“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?”
“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.”