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Andrew, Helen, Matt, and Mairin’s Major Project

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Andrew Allingham, Helen Alston, Matt Blakley, & Mairin Martin
ENGL 375A2
Major Project Paper
11/22/10

Voices of Disability

“The Wedding of Tom to Tom” by Keith Banner presumes the limited capacity of the characters identified as “disabled” within the story. The main character, Anita, leads readers to view the residents of the home, and the disabled community in general, as incapable and dependent upon their caretakers. This story’s existence hinges upon the presence of an able-bodied narrator to tell the tale of these disabled individuals. By writing four different monologues utilizing four other voices from “The Wedding of Tom to Tom,” the understanding of disability is broadened, providing a more progressive view of disability.
Kate’s monologue reframes the story of the Toms into a narrative that is actually theirs, as opposed to Anita’s story that uses them as devices for her own epiphany. Through Anita, Kate is portrayed as a villain, but Kate’s monologue asserts that she does care about these two men. She is, however, a slave to the institution: she falls into the trap of assuming them to be without agency and acts in the interest of their physical safety. Kate’s monologue brings to light the problematic nature of the relationship between the caretaker and the disabled individual in disability narratives. The context of the group home forces her into the role of a parent.
These monologues predominantly take place within the context of the group home, but the character of Roland takes the role of disability outside the home to see it in the able-bodied community. Although Banner’s narrator mentions that Roland is on disability leave from work because of a back injury, Anita does not identify her father as being “disabled,” but rather “on disability” (pg 61). When Roland becomes the narrator in his own monologue, he is able to go into further detail about the pain he is in and how he is ostracized from his workplace as well as from his marriage. Roland’s psychic powers are also read as disabling within the monologue because his ex-wife states that she is leaving him because his abilities make him seem crazy. In the reality of the monologue, his wife’s real reason for leaving is because of his physical disability and her own pride. By vocalizing these problems, Roland becomes less of a tool for Anita within the scheme of the story.
Larry gives readers a perspective upon what being disabled means to a mentally disabled character. Within the actual story of “The Wedding of Tom to Tom,” Anita seems to have preconceived ideas about the normative behaviors of disabled people. These are not necessarily her ideas: Kate’s files and instructional videos have told her what to expect. Larry’s monologue shows both his internal process and his perception of normalcy, as well as how he understands the rest of the characters within the group home to function. Although Larry is a disabled character, he still grew up with the same socially constructed ideas of what it is to be normal. Because of this, he views the people he lives with through a similar lense to Anita. Larry utilizes Tom A.’s departure as a mode of explaining his own agoraphobia, as Anita uses the Toms to examine her relationship with her boyfriend.

Tom A.’s monologue gives a voice to a completely nonverbal person. Even though Tom A. is a significant character, he is not depicted within the story beyond his physical description and actions. By giving Tom A. an internal narrative, it legitimizes his relationship with Tom B. and disallows the argument that their relationship is only a symptom of their respective disabilities. As a nonverbal character, it is assumed in the story that Tom A. has no agency, except within the context of sexual situations. Even so, that agency is qualified by the fact that Kate and others believe him to be incapable of making his own decisions. The sensory details that he conjures up express that he has a higher level of intelligence than is attributed to him by his caretakers. When we see him functioning at more elevated cognitive level, readers begin to understand the complexities of interaction that are available to him through the intensity of his sensory experiences.

These four monologues in conjunction alter the limited perception of disability in the original version of “The Wedding of Tom to Tom.” If they were read in concert with one another, the reader would have a more rich understanding of the nuances of the disabled experience. The monologues take stock disabled characters, which are often the only representation of disability in literature, and humanize them.

#1: Kate

by Helen Alston
[Lights up. Kate Anderson-Malloy, Group Home Manager, rifles through a filing cabinet, stage right. She finds the file folders that she was looking for and walks toward a desk, center stage. The desk is full of office clutter: a telephone, a stapler, a coffee mug, manila envelopes. KATE sits down in the desk chair. Looking out at the audience, she smiles, nods, opens the top folder.]

KATE: Yes. All of the paperwork should be going through tomorrow. We’re pretty excited about the prospect of Juanita moving in over here. Makes the home feel a little bit more diverse. Having another girl will be nice! We should have realized sooner that two Toms was a bad idea. Too much of a good thing, maybe.

[KATE laughs, but does not seem convincingly amused. She looks down at her paperwork and rifles through the stack.]

KATE: It isn’t just a matter of trading them up, Tom A. for Juanita. We’ve got to have records. Franklin Street wanted me to switch their folders when we switched their rooms and just change the name of the home in the margin, but I want this to be a professional transaction. This is a business, and we have to have some kind of record of this move. We’ve got some real medical reasons for having Tom A. placed over there. His brother, Mr. Allen, is very concerned by the recent… events, we’ll say, that have been witnessed over here. And that’s understandable. We are a business that Mr. Allen chose to invest something very personal in—his own brother!—and we are not able to provide the kind of facilities that Tom A. requires.

[She finds what she was looking for in the folder and holds her finger up to a spot on the page. She opens a desk drawer and pulls out her reading glasses.]

KATE: Yes—maybe that was part of the reason why the Orient home shut down. Other than the name, you know. [She laughs.] They were more… extreme, perhaps, in their preventative methods than we are over here. It says here that they started off by separating Tom A. and Tom B. during the day and seating them away from each other at mealtimes, but that wasn’t enough. The head caregiver over there wrote that they were “obsessed with each other’s presences,” which sounds like them, doesn’t it?

[KATE pauses, shakes her head, and shuts TOM A.’s folder.]

KATE: Toward the end of their stay at Orient, it seems like there may have been some, ah, shock therapy. Of course, you must understand that that was how things of that nature were dealt with back then. Behavior of a, ah, homosexual nature…

[She pulls out another file folder from the stack.]

KATE: …it just wasn’t acceptable back then. [She pauses.] I think we’ve been pretty tolerant. Certainly no ECT here, no sir. Much more homeopathic. We just give Tom A. and Tom B. their medicine and call it a day. We’ve got all sorts here.

[KATE pulls out a manila envelope and starts packaging the file folders.]

KATE: But yeah, maybe we’ve been a little too tolerant. Really, I should have seen it coming. After the way they were treated in the Orient home, we didn’t want to scare the poor dears. Tom A. is totally nonverbal, except for his screaming. We were worried that the shocks totally unhinged him. So for a while, we let some things happen. At first we would just catch them kissing in the living room on that love seat while everyone else was watching T.V. Larry would start pointing and gabbing on and on about Tom and Tom. My line was that they could kiss, but only on the cheek. People do that in public all the time in Europe. I figured that if we gave a little bit of ground, that little bit of affection might be enough for them.

[She licks the adhesive part of the envelope shut and closes the metal catch. With a thick marker, she begins to address the envelope.]

KATE: They couldn’t just leave it there, though. Like I said, totally obsessed with each other. First there was Tom B. putting his hand in Tom A.’s lap at dinner. They were always touching each other, but it wasn’t always totally inappropriate—do you know what I mean? That’s when we started doing the structured alone time. They were allowed to sit across from each other at the table, and they could do crafts together, but they couldn’t be on the love seat at the same time. The Toms seemed sad about it, of course. Those two sweethearts really are fond of each other.

[KATE pauses and takes a sip from a mug sitting on the desk.]

KATE: I think it was Raquel who was on duty when they locked themselves in the bathroom together. She beeped me, just like I tell all my staff members to do in an emergency, but we didn’t have the right tool to get the hinges off the door fast enough. They went through a whole bottle of lotion… [She shakes her head.] We’ve tried everything, you see. Just recently it’s come to my attention that Tom A. has been sneaking into Tom B.’s room after lights-out and performing dangerous sexual acts upon Tom B. I’m talking anal penetration. We just can’t have that kind of behavior here.

[She opens a desk drawer and pulls out a roll of stamps. She peels one off and sticks it to the envelope as she speaks.]

KATE: That was when I called their guardians. I never can seem to get in touch with Tom B.’s, but I left a message on the woman’s home phone saying there was a medical matter concerning her uncle, Tom Bennett, and hopefully she’ll call back. Mr. Allen, Tom A.’s brother, is very involved in his care. He seemed concerned that his brother’s, ah, actions, shall we say, might incur some legal ramifications for him if Tom B. were to be injured in any way. And you know, I think he’s right to worry. If these guys aren’t able to live on their own in society, how can they be making these choices for themselves? I understand getting attached, and I’m certainly not against two people loving, even if they are two men. I think it’s sweet that they want to be around each other so much, I truly do.

[KATE stands up, envelope in hand.]

KATE: But I am not okay with these sweet little men hurting each other like this. This is beyond love: they’re obsessed, and I think it’s time to wean them off of each other. It was cute when it was just holding hands and kissing cheeks, but this is not a healthy way for our residents to be relieving tension. They’re setting a bad example. What if Damon and Larry start going at it? What will we do?

[KATE moves as if to walk off stage, but stops and turns back toward the audience.]

KATE: I mean, the Toms can still see each other. We can have, like, play dates with the Franklin Street home, structured ones, so they can say hi every once in a while. I would really like that: we need to have more of a sense of community between the homes in the area, I think. It’ll be sad to see Tom A. go, but this is what’s best, Mr. Allen and I agreed. [She pauses.] And I really hope Tom A. will be okay. He’s a nice little guy.

[ANITA appears, stage left, and holds out her hand for the envelope. KATE hands it to her and they walk off stage together. The lights go out.]

END

#2: ROLAND SIMMONS, L.S.P. (Licensed Spiritualist Practitioner)

Matt Blakley

[Lights on. ROLAND is dressed casually, looking under the hood of Anita’s car. He seems perplexed as he pokes around the engine, hoping to find something loose or broken. After his last attempt, he steps backwards, lets out a big sigh, and faces the audience.]

ROLAND: I knew my wife was going to die. On Sundays she and Anita would sit on our couch, my wife leaning into its arm cushion, Anita anchored by her legs folded Indian style, and they would cross-stitch. The two would laugh about the boys in Anita’s middle school, or what Cathy, my wife’s divorced sister, said about her most recently failed date. I’d skim the shiny pages of Popular Mechanics and pretend to watch television, instead staring at my wife’s hand pierce the taut cloth with a steady, thin needle. She’d usually follow the pattern of some cheesy American slogan like, “Live, Laugh, Love,” or a bible verse, even. But one Sunday she sewed a bouquet of flowers. It had a pink ribbon tied around the base of the evenly cut stems, and each flower’s head rested together to create the perfect ode to the landscape they were plucked from. It was that day—that pattern—that swallowed me into the stomach of the future. Its flavor still clamps my tongue in the middle of the night while I dream. It was a place where I saw her death.

[ROLAND walks over to the car, takes one last glance at its intestines, and forcefully shuts the hood]

ROLAND: I told her while she was taking a shower the next morning before work. I have no clue what prompted me to do it then. Something about the sound and steam of the hot water hitting her pale skin, or the echo of her empty “Good Morning” while she washed her face. When I told her, she went ballistic. As if she knew it, too. She forcefully drew back the opaque shower curtain and stood there naked with the water pooling the dip of her right clavicle that would then slither down her body to find the drain. Her hair was still lathered with shampoo. After staring at one another for a couple seconds, she wiped her eyes and yelled at me like my mother. It was like every horrible thought in her mind regarding my life and the way I lived it came bursting out like the stream of the morning piss I took when I broke the news. When she was finished, she closed the curtain and cried for a good ten minutes. After I got home from dropping Anita off from school, she had left a note on the dining room table that said, “Get some help.” We divorced soon after, and she took Anita.

I used to just think I had an overactive imagination, or some sort of sensory overload or whatever. But I know I am psychic. For months I even attributed my visions to all of the different pain medicines I take for my back. It’s not my fault though. It is my damn doctor’s. It seems like every month I go in for a check-up he wants to syringe some of my spinal fluid out for more testing, or wants to shove another damn pill down my throat. My M/T/W/TH/F pill container refuses to fit anymore pills. Just like my bloodstream. A couple of weeks ago I was changing Anita’s oil and as I drained the old, diluted black liquid, my body began to shake like I was on one of those wooden roller coasters while my eyesight evaporated into the canals of my veins. The streams were translucent, revealing the morphine compounds trying to dissolve into my blood, whose sharp edges would part the protein tube of each vein like a dorsal fin.

I awoke still under Anita’s Toyota Corolla with used oil oozing down my face. While I hoisted myself atop our old dining room table that I now use as a workbench, I wiped my face with a rag and felt a rusty resistance penetrate every vein in my body. I figured it had to be the pills. The chemicals. How it fucks with my nervous system. How it fucked my life up—my job, my marriage. She claims she was unhappy, but I know my wife left me because she was too proud. She couldn’t bear to be with a man on disability. Especially a man on disability that claims he can see the future.

[ROLAND opens the driver door and sits down in the seat, still facing the audience. He smiles and angrily sounds the car horn for 10 seconds. Once finished, he remains sitting down, facing the audience.]

ROLAND: At least I have Anita, though. She moved in with me after her mother died in a taxicab accident. The driver fell asleep at the wheel. It was a blessing and a curse, Anita’s homecoming. I had no clue how to talk to her for the first few weeks because her mother had brainwashed her into thinking that I had gone mental—that and the fact that Anita was a teenager. What the hell do I know about teenagers? When I was a teenager I worked 2 jobs and went to school. “Never saw the daylight,” I would tell her when she would whine about something petty. About some dumbass she was dating, or about how she had no idea what to do after she graduated.

I won’t tell her this, but last week, while I was unloading the dishwasher, I saw her receiving an award. She was handed one of those golden awards that requires a speech. She was wearing a dress sculpted out of pink silk and her hair was all done up like a cheerleaders and she just looked happy. I was there in the audience, I think. I was watching her, until the respectful claps from the crowd faded into the cracks and clings of the plates and cups I broke when I fell limp into the spiky fingers of the dishwasher’s bottom drawer. I think the broken glass did more harm to me than I did to them, honestly. I had to get stitches. And subsequently more fucking pain medicine. But regardless of my small injuries, the point is, Anita will be famous one day. I saw it. When she graduates, I’ll tell her, too. At least then if she leaves me hopefully it will be for Hollywood. At least then I’ll know she will be happy.

[ROLAND stands up and shuts the door. Immediately after, Anita opens the garage door and ROLAND joins her in the house. Lights out.]

END

#3: Larry

by Andrew Allingham

[Interior: assisted living home. LARRY’S room – day.]

Larry rocks back and forth in his rocking chair, pictures of big breasted women surround him on the wall, held fast with strips of black electrical tape.

LARRY: I am not going out anywhere today. The sun is too bright and the air is too smoky. It’s just too unpredictable outside today. The thing is that I have asthma and if I go anywhere today, I could have an attack and would not have a chance. Really, it’s in my best interest to just stay right here just in case. Here I have pictures to look at and a rocking chair and I know everybody and there is no reason to leave. Anita said that she wouldn’t smoke around me. If there is smoke inside then it is no better than the outside. Anita is very nice, much nicer than Racquel. She smokes inside and I have to keep my distance from her. The air is too thick when she is around and I could choke at any moment.

There was a time when I didn’t live here. I was a part of society and I had a job. Back when I used to have hair, I didn’t need anyone to look after me and I left the house when I felt like it. I didn’t have to ask about whether or not I had to go anywhere to prepare myself ahead of time. I went for walks in the park. I ate at restaurants. I saved room for dessert. I didn’t get anxious at the thought of being left vulnerable, open to the vultures flying circles overhead. I shopped for groceries. I was normal enough to fit in, to pass off as everyone else. It didn’t change all at once. It gradually seeped in. I stopped going out for drinks with friends. I called in sick to work. My asthma started acting up. I stopped getting the morning paper. I couldn’t breathe. I drew the curtains closed. I cut the cord to my phone and alarm clock. Locked up tight in a box and closed off is how they found me. They ran test after test and tried to find the right pill. I stopped belonging in the world, but at least I don’t have to keep pretending that I do.

Even here I don’t quite fit in, but not because I am the freak. I go to group meetings with the others, but I used to be normal and they didn’t. I just have asthma and it gets hard to breathe sometimes. Normal is using a rocking chair to rock back and forth. I used to go out to the movies and I’d buy a coca-cola and popcorn with extra butter and salt. Here I can sit in my rocking chair and nothing is expected of me, just like the others. I am able to pass as normal here. I am treated like everyone else. Normal is different here than it is outside. Normal isn’t an act and you don’t have to wear a mask. I can say more than “Mona Lisa” and I try to make a good first impression. I brush my teeth after I drink soda and not the other way around. Normal is being able to carry on a conversation on any topic at the drop of a hat. Normal is never letting the conversation lull. We built these walls to get away from the outside, so I don’t see why we’d want to leave them.

They are making Tom A. leave, but not me. So much could happen out there and you would have no way to protect yourself. You could get attacked by bees or robbed and you would have to run away without having the chance to stretch first or limber up. It could rain when you’ve forgotten to bring an umbrella. Why they would make anyone leave is a mystery to me. It is just so big outside that it is hard to breathe. There is so much pressure to live when there is very little living going on. Just thinking about it makes me feel a wheeze coming on. I can hear my lungs blow a quiet whistle tune. Sometimes I wake from a dream of the outside world in the middle of the night, and it’s like a choked rendition of some jazz song I can’t quite remember being played by an out of tune brass section. I have to cough to keep it from taking away my breath. Then I see the four walls and the roof over my head and I can be calm again. Everything is safe, and everything is in its place. There is just too much space that imprisons you out there. Here you know what happens and you can control it and be free to do as you please. You don’t have to worry anymore. If everything is familiar then there is no reason to panic and if there is no reason to panic, then everyone is calm.

Tom A. is a little slow, so maybe he does not know the dangers. Maybe not knowing the danger makes it easier to move around. I do not know how Tom B. will be able to live without his friend Tom A. Especially since Tom A. will be out there where anything could happen. They are always together, separable only by the nagging of the nurses. I try to tell Tom A. and Tom B. that they shouldn’t go anywhere alone, so that they don’t get caught with their guards down, but they don’t listen and they just sneak off without thinking about what might happen. Maybe Tom A. being around Tom B. is what keeps them from worrying. Tom B. speaks slow and with a slur and Tom A. doesn’t talk at all, but they are still friends and are able to talk to one another. Making Tom A. leave changes the surroundings. It will still be familiar, but not the same as before. If anyone has to leave, I suppose it’s better him than me. I am not going out anywhere today.

[ANITA enters and takes LARRY out of the room for breakfast.]

END

#4: Tom A.

by Mairin Martin

[TOM A is sitting in the living room on a dingy sofa somewhere between grey and light blue, almost covered in unidentifiable stains. The room is bare with the exception of a set of poorly made ply-wood bookshelves teetering under the weight of several plastic storage bins label things such as “floor cleaner”, “wash cloths”, “diapers”, and “crayons”. A small television set with bunny ears sits on a lop-sided microwave cart, a piece of folded cardboard stuck under the front-left leg in an attempt to steady it. The television plays a black and white Western. A woman sits on the floor attempting a jig-saw puzzle. When TOM A’s monologue comes over the speakers as a voice-over and the actor moves and follows the stage direction as if he were speaking. When his voice is heard and when he moves, no one listens or acknowledges him at all.]

TOM A:

I am sitting on the sofa and watching t.v. with Tom and everything is good. Do you know what I mean by good? Like really good. Like I can feel his hand and where every line on it leaves a tiny space for the air to get to my skin. But the air is hot so it’s not really like air, not like a breeze is flowing in onto my skin, but I just know, I can tell that his hand is a tiny bit away from me there. I wish his hand could cover all of me. It is so warm. I love his hand and I wish it were so big and that is didn’t have any little lines so that he could cover me and no air could touch me in between the cracks and every bit of me could be covered by his warm, warm hand. I can remember the first time Tom held my hand. We was sitting on the old sofa at our old home, just like we are now, and he just reached right over and grabbed it. Normally that would have scared me. But his hand was just so warm I couldn’t help it.

I let him hold my hand.

And then I loved him.

I didn’t used to like people to touch me before Tom.

[He lets go of TOM B’s hand and holds himself in a tight embrace, rocking slightly back and forth looking down towards the floor.]

When I was little my mom used to hold me but her hands were never clean and warm like Tom’s. Her hands were rough and her long finger nails frightened me. They would get caught on my knobby clothes and I was scared that maybe one day they would get caught on me- tear a little snag on my skin just like they did on my Batman pajamas.

[He shifts his arms in and out of the sleeves of his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, pulling his elbows towards his waist then slipping his arms back into the sleeves.]

Once, when I was at my old home, before Tom came, one of the ladies tried to wash my face. She was trying to scrape my skin off. The washcloth looked fluffy but I knew better. It was made of steel wool. It bit me and scratched me and tried to get rid of white skin and make me walk around pink like a raw baby bird. So I screamed and ran away to the safety of my cot. The blanket on my bed is so soft. It is water. It is warm cotton air coming through the Magnolia and Mamosa trees to wrap my prickling, burning skin in comfort. Breeze. It is breeze and it is water and it is perfect. Tom’s skin is like this too. His skin against mine is water. It is the perfect amount of hot. It is the air coming from a fire of oak and cedar on a night in mid May when the mosquitos aren’t out yet. The air carries nothing but the oak and cedar. Thick air. Wood air. Spice air. Soft, worked leather air. It rolls through the night, unfurling from the sticky flames to wrap my bubbling, bursting skin in comfort.

[TOM A slowly moves back to an upright position and takes TOM B’s hand once more, stares at him for a moment then goes into a whisper delivering his next lines]

There was a time when I once didn’t love Tom. When I couldn’t. They sent me into a room…

[TOM A shudders and lets go of TOM B’s hand, bolting up onto his feet and standing at attention.]

When I left the room my skin was running away from me. There were bright pink and yellow pipe cleaners shooting through my veins. They were boring out of my armpits and kneecaps and tunneling from my temples. They crawled from under my finger nails and spelled out messages on my arms in the lose parts that left, the collapsed tunnels under my skins: NO NO NO NO NO NO TOUCH TOUCH TOUCH NO NO NO TOM TOM TOM NO NO TOUCH NO NO TOM

[He presses down with his pointer finger on his forearm with a brutality, tracing the images of the words he repeats, slowly and poignantly.]

I couldn’t touch Tom anymore for a long time. A really long time. When he tried to hold my hand I screamed. I could feel the pipe cleaners resurfacing and the malicious furry ends sticking to my blood and sucking it from my cells so that they started to deflate. I could feel them dying and I could feel the emptiness. And the emptiness was pain. The deep wood air had disappeared from Tom. I thought that if it could come back, then it could fill re-inflate my cells and fix them. Tom could make me full again; I knew it. But I didn’t know how it could happen because those pipe cleaners terrified me. I couldn’t move when they were in me. All I could do was scream. The places that they especially loved to poke and seep from were the charred circles from cigars twisted and ground into my back. They were another reason that I ran from my mother’s touch…

That smoggy, rotting scent of cigar smoke…They looked like slugs and they smelled like mud and bowling allies. When that scent snuck under the door of my room and seeped into my pores I could smell the pain, the death, my skin would cry for me to run away. It knew what was coming. But I couldn’t run. So I would scream. And then I would be punished. The glowing, seething slug-like roll crept towards me through the darkness and emptiness of the room. It latched onto my back and spit fire into my muscles. My skin cried out so I cried out but this only made the slug burrow deeper. My screams peopled the darkness and I was left alone with them and with my throbbing scars and with the residue of the embers from the cigar as it slithered away.

[TOM A stares ahead blankly as he sinks back onto the sofa and reaches for TOM B’s hand, resting his head on TOM B’s shoulder.]

END

Written by Helen

November 21st, 2010 at 11:44 pm

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