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Coming of Age High School Funny

“Listen Doc, I don’t know how else to tell you this. But there is absolutely no way, none, nada, zilch- that Elena Graves knows I exist. I am invisible to her. Schwooo.”


It never failed, the tic escaped my lips anytime I talked about Elena Graves. In my weekly appointment with Dr. Bowers, Elena’s name came up nine times out of ten followed by a verbal tic in the form of a ‘schwooo’ and a quick tug at the center of my t-shirt. 


My Tourette had long been an accomplice to my existence on this planet. When I told Dr. Bowers that Elena was assigned to be my partner in English for a paper that we needed to co-write, he grinned wildly. 


“Randall, she won’t know that you exist unless you talk to her. You’ll have to talk to her now, you know?” 


His smirk cracked slowly which led me to believe that he was plenty happy that I was being forced into the worst kind of immersion therapy possible. One that I couldn’t willingly walk away from. Dr. Bowers was the best therapist I had seen to date as he was the only person to not flinch or act put off by my tics. My mouth was unmanageable and the words vibrated out despite the fight I put up against them on the best of days. My jaw was often clenched unknowingly in a protest against the sounds and stirrings of my body while in session. Dr. Bowers could sit through all of it like he was the coolest dude in the world unphased by the worst Tourette day of my life. 


Schwooo. I guess you’re right.”


+++++++++


My Tourette didn’t mean I was strange, or at least that's how my mother explained it. I was given a twist of DNA that made me unique from my mother’s major depressive episodes and my father’s tendency towards chemical dependency. I wasn’t sad or drunk, but I did have the proclivity to make or say the most unusual sounds and gestures at the most unusual of times. Like when grandpa died last fall, I shot up from my seat amidst the grieving guests and interrupted Reverend Johns’ sermon during his funeral.


My brain knew full well that we were in the house of the lord and that we were at my beloved grandfather’s service. My brain also had a habit of taking information in, like a marble sucked up into a vacuum canister. The marble doesn’t belong in the vacuum and everyone within the house hears about it when my body tries spitting it back out. Everyone at the funeral service that day heard me tic for five minutes straight, face contorting and mouth unleashing “Grandpa is so dead! DEAD. DEAD. DEAD!”


In an attempt to make my mother laugh, I asked her if she’d be adding this memory to my baby book. Age 15, kicked out of Grandpa’s funeral-couldn’t keep quiet for one damn day.


+++++++


My chest disproportionately swam inside of the Nirvana t-shirt I slipped over my head. I was at a weird age where my body seemed longer and lankier with each passing day like salt water taffy being pulled over on itself to expand. Yet there were parts of me, like my chest that hadn’t quite filled with muscle, but rather pockets of air waiting to be packed with the substance of masculinity. This made me only half desirable to the female gaze and gave me a fraction of the advantage of the football players at my school. I was easily unnoticed unless I was having a heavy tic day. All I could think about was whether or not Elena would notice me for me, and not for my fickle tics. 


It did not matter that my hand could palm a basketball, or that I had a dimple on my chin like my grandma's fingers had pinched me for a bit too long. I was adorable to my grandma, but I was invisible to Elena Graves. My throaty voice held the kind of vibe that would put any child to sleep, except for the tics that spasmed through interrupting others in their conversation about the weekend. It was always the tics that bubbled under my tongue waiting to erupt from the crack in my lips that kept others from seeing me as a teenage heartthrob. Sure you could take me home to meet your parents, but there was the risk of me calling your mother an offensive name. Something about the chirping sound of a ‘scwhooo’ screamed that I wasn’t ready for a movie date.


Glancing in the mirror at my semi-wrinkled band shirt I made a quick pull at the center of my shirt. The gesture didn’t give me much assurance that this first writing session with Elena would go well, I hadn’t even left the house and the tics were ready to ride shotgun. 


+++++++


Mrs. Reed didn’t need to drag her nails down the chalkboard, she merely spoke in the scratchy, brash voice she always did to gather our attention.


“Alright, listen up! You’ve been assigned your partners for this paper. To refresh your memory the two of you are to write a paper about the state of communication in your generation. Think outside of the box, make this a paper that keeps me awake reading late into the night. You have two months.” 


Elena’s body dipped to the ground to gather her belongings giving me the full sight of her back. She moved with the surety of a Homecoming Queen, crowned with the adoration of every boy in school. I didn’t blink and hardly exhaled any breath when her eyes connected with mine. Is this what it’s like to be completely upended in the throes of angsty teenage love? My fingers whitened from the intensity of curling in on themselves fighting the spasm of the upcoming tic. The pockets of air in my chest pushed out the last thing I’d ever hoped to say out loud to Elena Graves-


“I’m sorry for loving you.” 


Shit. Of all the tics to plow through my lips, a true love confession was the one that might kill me where I stand. Elena ducked into the chair across from me at the tawny topped table. I readied myself to hear that she thought I was a freak. Dr. Bowers was going to laugh his ass off at me when I told him that the very first time I spoke to Elena I declared my love. Classic Tourette Syndrome strikes agains.


“Randall right? Were you saying something?”


To play it safe I shook my head no. If I was gonna get anywhere I needed to keep my mouth clamped shut. I sighed heavily with defeat and pulled at my shirt.


“I’m Elena. I like your shirt. ‘Heart Shaped Box’ is hands down my favorite Nirvana song. What about you? I bet I can guess. ‘Where did you Sleep Last Night,' Am I right?”


My brain conjured the idea that love compounds in interest when the other person invests in the things that you love too and I could feel the potential of Elena getting a credit line in my name.


I laughed quietly, “Um, that’s my second favorite. ‘Lake of Fire’ is my number one.” 


“The Unplugged version-”

“The Unplugged version-” 


Elena shouted jinx and I shouted schwooo at the collision of our words. There was no way I could not talk to this girl, not when she was completely unencumbered and eager to converse with me. 


“Don’t you find it strange that people don’t talk out loud to one another much anymore? Like you and I are doing right now. If we’d been texting there’s no way we could have jinxed one another. Not a chance. I mean, when was the last time you called someone on the phone Randall?”


I couldn’t tell her that I avoided phone calls like the plague because nine times out of ten the person on the other end thought I was a prank caller. “Hi, can you tell me if schwooo, you have any of the new Jordans  schwooo, in stock?” That got me a guaranteed hang-up every time. I was damn lucky to live in the age of text messages and email blasts. Give me all the bcc’s and predictive text, I could use that text feature on my mouth for situations like this. 


“Um, it’s been a while.” Shirt pull. Face clenched. 

“Mrs. Reed wants us to write about communication in our generation. Do you have any sweet ideas of how we approach this?”


I didn’t have any ideas. I was too busy creating a hypothetical conversation with Elena in my head with details so visceral the conclusion couldn’t be anything but her and I with hands locked lying on my bed listening to Kurt strum his guitar. The conversations in my head were perfect, a cruel reminder that I could never ease through life with perfect delivery like Elena did. 


Bravery or stupidity guided the next words from my mouth, “Schwooo. I was thinking about how, schwooo, we could maybe talk about the things that people don’t communicate out loud. How we all walk around with what we want to say in our heads, schwooo.” 


Elena paid no attention to the tap tap tap of the tabletop from my clenched fist. Was this girl hard of hearing? Why wasn’t she running for the hills?


“I’m sorry for loving you.” 


That was twice I’d confessed my love for her and twice that she made no mention of it. My head rowed back across my right shoulder, schwooo. I had to know what she was thinking and why she was unphased by my tics and my confessions. 


“Most people give me a lot of crap for my Tourette. You haven't, why?”  


I delivered two entire sentences without one single tic or outward physical spasm. I spoke with control and meant every word of what I asked her. Elena could’ve been waiting to make fun of me for all I knew. She could have been delaying the inevitable embarrassment of mocking me in stutters and claps, and I needed to know why. I had to know why she hadn’t laughed at my ridiculous body movements and confessions of true love.


I hadn’t noticed but somewhere in the middle of my mini-speech Elena’s eyes dropped to the torn skin along the cuticles of her mismatched painted fingernails. Her thumb flicked at the chipped paint, she was cool even with chipped nail polish. 


“Randall, I didn’t say anything about your tics because they sound perfectly normal to me. My Uncle Grant has TS. I don’t know what story you have in your head about me, but I’m not an ass who makes fun of people for things they can’t control.”


If she wasn’t the ass I suppose that made me the biggest jerk in the world. Speechless and motionless my body held steady at her truthfulness. 


“Elena, I’m sorry. I’m not used to, schwooo, this.” My hand motioned back and forth between the two of us to identify that her and I speaking in this way was foreign. I needed her to understand. 


“It’s that I rarely get to-” my body betrayed me with a series of standing jerks, “- talk to people without it being weird. Most of the conversations I have are in my head. I have a lot of control in here.” Tapping the side of my head, the smile lines by her nose and upper lip deepened. 


“It’s such an obscure sorrow, don't you think?”


“Obscure sorrow?”


“This feeling that you have to walk around hiding who you are Randall, by keeping these imaginary conversations all caged up in your head. You won’t connect with people if you only talk to them in your head. How will you ever know what they’ll say in return?”


“That’s what my therapist says.” Dr. Bowers was right, I could see his cheeky grin wrecking the wrinkles at the edges of his eyes when I told him so. 


“Randall, I think this is what our paper is about don't you?”


For the first time in a long time, my jaw muscles calmed. The tic crowded my teeth until I stopped fighting it and said what my brain was desperate to say.


“I’m sorry for loving you.”


It was the most cathartic tic my body had ever released, but it wasn’t honest in the slightest. Because I was not sorry for loving Elena Graves.


Elena settled back into her chair, “Don’t ever be sorry for that sort of thing Randall. You can tell me you love me anytime you want. As long as it’s out loud.”







July 09, 2021 00:09

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29 comments

H L Mc Quaid
08:11 Jul 09, 2021

Really, truly enjoyable to read. The way you describe Randall lets us sympathise with his experiences. And I really liked the ending.

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Shea West
03:39 Jul 10, 2021

Thank you Heather!

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Scott Skinner
04:47 Jul 09, 2021

Ugh! What a solid ending. All of these characters are so likable. This was an uplifting read. You mentioned Nirvana, Jordans, and this story was super funny, so I'm a big fan of this one. You achieved a humorous tone throughout (Even the short line about the teacher was funny, "Write me something that will keep me awake into the night"), but the story still had meaning behind it, and I was invested in Randall right from the get-go. There are times that Randall seems insecure about his TS, but what comes across stronger is that he actua...

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Shea West
03:40 Jul 10, 2021

Thanks for the eagle eye on this one!!! I'm sincerely flattered. That's my favorite line too😍

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K. Antonio
16:00 Jul 09, 2021

I'M ALMOST CRYING! This was adorable and so well-written. This is something that resonates a lot with me, because well (I don't go out saying it) but I actually have tics (had them since I was born) that in many situations turn out embarrassing and even harmful (basically I can't be left alone or I just spazz out). For the longest time I thought I was retarded and everyone treated me as the psycho, when in reality I probably just needed therapy and decent meds. A lot of what Randall went through reminded me of myself. The not being in full...

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Shea West
03:38 Jul 10, 2021

K! Don't cry on me friend. It means so much that you shared those things about your life with me. It's not a privilege I take lightly when people share intimate details with me. I'm happy to hear you don't worry about it much anymore and you can lived fully as yourself💚

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J D Hernandez
02:13 Jul 23, 2021

Amazing story. I like your power over words

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Shea West
16:32 Jul 26, 2021

Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:08 Jul 21, 2021

Wow Shea, this was beautiful. So touching and very well written. The dialogue felt real and everything flowed to that lovely ending. Well done!

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Shea West
21:05 Jul 21, 2021

Hey thanks for giving it a read Rachel!

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A.Dot Ram
18:53 Jul 17, 2021

This might be my favorite of you're stories so far. Your premise builds on the prompt perfectly and gets inside the head of someone different. It's funny and poignant, it destroys the stereotype of popular girl as bitch. Plus, as someone who has a lot of conversations in my head, I'm fascinated by the things we don't say out loud. I love how you used TS to break that down--someone who literally can't keep it inside. I have lots of catching up to do on Reedsy. So glad I didn't miss this one.

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Shea West
21:35 Jul 17, 2021

Anne! So good to see your words, I've missed them the past few weeks. I talk to myself in my head often...learning that there was a word for this felt very affirming! Thank you as always for the love, welcome back.

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Juliet Tullett
16:38 Jul 15, 2021

This is lovely.

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Shea West
17:29 Jul 15, 2021

Thank you so much!

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14:11 Jul 15, 2021

You have such a way with words, and character building! I really felt immersed in the story, which made me empathize with Randall. I love Nirvana and I like the way you casually mentioned throughout the story. The ending was very sweet, such a good story, Shea!

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Shea West
15:15 Jul 15, 2021

Shannon, I'm so pleased you loved the Nirvana touch!!!! I always listen to music when I write. 99% of the time the music leads my story in many ways. I felt like it would be a normal thing teenagers would talk about!

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15:52 Jul 15, 2021

I know I definitely listened to Nirvana as a teenager, and anytime I wore a Nirvana shirt, it'd spark a conversation with someone new. I think that also helped me feel like I was in the characters shoes. I'm glad music can inspire your stories, it distracts me like crazy lol You truly have a remarkable talent for writing. (:

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Shea West
17:28 Jul 15, 2021

That is so interesting that it distracts you! I heard recently that people re-watch TV shows because it is familiar and quells anxiety. I do this when I write, I listen to a lot of the same stuff over and over for the same reason. Thank you again, you are most kind!

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20:45 Jul 15, 2021

Songs give me inspiration to write stories sometimes but I can't listen to music while I write, because I focus too much on the music. And often it doesnt match the mood of my story. I might just be weird. And I do the same thing, familiarity is more comfortable than change lol and of course, I'm just speaking the truth!

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Beth Connor
23:59 Jul 13, 2021

Oh! this story made my heart smile and it's just what I needed after a tough week (I know it's only Tuesday, but I'm counting the weekend!) Also, I would like to be friends with both Elena and Randall :-)

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Shea West
01:30 Jul 14, 2021

Beth, tell the tough week to take a hike! You can count whatever days you like in a week ;) Randall and Elena are accepting friend applications! Thanks for reading

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Blue Green
08:49 Jul 12, 2021

Thought I'd dip my toes into something that isn't fantasy ;-) I liked this story a lot! I liked the way you gave Randall a self-deprecating style of humour which seemed to help him come to terms with tics. The anecdote about the grandfather's funeral was funny, and I liked the line about the tic riding shotgun, as though it's a separate personality coming along for the ride :-) Great writing!

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Shea West
15:39 Jul 12, 2021

Thanks Blue, flattered you ventured from fantasy into my neck of the woods😂 Randall was so endearing to write. I find that the quirks about all of us are things to love and embrace....enter Randall!

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00:48 Jul 12, 2021

Aww, this is so cute. I was just watching a video concerning TS the other day, but that one was more severe. I love the repeated line. And I honestly think that Randall and Elena are right. I don't have TS but I walk around with so many unsaid thoughts and I replay made-up conversations with people in my head because I'm just too timid to make them real. Oh my, that is almost too real. I truly enamor this story, you've created some loveable characters here, and you've also struck a chord in my heart. I don't know why I haven't found you so...

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Shea West
15:36 Jul 12, 2021

Ruth, I'm so pleased to hear you enjoyed this story of mine. It sounds like you have Jouska, with your made up conversations in your head. Now you've got a name for it😍

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15:38 Jul 12, 2021

Yup. It's interesting how we can explain a whole concept with one word. That's one of the things I love about words. Thanks.

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A.G. Scott
03:07 Jul 10, 2021

So I love the story. I think everybody has their own insecurities and experiences they can relate this to, so well done there. I have some notes. I really hope Randall wouldn't describe his own voice as having an ASMR vibe (icky) I feel like "Tourette's" is more common than "Tourette"? Maybe just in my world. (I also feel like it flows better for some reason.) but if Tourette's is improper for some reason, whateva It's cool that Randall is self-referential and like hyperaware that he's a character, but sometimes it goes too far: e.g. - "I...

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Shea West
03:34 Jul 10, 2021

Hey great feedback, thank you! I'll comb through it again. So after some research, I found that Tourette is the preferred use. You're right though, Tourette's does flow either. I try to be mindful of those sorts of things, and totally would've used the other. Thanks for your feedback, helps me quite a bit!

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Shea West
00:14 Jul 09, 2021

I'm super fascinated with these words in a book called, "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows." Sometimes you just gotta make up a word to describe these feelings and moments in life. This story is titled after one of those words- Jouska. Jouska:,n. a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head—a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback—which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustrating...

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