Authors: V. C. Andrews
Shooting Stars #2
Copyright (c) 2001
When I was a little more than six years old, my first-grade teacher. Mrs. Waite, pulled me aside after school to tell me that if I didn't talk, if I didn't answer questions in class, and if I continued to behave like a mute, all the thoughts in my head that should have been spoken would eventually expand, explode and split my head apart.
"Just like an egg!
"There's a warehouse in your brain for storing thoughts, but there's just so much room in there," she explained. "You've got to let more thoughts out and the only way to do that is to speak. Do you understand me, Ice?" she asked.
Mrs. Waite always grimaced when she pronounced my name and spoke through clenched teeth as if she hated it and as if simply pronouncing it made her teeth chatter with the chill.
During the one and only parent-teacher conference Mama attended when I was in grade school. Mrs. Waite questioned the wisdom of naming me Ice. I was sitting there in my little desk and chair with my hands clasped (as they were supposed to be every morning when our day began) listening to her talk about me as if I was listening to her talk about someone else. It embarrassed me. so I turned my attention to a sparrow pacing impatiently back and forth on the window ledge.
I really was more interested in the sparrow. I imagined it being bothered by our presence and wondering why human beings were here making human noises, interrupting her private singing rehearsal.
"It's more of a nickname than a name." Mrs, Waite said aggressively. "Doesn't she have another name, a real name?"
"That is her real name." Mama turned her lips in when she spoke. She did that whenever she was very angry. Her ebony eves practically glowed with rage.
It was enough to intimidate my petite teacher who wasn't much bigger than some of her students. She was barely five feet tall with childlike features and very slim. She cowered back in her chair and glanced at me and then at Mama who kept her eyes fixed on her as if deciding whether or not she would lean forward and slap her on the side of the head.
"What do you mean by asking me if my daughter has a real name?"
"Well. I... just... wondered," she stuttered, instantly backpedaling, "I mean, she gets teased a great deal by the other students. I thought if we could do something about it now, she would avoid any of that as she grows up. You know how cruel other children can be. Mrs. Goodman.'
"She'll take care of herself just fine." Mama replied, twisted her lips, nodded at me and then stood up. 'Is that it?"
"Oh no," Mrs. Waite cried. "no. Please don't leave just yet," she pleaded.
Mama took a deep breath, lifting her very feminine shoulders and firm breasts. She was proud of her beautiful figure and wouldn't wear a bra even to a school conference. Mama had me when she was only eighteen, and despite her smoking and drinking, she could still pass for a high-school senior. Her complexion was as smooth as the color of a fresh coffee bean. Daddy, who was a big, burly man with a stark black mustache that began to show some gray hairs before he was even thirty, was often teased about having a child bride or bringing his daughter around. Mama loved that. In fact. Daddy would occasionally accuse her of deliberately dressing and acting like a teenager just so it would happen. Mama would spin around on him and vent her outrage, the words flung at him so fast and sharply, they were like a handful of rocks.
"What are you accusing me of. Cameron Goodman? Huh? What are you saying about me? You saying I'm some sort of street girl? Huh? Well? What?"
Daddy would throw up his hands, shake his head and step back. "You do what you want," he'd say.
"And what are you looking at me like that for?" she would ask me while I stood in the corner watching them argue. I didn't say anything. I stared at her and then went back to whatever I was doing.
Their arguments weren't pleasant to hear or to watch, but they weren't yet having the all-out, slambang quarrels they would have when I was older. That was to come. It loomed in the shadows and corners of our Philadelphia apartment like bats sleeping, waiting to be nudged. disturbed. Eventually, they circled us on an almost daily basis, eager to swoop in at the slightest sign of dissension.
"What else do you want me to know about my daughter? She sass you?" Mama asked Mrs. Waite.
"Oh no. Mrs. Goodman. I couldn't ask for a more polite child."
Mrs. Waite looked at me and leaned toward my mother as if she was going to whisper, only she didn't. She wanted me to hear it all.
"It's nice to have a shy girl these days. So many of the youngsters lack decorum."
"What's that?" Mama asked with narrow eyes of suspicion.
"Good behavior, respect for their elders. Too many of them are loud and undisciplined."
"Don't I know," Mama said bobbing her head. "Especially that Edith Merton. I tell Ice to keep away from her. She can only learn bad habits from a girl like that. I know she smokes. Right, Ice?"
"And she's only what? Nine? Huh?"
I gazed at the two of them. Mama knew how old Edith Merton was.
"What I was starting to say. Mrs. Goodman, is it's nice that Ice is a well-behaved girl, but she's too introverted."
"She's reluctant to communicate, to express herself. It worries me and I've told her so many times, so this isn't a tale told out of school," Mrs. Waite said looking at me.
"Tale told out of school? We're in school," Mama pointed out and laughed. "Ain't that right. Ice?" She winked at me. "So what is it you want me to do. Mrs. Waite?I'm not following you here."
"If she continues to be so reluctant to talk, to express herself, we'll have to have her tested by the school psychologist," Mrs. Waite warned, "Not that it's a bad thing to have that done," she quickly added, "Because we've got to be concerned."
"Psychologist?" Mama pulled the corner of her lips in, puffing out her cheeks. "You saying
something's wrong with her mind?"
"Something is keeping her all locked up inside." Mrs. Waite insisted. "The technical term for her problem is elective mutism."
"Elective?" She crrimaced with confusion. "You mean like voting?"
"Precisely. She's choosing to be this way."
Mama raised her eyebrows. She kept them trimmed pencil thin, tweezing them almost daily because she believed the eyebrows were the most important facial feature. It was practically a religious ritual for her. She'd light incense on her vanity table and begin, humming or listening to her New Age music because the girl down at the beauty shop told her it took stress lines out of your face. Mama stared at her image in the glass and checked every inch of herself. Her gilded- framed oval mirror was her altar.
"She's choosing to be a mute? How do you know that?"
"Because she has no physical disability or language problems.
other words. no clear reason for being like she is."
"So why do you want her to see that psychosomething?"
"To evaluate her more and see if we can help her overcome whatever it is that keeps her so closed up." Carefully, now close to a real whisper. Mrs. Waite asked. "How is she at home?"
"She's a good girl there. too," Mama said, looking at me. "She knows she better be," she added filling her voice with threat. It was like blowing air into a balloon and then letting it out. She shook her head. "Election mute. That girl talks when she wants and she certainly doesn't keep her mouth shut when it's time to sing. She's the best singer in the children's church choir, you know? The minister told me so himself about a thousand times."
"No," Mrs Waite said, her eyes wide with surprise. "Really?" She looked at me as if she had just realized
was there. She sings?"
"The minister calls her Angel Voice. She takes after my side." Mama said proudly. "My mama was a church singer, too. Okay," she said standing again, only this time with more determination. Her quick movement sent the sparrow flying from the window ledge.
"Ice," Mama snapped.
I looked up at her.
"You talk more in school. You hear me? Don't make me mad now." I continued to stare up at her.
"Look at the girl. She look afraid? No. She look upset? No. Don't you see. Mrs. Waite? She got ice in her veins. She's as cool as can be. She never cries even when she gets slapped. She didn't cry much when she was a baby either. That's why her name fits her, no matter what you say about it. I gotta go." she added after looking at her watch. "'man." she told me and I rose to follow her, looking back at Mrs. Waite who shook her head and bit down on her lower lip, frustrated. Mine was probably her worst parentteacher conference.
My reluctance to talk didn't affect my schoolwork. I wasn't a bad student. I did well on all the written work assigned and on all our tests. When I had to recite something,
did it reluctantly, but at least I did it, even though I did only what was required and spoke so softly it was nearly impossible to hear me. Mrs. Waite often complained that I never raised my hand to ask a question. If I had to go to the bathroom. I just got up and went for the bathroom pass.
"You should ask first," Mrs. Waite said. She wanted to hear me speak so much, she tried
forbidding me to take the pass without asking and she soon saw that I would endure the pain of holding it in more than the pain of speaking. When she saw the agony in my eyes and saw how I squirmed in my chair, she finally offered the pass and
hurried out to do my thing.
Mrs. Waite was clairvoyant when it came to her predictions about my future in school, however.
never took my classmates long to begin teasing me after the start of a new school year. My reluctance to speak, to read aloud, to recite anything drew quick, curious and critical eyes. My behavior, along with my name, gave my tormentors a warehouse full of tortures to inflict.
don't know how many times
heard someone in one of my classes say. "Her name's Ice because all the words are frozen in her mouth."
was in the seventh grade, a group of zirls decided they would make me talk for as long as a minute. They ganged up on me in the girls' locker room after our teacher went to see about a sick student. They stripped off my gym uniform and held me down dangling my clothes around me and threatening to keep me naked until
spoke for the full minute. Thelma Williams held up her wrist and called off the numbers on her watch.
"Talk," they chanted. "talk."
"Or we'll throw all your clothes and your uniform out the window and push you into the hallway."
cried and struggled, but they were relentless. Finally.
closed my eyes and began to sing an old Negro spiritual:
"I'm gonna sing when the spirit says,
I'm gonna sing when the spirit says, 'Sing!'
I'm gonna sing
when the spirit says, 'Sing,'
And obey the spirit of the Lord!
I'm gonna pray, I'm gonna pray all night, All clay, angels watching me, my Lord.
All night, all day, and obey the spirit of the Lord!
I'm gonna shout, shout, shout
When the spirit says, 'shout, shout, shout.'"
"Shut her up!" Thelma Williams cried. She was in the church choir, too, and couldn't stand that I was singing one of our hymns. It actually frightened her and some of the others, who quickly released my arms and legs and dropped my things at my feet.
"She's nuts. Leave her be," Carla Thompson declared. It satisfied most of them and they left me alone for a while,
As I grew older. I became a little less
introverted. but I was never as talkative as the other girls in my classes. Once, when another one of my teachers remarked about my quiet way, a boy named Ballwin Noble-- who played piano so well he was the pianist for our school chorus-- said. "She's just saving her vocal cords for when it counts the most.'
I looked at him and thought, maybe I was.
Maybe that was something I did naturally.
It just seemed to me that words flew all around me as undistinguished as flies with just a few as graceful and important as birds. I didn't talk just to hear the sound of my own voice or need to talk in order to make myself seem important. Silence was often a two-edged sword. It worked well by keeping me invisible, almost forgotten when and where I wanted to be forgotten. Sometimes merely waiting to speak, holding back, made every word I said seem like a gem. People listened to me more because I spoke less, whether they were my teachers or my friends.
Finally, the second of Mrs. Waite's predictions came true. I was ordered to see the school
psychologist when I was in the ninth grade. Mama and Daddy had to come too. and Mama was asked to come back. She didn't want to, but the principal made her do it. I met with the psychologist a half dozen times afterward. Mostly he asked questions and I either ignored him or gave him as simple an answer as I could.
I was smart enough to realize that the psychologist, Doctor Lisa, had a theory that I was trying hard to remain invisible because my mother didn't want to be a mother and my existence reminded her she was. I had to admit to myself I had stood by quietly many times when I was much younger and wished I was invisible, especially when Mama told new friends I wasn't really her child. She'd lie and say I was her younger sister's child, a sister who was promiscuous, and she was just keeping me for a few years. She hated taking me places with her. and Daddy was often left home watching me while Mama went shopping or out to the movies with some girlfriends.
I could count on my fingers how many times we did anything as a family, especially when I was very little. Whenever Daddy offered to take us out to eat. Mama would complain. "What kind of night out is it with a child, sitting at a table with a high chair in a restaurant and either you or me having to feed her? We'll get a baby-sitter."
Mama was never terribly particular about the baby-sitter either. Any warm body old enough to carry me out in case of fire or use a telephone was considered good enough. I was often left shut up in my room, ignored or put to bed hours before I was supposed to be asleep. Many of the baby-sitters had girlfriends or boyfriends over. When I was only seven, I saw Nona Lester letting her boyfriend fondle her breasts and put his hand up her skirt. They seemed to think it was funny to have me as an audience.
Did all this cause me to be an elective mute?
I never talked about any of it. I kept it to myself, swallowed it down like some bad-tasting medicine and tried to keep it from ever coming back up. Some of it did, of course. Some of it rode in the nightmare train that rattled and rushed through my dreams making me toss and turn and wake in a sweat with a small cry.
Sometimes the cry brought Daddy, if he wasn't working at night.
never brought Mama.
No wonder I thought I hadn't even uttered a sound. What difference did any sound make?