Sometimes I Need a Little Talkin’ To
Michael [last name withheld]
When I interviewed him, Michael was sixteen and going to a public high school in a suburb of Boston. He had cognitive disabilities and was legally blind.
The interview I held with Michael turned out to be an opportunity for him to expand his understanding of himself and his relationship to the people in his life. His special education teacher pointed out to me that, because of his cognitive disabilities, Michael was only just beginning to learn to make judgments about the appropriateness of his behavior and the consequences of his actions, including his speech. This meant he hadn’t yet recognized that saying something publicly about his private life would have ramifications — possibly quite unwelcome ones — both for himself as well as anybody else who might be involved.
Michael’s teacher had him weigh every description of his own actions and each reference to another person that appeared in my initial write-up of our interview, while he asked himself the question, “Will having these words published hurt me or someone else either now or later down the road?” The answer, we discovered, was frequently yes. Although the resulting write-up is about half its original length, I believe it remains true to Michael.
I got my uncle Eddie. He’s a roommate — he’s got his own room, like next to me — so we’re kinda close. My uncle Tommy, he’s gonna be with us for a while.
I’m kinda like separated from my mother. That’s been happening since a couple of months after when I was born. She lives in Brighton. Sometimes my mother comes down, sometimes I go up there, and I sleep over her house, too. My mother’s got three brothers: Eddie, Tommy, Artie. The oldest is Eddie, ‘cause he’s up there with my mother. Tommy’s the youngest; he’s like almost the baby of the family. And Artie’s kinda like in the middle. My mother’s 39, Jack Benny’s age. Yeah! You didn’t know that Jack Benny was 39? He is! My mother likes Jack Benny — she sees him on cable sometimes. I think he was in a band one time; he was in a little bit of jazz one time.
So I been like kinda close with my uncles — I been kinda with Eddie. And my friend Bobby, since I met him, I’m like close friends with him. So I been talkin’ to him, and he’ll come over to my house. He’s starting to get real close with my family and everything. I know him ‘cause he’s been going to school with me since elementary school, and I met him over there.
Bobby and I talk about music sometimes, like rap music, and we kinda get involved with movies sometimes, and we get into, like you know, we share secrets among each other about our secret lives. So that means we’re real close together. I talk to him on the phone, sometimes I have him over, sometimes we go to the mall. Guys don’t get on just like that — it’s just like, I don’t know, it just happened.
I’m in a special needs class, ‘cause I can’t see that great and I have a behavior problem. Sometimes I need like a little talkin’ to, you know, like a little helping out. Just to keep me in line, like sometimes if I’m not doin’ that good. I just need a little talkin’ to, like, “Hey, you’re not doin’ that right. Why’re you getting involved with this person?” If I want to have relationships, I want to have relationships. But people can tell me, “Don’t rush into anything else.” Once I get involved with something like S-E-X, it’s like downhill, ‘cause it’s gonna mess up their life. Well, it’s gonna mess up my life, ‘cause I’m gonna have to work.
I want to go to college and get a better job. I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to go to college. ‘Cause I kinda lost it. I lost, you know, the touch, the connection, like, how to get the brains to go to college.
I was mentally depressed ‘cause my friend died and all that. I had to go to HRI — it’s a resource hospital, kinda. I was put there for a while. I was there for like three weeks, ‘cause they thought I was uncontrollable at the time, I was so mentally depressed. I got so off on the deep end. A friend of mine, he died ‘cause of brain cancer.
Now what I’m trying to do is get on with my life and forget about what happened in the past. Sometimes I worry, ‘cause my family’s been telling me if I mess up one more time they’re afraid I’m gonna get caught by the cops. I remember I stealed stuff outa the store one time, like a package of batteries, a package of soap dishes, and — these were things I wanted. It was like two times I stealed stuff from the store, but I didn’t do that no more.
Then, I started stealin’ stuff from my uncles. I stole some books off my Uncle Eddie, and one time I took some tapes off of Eddie, one time, and without telling him. He was a little mad. That was kinda like right before when I was 12, 13, 14. . . .
And I remember one time I stayed up for 48 hours. I like to drink soda sometimes. I got so addicted to caffeine, drinking soda. So, I was really into that. What basically is going on now is I’m trying to like — well, I am still a little addicted to caffeine, and kinda still a little on the wild side, but . . . it’s gonna be a tough battle, here and there. But what I’ll try to do is I’ll try to stay away from stealing and going after girls, ‘cause it’s just not a good idea to rush around and steal, you know? ‘Cause if you rush around so much, you’re just gonna hurt someone, and you’re gonna hurt them mentally and hurt them sometimes physically sometimes.
Well, see, I’ve been going to counseling. I got two counselors now. I been talkin’ with them and trying to smooth out everything, ‘cause you know I am a little on the wild side still. I joined up with Eddie, ‘cause you know, he wants me with him. So I’m kinda partying on Friday nights with Eddie. Eddie’s a good help sometimes. What he tries to do is, he tries to get me away from all the stuff, you know, bad stuff. He tells me, “Don’t mess around anymore, ‘cause I don’t want you messing around.” He told me if he catches me one more time doin’ that stuff, he’s gonna hear. He’s gonna find out I got busted or something, and he’s gonna like really get on the edgy side. He’s gonna get mad at me, and he’s not gonna talk to me anymore. So, it’s kinda like that.
I’m doin’ better than I was before — kinda not going
after girls anymore, you know, not really. It’s like a winning situation,
‘cause you know, you got to sort of smooth out things and you got
to think it over for a while, and now I know how to do that. I still drink
a little soda here and there, but I’m trying to smooth it out, you
know? And basically everything’s doin’ better now.
Linda Hillyer, compiler and editor of Listen to Our Stories
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