Thursday, December 20, 2007

Door Number One

I sat in on a speech therapy session the other day. The therapist was working on multi-syllabic words and prepositions with a 10-year-old girl with Down's syndrome. The therapist played flashlight games and discovery games, dice games and glue-the-good-witch-to-the-construction-paper games. She also dispensed the following life lessons:

1) "Don't spit. You're a girl. Girls don't spit."

2) "Life is about making good choices."

The therapist's goal was short-term: get the ten-year-old to sit down, stop spitting, and start talking about who's behind (or under, or on top of) whom. But her rhetoric was long-term. Present tense, declarative, continuous: girls don't spit. Life is about making good choices. Her words struck me, at first, as slightly odd, eliciting the same gently-tingling wrongness as banging your funny bone on the coffee table. But the longer I sat there listening to locater phrases, the stranger her words seemed. Never mind speech therapy: the therapist had just handed her client the keys to womanly existence.

I've been looking for the keys to womanly existence for a while now, so imagine how thrilled I was to have them handed to me, looped neatly on a keyring, in the course of a single one-hour therapy session! I am not to spit, because girls don't. Do boys? The implication would seem to be yes, although it's not spelled out. OK, so boys spit and girls don't. Do girls have other options, or must we differentially, when confronted with the need to let fly, hold it in? Does femaleness correspond to restraint?

And making good choices. I'd been wondering about that. I mean, I've wasted so many hours trying to decide if I should be making bad choices! Should I head down to the Indy East Motel ($29.50; nightly police runs) after polishing off my Monster Thickburger? Ought I to depants civil servants? Must I not devote my evenings -and mornings, and afternoons- to interactive World of Warcraft?

These are the questions that haunt me in the smallest hours of the morning when the moon is low and the wind is high and the trains are howling. This is why I can't sleep; this is what keeps me up and cold and scared; this is what quakes in the pit of my stomach.

The therapist was, I should tell you, an excellent therapist. She was kind, calm, and quick on her feet: almost certainly better than I'll ever be. But still, tomorrow, I'm going to spit. Because girls don't. And life is about making good choices.

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