College is scary!

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I’m 19 and this is my second year living away from home. Last year was fine, but this year I’m always scared and anxious. I do go back home from time to time, and everything seems to be fine when I’m there (or at least okay); but when I’m away, I always have fear for no apparent reason. I feel like something bad is gonna happen most of the time. And there are times, usually at night, that I feel like I’m actually dying. Last night I saw a nightmare and when I woke up, for the rest of the day, I still “felt” the nightmare. I felt like it actually happened and I was scared and had this really unpleasant feeling. It always gets worse at night. What’s wrong with me? 

Kind querent: I’m honestly not sure. It could be anxiety, but it could also be a handful of other issues. Although I have no certainty what’s wrong, I do have some suggestions.

  • You could move back home, assuming your college is in town.
  • You ought to see your college’s campus counselor.

College can be a very stressful transition. My first year of college was pure hell. Don’t feel that you have to push yourself to live in the dorms! It’s okay to live at home and commute. I think that might be best for you.

What I’m concerned about is that you might be taking on too much, e.g., by living away from home. Extreme stress can awaken any underlying health condition, including mental health issues. So you’ve got to make some lifestyle changes that will help keep your life less stressful.

The only other possibility (that I can think of) about what’s going wrong is that your intuition’s screaming at you that you’re not living in a safe environment. Does that sound accurate at all? If so, then you should definitely move home. You’re nineteen. You’ve got your whole life to be independent.

Normalcy!

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: First off I’m not trolling, I’m serious; and secondly I feel awful about it all and don’t ever want to do it again. Between the ages of 5-13 I did some sexual stuff with certain cousins. I felt so bad about it as a kid that I confessed to my mom about it and felt better. I also did something with my aunt but nonsexual. It was just a playful tackle but it got me excited I was going through puberty, and it felt almost flirty. Well I have GAD and I’m pretty sure OCD too. I met this girl I really like and I’m almost certain she likes me too. I was working, listening to music, and daydreaming about her, and I practically feel in love. I was daydreaming about playfully wrestling with her and then I got the memory of tackling my aunt and how it felt the same way that daydream did. Now I got myself thinking that if i ever go out with this girl and we cuddle or some **** that I’m going to feel like I’m cuddling with my aunt and now everytime I see the girl I like I think of my aunt. I dont want that. I dont want to be reminded of my aunt when I do stuff like that with her or just see her. I want to feel that unique feeling about the girl I like. My thoughts and worries have just gotten worse ever since then. This is making me extremely depressed. Now i got myself believing she looks like my aunt a little bit and that if I dont confess to my therapist about all ive done ill never feel the same about her again and wont be happy. I cant feel the lovey feeling anymore since this has been going on.

Kind querent: You are completely normal. When boys come of age sexually, they can be turned on by anything and everything. There are hormones coursing through your body, and it doesn’t take much. So if I were you, I’d forget about the experience with your aunt. It’s just one of those things that happens when you’re trying to get used to the influx of hormones in your system. If you want to redirect your thoughts about the girl you like, try this: instead of daydreaming about wrestling with her (like you did with your aunt), daydream about kissing her on the lips. That should reroute your fantasies into less auntly territory. And again, you’re completely normal. 🙂

Anxiety!

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: We have an 8th trader, no learning disabilities, good grades, sociable and has a pretty good friend group. She states there is no bullying of any kind as well. No drug, alcohol or nicotine use either. Her peer group is 14 year olds so feeling safe enough to be vulnerable is still lacking, but she overall has a good group. She began having panic attacks a few months ago and now can’t attend almost any of her classes. Our psychologists vary in advisement between ‘keep on facing the fears and showing up…. I dont know of any panic disordered middle schooler who online schools and then successfully transitions to high school’…..(verbatim). Or online school and allow for a reset so that the fight/ flight response is able to recalibrate. The hardest part of this is seeing the shame that goes with having panic and anxiety. She is so fearful of a panic attack, the anticipatory anxiety is the most prohibitive. We are in good hands in terms of our support systems but would like opinions from others who may have had a similar experience–personally or with a child. 

Kind querent: If there’s no cause for her anxiety (and I’m glad there isn’t), I’d recommend giving her some supplements she can swallow throughout the school day. There are a lot of anti-anxiety supplements available. Is it an ideal solution? No, but I hate to see her switch to online school without giving everything a good attempt first. There’s L-Theanine, which is the active ingredient in green tea that makes you feel woozy when you drink it. And just about any supplement used in the treatment of insomnia (except melatonin) could be used also for anxiety. (Melatonin affects your hormones, so I’d really only use it for sleep.) You should research some options and find one that fits for her. Tryptophan, valerian, who knows what else? Keep in mind that supplements differ from prescription medications in that they can lose their efficacy, so have her take as little as possible so she doesn’t build up a tolerance. And have her experiment over the weekend so she doesn’t fall asleep in class (although it’s hard to imagine that happening, since she’s so anxious). The benefits here are that you don’t even need to put her on medication. It would also give her a feeling of control, because she could be in charge of meting them out during the day. Make sure she keeps them in a labeled bottle so no one thinks she’s using.

Tutors and medication.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: So I got a phone recently and I don’t know if it’s the problem of the situation I’m snot to describe to you. I am an A student. Recently I failed two tests. It’s very hard for me to retain things in history and science though, which is not new. It’s been happening for years but I still do well. Now I don’t want to study anything. I just want to sing and rap and do my art all day and watch and do things that make me happy, which is also not new. But it seems that my mom has to talk to me more about it now. I stress and cry and feel lost and not in the right mind when I’m at school especially because of the people. What’s happening? What should I do?

Kind querent: I’d suggest that you tell your mom and/or your teachers that you need a tutor. Your teachers can probably arrange for someone in your class who’s better at science and history (my hard subjects too) to help you study and learn the material. I’d also recommend that you only use your phone at special times, like late at night after you’ve done all your studying. It seems to be distracting you.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: My girlfriend was prescribed on antidepressants due to a breakdown that she’s having, something triggered her flashbacks of ptsd due to her year-long mistreatment. It’s not easy what she went through, not your typical not requited teenage crush. The doctor gave her pills, I checked and they had many side effects and I don’t want her to take them. She told me if they were so bad he wouldn’t have prescribed them. I said, “He didn’t even heard you, he didn’t say anything. He just couldn’t care less about what you went through, his solutions are stupid pills who will make you sleep.” I was holding her hand while she was crying telling him what happened but he was colder than ice. She will always have my support but not for this. I want to throw those stupid pills in the toilet.

I appreciate how much you care about your girlfriend. She’s lucky to have you in her life, and I hope you can continue to be supportive of what she’s experienced. But a few things to know–what she went through has left her in a state of dysfunction that could be greatly helped by medication. Try to picture experiencing something hellish and unthinkable. Now imagine it playing in your head again and again and again and again… forever. It’s not a pleasant feeling. The pills are meant to help your girlfriend feel happier.

And don’t freak over the side effects! All drugs have side effects, but with most people, only a few side effects occur. I take four psych meds, and I have minimal side effects. The side effects are more like warnings of what can occur rather than statements of what will occur.

Please believe me that her doctor does, possibly, care about her. With trauma, there’s no one “easy fix” although there are options and things you can do. And right now, without those pills, her breakdown could get worse and leave her with worse mental health for the whole rest of her life. It does sometimes work that way. I’m not trying to scare you, but if she was prescribed the pills, then I’d say there’s a 99% chance that they’ll be helpful. And if they aren’t, the doctor will check in and adjust the prescription or the dosage.

Thank you for caring so much about your girlfriend! I’m glad she has you!

 

Unplanned pregnancy?

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I am 16. On December first, I had unprotected sex. On December fifth, I had sex again. Took a Pregnancy Test on the seventeenth of the same month, negative. I was in a behavioral health facility from December sixth through the twenty-third due to running away from a group home that did not help me cope with ADHD, autism, and major depressive disorder like they were supposed to. I returned home to my 81-year-old grandma. My grandma is like my mom cause my mom died in 2017 from illegal drug overdose and my grandma raised me since I was three. I take antidepressants and ADHD meds. My grandma tears down my self esteem and makes me feel sad. She has ten grown children, and she adopted my mom at age six. I refused to let her know i might be pregnant because she would joke about how I cannot take care of myself. Yes I have problems cleaning my room but I do clean my body and I CAN control anger, because out of all the seven places I’ve been to help improve my anger, I have learned an infinite amount of ways to cope. I believe in my dreams and I’ve been dreaming about kids each night from January 28 to January 30. My breasts have been hot, stomach cramped, and I had my period on December fifteenth but missed my period for January–stomach cramp or gurgling. I had white mucus from vaginal discharge on January nineteenth. I was spotting or pinkish discharge in January also, and I felt tired. I hope I’m not, but it’s life. I can manage. Today is January thirty-first. I plan on stopping my medication and simply cope with my problems. What should i do??

Kind querent: First of all, you need to see a primary care physician or a gynecologist to determine if you’re pregnant. I hate to tell you this, but you’ve got to tell your grandma. If you’re afraid she’ll blow a gasket, then tell another adult like a case worker or therapist you see, and have that adult tell Grandma. Or write Grandma a letter. (Does she do email? You could text Grandma.)

Second, you’d better not be pregnant. You’re in no position to raise a child. But if you are pregnant, then you need to be made aware of options like giving the baby up for adoption, etc.

Third, you’ve got to quit having unprotected sex. If you insist on being sexually active, then you must do so responsibly. I know accidents happen, but I don’t want you to have any more unnecessary accidents. Got it?

Fourth, do not go off your meds. Wait until you’ve seen or spoken with a doctor or social worker before you make that decision. It adds a certain urgency to the problem, though, so you’d better not dally on addressing this issue.

You’ve been through a lot lately, and adding a baby will not help. You need to be 100% focused on you, because you’ve got issues (so do I), and you’ve got to work hard and focus on overcoming those issues.

So take a breath and think practically. Your grandmother loves you and wants what’s best for you. She’s going to go off the deep end when you tell her you might be pregnant, so I’d give her the news from a distance. But you can do this. Once the dust settles, I want you to keep working on developing your impressive anger-control skills, which I admire you for having. And then focus on your schoolwork, and keep cleaning your room.

 

Baby blues.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I just feel like I need advice. I’m a senior in high school, and I have a younger sister in 8th grade. My mom had a shitty boyfriend, and now she’s in labor with his baby, but he isn’t involved anymore. Right now, I’m on my bed crying because I’m terrified. I wasn’t thrilled when my mom told me she was pregnant, and I don’t think she wanted that reaction. I’m still not excited or happy about this baby coming into my life like this, and it’s like I don’t want to feel this way, but this is what I’m getting. I’m having trouble navigating these feelings, and I want to feel more positive about this, but I just can’t. I just feel really lost in this, and I don’t want this to happen but it is. I know that this is the reality of the situation, but I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t know how to accept this baby as my brother. I feel like I’m going to fail everybody’s expectations, that I’m going to be a shitty sister to a kid who doesn’t deserve it, and I feel like I’m a shitty daughter for not being what my mom needs. Advice will be much appreciated. Thank you.

Kind querent: It’s okay. I think a lot of what you’re feeling is sadness for the baby, who won’t have a loving father; and for your mom, who won’t have a loving significant other; and for your family as a whole.

As a teenager, you shouldn’t have the burden of being there for your mom during this huge life-changing event. She should be there for you. But such is life.

Don’t force yourself to accept the baby as your brother. Don’t push the issue. Just see him as a baby who’s staying with you, and let yourself become closer to him gradually, if at all. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just a lot to take in and process. I’m sorry your mom’s projecting her anxiety all over you. I’ve been there.

There shouldn’t be any expectations upon you to care for this baby, beyond helping out a reasonable amount. There’s nothing wrong with how you feel about this. I wish the best for your family!

Fun questions today!

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I parked in a parking space labeled “secretary” at my daughter’s preschool today. As soon as I got my child out of the car, I heard someone say that this was her space because she was the school secretary. I immediately turned around and apologized. The school secretary was in the street basically waiting for me to move. I told her that I just had to drop off my daughter. I asked would she mind if I did that. I do not remember her exact reply. But as I walked towards the school, I heard her say, “Really?” It was said in such a distasteful manner that I lost my respect for her. I lost my respect for her because I went to this school from Kindergarten through sixth grade. This woman was the sweetest teacher that all of the children liked including myself. So, am I wrong? Did she have the right to do this just because she was the “Secretary”? It would have been a serious parking violation if I would have parked in the handicapped parking. But I did not. It literally takes about 2 minutes or less to walk her in and go back to the car. I feel that she could have either been nicer or just waited.

Kind querent: Yeah, you were wrong. What you did qualifies as being entitled, which drives people crazy these days. Entitlement is a belief that you deserve something that belongs to someone else, or that you deserve special privileges. She was in her car, waiting for you to vacate her spot, and you went ahead and exited the car with your preschool daughter in tow.

When caught red-handed, you should’ve backed your car out and parked elsewhere. And no, you can’t justify it by claiming that it only takes two minutes to drop off your daughter. What was the secretary supposed to do during that time, let her engine idle? Naughty, naughty.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: Why are some TSA employees so grouchy? I flew yesterday and after eating when my flight got in, I was going to ask the agent at the exit door where baggage claim was. After saying excuse me he said “Hi.” Twenty seconds of awkward silence go by while he’s still looking at the door letting people out and then I ask “Are you okay?” And he proceeds to say “Yes. Are you?” And I tell him “Well, you’re not looking at me,” to which he sighs and says “I need to be looking at the door when it’s open.” I had to leave after that as I had never met someone so offensive in my life and couldn’t get my bags til half hour later. 

Kind querent: I feel your pain. It sounds like he was supposed to keep his eyes on the exiting passengers and didn’t want to stray from his task. I’d be peeved, too, if that happened to me, although I always try to sense (by observation or intuition) whether a certain person will be able to help me. I think your spidey senses led you to the wrong person. Here are some tips to avoid this sort of disaster:

  1. Don’t ask for help unless you really, really need it. Airports have signs for baggage claim.
  2. If you get the sense that someone’s busy or otherwise distracted, abort the mission and look for someone else to help.
  3. Be grateful every time an interaction like this goes right. Airports can be intimidating!

I was at the airport last month and I approached a water fountain to drink from. It had no knob or button with which to turn it on. There was a lady standing nearby wearing an airport uniform. She told me, “You have to wave your hand under it.”

But I was too braindead from traveling to understand what on earth she meant. So I waved my hand in the air like an exhausted magician, or something. She then got mad and started yelling at me. “NO! YOU HAVE TO MOVE YOUR HAND LIKE THIS.” Despite the fact that I was desperate for water, since they’d spent six hours on my last flight ignoring us (no food or drink), I abruptly turned and stormed away. And trust me, if I’d kept interacting with her, it would’ve gotten ugly. So the best thing I know to do in these situations is to walk smartly away in a way that clearly states, “I don’t appreciate your ineptitude, and I am so out of here.” Yeah.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: How can I attend the funeral of my great-aunt if she dies? I work for my father, and I also am OCD. Knowing my father, he will consider it part of my OCD and not want me to take the trip. He’ll do what he can to make it difficult, since if I go he would feel he had to. I feel it is important to attend the funeral for a loved one, but he will say “You’ve gone to all the past funerals. Missing one funeral won’t kill you.” He is not considerate of this type of thing at all, and he neglected his elders. I am very loyal as I don’t want to become my father or mother in that way, as it is their only weaknesses. So how do I recover in this scenario, and even more important how do I get him to let me go? Outside of work I can do as I wish since I am an adult living on my own but since I work for him this will be a conflict. I hate conflict as part of my OCD. If the funeral were local he would not object to me going, it is because of it being travel involved.

Kind querent: Okay. I’d phrase it thusly: “Dad, I know you can’t go because of the family business. So I think I should go in order to represent our branch of the family and pay our respects on your behalf.” This should:

  1. Make it seem as if you believe he wants to go, when of course he doesn’t,
  2. Make it seem as if you’re eager to represent the family in his stead, which he should appreciate, and
  3. Get him off the hook entirely for any travel he’d have to do.

But if he still won’t let you go, then I’d say to just accept it. If anyone in the family asks why you weren’t there, blame your dad. This would be fine, because it would indeed be his fault. That said, most employers won’t let you off for the funeral of a great-aunt. So if your dad does agree to let you go, please be appreciative and do the make-up work as soon as possible.

Helping the teenagers!

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I have always been a supportive friend. I’ve always encouraged, congratulated and helped build up people’s confidence, despite being left behind. I’m the person people turn to when they need to feel better about themselves and get that due credit, but I just can’t give it anymore. I hate myself for getting left behind. How is everyone fulfilling the expectations I had for myself? I’m never good enough for anything, and my feelings are starting to become more apparent, much to the disliking of others. I used to deal with rejection so well because there’d always be another chance. Now I realize there’s only a few more chances before I’m through and that I’m a complete failure! I look at everything as rejection and I can’t be happy for others as I used to be. If I didn’t get it first try, I never will. I’m so done with this cycle of failure, yet all the people I have to be the cheerleader for are so successful. I should be happy for them, and I try. But I begin to despise myself even more. It’s not that my friends are toxic people, it’s just the fact that I’m a failure and don’t see it. What can I do?

Kind querent: You sound like a really nice person. Please give yourself credit for being so caring and uplifting to others. In my eyes, that has a lot of value. I wish your friends could return the favor and encourage you to greatness, but not everyone’s good at knowing what to say. Your friends’ successes are partly thanks to your encouragement, so you should feel good about that!

I’d like to see you cheer yourself on to success. Whatever you’ve been telling your friends, start telling it to yourself. If there’s something you want to accomplish, go for it! You can do it! And you are NOT a failure. Anyone who tries their best and goes for the goal isn’t a failure. You’re a kindhearted, good person.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: I’ve lost interest in listening to songs and that is upsetting me a lot. I used to listen to songs everyday, but this week I can’t bring myself to listen to anything. I tried every different genre of music, but still nothing. Another thing is that I’m a fan of romantic relationships, mainly in anime. I used to think about them and kind of write “fanfiction” about them in my mind. I used to think about my favorite characters in different situations and wonder how they’d act, but now, especially this week, I can’t think that way. All of this is really upsetting me so much that i cry sometimes. My mind sometimes feel blank. I don’t feel emotional attachment to my favorite characters anymore even though I used to have a strong attachment. Please guide me why is this happening and help me out of this. Another thing: I’m not a patient of depression. Nothing traumatic happened. Sometimes I used to think about a single thing, but before this week it was also interrupted by many different thoughts which never happened before. 

Kind querent: You say you’re not depressed, but you sound depressed. However, there is another possible cause for your feelings: you’re growing up. Regardless of how old you already are, you’re going through a process of realizing what’s important and reshaping what matters to you. Often, this process happens against our will. For example, as a nine-year-old child, I didn’t want to believe that Santa doesn’t exist. I wasn’t ready to let go of the magic of Santa.

As a teenager and twenty-something, I listened to sad music all the time and lived in a fantasy world of musical creation. In my fantasies, I had close relationships and a boyfriend, and all that. Whenever the music would end, I’d turn it right back on.

But happiness can’t be found in that world of daydreams. When you live there too strongly, real life tends to pass you by. The subconscious mind works to bring you into reality, and I think that’s what’s happening with you: you’re rebelling against the extreme emotion of it all; and at the moment, you’ve shut it out and aren’t feeling anything. No magic. No escape. No fantasy. Just bleak despair.

I think this will cheer you to hear: you’ll be listening to music again soon. The process of leaving that fantasy world can take years, and I don’t think it’s going to happen to you all at once, right now. But it might help you to see it as an end goal. At some point in your life, you might want to leave behind the fantasy and embrace the reality. Reality isn’t all bad. It’s filled with potential and creative opportunities. I’m happy that I left the fantasy world behind. It’s like a death, but then you’re borne into something better.

In summary, you do seem depressed to me, but at the same time, in a lot of ways, you’re just maturing emotionally. It might help you to have a therapist to talk to.

Breakups and self-esteem.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: My boyfriend and I got into an argument last night over the phone. He hung up and refused to discuss it with me. I wrote him a very long message explaining my feelings on the matter (we’re currently long distance) and he disregarded them by telling me the issue was entirely my fault. I took my responsibility for it and he refuses to take any responsibility for what he did. But I told him I just wanted us to be okay and get through the problem. He has hardly talked to me all day and when he does respond, he responds in short little messages without any emotion or care. I tell him it’s making me feel sad and I’d like to be okay with him and he’s refusing. He keeps telling me how busy he is and he doesn’t have time to “deal” with me or the issue right now, but then I see him posting on Facebook and sharing memes, so I text him and I’m confused as to why he can’t talk to me but he can be on Facebook. And he leaves my messages unread, doesn’t even bother responding. I truly know this is such a stupid issue and that’s why I’m confused? I don’t know if I’m overreacting or if he’s being inconsiderate because I feel like he is. And he does stuff like this a lot but then our mutual friends tell me I’m overreacting and that’s “just the way he is.” Advice would be helpful. 

Kind querent: Your boyfriend is being a [bleep]. I’d also posit that he’s trying to antagonize you into breaking up with him. See, that way he doesn’t have to do the dirty work of ending the relationship. If I were in your shoes, I’d get mad and tell him off. Then he’d act like, “Well, how dare you treat me that way! Our relationship is over, and it’s all your fault,” and then I’d get a million times angrier. That’s what he’s banking on–that’s what he wants to have happen! I’m so sorry to tell you this, but he doesn’t love you. You’ve got to dump him, like, yesterday. I admire and appreciate your eagerness to take responsibility and fix the argument, but your boyfriend is a [bleep] who’s using your agreeability against you. Please dump him. He’s swine.

Dear Mesmerizing Meg: This woman’s always telling me I have low self-esteem, but I don’t. I’m happy with myself and I’m happy with the way I look. She’s always telling me that I have low self-esteem and it’s really weird. She also is obsessed with talking about other people having low self-esteem. I don’t understand why she does this?

Because she’s got a one-track mind, and in her worldview, all problems are caused by low self-esteem. I once knew a guy in college who thought everyone (read: everyone) was suffering from a victim mentality. His entire mindset revolved around it. It’s sort of a simpleminded and small-minded way to view the world. A broader way to view it involves seeing a million different factors at play in everyone’s life instead of honing in on one specific thing and then misdiagnosing everyone as being that way. You know, the next time you see her, you should say, “I love myself. My self-esteem’s great! How’s yours?” Then smile and walk away.

 

Taste the Rainbow!

I wrote this short story for the competition I’m in. My assignment was to write a comedy involving an apprentice and a strict diet. This story is lovingly dedicated to a wonderful little guinea pig named Cookie.

(c) 2020 All Rights Reserved

Taste the Rainbow

When little Polly gets a chance to become a magician’s

apprentice, her life becomes much more colorful.

 

“And now I shall make a bunny rabbit appear in my hat,” the magician boasted. He waved his hat around. “Abracadabra, hocus-pocus!” A fluffball fell from his hat.

My classmate, Bubba, hooted from his seat to my left. “That’s not a rabbit. It’s got no long ears.”

I still remember how offended I was. “Who cares if he’s not a rabbit?” I yelled. “He’s magical anyways!”

“Magic’s stupid. It’s all fake,” Bubba replied. He folded his arms across his chest and sneered. “You only believe in it ‘cause you’re a girl.”

Our teacher shushed us and faced the magician onstage.

My face felt red and I kicked my feet. “Magic is so real,” I yelled. “And that’s a magic animal, whether you know it or not.”

“Polly!” Mrs. Thurston glowered at me. “Pay attention.”

I huffed and faced forward.

The magician chuckled a little. “For my last act, I’ll need someone to be my special apprentice. This person will—” All of our hands went up, and his voice was drowned out by a chorus of pick-me-pick-me-pick-me-pick-mememememe.

The magician’s eyes landed on me, and I dared to hope I’d get picked. But then his gaze left me, and I felt invisible. “How about you, son?”

My arm fell in heavy defeat as my classmates cheered on Bubba.

Bubba raced onstage to join the magician. Jealousy ate its way through my heart in a way that hurt from the inside out.

“Starburst here needs someone to care for him over the weekend,” the magician said. He placed the animal into a small cage. “How would you like the honor?”

Bubba recoiled. “I ain’t taking care of that furry freakshow. No, thank you.” He jumped off the stage and took his seat.

My hand shot up before anyone else in our class could react. This time, the magician chose me. I jumped up and joined him onstage, elated. He handed me some pet food and told me to make sure Starburst had water to drink. “There’s just one more important thing,” the magician added. “Starburst is on a strict diet. Under no circumstance may you feed him… any of these Skittles!” He waved his hand, and a bag of Skittles candy appeared. He handed it to me. “These candies are for you alone. Understand?”

“Yes. Gee, thanks!” I pocketed the Skittles, set down the pet food, and slid my finger into Starburst’s cage. He chirped and nibbled on my finger. I couldn’t tell which sort of animal he was—a guinea pig, a hamster? But it was love.

*****

At dinner that night, Uncle Moe belched. It was nasty.

“Gross!” I squealed.

“Polly,” my mom snapped. “If you can’t be nice to Uncle Moe, then you can go to your room.”

He wasn’t my uncle, but I refused to call him Dad, or even Stepdad. The compromise became “Uncle Moe”.

I stormed upstairs, deciding I’d spend time in my room with Starburst. He was in his cage, eyeing my unopened bag of Skittles.

“Don’t get any ideas, Starburst,” I told him. “The magician said you’re on a strict diet. No Skittles for you.”

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp! He stood on his hind legs and pointed at the candy bag.

I considered it, but then shook my head. “Un-huh,” I said. “No candy for you. I promised. Eat your pet food. It looks yummy.”

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp! He was about a foot tall and seemed way too big for his cage. Maybe I could let him out of the cage to play for a while. As soon as I freed him, he scampered over to the bag of Skittles and hurled his clawed body around it in a bearhug.

“Starburst!” I scolded. “Get off the candy.” I grabbed him, and he immediately released his hold on the bag. Back into his cage he went, and I checked the latch. “Bad Starburst.” I waved a finger at him. “Cut that out.”

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp! He motioned toward the candy.

I picked up the bag of Skittles and tore it open. Eating a handful, I murmured, “Mmm. Yummy.”

Starburst threw a fit, screeching and pulling at his hair and jumping up and down. His poor head kept hitting the top of the cage.

“Well,” I decided, “I guess one piece wouldn’t hurt.” I selected a red one and slid it into his cage, careful to set down the bag of candy way out of his reach.

I sighed. I had some homework to do, so I figured I’d better get to work. I walked toward my desk.

“Thank you for the candy, love. I was so afraid you’d never feed me and that I should perish from hunger, old and alone and miserable. Might I have another soon? Perhaps an orange one?”

I froze. Starburst and his cage were behind me. I slowly turned around. He grinned and gestured to the bag of candy.

I gasped. “What?”

“Yes, another candy would be delightful, dear heart. Please give me another?”

I stared at him, dumbstruck. “You really are magic!”

“Of course, and allow me to prove it. Which superhuman power would you like?”

“I dunno. I… I guess I wanna be invisible!” I said.

He snapped his claws. “Look in the mirror, love. You aren’t there.”

I walked over to my full-length mirror. Starburst was right. There was no reflection of me. I could still see my body beneath me, just not in the mirror.

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!

I turned to look at Starburst. Why was he chirping again? He gestured wildly toward the candy, so I selected an orange Skittle and gave it to him. He chomped on it with his pointy teeth. “Thank you, love. My voice has returned. Now, be a good lassie and go enjoy being invisible.”

“But what if I—”

“You’ll figure it out. Off you go.” He waved toward the door.

Okay. I left my room and wandered downstairs, taking soft steps to hide my presence. Mom and Uncle Moe were still eating dinner. They didn’t react as I entered the kitchen.

“It’s been hard on her,” Mom explained. “Her dad pretty much abandoned her.”

I froze.

“Yeah, but why does she see me as the enemy?” Uncle Moe said. “She acts like I’m the bad guy.”

I frowned.

“I don’t know,” Mom said. “She’s probably afraid you’ll leave her, too.”

I can’t move. I can’t breathe. How could Mom know I feel that way? Like Uncle Moe was going to leave us anytime, because that’s what daddies do? A tear dripped down my cheek.

“I wish I could get her to trust me,” Uncle Moe said. “I don’t like fighting with her all the time.”

A feeling of guilt heavy as a winter blanket weighted itself onto me. I turned and went back upstairs, walking as quietly as possible. I shut my bedroom door behind me.

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!

I selected a yellow Skittle from the bag and slid it into Starburst’s cage. He chomped down on it.

“Did you enjoy invisibility, love?” Starburst asked. He waved a clawed paw at me, and my reflection returned in the mirror.

“No.” I burst into tears.

“Oh my, such an emotional display.” He clung to the front of his cage. “What could be the matter?”

I glowered at Starburst. “I don’t like Uncle Moe. He’s a stinky poopy-head.”

“Oh, heavens above,” Starburst replied, “so am I. And you’ve been feeding me Skittles, of all things. What were you thinking? Phew!” He waved his claws in front of his face. Rainbow gas puffed up from his behind. “Sorry. He who dealt it smelt it, as they say.”

“Ew!” I clutched my nose. “That’s disgusting! No more candy for you, Starburst. Gross.”

“Fair enough, but I become quite flatulent when I’m not fed.” He farted again, loud and obnoxious, and produced more rainbow gas. “Did you know that humans are the only nonmagical animals who have butt cheeks with which to audibly fart? Oh, other animals can fart, but they can’t be heard. But within my magical species, we have been bred with butt cheeks to rival any human’s.” He kept farting. It sounded like an old-fashioned pencil sharpener destroying a pencil.

“Ohhh! You stink!”

“Yes, I do stink, and so does Uncle Moe. But tell me, child, when was the last time you smelled your dad?”

I glowered. “Mind your own business, Fart-burst.”

*****

I woke in the middle of the night after a nightmare about a scary magician. Starburst was awake, and he stood watching me from inside his cage. Something felt wrong, and then I realized that I could hear crying down the hall.

“Make me invisible again,” I whispered.

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!

“Oh. Okay. Hold on.” I climbed out of bed and found the candy. This time, I fed Starburst a green one.

“Thank you, love,” he said, after chomping it up. He waved his claws at me, and my mirror reflection vanished.

I opened my door and tiptoed over the carpeted floor. I’d heard Mommy crying a lot lately. Now I could find out why she’d been sad.

But when I reached the living room, I saw that the crier was Uncle Moe. He was sitting on the sofa in his flannel pyjamas, sobbing his eyes out. I walked closer to him but didn’t know what to do. Mommy showed up, got a sad look on her face, and sat next to him on the sofa. She wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said.

“They’re never coming back,” he sobbed. “Damn that driver and his cellphone.” Saliva pooled in his mouth. “Texting while driving should be outlawed.”

“I know.” Mommy held him and rocked him back and forth.

I returned to my room, closing my door behind me. Starburst waved a claw, and my reflection returned.

“Did you enjoy being invisible, love?”

“He never told me,” I wailed. “Who was he talking about?”

“His family—his wife and daughter. They were killed five years ago,” Starburst said.

I wiped tears off my face. “How’d you know about it?”

“I’m enchanted, my lady. I’ve been bred by a long line of magicians who’ve been careful to preserve my magical lineage—and my butt cheeks—from one generation to the next.”

“I want to be a magician.” I plopped onto my bed and peered at Starburst.

“And you shall be, love. You shall be.” He farted turquoise.

It stank.

*****

I woke on Saturday morning to the dawning awareness that yesterday couldn’t have been real. I played it over in my mind before opening my eyes. Then I took a peek, and sure enough, there was a caged animal in my room.

Starburst was sound asleep. I rapped on his cage, but he kept snoring and farting in stinky rainbow puffs. Gross.

My mom opened my door. “Good, you’re up. Hurry and get dressed. You’re going to the park with Uncle Moe. And don’t give me any lip. Just give it a chance, okay?” She grimaced and frowned at Starburst but didn’t comment on the stench.

*****

As Uncle Moe drove, I gazed out the window. He parked his truck, and I climbed out.

“Which way do you want to walk?” he asked.

I shrugged and pouted. Then, relenting a bit, I pointed to my right.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s go.”

The oval walking path was crowded, and we kept having to dodge joggers. “So, Polly,” Uncle Moe said, “I just wanted to rap to you about things. There have been a lot of changes. Is there anything I can do to help you adjust?”

Hmm… sounded like adult-speak to my suspicious ears. “Do you believe in magic?” I asked.

My question seemed to startle him. “Of course. Do you?”

I nodded. “Starburst’s descended from a long line of magical animals.”

“That’s fun,” Uncle Moe said. He forced a grin. “What sort of magical stuff can he do?”

I shrugged. “He farts rainbows. And he’s made me invisible a few times.”

He squinted at me in the bright sunshine. “Do you feel invisible?”

“Sometimes,” I admitted. I stopped walking and pointed to a nearby basketball game. “See that man with the number thirty-three shirt? That’s my dad.”

“Seriously?” Uncle Moe followed my gaze. “Oh my gosh, that is Danny. I’m sorry, Polly. I had no idea he’d be here.”

I didn’t ask how he knew my dad’s name. I shrugged. “Who cares? Mom said he doesn’t see the world around him. He won’t even know we’re here.”

Uncle Moe shot me a look of disbelief, but we kept walking, and sure enough, my dad didn’t see us.

“Sometimes I wish he’d died years ago,” I tell Uncle Moe. “Then he wouldn’t have left me on purpose, but on accident.”

“That hurts too, though.” He started to sniffle.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

I took his hand and pulled him along. “Look, I guess I won’t leave you, okay?” I said. “Either on purpose or accident. Not if you stay with me.” I smiled at him. He smiled back.

*****

When we got home, I was excited to see Starburst again. I raced to my room. He was awake now and gesturing to my candies. This time, I slid a purple one into his cage.

His ears and tail twitched. “Ah, you’ve fed me the last color,” he said. “This is the final time I’ll be able to speak to you, love.”

“But I have more candy!” I insisted.

“We shan’t waste our time arguing.” He waved a claw at me. “You’ve passed the apprenticeship exam, and you may indeed become a magician when you grow up.”

“Yay!” I jumped up and down.

Starburst’s eyes twinkled. “Once you’re of age, the right people will find you. In the meantime, I trust you’ll ensure that Bubba will care for me next weekend,” he said.

I nodded. “Is he going to become a magician too?”

Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp? Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!

I fought off tears. “Oh, Starburst, come back! Talk to me again!”

But he’d lost his voice.

*****

I shake the long-ago memories from my head and focus on the here and now. After I finish up this performance, my husband, Bubba, and I are going to have dinner with my parents.

“I need an apprentice,” I tell the audience. “It has to be someone special.” Everyone’s hands shoot up. I choose Timothy, a little boy who needs some extra confidence.

I give Timothy strict instructions about Molasses’ care as he reaches through the cage to pet Molasses. “Can I be a magician when I grow up?” he asks. He’s missing a tooth.

“You bet,” I say. “The first thing to do is take care of Molasses. Remember, he’s on a strict diet, so don’t feed him any… of these Skittles!” I wave my hand and manifest a bag of candy.

“Gee, thanks!” Timothy beams. “I won’t.”

I wink at Molasses, who’s descended from a long line of magical animals. He winks back.

 

 

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