June 11, 2011

Nobody at the pool will play with Floy.  Floy is thirteen and has to wear diapers in the pool.

Floy walks this funny lurchy walk, one hand taut and extended, like a claw that doesn’t know who to scratch.

Floy laughs at everything, even when it’s not funny, except when she loses herself sometimes and has to crouch in the corner, keening like a wounded animal. None of us can bear to look when she does that.

None of us can bear to look at her lots of times, because her mouth is a little slack on one side, often watery, and that’s gross.  I want to tell her to wipe it off, give her a Kleenex or something, but she doesn’t even know she’s drippy and is always laughing anyways, so it falls right down.

I am a little scared of Floy, but I don’t mind her, really, because I like the way her laugh sounds–like coins jangling through the chute of a pinball machine.

I don’t know how Floy thinks things are always funny, especially when kids call her Retard, which she is, but Floy doesn’t seem to mind. Kids call her all kinds of things and I never say anything, and it makes me feel dirty inside, but Floy never cares.  Even her brother calls her Retard, her brother Greg who is impossibly beautiful with the whitest smile I’ve ever seen, and I can’t believe he’s allowed to say that because Mama told me she’d beat me black and blue if I ever called Floy that.

But I wouldn’t call her that anyways, because at the pool, nobody plays with me, either.

I’m embarrassing, with my floaties and the puffy ring with seahorses on it that I have to wear around my middle: proof that I am a Baby. Baby, baby, stuck in the shallow water. Baby, baby, left in the water that all the other babies pee in while the real kids swim away without even saying goodbye. Especially my sister. She never says goodbye.

I’m stuck in the shallow but I’m sick of it. In the shallow it’s just me and Floy and two really little boys who cry whenever the water splashes on their faces.

Baby, baby, I am sick of being a baby and so I thrust my legs out and kick my way toward the deep water, toward the end where normal kids bob and float and scream “Marco!”

I kick and turn my head towards Mama because she’ll kill me if she sees me going deep. She’s talking to Nikki Schultz who wears scarves in her hair like Lori Partridge; Nikki who has shiny hair because she rinses it in beer every week. Mama’s talking fast and using her hands, and I wonder if she’s mad.

I wonder so hard that I forget to kick and suddenly I’m sucked down, inner tube popping above my head; I reach for the seahorses, can see the plastic plug on the underside but I’m too far under already. The water at the surface is blindingly bright so I look down.

Bubbles and legs. Bubbles and legs everywhere. There’s a roaring in my head and I look at the white white legs in the blue and I recognize my sister’s swimsuit. Does she see me? Why does she never see me? She seems close enough to touch but when I reach I’m not even close. Ankles. Feet.

Rough, hot concrete. My head is on fire and everything’s blurry and I blinkblink and Mama’s crying, cradling Floy in her arms and rocking back and forth, back and forth Mama and Floy like one person, limbs entertwined, and all Mama says is “Thank you Floy oh God thank you thank you Floy oh my God Floy.”

Floy cries too and says, “Baby. Dana. Pool. Pool.” Her claw hand hovers in the air, lonely, nowhere to go, but her other one digs hard into Mama’s waist.

I try to call for Mama but my throat won’t open so I just blinkblink and watch them rock and cry and Thank you Floy.

Later that week, Mama buys special treats from the ice cream truck outside the pool, the ice cream truck we never get to have Fudgesicles from because it’s Highway Robbery, but this time Mama buys two treats, one for Floy and one for  me. She buys the biggest treat they have, the treat I’ve always wanted, a cone-shaped cup of orange sherbet with a gumball in the tip. The gumball’s all gooey and melty by the time you work your way down to it.  Floy eats slowly, half of the sherbet falling down the front of her swimsuit, eyes closed.  The droopy side of her mouth leaks orange, and it drips down her chin, rivulets of sticky neon goo, but this time I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Katybeth June 11, 2011 at 8:38 am

Sharing Floy loneliness and isolation while praying that you are not like her on the inside. Watching her eat ice cream, sharing the joy of the treat–the ice cold ice cream reminds you that you are not alone.


Marsha June 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

What a very beautiful story….thank you so much for sharing …I have worked with folks with disabilities for almost 38 years and love the way this memory illustrates the gifts and contributions that we all bring to the world regardless of our differences..


Jody June 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

Thank you, Dana. But mostly thank you, Floy <3


Abby June 11, 2011 at 9:36 am

Everybody needs a “Floy.”
Thank you for sharing yours with us :)


leslie June 11, 2011 at 11:24 am

Everyone thinks of Floy as outcast because he is different when in fact Floy is a human just like them. People like Floy make this world a happier place. Floy makes me appreciate the little things.


ben June 11, 2011 at 11:33 am

Thanks for this. As brother of a developmentally disabled man, I can relate to the mix of love and shame/revulsion that you can deal with as a child. Funny how it’s often harder for the people around; my brother could care less about what people think of him or whom he “offends”.


TKW June 12, 2011 at 12:42 am


It’s amazing (and humbling) what they can teach us, right? And thank you for not judging me for the shame/revulsion…that was a hard part to admit. Sometimes honesty leaves you bare.


rebecca @ altared spaces June 13, 2011 at 9:10 am

But your honesty is such a gift to us.


Foodiewife June 11, 2011 at 11:33 am

Beautifully written. I was there. Right with you and Floy. (I need a hankie).


Jen Yu June 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm

love you, girl.


Winn June 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Made me cry. Dammit.


Meister @ The Nervous Cook June 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

This post breaks my heart in so many different ways. That, and it’s truly beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing it; I’m sure it will be on my mind for the rest of the day.


Bryan June 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm

As usual, you have a way with words my friend. Thanks for sharing my friend.


Erica@PLRH June 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Thank you Floy for making the world a better place.


SuziCate June 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I was right there with you and Floy. This is one beautiful write! Thank you for sharing this story.


Kristen June 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

You are amazing at sharing emotion through words. Thank you for this beautiful write. What an eloquent way to remind us all that one, each of us has a special place in this world, and two, sometimes we are lucky enough to be “saved” by someone we mistakenly think needs “saving”. My dear friend has a little boy with CP and Autism. Light radiates from him, and when he smiles, it is infectious. Thanks for sharing. :)


TKW June 12, 2011 at 12:04 am

You are right. Light radiates. Sometimes in places where you least expect it, but in a way it makes sense. Some kids can work their way through the white noise, operate on a level that defies reason, or anything you know to be true, and it makes you realize that you’ve gotten it wrong all along.


Sarah June 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

You have such a gift, Dana. I think maybe if you could share it with the world you could be somebody’s Floy. Perhaps I shouldn’t push you though because I’m certain you already are.

And I love you. Talk soon okay? Xo


TKW June 11, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Any day, any time.xo


Alex@LateEnough June 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Wow. This post is so honest and well-done. What an amazing memory and more so of seeing the deeper meaning.


Papa Guy June 11, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Kids are so cruel. I love “your” stories….


Naptimewriting June 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Your poor mama; your poor you. How terrifying. See how the world needs Floys?



Anneliesz June 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Dana- This was such a beautiful post. Well written with such a descriptive introduction that suspends time. I personally find myself drawn to the pure emotion I’ve seen in people I’ve encountered who are mentally challenged. One time I observed this boy who tried to give out hugs like business cards at a networking event. Most people didn’t engage him in receiving a hug, but that tenacity- that desire to give something bright and joyful and good back to the world- it made me want to be a better person.


TKW June 12, 2011 at 12:15 am


Growing up, there was this adorable girl 7 blocks down from us who had Down’s Syndrome. Mama and I would go for our daily walk and we’d often see her, waiting for the bus, and whenever she saw us, her face would break wide open. Pure joy, pure thrill at seeing a face she knew. Open arms. Always. I’ve never forgotten her.


camilla June 12, 2011 at 2:13 am

That is beautiful Kitch. Growing up is hard and you just reminded me how hard it is…… if you just remember.


Paula (Salad in a Jar) June 12, 2011 at 5:38 am

Dana, you have written another raw and thoughtful post. Interesting how you remember the Highway Robbery truck and how that actually made it even more special.


denise June 12, 2011 at 8:17 am

I am awed by this post. So emotionally powerful and raw and beautiful and vivid. Thank you–I loved it.


Amy @ Never-True Tales June 12, 2011 at 8:24 am

I’m in the middle of a crazy-busy weekend, but I had to stop and read this. Absolutely fantastic, Dana.


elizabeth June 12, 2011 at 7:08 pm

This is beautiful. And true, and heart-rendering. Know that you’ve reached a group of similar misfits who also don’t always fit in and want to be that champion for the persecuted, but ended up being helped by them, in their way.


TKW June 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm


Want to start a club for past misfits? We’d be like the Island of Unwanted Toys in the Rudolph Christmas special. You can be VP, ’cause I love you that much. xo


Heather June 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Dammit I’m crying for like the 50th time this weekend. This story is beautiful. Just the beautiful I needed. I wonder what became of Floy – who she grew up to be. You owe your life to a beautiful human being.


TKW June 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm


Floy got married and had a baby. A boy.


Jennifer June 13, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The post didn’t make me cry. Clearly I’m a hard ass. But then this simple statement did. So I guess I’m not that hard after all.


TKW June 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

You ain’t hard, girl. We know it.


ck June 15, 2011 at 3:30 am

It’s too early in the morning to cry, but I’m crying. The tears started with Floy and ended with her too. So beautiful.

Privilege of Parenting June 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Hey KW, I truly love this—so evocative of my own sense memories of nearly drowning… of of the way certain troubled and “special needs” children saved me in allowing me to work with them (and yet leave it to you to leave me both moved and also smiling as you somehow manage, at least in my own warped mind, to evoke both Boo Radley and Fipper :)… and a hint of Faulkner’s “Sound and the Fury” to boot. To quote L. Cohen, “I sink beneath your wisdom like a stone.”


TKW June 13, 2011 at 9:07 am


Boo Radley and Flipper and Benji…so much to think about there. I always loved Boo, loved the ending of that novel when we learn that he’s been watching Jem and Scout as they grow and learn and struggle to make sense of the world. He’s been there all along Boo “sees.”

Funny you mention Faulkner. One of my favorite books of ALL time is “As I Lay Dying” and wouldn’t you know it, that book has a disabled character who sees so much more than people think he does: Vardaman. I dressed up like him one Halloween when I taught high school English; everyone in the dept. dressed up like literary characters for Halloween. I carried a sign that said, “My Mother is a Fish.” The next year I was Daisy Buchanan, a character I loathe…wonder why I even remember this?


Sherri June 13, 2011 at 6:06 am

What a story. Yay, Floy! Everyone has (and needs) a special place in this world.


Buffie July 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Why do I bother calling up ploepe when I can just read this!


The Curious Cat June 13, 2011 at 7:29 am

Wicked story – love your stories always! Like the way you describe it all…when are you going to write a book hmm? xxx


Jenna June 13, 2011 at 8:59 am

This is an incredibly written story. My heart is hurting for Floy, and hoping that she found happiness deep inside in a place where no one could take it away.


Barbara June 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

Great story and incredibly moving. Many of us had experiences with someone like Floy…I did anyway. Yes, kids can be cruel and children like Floy need so much love.


Mary Lee June 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Buy a case of cereal, peanut butter, jelly, and fill the freezer with bread. Explain to your family that they get to fix their own meals this summer because momma is closing the kitchen to write her heart out… because when you do that, you’re awesome.

Absolutely awesome

Hugs…. ! (good, strong hugs hard enough to make it difficult to breathe, but not to cause bodily injury) :)


TKW June 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I love you, Mary Lee. My honorary second Mama.


Kate June 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

What a powerful story! First, every time I read about your mom, I am impressed. Strong lady, good rules. Second, you conflicted reaction to Floy reminded me of a good book I just read about growing up different: Mean Little Deaf Queer.

I hope you write your own book one day. I will happily devour it.


TKW June 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm


Strong lady, good rules. 4 words were never more true.


Kristen June 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I remember that year. I’m pretty certain a photo of you with your “My mother is a fish” sign went in the yearbook. I was so lucky to have you- you were one of those teachers that made such an impact. You and your talent. BTW- this year I took my middle child on a field trip to the high school to see a production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” The teacher’s name was Miss Hagmeyer. I had to wonder if it was coincidence, but it made me smile none the less.


TKW June 14, 2011 at 4:23 am


There’s another Hagmeyer out there? Get out! That poor lady. To be named something that means “turnip farmer” in German. Ah, the glamour. I was so freaking happy to get married.


Jennifer June 13, 2011 at 6:15 pm

You are one of the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Period.


Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla June 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm

TKW, lovely story, especially in that it shows the world precisely how it looked through your very young eyes, even the fact that at one time it was okay to call people by that name. Even her brother. There are the kids and there’s the “other,” but ultimately it’s the other who is the same, who’s heart is beating there, watching you, saving you.


TKW June 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm


It wasn’t really okay to call her the R word–something in me knew that–but you are right–it was a different time, and I was only four. That Floy’s own brother called her that was particularly harrowing.


Christine June 14, 2011 at 4:58 am

Sitting in the airport crying dammit. This won’t do. :-)


Contemporary Troubadour June 14, 2011 at 11:34 am

The stories where you lay your soul bare to its many layers and, subsequently, the way you see the world in past and present make my heart do that achy thing that good writing elicits. Raising a glass to you, Kitch.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri June 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Um, Dana, when is the book coming out? I’ll be the first in line. Seriously, you tell a story like no other…. Love this piece. Brilliant.


Maria June 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm


So lovely. The imagery, the flow of the story, the harsh reality of wanting to wish away the people who remind us of our own imperfections, yet, these are the very people who save us, literally and figuratively.

PLEASE let us know when that book is published…Your talent with words is breathtaking…


Ink June 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Crying right now. Thank you, Floy, for saving our girl.

And D, this story? Just: wow.


Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac June 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Wow. What a powerful and pitch-perfect story. Big kudos!


Jane June 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Floy is the reason I wanted to work with the disabled. You captured the treasure she is to all of us so very beautifully.


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