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D ummy

At one point, I looked up at her and saw a flash of fear in her eyes. That was all it took. In that moment, I saw that she was afraid for me, afraid of who I might become, afraid of who I was. She thought I’d never be able to function like a normal person. At that moment, I felt she had completely separated from me emotionally. In an instant, I felt the fear move from her body into mine. This fear was now alive in me. I didn’t want her to ever be that far away from me again, so I willingly took her burden in, as deep as I could. I took on my mother’s fear about me as my own. If she was afraid for me, then I was afraid too. Only now, I felt afraid of who I was. I felt afraid of myself. That moment became a set point for the level of fear I had to maintain in my approach to life. The fear became my inheritance. Later, alone in my own bed, I stared into the darkness, unable to sleep or stop my mind. Worst-case scenarios ran through my head. I imagined being in class with younger kids, watching them learn things I couldn’t learn. I imagined flunking second grade again, being with even younger kids after that. I imagined Miss Terry being my teacher over and over. Maybe I’d never pass second grade. Thoughts of failure, humiliation, and ever-increasing isolation paralyzed me. Why me? What did I do? What’s wrong with me? What’s going to happen to me? Finally, tormented by my thoughts and unable to sleep, I get out of bed. I know my mother doesn’t want to talk about this anymore, but I can’t stop myself. I open my bedroom door and look through the family room. I can see her standing at the kitchen sink washing the dishes. I call out to her, “Mom!” but get no response. So I call louder. “Mom!” Her body freezes. Then she turns off the water, and I hear her low sharp voice. “What?” I can tell she is upset. I try to hold back my tears. “What’s going to happen to me?” my voice quavers. She still doesn’t turn around. “I don’t know,” she says. “What am I going to do when I’m grown up?” “I don’t know.” “Will I be able to have a job?”

Dummy: a Memoir  
Dummy: a Memoir  

David Patten was born in 1954 with a cognitive disorder (later diagnosed in the Autism Spectrum) that profoundly challenged his ability to p...