Talking it Out
She sits, straight-backed, unblinking, with none of the fidgeting he would expect from a kid her age.
"So," he says.
She just stares; this does not alarm him. Some of them open up right away, so relieved to have the chance to get things out in the open that the onslaught is cathartic, and immediate. Others need a little bit of lead...
"It must feel different today," he says. "Coming here alone? Without your family?"
"No," she says. "It doesn't feel different."
"Easy to hang back with other people here," he notes. "Let them do the talking."
She adjusts her position a little, and he sees the first hint of emotion, a smile, slight and just a little smug.
"They won't talk," she says.
"Why won't they talk?"
Stiff again. Staring.
"You know," he says. "Some people find that it's easier to talk in a place like this. I'm a sort of a...neutral party. You know what that means?"
"Yes," she says. "Neutral. Not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy."
He pauses a little at her overly precise definition, but presses ahead. "Right. So...if there were sides...if there were controversies...you could talk about those with me. Because I wouldn't be on one side or the other."
"Yes you would," she says. "You'd be on my side. Because I'm the one who is here."
"We would be talking about your feelings, yes. But I would still be neutral, Cameron. Just an observer. A facillitator. I might point out something you've missed."
"And I might point out something you have missed," she says.
"Well, considering that I don't know very much about you yet, I'd say that's probably likely," he agrees. "So, is there something you want to talk to me about? Maybe something going on in your family?"
"No," she says.
"No, as in, there isn't something going on? Or no, as in, you don't want to talk about it?"
She fixes him again with that blank, unmoving stare.
"Tell me about your life," he says.
"There isn't much to tell."
"You go to school?"
"With your brother? With John?"
"Yes," she says. "Definitely with John."
Interesting. Her emphatic answer sets off his radar.
"And when you are at school, who else are you with?"
She stares back at him, face approximating puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
"Say you have some down time. Study hall, free period, something like that. Who do you spend it with?"
"What about your classes? What do you do when John has different ones?"
"He doesn't have any different ones," she says. "I go to school with John. That's the point of going."
"So he has every class the same as you? Even gym?"
"I don't do gym," she says. "I have a note, excusing me."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Because Sarah...Mom...wrote me one."
He catches the slip. Sarah, she calls her. Not Mom. The 'mom' when she did remember it was awkward, forced. An afterthought. Because somebody told her to call Sarah that instead...
"Why did she write you one?"
She doesn't answer. He waits for her.
"I have a metal plate in my head," she says.
"Yes. You say 'oh' a lot."
"Yes. You do that a lot too. Ask questions."
"Questions are a good way to get to know someone," he says. "Do you ever do that? Do you ever try to get to know someone?"
"Yes," she says.
"And how does that usually work out?"
"Either they are not a threat to John, and they live, or they are a threat to John and must be evaluated and handled in an appropriate way."
"And who decides?"
"Decides what? Whether they are a threat? Or how to handle them in an appropriate way?"
"Both of those things. Who decides?"
"We each decide."
"And you come to a group agreement?"
"No. We each decide. Separately."
"And whose decision do you act on?"
She thinks about this. "We do what Mom tells us," she says. "For now."
For now, he notes. Interesting. "So, you don't always agree with her."
"So why do you let her make the call?"
"She is his mother. And that accords to her a certain status as the decision-maker. In this society, anyway."
'His' mother. Not 'our' mother. He notices this, but he supposes that at this point, there are bigger fish to fry.
"It sounds like you're very close to your brother," he says.
"Yes. John is my brother."
Once again, he finds there is something off in her tone. Like this is a line she has rehearsed, perhaps? Like a scripted answer she doesn't quite believe? If her social skills really are as bad as they seem to be, then she can't be the only one whose working hard at this. It can't be easy, for either of them. For any of them. A picture is starting to form in his head of this family, the girl perhaps delayed, or...something on the autism spectrum, maybe? Asperger's? A mother perhaps in a little over her head? And the boy, holding them together somehow, uniting them in a common purpose?
"And what about your mother? Are you close to her as well?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"No. John says she's scared of me."
"You're doing it again, you know," she says. "The question thing."
"Yes, I know I am," he says. That acknowledgment seems to reassure her. It's classic autism spectrum. She can accept his behaviour, incomprehensible though it may be to her, as long as he is open about it. He wonders if perhaps the conflict with the mother might be rooted in this. The woman was wound up tight. Even in the limited time he had spent with her, he could see it. If she was the type to not be inclined to overly share with her children...well, it wouldn't make her bad. She would probably think she is doing the right thing, protecting them, shielding them from the dangers of the world. But on a kid like this, it could backfire, and you'd never even see it coming unless you knew what to look for.
"Do you agree with John?" he asks. "Is she scared of you?"
"I don't know."
"Could she be impatient, maybe?"
"I don't know."
There's that classic presentation again. No, she wouldn't know. She wouldn't know how someone else was feeling unless they spelled it out directly--wouldn't know just how much of whatever John told her was blustery exaggeration, and wouldn't know how much of it, if any, was rooted in a kernel of truth. He'd get the mother in for a one-on-one. It should be easy enough to work through.
"Does it make you feel better?" he asks her. "Talking to me about this?"
She meets his eyes one more time with that blank, vacant look.
"I don't know," she says.
to be continued...