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Strip Mall Sushi and the Threat of Teens
I have an actually amazing update on the fodder of my last “letter” (these aren’t letters, why is this called a newsletter? Why is society trying to epistolize my voice? Epistolize is one of those words that spell check underlines in red but if you google it, it’s a word). The update is that yesterday I accidentally took 60mg of prozac instead of 30mg and then slept for 6 hours during the day by accident.
Anyways because of that update this newsletter (it’s not a newsletter) is now officially a SERIAL DRAMA with story arcs etc. It is a Shonda Rhymes show. By reading this, you are watching a Shonda Rhymes show on the television network ABC.
OK now I feel like not being stupid for approx one second of my life and talking about something real.
Though I am loving the television show Mare of Eastown (Sp?), I just tweeted that I didn’t love the part this week where a high school bully repeatedly threw food at a girl with Down syndrome and the show only processed it via her normative brother’s reaction without tracking her emotionally for even one single second. Zero lines invested in how she experienced that moment, what she felt or how she was affected. She said nothing and we never saw her again for the rest of the episode. They may revisit it, but still. I think to show something so upsetting, a character dehumanized by her peers, you have to then give it it’s due. Otherwise it sucks.
My youngest sister has Down Syndrome. She was born when I was 16 and is the youngest of 6. She’s in high school now which has been something that gives me anxiety. She is one of my favorite people and I have certain ideas about high school…about how teens ARE and what teens SAY and how teens ACT and what teens DO. Based solely on my own experience in the aughts, I believe that teens are, by nature, sadistic beings with a shocking ability for cruelty - and in that way they are like the famous killer Jigsaw from the hit film franchise SAW. You walk into high school and immediately people are Jigsaw towards you and you are Jigsaw towards others. Like the saying goes, Jigsawed people Jigsaw people.
I know that because — and I don’t talk about this publicly very often — I once WAS a teen. I got my start as a teen in 2004 and let me tell you it’s a jungle. You literally are forced by law to go to a joyless building every day with hundreds of other sociopaths who at literally any point might accuse you of being gay or notice your haircut or witness how you are while throwing a ball.
I’m not just talking about how other people treated me, either. When I remember being 16 I am literally shocked at my OWN complete lack of compassion in certain situations. I can think of at least 30 instances where I was thrilled someone else was being tormented because just thank GOD it wasn’t me. When you are a teen you’re basically a full sociopath until you turn 23, at which point you become annoying, which you are until you’re 31, when you become actually normal for once.
My sister is sweet and very funny and I think genuinely happy. She doesn’t seem to share any of my neuroses or skepticism around the adolescent experience. But still. I lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the fact that she literally has to go to an actual high school every day and I just have to hope that hundreds of teen-aged humans, including BOYS who play SPORTS like LACROSSE, choose to treat her kindly and with respect and dignity. It is completely out of my control and when I think of even one teenager acting towards her the way I remember MOST teenagers acting towards MOST people MOST of the time, I am immediately heart broken and driven into a panic. My heart sinks and I feel suddenly emotional. It is very embarrassing and only started happening recently. I spent all of high school terrified of being different than other people, and I project that same fear onto her.
This didn’t used to be the case. What I’ve realized lately is that it’s different having a sister with Down Syndrome who is, say, eight years old, than it is having one who’s in high school, and I presume it will be different still when she’s an adult. I guess that should be expected but for some reason it came as a surprise to me. I realized it was different one day in the parking lot of a Long Island strip mall in front of a sushi restaurant a year or two ago.
I had gone out to my parents house for the day because my sister was off from school and my parents had work and my other siblings weren’t around, so I said I would come hang out with her while no one else was home. At lunch time we went to get sushi, because my sister loves sushi in the way I once loved amphetamines.
We pulled into the strip mall and I parked and we got out. I told her to hold my hand while we crossed the parking lot and she said no and I remembered she was 15 and so that was fair. It’s actually nearly impossible to know what age any of your siblings are, I find.
As we got near the door to the sushi restaurant I saw a herd of bikes splayed out on the sidewalk and leaning against the wall in front of the restaurant. They were the kind of bikes teen boys ride where they seem vaguely smaller than they should be (but by design) and you’re like: is that BMX? Is it BMX to ride a small bike like that? Or is that something else? Anyways I knew the bikes belonged to teen boys because of the BMX-adjacent nature of them.
I have to pause here to ask, once and for all WHAT is BMX? No one answer that. I just needed to shout it.
We opened the door and though the restaurant was largely empty, the hostess stand was crowded with a pack of maybe 6 teen boys. I immediately tensed because if you were gay in 2004, you actually still are intimidated by straight teen boys in 2021. And so upon feeling their energy, I was immediately 16 again and terrified they were going to know my SECRET (my secret is just sort of generally how I am and also what my voice sounds like).
They were waiting to be seated and I got a sense of what breed of teen male they were. For one they knew how to wield hair product, something I to this day have a troubling relationship with. It is a myth that straight guys don’t know what to do with their hair. Some of the hottest hairs in high school belonged to straight male lacrosse players.
Suddenly I looked down at my sister and I saw her looking at them too. She wasn’t saying anything and didn’t seem particularly interested in them one way or the other, but immediately I felt uneasy. Just the energy of teen boys in the same space as her made my heart beat quicken for some reason. I caught myself thinking of them as older than her, and then realized that they were likely right around her age. In fact they probably went to school with her, which was why they had off too. Maybe when she saw them she recognized them, from hallways or classes. I wondered if she knew them, what she thought of them, if they knew her, if they’d ever spoken, if they’d been nice. I felt immediately so scared and I wanted the 14 year old strangers to be seated as quickly as possible and LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY.
They finally were, and then my sister and I after them. We had a nice lunch. She was completely unbothered by the non-event of standing behind nondescript teen boys in line at a sushi restaurant, but for some reason while I was talking to her I kept choking up. I had to pause a few times during our conversation because I thought my voice might crack, or a tear might fall. I was confused—what was going on, why was I feeling like this? Nothing had happened! We chatted about school and her classes and her friends and for the first time I realized the school we were talking about was a high school. The people around her were the same peopIe that I was so scared of. She was a GEM in a sea of JIGSAWS and there was nothing I could DO about it. As I watched her eat sushi I asked God: please, ma’am, never let any teenager ever be mean to this girl for as long as she lives or I swear I will lose it.
Do you want to know what else is embarrassing? When we got home she went to her room to watch YouTube and I immediately started sobbing. Heaving. Ugly crying. Like I hadn’t in a million years. Uncontrollably. I didn’t understand why, and now typing it, it seems so silly and self centered because like Mare of Eastown I am filtering her emotions through the experience of a normative boy (me). I’m putting all my shit onto her and then crying because I’m scared she can’t handle it.
What I did think, though, and what I still think, is that the thought of her ever feeling pain, or sadness, or loneliness, or disappointment, or heartbreak is devastating to me. I want to protect her from all of it. I want none of it to ever touch her. But that’s not the way it is for anyone. Not me, not my other siblings, not the Jigsaws in her classes. Everyone has pain and everyone has happiness and that’s being human etc etc etc. And she can handle it. And the things I’m scared my sister will be sad about are just my own shit that she probably doesn’t even care about, and her actual pain is probably over things I don’t even know anything about because she’s her own PERSON.
I don’t know!!! It is something that still is so sensitive to me because I guess at the end of the day I just worry that people aren’t nice. I worry the world is cruel. I worry that people won’t stand up for her. Maybe I think that way because I am not as nice as I should be. Maybe I should be nicer. OK this newsletter (it’s not a newsletter) is now literally 7th Heaven.
But that is why the moment in Mare of Easttown was so upsetting to me. It is literally my worst nightmare. It is the worst version of what I worry happens in high schools, in her high school. Even still, when they showed it, I needed to see what happened next. For her. Not for her brother, not for her mom, not for Kate Winslet in Wawa drag. I needed them to show her process it. And they didn’t. And they can’t do that. It’s dehumanizing and quite simply it just makes me too sad.
But otherwise what a good episode of MARE!!!! Sincerely!!! Literally so good!!! The END!!!!!! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!
One time I heard an interview with Jennifer Anniston where she said she would never do a FRIENDS reunion because there weren’t cell phones when FRIENDS was on and there are cell phones now and “it would just be too different,” but now they are doing a FRIENDS reunion and I wonder who convinced her it could still work, even with the advent of cell phones.