they do so when I read the Epistle at church.  I’m often called upon to read passages during Lenten services as well.

I do not have to think what to say; I simply read the text, make myself forget that a whole church is listening, and do not stumble over difficult names.

But I’m also very shy.  I don’t initiate conversation with strangers.  I struggle to speak to people who make me uncomfortable, especially if they are mean to me.

So is it selective mutism?  Or is it introversion?

Or have psychologists labeled an introverted trait as a “disorder” because we now live in a society which values extroversion, when in the olden days introversion was acceptable, and character was valued over personality?

I do know that research has shown that forcing a selective mute to speak, through shame or anger or punishment, is counterproductive.  I also know that research has shown that forcing an introvert to speak doesn’t work, since our brains are simply wired differently than an extrovert’s.  So–regarding the use of force, both are the same.

Susan Cain describes this eloquently in her new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Prior to the 20th century, we lived in what she terms “the culture of character.”  Individuals were judged primarily on the content of their character.

By the 1920’s, as America became more urbanized, and salesmanship became a vital part of the economy, people started being judged on their apparent personality. First impressions took on greater importance.

It was vital to be perceived as “captivating” and having a strong personality.  Winning friends and influencing people became the goal. –Greg Markway, PhD, Introverts Need Not Apply: The Problem With a World That Chooses Extraverts

I recommend Shyness is Nice, a blog about the value of shyness and quietness.  Some quotes:

The real revelation for me, though, is that being shy isn’t even necessarily a social handicap. Shy people have a great gift: their gut about whom to trust. It comes from years of observing people and a deep fear of being burned, and it pulls us away from the frigid, hateful and fake. –Celia Ampel, I’m Shy and I’m OK

Socially, I remained very reserved. I didn’t say much, other than to the small group of nerdy friends I regularly ate lunch with. I remember one day being stunned when a girl at school asked me, “Why are you so stuck up?”  –Greg Markway PhD, Introverted? Shy? How the World Misperceives Us

Yeah, I’ve gotten that one too, a few times.  It’s totally off-base.  I’m far too scared of people to think myself better than them, far too awkward and uncertain of myself, while they seem to know just what to do or say.

Today, Emily would be diagnosed with selective mutism.  The subtle, but significant, change of words from elective to selective represents a major advance in how we think about the condition.

Selective mutism is a variant of social anxiety disorder in which a child, who is normally capable of speech, is unable to speak in given situations, or to specific people.

Emily made progress even though I knew very little about what I was doing at the time. She had wonderful parents who accepted her struggles while also helping her gradually take tiny steps out of her comfort zone.

October is Selective Mutism Awareness Month, and I thought this would be a good time to discuss briefly some facts and myths about the disorder:

  • We now know that children with selective mutism desperately want to speak. Some children have described feeling that their vocal chords “freeze up.”
  • It is not a matter of will or stubbornness; it involves an underlying anxiety disorder that literally prevents speech in certain circumstances.
  • Children with this disorder tend to have shy, inhibited temperaments. They frequently are “highly sensitive persons.” –Greg Markway PhD, Scared Speechless: Children with Selective Mutism

In Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person, she describes some extremely important research dealing with this issue of culture. The study, conducted by Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University, compared children in both cities to determine what traits made children popular.

Among the group of 480 students in Shanghai, “shy” and “sensitive” children were the most sought-after as friends. In contrast, among the 296 Canadian children, shy and sensitive children were the least desirable.

This study shows that whether you’re accepted by others can have little to do with you personally and much to do with the prevailing cultural norms.  –Dr. Barbara Markway PhD, Quiet is Not a Four-Letter Word

Westerners tend to focus more narrowly on individuals, independence and on individuals taking action, while Asians are more likely to focus on context, harmony, and interdependence. –Greg Markway PhD, Shy and Popular? Depends on Where You Live

Recently, there was a letter to Dear Abby about a little girl who was too shy/anxious to talk with her aunt on the phone. When the aunt would visit, the girl would hide in her bedroom and not come out. The aunt asked Abby for confirmation that this girl was rude.

I thought for sure that Abby would suggest the aunt be more understanding of a frightened child. Instead, Abby labeled the girl as rude, but allowed that the child might need therapy.

What gives the aunt, or Dear Abby for that matter, the right to pin a negative label on a shy and sensitive child? Why does our society consider the shy and anxious to be defective? While I agree that this child may need help, what she needs most is to be accepted and understood.

As a therapist, I learned long ago that the quickest way to help someone change is to accept who they are first….

There is nothing wrong with being shy….

However, labeling this little girl as rude or obstinate will only compound the problem.

A healthier (and more effective approach) would be to accept that the child has a shy/anxious temperament.

Understanding friends and family members could tell the little girl that it is ok to feel anxious, that most people feel this way at times. They could help the child gradually practice small steps in being more sociable, to try things that take the child slightly out of her comfort zone. –Greg Markway PhD, Rugrats Vs. Dear Abby: The Wisdom of Chuckie

Michael Jones explains things this way:

It’s just not so. Children who are very quiet in school, and who are unhappy about it, are probably shy or are introverts. Children who are totally silent in school, but talk a lot at home with their family, may have selective mutism.  What’s the difference?

A shy child is keen to join in, but is anxious about how other people might react to them having a go at something, or talking in a group. Their anxiety can be so great that it stops them from joining in.

A child who is an introvert will enjoy being with other people, and may join in, but will be energised by being on their own: to think their own thoughts and to ‘do their own thing’.  Or they may operate best when working in pairs or small groups because they prefer the company of a few people at a time.

A child with selective mutism has developed an extreme anxiety about talking outside their home. They may have developed a dread of talking, or the possibility that someone will try and make them talk. They can be so anxious that they may ‘freeze’ physically and be unable even to move. —Shyness, Introversion and Selective Mutism Explained

So what is it if you’re just naturally quiet among friends and co-workers but not a bit shy, but shy and quiet with acquaintances and strangers?

I have no anxiety among friends and very little with co-workers with whom I have a good social relationship, yet I’m still quiet with them; that’s completely introversion.

But I’m shy with strangers and people I don’t know very well, speaking only when spoken to, so is that selective mutism?

Could my quietness be related to bullying, or is the bullying related to my quietness?

Hard to say in the early years.  I was always shy and uncertain.

I do recall a group of kids I tried to join in my early years of school, but they always ran away from me and made fun of me, and I had no clue why, so that helped teach me subconsciously that reaching out to make friends was “wrong.”  That it was bad to try to join a group.

In more adult terms, that me trying to make friends with somebody was stalkerish, that they had to invite me first.

This was reinforced in later years a few times when I would try to call a friend on the telephone, like other girls do, and they’d say I called too much, or ask in puzzled tones why I called.

I was always just as happy playing by myself with my dolls and imagination, as with other kids.  Even on the playground, if with friends I often played pretend games based on imagination, or played pretend by myself while surrounded by other kids.

To my friends and I, the brown tunnel (a drainage pipe painted like a log with a knothole) became the forest home of us, a family of foxes.

Yes, I did have friends, sweet and kind kids who didn’t care that the others called me weird; I could talk to them, while I was shy with other kids.

While the other kids simply played on the Kee-Klamp (a kind of twisted pipe with ladders), to me the Kee-Klamp was where the human settlers of the 10th planet from the sun (Spimpy) stayed to keep off the poisonous ground.

My imagination was fertile enough to keep me occupied even if I was alone.  That’s not anxiety, that’s introversion.  I often wish I could remember more of those games and worlds, so I could write them into children’s books.

I was bullied practically from birth by one of my brothers, who is still a bully to this day, so I have distanced myself from him in adulthood.  I live in a different state, making this easy.

I was also bullied all through school, starting in first grade, not ending until I graduated high school, so I had no reason to expect good things from new kids.

While most of my teachers were kind to me, I have had a couple of teachers who tried to shame and force me into being more outgoing: my teacher in 4th/5th grade, and my college German teacher.

Their shame and force did not work.  I couldn’t control which teacher I had in elementary school, and being in a MACPO school for gifted children, I expected to have the same teacher from 4th through 6th grade.

(I’d include a link, but all I get when Googling “MACPO” is a Minnesota group for probation officers.  MACPO was around in the 80s, but appears to have been replaced with PACE or Montessori schools.  My childhood school now has an entirely different structure.)

But when the structure changed in 6th grade, I was put in a class with just 6th graders and a brand-new teacher.  She had more rules of behavior, more structure, rather than the go-at-your-own-pace which had inspired me to slack off.  She was also kinder, gentler.  Both points helped me thrive under her direction.

I’ve always gravitated toward kind people, and been repulsed by fiercer personalities.  In college–as you can see in my college memoir posts about freshman and sophomore year–I was bullied by my German teacher, and could not understand why she was complaining about things which other teachers did not complain about.  I ultimately dropped German, and did much better with other teachers.

I was also very outgoing the first month of my freshman year of college (though my “friend” Shawn tore it all down by saying I was too shy).  I didn’t go up to random strangers and say hi (which Shawn told me to do), but I did quickly warm up to other students and my suitemates.  I knew why this was:

During orientation activities, we were told that we freshmen were all in the same boat, all among strangers, all by ourselves, so reach out to others.  Since I knew the other freshmen were just as alone as I was, I was able to break that reserve and make friends within the very first week.

I went into more regular patterns eventually, but that initial outreach gave me people to sit with at meals, leading to more familiarity with them, and their friends coming into my social circles.  It’s a lot harder to break in when everyone else already has established friendships and connections, and you’re the newcomer.

I also went through a couple years of counseling with a child psychologist in the later elementary grades.  I don’t recall precisely which years, though it started after 5th grade, on recommendation from my aunt (probably borderline because of all the people she’s pushed away recently), who tried to push me into social skills through force and criticism, then declared she could do nothing with me.

But with the psychologist, I made considerable improvement socially and in my attitude at home, according to my mother.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of NVLD and Asperger traits overlap with introversion, making me wonder at first if NVLD and Asperger’s were also pathologizing introversion.

But no, NVLD and Asperger’s are not just about social awkwardness.  NVLD includes such things as visual-spatial issues, math problems, handwriting problems, trouble with maps, novel situations, organization; Asperger’s includes various forms of stimming, perseveration, trouble driving, fixed routines.

Because I have all or most of those issues, overcoming handwriting and organization problems but still struggling with others, I still consider NVLD and/or Asperger’s to be extremely likely for me, even with the explosion of information about introversion in recent years.

I also am nowhere near the levels I was as a child.  While I am still very shy and very quiet, I did blossom somewhat as I got through my teens and early adulthood.

This is one reason why I’ve never gotten officially diagnosed: The times when it was truly a problem, when a psychologist or neurologist may have easily made a diagnosis because I exhibited so many traits of selective mutism, NVLD and Asperger’s, nobody had heard of such things, so I was never tested.

I was tested once for something, probably a learning disability, but nobody ever told me the results or what it was all about.  I just remember things about it that seemed unusual, and I believe I was the only kid in my class put through that test.  It was probably in 4th or 5th grade, with that teacher who criticized me all the time.

I always knew I was different from all the other kids (even in the “gifted” school which should have been full of socially awkward or imaginative kids), but didn’t know why, or even why they were not like me.

But in adulthood, when I finally discovered the probable source (NVLD), I had overcome and progressed in so many challenges that I no longer needed a diagnosis so much.

I keep reading about people with autism or Asperger’s or NLD or other social challenges getting early intervention and succeeding in school and life, so we are capable of improvement, and this does not negate a diagnosis.

Susan Cain has a blog, The Power of Introverts: Join the Quiet Revolution.  I intend to start following it.  This is good: After 40 years, I finally find that my way of being is not “wrong,” and have a way to explain why I am the way I am.  Whether it’s “selective mutism” or just introversion, it is the way I am, and I have a right to be so.

After all these years, I can finally be more comfortable with myself, and know that I have valid reasons to expect others to accept me as I am, rather than trying to change me or (as Richard did) accusing me of being a “victim” or (as Tracy did) accusing me of needing to “grow up and TALK.”

No, if you can’t accept me as an introvert, as the quiet one, if you want to force me to change to suit you rather than working with my natural temperament, then YOU are the one with the problem.

Selective Mutism: a collection of information on SM

Some more on the confusion about Selective Mutism, shyness and introversion, to help us answer the questions posed at the top of my post:

Is your child an introvert?

Selective mutism vs. shyness

Waiting (not so) patiently for my child to speak

Selective Mutism

Now to post this without proofreading because I really ought to get to bed: church in the morning…..

[Note: This post seems to have inspired some confusion here and here.  My response is here

Finding these criticisms of me for having questions and looking for answers and keeping a log of what I find and what I think of–That’s a good way to shut up someone who already struggles with speaking up.  If I’m just going to be beaten down for having questions, why speak?

I thought other people with SM would understand the questioning and confusion, not criticize someone for asking and searching.

In summary, I only bring up questions here which kept concerning me as I researched selective mutism between 2008 and the writing of this post.

I explore various possibilities as I ponder whether selective mutism describes me.  I quote articles which seem to help answer the questions.  I examine how the articles on selective mutism relate to my own experiences. 

Apparently I neglected to mention my childhood anxiety, which “froze” my vocal chords.  (Though I did mention my psychologist, which apparently got missed.)  And that in 4th grade, of all the class stuffed animals, I preferred one cat puppet, because through that I “spoke.”

And that the common response to my adult quietness–even from other introverts–was to make me feel like it was “wrong” to be quiet.  Making me sensitive to quietness being labeled a disorder, even severe shyness/quietness on the level of selective mutism. 

I instead wanted it to be called simply a variation which should be accepted, rather than forcing the quiet ones to speak through ostracism, pressure, scolding, etc. 

I wondered if half the problem with selective mutism is actually the reactions of others causing anxiety in the mute child.  If accepting it as a variation would help draw out the mute, who would feel safer.

Apparently you’re not supposed to have questions, just know all the answers.]

Some more of my posts on selective mutism, but not all:

Selective Mutism strikes at a Zeta party
Why I Struggle to Let Go of Richard; Also, Musings on NVLD/Asperger’s
NVLD (this page explains in more detail why I was offended by extreme shyness being labeled a disorder)
I must be accepted as I am–introversion, NVLD and all–or you’re out
How to bully an introvert–and assets of NVLD

On Lost Friendship, God, Hell, and Repentance

(I posted this on my Facebook about Richard back in 2011.)

I understand now more than ever what it means for God to love us all, but turn away from the ones who hurt and destroy without repentance.

Because they have done wrong and do not repent, He must turn away.

But if only they will turn from hurting and destroying, and decide to do right, He will snatch them up in His loving embrace, even from the pits of Hell.

I know how it feels to turn away from someone I love because I must.  But if that person ever repented, I would take that person back to my fellowship in a heartbeat.

Never think that God turns His face away out of hate; His eyes are full of tears.


BGBC: Chuck O’Neal’s Counter-Blog Proves Julie Anne Smith is Telling the Truth

I’m a month behind because I’ve been reading other survivor blogs as well, and there are a ton of them out there.  But since Julie Anne Smith won the defamation suit brought against her by her former pastor for her blog, he has now set up a counter-blog: True BGBC Survivors: Surviving Four Years of Hate, Reviling Accusations, and Criminal Slander.

Just perusing a few documents posted there, convinces me that Julie Anne’s charges are not at all “hate,” “reviling accusations,” or “criminal slander.”

First is the DHS interview letter.  This convinces me of nothing except that Chuck O’Neal convinced the social worker that the report against him was malicious slander and a false, criminal report.  That doesn’t mean that it was.

In my research, I’ve found that this sort of thing can happen, that a report can be made, but the victim of abuse does not back it up, whether out of fear or a child’s unconditional love for a parent, making the child fear being taken away from home.

There is also a case in Madison, Wisconsin in which Social Services was called many times about a family, only to close the case as “unsubstantiated,” until finally the teen-age daughter was found starved, childlike, and wandering the streets.  (Lots more detail here.)

So this letter is not enough proof for me that Meaghan was being vindictive in her report to the DHS.

I am also well aware that Richard and Tracy, if they figured out at the time that I reported them, could easily have charmed and manipulated the social worker into believing it was done out of vengeance and spite, even though Richard had been charged with choking his daughter–and his daughter reported that, not me.

Another important document is the historical timeline.  This is supposed to “prove” through various e-mails that the church was under “attack.”

But on the contrary, it proves that the supposed “attackers” were merely trying to voice their opinions, but the leadership tried to force them to sit down, shut up, and change their opinions because the church leadership proclaimed them to be wrong.

When the “attackers” and friends objected to this (and to the church leadership telling the whole church about the situation from their side only), tried to get the leadership to see reason, and naturally spoke about the problem to their friends (as everybody in the world does), they were shut down, and accused of trying to spread division in the church.

The e-mails are also posted with explanations which are supposed to color how you read them, accusations which do not bear out when you read the actual e-mails.  You can see it all for yourself.

I also see O’Neal as trying to “poison the well” at Tim Varela’s new church, by convincing the pastor that Tim is doing bad things that must be dealt with, that the pastor has the authority to do so, just as Richard and Tracy tried to “poison the well” with my priest about me.

O’Neal also keeps insisting to Tim that BGBC is a Bible, Gospel and Christ preaching church, contrary to Tim’s complaints.

He proves through his own posted e-mails that he encouraged the members of his church to stop associating with the disgruntled ex-members, though he denies telling them to “shun” the ex-members.

I also note that he connects the DHS report with Tim’s receipt of the e-mail–but we only have a time stamp of when it was sent, not when it was received.  How do we know that Tim (or Meaghan) even saw the e-mail before she made her report?

Somehow, Chuck O’Neal imagines this will “prove” his point about Julie Anne and others.  But it does just the opposite, all posted to the Internet by Chuck himself.  It’s amazing that he actually thinks this will prove his point!  Instead, it all proves that Julie Anne is telling the truth!

Article from the Wartburg Watch
Pastor Starts Website to Attack Church’s Attackers


Classmate a stand-in for “Rudy,” Jigging at College Dance, Library Tales, Happiness Returns–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1993, Part 1

Classmate a stand-in for “Rudy”; Jigging at College Dance

I wrote this in my diary on September 1:

Last night the old friends of Mom and Dad who have the college grandson stopped by.  I discovered they’re still thinking of fixing us up, and the woman asked me several questions and talked about him ([he’s going to] Purdue), and showed me a picture of his brother because she didn’t have one of him.  If he looks anything like his cute younger brother….

And I noticed with surprise that the man’s eyes were sky-blue! [my favorite eye color]  My parents were looking all over for a picture of me they could give them.  When Dad pulled out pics from 7th and 9th grade, I hurried upstairs and got a senior picture.

All this began just as Hawaii ended on channel 50 [Chicago] and the 1st part of the sequel, Hawaiians, began with cool music and a pic of a boat on the sea with Charlton Heston in it, dressed like a captain.

I don’t know whatever became of this fix-up with the grandson.  I never heard any more about it.

Hawaii and Hawaiians were excellent movies, though.  Hawaii was funny, with the natives doing as they’d always done and not realizing they might be doing something wrong; the missionary’s list of sexual sins only gave them new ideas: “Hey, I hadn’t thought of doing that.  I should try it.”

Rudy was a movie about a college student who’d always dreamed of playing football for Notre Dame, but was small and not that good of a player.  But because of his lifelong dream, he worked hard, and got to play at least once.

The crowd chanted, “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy,” when he played.  Dad saw that game and remembered the chanting, though he didn’t know at the time what it was for.  On September 3, I wrote this in my diary:

On the 10:00 news on [channel] 16 tonight, they talked about how hotly Rudy is selling, and showed the long-sideburned stand-in–[one of my high school classmates]!!  

He’s a Notre Dame student, and the reporter was talking with him at a kitchen table, it appeared.  The reporter said, ‘Don’t think he wants to be an actor.  He wants to be a game-show host.’  

I can just see that–and I think I remember him saying that once. 

He was also the stepson of a famous South Bend DJ, one of our local gods.  He was the James Dean lookalike in this McDonalds commercial when he was 19.


I probably arrived at school on Monday, September 6, because that was Labor Day and a much more convenient day for my parents to drive me to Roanoke.

On Saturday, my friends and I went outside Bossard to cool off and drink pop while the DJ played “Jump” by House Of Pain, a rap song.  Because of the Irish theme of the video, which had Irish hats and buttons and dancers, Astrid and I began to dance an Irish step-dance or jig.

Since it was so much fun, I realized I liked it far more than the modern, boring sway-dancing going on in Bossard.  I requested “Funky Ceili” by Black 47 so we could jig again, but the DJ didn’t play it.  I don’t know if he even had it.

Library Tales

To my glee, James worked with me for the last few minutes of my Tuesday and Thursday shifts.  I had a chance to get to know him–and possibly even more.

Though some people thought library work was the most boring, I thought it was the most wonderful.  Almost anything seemed better after a year working in Food Service, but it wasn’t just that:

I could sit at the information desk and read my homework assignments, waiting for people to check out or return books.  When the cart of returned books was full, I put the books in order and re-shelved them.

I loved being alone among all the books, and often found books on the cart or on the shelves which I checked out for myself.  I hung the daily newspapers on racks in the main reading room (by the information desk).  I loved spending time among the 800s, of course, since that’s where literature is in Dewey Decimals.

There was a third floor, a half-floor, actually, a kind of balcony extending over part of the second floor.  It may not have been in use junior year, though senior year it was used for a juvenile section.

My boss, Head Librarian, was a tall, skinny woman with glasses and dark hair.  I don’t remember Flora’s librarian title; she had short hair and glasses.  I don’t know how old they were; probably forties.  Flora was from Indiana, but had a Southern bent to her mostly Northern accent.  She must have come from farther south than my hometown.

Seymour was the circulation librarian.  He dealt with the newspapers and magazines.  I wrote an essay on him for Advanced Writing.  He was tall, mostly bald, and dark-haired, with glasses and a gentle expression.

This was a post-retirement job, taken after he got a Library Science degree.  He often sat at a desk alongside the wall opposite the information desk, and above the desk was a window.  People would come in and, without turning his head, he greeted them by name.  Some people found this scary, but he could see their reflections in the window.  He was friendly and talked to everyone he could.

Freshman or sophomore year, I went into the library and checked out a book.

Seymour asked, “Where are you from?”

“South Bend,” I said.

“Why did you come so far away from home to Roanoke?”

I came for the Writing major, and other things.

“South Bend is the home of Notre Dame football.  Are you a fan?”

“No, but I still support the team.”  I supported it by rooting for it, not watching the games.

Sophomore or junior year, we had the same conversation, almost word for word.

Though Head Librarian and Flora could occasionally be seen doing things around the library, much of the time I found them sitting in the office watching a TV on a wheeled stand.  Sharon wondered if they had us student workers do most of the work.

They were pleasant and laid-back, not caring if student workers came in a few minutes late, and often smiled at us.  The library clerk, J–, had one leg shorter than the other.  She was a pleasant person, with blonde hair and glasses.  When she was at the desk, she’d chat with me.

Sometimes I was the only student working, and sometimes there was someone with me.  When setting up hours, you had to be careful not to schedule yourself with more than one person.

One of the heirs to a prominent local business was a schizophrenic man in probably his forties or fifties.  He would come into the library to find his tutor.  He talked very loudly, and as if he were a little slow mentally.

He was tall, maybe a little overweight, and dark, with heavy eyebrows.  His tutor was heavy-set, dark, and mustached.  I grew to recognize them both.

“Mr. Heir” would ask me if I smoked, maybe to offer me a cigarette if I did (bleh), and go outside to smoke in the entryway, the only place in the library where it was allowed.  I think sometimes he even lit up in the library itself, and had to be told to move into the entryway.

Teachers put articles, test answers, books, and other things on reserve, and these reserved materials were put in a bookshelf to the left of the information desk and along the wall, with each teacher’s name pasted over separate sections.  Students had to ask one of us to get the reserved materials for them, and they signed their names on long cards stuck in the material.

Because of this, I felt like I knew a lot about what was going on in the classes.  Sometimes, teachers came up to the desk and talked to me because of these reserves, or because they knew me.

Flora’s husband liked to call her a lot, and always asked for her by her first and last name.  Since many people just asked for “Flora,” we’d know it was her husband.  It almost seemed as if he wanted there to be no mistake that she was his woman.

I didn’t know her full name at first, and had just read in the student workers’ information manual that the student workers weren’t there to go fetching people all the time.  We often got calls asking to talk to people who might be in the library, so I went to Head Librarian and Flora, who were usually in the office, or to Seymour and asked if they knew who such-and-such was.  They often did, and found them if they were there.

So one day I asked if they knew a Flora T–.  Flora laughed and said that was she.  She took the phone and told her husband I was new.

I had to read the manual on my first day, and though I probably forgot a lot of it, I knew I was supposed to answer the phone and say “library” if it was on-campus (one ring) or “Roanoke College Library” if it was off-campus (two rings).  I kept wanting to say “Lib’ry!” like the British.

Sometimes Latosha came into the library and talked with me.  She, of course, had her cute baby daughter by then, and sometimes brought her in.  Last year, when she conceived the baby, she was living off-campus with E–; now, she’d broken up with him, and was glad to be rid of him.

(She’s on my Facebook, and now that little baby is all grown up and graduated from high school!  Scary how time flies when you pass 20.)

Happiness Returns

On Wednesday, September 8, classes began.  The new year excited me: What would it be like?  Shawn was gone, and I didn’t see Peter anywhere.

On the one hand, it was sad to not see Shawn anymore, but on the other hand, it was a relief.  Both those men were finally gone, and I was free!  I could start the year off on my own terms.

I had gotten used to looking at everyone who came in or passed, wondering if it was Shawn or Peter, but now it would never be again.  That was weird.  A wonderful semester began, the best and happiest semester I ever spent at that school.

Though I thought about Peter during the summer, I did not want to get back together with him.  On September 22, I wrote in my diary–and later told Pearl–that maybe the supposed “word” about Peter and I getting back together, referred to friendship and not romance.  Though before I would have hated this thought, now it elated me.

One night, sometime before mid-October, as Jennifer and I washed our hands alone in the bathroom of Fox Valley Mall in Appleton, I asked what had become of Peter.  I hesitated and took great care in bringing this up, probably because I didn’t want her to think I was still hung up on him.

She said, “He dropped out of school.  He decided he didn’t need a degree for what he wants to do.  Now he’s working in Radio Shack in the S– mall.”

On the one hand I wondered how the supposed “words” were supposed to be fulfilled now; on the other I felt joy and release: Peter was truly out of my life.

I rarely stayed in my room on Friday nights, and I think Clarissa often came with me.  My friends had parties, or Jennifer and her new boyfriend Mike invited me to join them and others as they drove off to Jennifer’s house or elsewhere.

Jennifer and Mike weren’t together yet at the beginning of the year, though: We met him that year.  He may have been a transfer student or a freshman.

I remember him sitting next to me in the back of a car full of my friends, and talking to us.  I thought he had an uncanny resemblance to my World Civ teacher (and laughed like him)–though, thank goodness, he didn’t spit when he talked.

I soon discovered he liked Jennifer.  I thought they started dating, but Pearl or Sharon told me he was interested in another girl and had to decide which one he wanted.  This anxious triangle was soon resolved when he chose Jennifer.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:


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