A story of alienation, family, and recognition

Meine Zunge Versagt

A short story of alienation.


I will never forget the first time I saw him.

I was changing sullied sheets, keeping my head down to avoid eye contact with the 54-year-old culprit. They were yellow and pungent, and the vaseline under my nose did little to prevent the stench from creeping into the hollow cavities tunneling through my head. The patient was pallid and cold, but sweat dripped down his temples in little streams reminding me of the Seine. My papa used to take me there when we visited Paris.

I missed my papa.

I dropped the sheets into a bag and dropped the bag into a chute, then contemplated jumping in myself. I hated the job. I hated pitying people who themselves could not understand pitty, hated thinking of the word I used to describe the patients and the word I used to describe myself.

Crazy, truly, could mean anything: bizarre, like an unexpected event; enthusiastic, like how I used to feel about my childhood love; or the crazy I found myself choking on in the morning when I tried to clean my teeth and my hands and my conscience. I had seen crazy, when mama used to dig through the rows and rows of shoes at Costco to find a color she knew they did not carry, when my sister jumped out of my moving car at a sudden memory of my Papa, red and shaking; when I stared into the mirror, combing my hair back and wondering if perhaps I felt guilty because I inherited the same mania.

My Papa worked in the sciences, before he and mama moved here, traded in the flag of red, black, and yellow for stars and stripes and disappointment. My papa had a difficult time finding a job to continue his work, so he stayed home with my sister and me as my mother learned English and learned to clean. Mama liked to clean because it distracted her from the anger that randomly surfaced. Papa sat on the couch and read the newest journals from Gesellschaft für Ökologi. He would drink while my sister raided our pantry for a makeshift meal. I used to think Papa didn't like my sister and me; now, I wonder if he blamed us for the sudden halt in his work.

Papa used to talk about people as if they were animals.

"What do you think happens here, girl?" He asked me once when I told him my frustration with classmates who failed to understand my German. "You must adapt yourself or find yourself extinct. There is selective pressure, there is a mutation, and you become a completely different species." I did not like the idea of changing my tongue. Now, I forgot what my tongue felt like before.

"The Competitive Exclusion Principle states two species cannot occupy the same niche; the realized niche of the least adapted must narrow, or the better will outcompete it," he had said after I told him Cindy Kingsley started to wear her hair like mine and steal my friends. My mama translated, telling me I could adapt to outcompete Cindy or continue to wear my hair the same and find new friends. I told Papa he was crazy. Mama told me he was a genius.

As I got older, Papa started to forget things. He forgot my sister first, forgot the handprints he'd left on her skin. My sister, however, did not.

He forgot me next, although I could tell he missed our conversations about Social Darwinism and economic mobility and Twinkies.

It took him the longest to forget my mama. I believed he held on to her the tightest, perhaps because she could translate his wild musings and biological metaphors into lessons about the human experience. I think it became too hard for him, though, because the day he failed to recognize her, his face looked less twisted, less pained. His breathing slowed.

That night, on a bed next to a nightstand next to an empty bottle of Aspirin, my mother's stopped.

I looked up from the chute, deciding not to jump. And I saw him.

He sat cross-legged on the tile floor in the middle of the hall. He had a black marker in between is thumb and index finger, and he chewed the lid absentmindedly. I asked him where he was supposed to be, and other than a glance in my direction, I received no response.

"Sir," I said, " you need to get up now, okay? We must take you back to your room, or you'll miss today's round."

"Medication," he scoffed. "I don't need medication. Stabilizing selection, dear girl."

He returned to the pen between his fingers and began to write on the wall. I began to walk toward him, to take the pen away but decided instead to find his chart.

"Girl, they think I am crazy. They think the same. They progress in one direction, let their minds become the same. All the same. They pick off the extremes, the extremes of thought, the extremes of beauty, the extremes of belief. Stabilizing selection, my dear girl. They become the same."

I did not need mama to translate. Neither did he.

I looked at the wall in front of him. There was nothing. So I drew a long, straight line.

He told me he could not speak.

I thought of my tongue.

I believed him.

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8 Types Of People Fetuses Grow Into That 'Pro-Lifers' Don't Give 2.5 Shits About

It is easy to fight for the life of someone who isn't born, and then forget that you wanted them to be alive when you decide to hate their existence.


For those in support of the #AbortionBans happening all over the United States, please remember that the unborn will not always be a fetus — he or she may grow up to be just another person whose existence you don't support.

The fetus may grow up to be transgender — they may wear clothes you deem "not for them" and identify in a way you don't agree with, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them a mentally unstable perv for trying to use the bathroom.

The fetus may grow up to be gay — they may find happiness and love in the arms of someone of the same gender, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them "vile" and shield your children's eyes when they kiss their partner.

The fetus may grow up and go to school — to get shot by someone carrying a gun they should have never been able to acquire, and their life will mean nothing to you when your right to bear arms is on the line.

The fetus may be black — they may wear baggy pants and "look like a thug", and their life will mean nothing to you when you defend the police officer who had no reason to shoot.

The fetus may grow up to be a criminal — he might live on death row for a heinous crime, and his life will mean nothing to you when you fight for the use of lethal injection to end it.

The fetus may end up poor — living off of a minimum wage job and food stamps to survive, and their life will mean nothing to you when they ask for assistance and you call them a "freeloader" and refuse.

The fetus may end up addicted to drugs — an experimentation gone wrong that has led to a lifetime of getting high and their life will mean nothing to you when you see a report that they OD'd and you make a fuss about the availability of Narcan.

The fetus may one day need an abortion — from trauma or simply not being ready, and her life will mean nothing to you as you wave "murderer" and "God hates you" signs as she walks into the office for the procedure.

* * *

Do not tell me that you are pro-life when all of the above people could lose their lives in any way OUTSIDE of abortion and you wouldn't give 2.5 shits.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is gay or trans, you will berate them for who they are or not support them for who they love.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is poor or addicted, you will refuse the help they desperately need or consider their death a betterment of society.

You fight for the baby to be born, but when the used-to-be-classroom-of-fetuses is shot, you care more about your access to firearms than their lives.

It is easy to pretend you care about someone before they are even born, and easy to forget their birth was something you fought for when they are anything other than what you consider an ideal person.

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Moms Teach Us What It Means To Have A Friend In The Valley

The closest thing we have to God and God's sacrifice and forsakenness of his son in Jesus Christ are our mothers in those moments, and sometimes the femininity in Christianity is ignored and overlooked, but after all, it was women who first found the biggest miracle in the world: the resurrection.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

This Mother's Day is weird, and it feels different from the rest. It's the first one I'm celebrating with faith as my stronghold, and it's the first one I'm celebrating with my mother in a couple of years where I'll actually be within her presence. This year was one in which almost every part of my values system and identity were tested in a manner I didn't think possible before, and to be with the core of the person who made that identity in the first place is a valuable experience.

Being with my mom this Mother's Day, for the first time in four years, teaches me that the suffering I travailed in my valley of the shadow of death, cited in Psalms 23, wasn't unnatural, wasn't wrong, but the plan for God. God guided me and led me the entire time. Phrases from Psalms 23:1 and Psalms 23:4 are perhaps the most famous in Biblical literature: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" and "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." But often, Psalms 23 is misinterpreted as a verse for how to numb pain and escape from the valley in a misguided interpretation of theology. No, Psalms 23 might not make life better, but it may change us in how we confront life.

I was fortunate in having a good mother, a great one, and in my opinion the best in the world. But it's important, at the same time, to recognize that Mother's Day is a day of pain and anguish for a lot of people. Some people, on Mother's Day, are reminded of traumas, deaths, or absences that make them walk through the valley. But I can only speak to my experiences in realizing I'm the luckiest person in the world, and I hope that everyone in this world has found a maternal figure that has fulfilled that obligation in a manner their mothers possibly couldn't.

I watched a sermon by Margaret Reynolds of Grace Midtown, in which she spread the message that the joy of Psalms is not in withdrawing and escaping from the valley, but confronting it full-force with strength. And what gives us that strength is the "with-ness" of God and God's gifts of unconditional love, particularly our mothers when they are with us through our storms and struggles. The true story of what defines and charts our lives is not when we try to escape the valley, but when we are deep in the valley, wondering whether God truly has given up on us.

When we are suffering, the important thing is that our mothers are also suffering in anguish for us, as much, if not even more than we are. The closest thing we have to God and God's sacrifice and forsakenness of his son in Jesus Christ are our mothers in those moments, and sometimes the femininity in Christianity is ignored and overlooked, but after all, it was women who first found the biggest miracle in the world: the resurrection.

In Allison Woodard's moving poem, "God Our Mother," she states that "to be a Mother is to suffer." I know of this firsthand, that the suffering of my mother was profound in acting upon me and my brother's measure -- the multiple jobs and sleepless nights she endured to make sure we had food on our plates were things we always neglected and underappreciated.

"To be a mother is to...[be] subjected to indignities for the sake of new life," and although this connection may be obvious, I wonder what my mother could have been or done in her life, independently, and could have been had it not been for how much she had to take care of myself and my brother. She is the one who told the world and told our family, in response to the world's primal hunger, "this is my body, take and eat," because the cruelty of the world ate at her body and all she did in response was suffer and endure it.

"To be a Mother is to...offer the...assurances of 'I'm here,'" and if I didn't know you were here and always here for me this whole time, I don't know where I'd be. I don't think I would be alive, and I don't think my brother would be either, so thank you so much for everything you did for us. "To be a mother...[is to] long for reconciliation and brotherly love," and I wish your frustrations from all those years of us getting into spats and fights were worth it because we have a bond that is unshakable now.

And to be a mother, mom, for you, is to "gather all parties...and to whisper in their ears/ that they are Beloved," because that's what you've always told me in my times of desperation and need. And to be a mother is to be "vulnerable --/ To be misunderstood,/ Rallied against,/ Blamed," and that's what you have always been to me and to us, when we didn't give you the benefit of the doubt on minor things like dishes or the right way to merge onto a highway. You were the just the target for "the angst [we] feel/ over [our] own existence/ in this perplexing universe."

And to be a mother "is to be an artist/ A keeper of memories past." In the past, mom, I had frustrations over how many photos you would keep and hoard of me and Raymond, of seemingly terrible and unuseful photos of us framed on the doors. You are "a Mender of broken creations/ And Comforter of the distraught children." You are the mender and the comforter of my struggles and my life, whether I realize it or not, and to that I pray for your continued good health and peace.

You are a "Bestower of names,/ Influencer of identities;/ Life giver/ Life shaper,/ Empath,/ Healer,/ and/ Original Love," and in what I'm struggling through right now, mom, you are what has taught me what it means to have a friend through the valley.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

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