A blank expression, a blank screen, “The Computer Won’t Wauk”
“The computer won’t wauk.”
The teen-aged girl, whom her mother affectionately refers to as “The Quirky One” among her online friends, led with this. Years of school provided speech therapy had almost eradicated her “speech impairment” — so much so that sometimes she possessed an aristocratic lilt, sounding almost British. Other times, that pesky and slightly out of reach interior “r” sound, reportedly often the last of the identified “impairments” to be corrected, makes a surprise appearance. When it does, suddenly this teen girl, a young woman in training who wears women’s size thirteen shoes, sounds just like a little girl.
The computer won’t wauk.
She simply stared at her mom, who had just returned from getting coffee and who was planning to sit and just read. The other kids were on a visit with their dad, The Quirky One had missed this visit in order to attend to her cat sitting job, for which she was paid well . The Quirky One had been misdiagnosed for years — was it depression? Was it some kind of learning disability we can’t identify? It’s not dyslexia? No? Her reading is behind yet her comprehension is very high. She’s frustrated with the books she can read easily so she started writing her own, or at least she starts to, along with short stories and poems. But something is, has been, wrong — or just — off.
Now, finally there was a diagnosis that made sense, The Quirky One is on the Autism Spectrum –sounds so pretty in the abstract — like the diagnosis should come with a colorful painting or butterflies — but it’s so, so complicated. This diagnosis explained why the girl would often announce distressing news in the same manner that another child would simply state his or her age. “She does not read social cues,” is how it is described. But to an outsider it looks like laziness or limited mental capacity or lack of empathy. It’s none of those. It’s just the way she is, Roxanne thought, but with the right therapy, thank goodness, she’s gotten so much better — and happier.
Roxanne had learned to expect these dead-pan announcements over the years. Now that she understood the cause of these and other odd behaviors, she was learning how to deal with it.
The computer won’t wauk.
Ahh, Roxanne thought. This explains why The Quirky One had perched in front of the desktop watching Anime when she returned from feeding the cats. The laptop was out of commission. The Quirky One just stared at her mother, expressionless, waiting for a response. Defeated, Roxanne forgot about her coffee and postponed her reading plans. She walked over to the laptop and turned it off. Then, after waiting the required 30 seconds, she turned it back on, practicing the well-worn ritual of the computer-repair-challenged. She was met only with a blank, black screen. She clicked random keys: Enter, Esc, Space Bar, and Enter again. Then she sighed, turned the useless device off again, closed it and walked away, without saying a word, except in her head, “I can’t deal with this now.”
The laptop was only three months old. School would resume in just over a month and a half.
Don’t get upset now. Just read your book, she told herself.
So Roxanne did what she had planned to do before The Quirky One announced that the recent $700 purchase had failed them. She would read, a novel.
Roxanne hadn’t been reading much in recent months, at least not novels, but she’d found a book that did what books are supposed to do — make her forget everything else. Previously she’d been nursing a popular comic novel that everyone else seemed to love, but she couldn’t quite finish. Then the realization, actually a reminder, “I’m not a student. I don’t have to finish it if I don’t want to.” So when buying books for the kids, Roxanne decided, not without the requisite guilt for spending $14.99 on herself, to buy a book.
It did help her forget. Wasn’t it just four days ago when one of the other kids, The Anxious One, having just been told to carry her phone in a purse or wallet at the pool, dropped said eighteen day old phone, shattering the screen?
It was four days after the return date, insurance doesn’t cover physical damage to the phone. And now . . .
The computer won’t wauk.
It still echoed in her mind. What now? A visit to the computer store? A diagnostic test that will cost $80 in order to decide what it will actually cost to fix the computer? And the phone?
Roxanne couldn’t help it, but thoughts of her ex-husband and his new family crept into her mind. His new kids are little and presumably cute and do not require computers or phones . . . yet. Oh, his time will come, if this marriage lasts. But then again if this marriage lasts he won’t be doing it alone the second time around. Then Roxanne had thoughts of her children as babies, remembering the smiles, the hysterical cries and the smiles again a few minutes later. Back then, if their toys broke, it didn’t matter. She could hide them, replace them, or distract the child with another shiny object or a song. The good old days were filled with bodily fluid control and clean up, tantrums and no sleep whatsoever. The good old days, when providing for and educating a child did not require a $700 purchase, though she knew she’d spent much more than that in diapers alone. But the diapers did what they were supposed to do, and she didn’t have to spend $700 at one time– only to have them fail. The good old days — when she could teach the alphabet by singing it, could provide a hug, a song, a breast or two, and simply hold her babies, shifting weight from one foot to the other.
Back then, Roxanne thought, I could do what they needed, and they would smile back. Though the Quirky One never smiled as much as her twin, Roxanne remembered. She often seemed like she was deep in thought. Still, she could make them all smile. She taught them things. They were so cute and everybody said so. “Oh they’re still cute now,” Roxanne thought, “but that’s frankly a little scary in a teen girl.”
“Back then, they needed me. Now, they still need me, just as much, but they also need a $700 computer they treat like a recyclable magazine and they need phones with two-year contracts that they carry like a balls when running through a parking lot. And they complain that their friends all have smart phones? I don’t think so. Not happening.”
With these thoughts running through her mind, the worries, the fears, frustration and jealousy . . . the tears almost came, right behind the bitterness.
But instead of crying, instead of attempting to fix the computer or finding someone who could, instead of interrogating The Quirky One on who and how the computer had last been used, Roxanne grabbed her book and sat down, outside. The Quirky One hates the outdoors, or more precisely, she hates bugs and sun and heat and fresh air, to name a few. Consequently, the outdoors is where Roxanne knew she could be alone. The Quirky One still had use of the desktop computer, after all.
Roxanne opened her book — an actual book that required no battery life, no “on” button, and no screen. The book would work.
So Roxanne read . . . and actually forgot everything for a little while. The book had worked. The tears retreated, the bitterness dried up.
After a bit Roxanne went inside and wrote . . .
in longhand . . .
because . . .
“The computer won’t wauk.”
Just Me With . . . a story. Not sure why I wrote this in the third person, except that I’m reading in the third person.
I’m currently reading , “Admission” by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Coincidentally, after I wrote the above, I got to a point in the book where a secondary character said the following:
When you’re a single mom, and everybody talks about how hard it must be, what they mean is the little-kid stuff. Getting up in the middle of the night all the time because there’s no one else to do it, or having to take on all the doctors’ appointments and parent-teacher conferences yourself. But I’m telling you, that was nothing. This teenager stuff is hard. This is, like, crazy hard.
Admission, Copyright 2009 by Jean Hanff Korelitz
It was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.