I’m no hero, certainly not anyone’s idea of a saint. That twisted bowel was dead and needed to come out. Didn’t take a genius. I know the steps. I’m merely well-trained. Capable of following instructions. Dozens are clamoring to replace me. Anyone would do the same. No one is irreplaceable. This is the sudden recognition of the inescapable anonymity of moderate accomplishment.
The real heroes are more like my seventh grade science teacher, Ms. France. (Her name was either Ms. France or Mrs. Krantz.) She told me I had a “terrific personality” just in the nick of time. I’d almost taken a vow of silence and fallen into retreat. She wore garish blue eyeshadow and mascara like wet tar and had big electrified hair. Her voice boomed and trilled. I figured she knew what she was talking about. Within a year I’d notice that sometimes people looked at me when I talked.
There was also Christine Cleary, my 4th grade friend. Maybe she wasn’t really a friend. More like, assigned to the seat next to me at lunch. She was small and mousy and liked sports. She always packed a brown bag like me, hers neatly folded at the top, mine crushed up like an embarrassing scrap of verse. Sometimes she let me trade my smushed oatmeal cream pie for a real cookie or two. People didn’t offer me things. Christine, whose dad lived in NYC in the same way mine lived in Tucson. Who used to gently tease about why I was always blinking my eyes so rapidly and hard. It looks painful and awkward, she said. Like someone squirted acid in your eyes. Embarrassing, to say the least. She didn’t say it mean. She was just curious. But at least someone noticed. I didn’t know it was OCD. I was just a kid. But I figured it out. I quit cold turkey. I stopped counting them up. Stopped synching them with the beat of some nursery rhyme ditty. It didn’t change anything. Nothing ever changed. She was the one who first saved me. I didn’t realize kindness is a power. That you can be nice even when you’re all twisted up and raging on the inside and need it all cut out.