Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul…
And while your at it, leave the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul.
Excerpts from “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by TMBG
I waited at Emmett and Rosalie’s store. I could have gone to my apartment, where I would stay comfortably ensconced; away from customers and possible contaminants. But I knew that Emmett would come here first, and I needed to know as soon as possible what happened when he went to Bella’s office.
I understood the risk of him meeting her, that it could result in stronger determination to keep the restraining order, but if there was any chance that she would ever speak with me again, it would be because of Emmett’s personality.
Emmett is the only person I’ve ever met who wholly embodies the definition of disarming.
I discovered this first hand in the two years we lived together at the group home starting when I was twelve.
I came to live there after my mother died of viral pneumonia caused by influenza—the seasonal kind, nothing special, just typical Type B. Ironically, she was fastidious about hygiene, and although I have no idea how the two of us became sick with it, I’ve always wondered if I will one day unwittingly make the same mistake she did and become deathly ill again.
Her fear of hospital germs is what kept us away until it was too late for her, and almost too late for me.
As I recovered, the doctors worried about my weakened immune system. So, I was kept in a plastic tent for several weeks.
It should be no wonder, then, that I became so afraid of getting sick that I avoided direct contact with people or with anything that wasn’t sanitized. This was no problem in the hospital; everyone wore latex gloves and kept things clean. But as I prepared to leave and was approached by my social worker and others who did not wear gloves to interact with me, I often became violent, kicking and screaming threats. I never meant to hurt anyone, but I discovered quickly that when threatened, most people would back off and leave me alone.
Why did I have a social worker? I had no living relatives to claim me.
It was determined that I would probably never be adopted, considering my age and “emotional problems,” so rather than finding a foster home for me, I was sent to the group home.
I met Emmett within moments of arriving. I held a garbage bag with the few books and clothes I was allowed to keep and stood as close as possible to the barred window in the front room…without touching it, of course.
The furniture was sparse. The couch tread-bare. The other kids looked dirty; their snifling red noses and stained shirts silent proofs of infection. Most were frowning, some even scowling.
But there was one boy, an entire head taller than the others, who looked clean, face scrubbed and ruddy. I stared at him, and he smiled at me with his mouth and his eyes. No one ever did that except my mother. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Should I return his smile?
I did. My reward was a punch in the arm and an open palm on my shoulder as he introduced himself. Bruised and astonished at his betrayal, I kicked and screamed and told him to get his fucking hands off of me before I kicked his ass.
Emmett initially reacted in a similar way to the others who dared to put a hand on me without latex. He backed away, hands up. I held my arm out from my body, staring at it, imagining the germs growing there. Then, I turned my eyes to his face, searching for an answer…but only succeeded in taking in his size, which was incredibly intimidating up close. He could easily break my arm, or possibly my neck.
Somehow unable to turn from my present course of action, however deadly, I stood taller and stared him in the face, accepting of my fate. Emmett backed away some more. Then, he said he was sorry.
He told me later that I was the only person who had ever fought back against his friendly arm punching. He knew why I fought back; I was more afraid of germs than being beaten up by him. So, he left me alone.
Soon after our initial meeting, he was grounded for failing an algebra test and I offered to help him bring his grade up. It wasn’t long before we were best friends.
I found out that he had been brought to this place after he was kicked out of his fifth foster home. He never said why and I never asked. It was clear enough to me that those parents just didn’t know a good thing when they had it.
Emmett started helping me out in other ways. I often refused to eat the food they gave us, because I was afraid of getting food poisoning. He asked me what food felt safe for me to eat. Then, he sneaked into the kitchen in what he called a midnight raid to get me extra portions of the food I would eat.
He never once went in there at midnight, and even though he explained why he called it a midnight raid several times, I never understood.
When I was fourteen and Emmett sixteen, he was adopted by Esme Kimball. But when it came time to go, he refused to leave with her unless she would take me, too. Emmett told me later that he didn’t have to say much to convince her, she just took in my malnourished form and frightened face and knew what she had to do.
Esme always took special care of us, which she said was made easy with a hefty trust fund…of course I knew even then that I needed a lot more help than Emmett. We both went to a private school. But Esme was always having conferences with my teachers about me, from my refusal to work with a lab partner, to my outburst when I was forced (that one time) to shower after gym.
Even though Emmett was always at risk of being put on academic probation (when I wasn’t helping him), he never needed Esme to come to school and explain his behavior to his teachers like I did.
Emmett was better adjusted in other ways, too. While I stayed at home and read or worked on computers, he enjoyed a long line of girlfriends, buddies and extra-curricular activities.
He always worked hard to include me when he brought friends and girlfriends home, even though I rarely showed my face. To them, I was the little brother who stood in the doorway, correcting everyone when they made grammatical errors and asking them to wash their hands before handling food.
Although he didn’t mind them arguing with me, Emmett would send them home and never speak to them again if they ever made fun of me.
After I graduated high school, I worked in the Software Engineering department as an intern and later as a full-time employee at Kimball Systems, one of Esme’s father’s companies, while earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon.
As I was about to finish my Masters (which I was able to earn online at CMU), Emmett and Esme encouraged me to see a therapist because my issues had become unmanageable. They knew it would be almost impossible for me to get and maintain a job if I couldn’t deal with being around people. Esme knew that I could go on working at KS, but it would limit what I could do with my degree if I stayed there.
The first person I saw was a psychiatrist, who suggested that things might have gone a little better for me if Esme hadn’t been so indulgent. He wanted me to blame her for all my problems. He wanted me to thoroughly examine my childhood experiences and curb all compulsions while staying heavily medicated.
I was barely able to function with all the medication, and I just didn’t follow his reasoning about Esme. I also became fearful of even going to see him and often lied to him about my progress because I was afraid of what he would do.
When he realized that I was still afraid of being touched (even though I had told him I wasn’t), he tried to shake my hand. I got away from him and told Esme that I wasn’t going back. She promised never to ask me to see another therapist again.
I never told her what the doctor said about her.
She would never know what Dr. Cullen would do to help me, nor that when I told him about my previous experience, he pointed out that things could have been a lot worse if Esme hadn’t gotten me out of the group home when Emmett left.
She would know that I got a job. Thankfully, it was one I could do from home. I worked as a Software Engineer for Green Hills Integrated Systems, a company that builds ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software, mostly for the legal industry.
Esme died twenty-two months ago, and I became even more dependent on Emmett. He and I were as close as any brothers she always said, so it just made sense to me to move out of her apartment and into one across the hall from Emmett and Rosalie’s.
Rosalie said she “wasn’t thrilled” with the arrangement, but Emmett convinced her that it was a “lot easier to take care of melt downs when you don’t have to waste time changing out of your PJs,” which sounded very reasonable to me.
Rosalie came to realize, just like Esme did when she got us out of the group home, that Emmett and I were a package deal. And I knew that her tolerance of me was just another way she showed Emmett how much she loved him, because she told me so.
Presently, Rosalie was restocking prAna T-shirts. She had taken me off what she called her “shit list” and so, I was allowed in the store, even if she did cut her eyes at me periodically.
I earned this privilege because I ate her muffin last week.
She had baked a whole batch. I watched, ensuring she kept her hands and all surfaces clean. I had complemented her on it, too, telling her it was the best muffin I’d ever had.
Then Emmett said, “You bet it is!”
And because I wanted to stay off of that dirty list, I was doing my best to “not scare off the customers.” I stood behind the counter, hands in my pockets, perusing the current KAVU catalog for a new button-up shirt. I liked the quality of the shirts Rosalie and Emmett kept in stock, but it was always so hard to find one that wasn’t some kind of plaid.
I debated how long I would have to wait before I could ask her to turn the page for me. It was likely that she would yell at me for doing “something fucking weird” if I pulled my gloves out.
Before I could make up my mind, I heard the Ding!…dong! of the store entrance. I peered around the corner to see Emmett walking in with his chest held high, like he did that one time he won a bet on fantasy football without my help.
“I have a letter for you Edward!”
I ran around the counter, pulling my gloves out of my pocket.
“Not in the store!” Rosalie hissed.
Two wannabe anglers looked up from their fishing line. I stuffed the gloves back in my pocket and Emmett and I went into the back.
“Man, do you have to wear those? I mean you said she was The Girl. Shouldn’t you, like, work on getting desensitized to her, or something?”
“Ah, you mean become actively immunized to any diseases she may be carrying,” I said with a nod. “Interesting. I’m not sure it would work with a piece of paper, though.”
Emmett stared at me dumbly.
“Could you spray it with Lysol?” I tried.
“Well, did she look sick? Piqued? Sniffly? Was her nose running? Did she sneeze? Was her face flushed? Was she out of breath? Did she seem tired?”
Emmett ticked off on his fingers: “No, no, no. No. No—yes, but I think it was actually a blush—no and no.”
She did have a lovely blush…
Emmett thrust the tri-folded paper at me. With hands sweaty and a little shaking, I took it—with my non-dominant hand, of course.
“Did you read it?” I asked.
“No. Oh, and I have news. She lifted the restraining order.”
“Yeah. Apparently, her sister intercepted your last letter and got the wrong idea.”
“Why didn’t she respond after the first letter?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll bet what you have right there will address that.”
“Thanks, Emmett.” I held on to one corner and began to shake my hand to open the letter, but Emmett stopped me.
“Maybe this is something you should read alone, dude.”
“Right. Good thinking.” I carefully refolded the letter, and turned to leave.
I think my face was red the entire time I was at the police station with Emmett. The lady at the desk looked at me like I really needed to have a POA.
“So you say your sister got the restraining order against your will?”
“No…I, uh…you see she…see…hmmm…OK…I gave her authority…to…you know…act without me…that is, without my…um…permission.” I realized I had been gesturing with my hands a lot and forgetting to breathe, so I was heaving and sweating. The officer looked suspicious.
“So…I didn’t know that she, um…that she did it—got it…and…now I do…and I don’t…want it…the restraining order…that is.”
The officer shifted through some papers in the file, finally finding what she was looking for.
“Okaaaay. By the way, just so you know, she gave us a copy of the…er…letter, that Mr. Masen sent to your address. We will be keeping it in the case file.”
I raised my hand as though she had asked the class a question.
“May I have that?”
“What, the letter?”
She leveled her gaze at me: “You haven’t read it?”
Here it comes: “And without having seen the reason for the restraining order, you want it lifted.”
She left the desk shaking her head and mumbling something about crazy white people. She returned with paperwork to lift the restraining order and a copy of the letter.
After I signed the release forms and read Edward’s letter for myself, I asked Emmett to give me a few minutes while I penned Edward a note. I felt like I owed him some communication, especially after reading his last letter and thinking of how upset he must have been to receive the restraining order, when all he wanted to do was apologize for bothering me.
The police officer stopped me before I finished the salutation to tell me to take my “crazy” off of her desk and out of the station.
I finished the letter on my lap on a park bench across from my office building. It made my handwriting a little shaky, but it was already pretty poor to start with.
I got both your letters.
The first one took two weeks to get to me, but that wasn’t your fault. Alice, my overly protective sister, intercepted the second one.
She got the restraining order. I lifted it.
I’ve added my new address below. This will ensure that your letters to me are neither delayed, nor intercepted.
You do have some serious problems, but so do I.
I don’t want to meet you, yet, because you’re afraid of germs and I don’t do well with face-to-face conversations.
I suggest we write to each other for now. I hope that’s OK.
Edward, I would like very much to be your friend.
In your first letter, you expressed a desire to get my name right. That meant more to me than you will ever know. Please, call me Bella.
P.S. I followed you to that party. I’m too embarrassed to tell you why. Maybe one day I will. I hope that you can focus enough to keep writing me, even though you don’t know the exact reason. B
My hands shook at the prospect of writing a second post script. But before I could stop myself, I quickly added:
P.P.S. I wasn’t offended by the sex references…in either letter. B
Bella wasn’t offended.
And she followed me?
And she wants to be my friend. She “would like very much” to be my friend.
The best part was at the beginning of the letter. She didn’t get the restraining order.
But she didn’t say why she never contacted me after the first letter, and she still doesn’t want to meet me. Yet.
I thought about that for a while. On the one hand I was very disappointed. On the other hand, this would be a good opportunity for me to continue to work on my problems and get well enough to enjoy her company…face to face.
I pulled a piece of paper from the top of the stack on my desk. I was going to write her by hand. I had already stocked up on paper after my first letter so I could print them myself, at Dr. Cullen’s suggestion. Writing by hand seemed more intimate, though, so I couldn’t resist. Also, I would have to think about what I wrote. I would have to chose my words carefully.
But first, I wanted to practice writing Bella. I pushed the paper aside and pulled out the journal I had ordered the day after I met her.
As I practiced the loops and curves of her name, I remembered what Emmett said to me while I had dinner with him and Rosalie. He said Bella looked like a deer, terrified and ready to bolt any minute.
I knew about deer. It was possible, if they were young and you were still, that the deer would eat out of your hand.
Although the thought of a disease carrying animal putting its mouth anywhere near my hand was was revolting, I tried see Bella, emotionally, as a deer: timid, but with the right behavior on my part, brave enough to approach me. Only figuratively, of course, because deer are disgusting.
With this in mind, I began my letter.
I enjoyed getting a handwritten letter from you. I touched it with my bare hands, even though I was afraid of contamination. I washed my hands twice after reading it. I am keeping it in a plastic bag next to my computer.
You said you followed me to the party. I’m actually impressed. I didn’t even know you were there until I bumped into you. You must be very stealthy. Perhaps your quietness was used to your advantage.
Speaking of which, in case I didn’t say it clearly before, I’m glad I bumped into you. Looking back on it, I’m not sorry at all. I hope you understand my meaning.
What kinds of things do you do, other than filing in a law office and following strangers to parties? I already told you that I like to read, and I hope you do, too, although, I don’t expect you to read out loud to me. Now that I think about it, it might be nice for us to read silently together.
I mostly read trade e-mags, but I am also fond of 19th Century classic literature. While it can be quite upsetting, with people getting sick and using table cloths to wipe their mouths, I very much enjoy the way that the characters speak to each other with respect. I also like the courting rituals, because they are much more sanitary than those of today. They even wore gloves while dancing, which is something I approve of wholeheartedly.
I also like puzzles, especially number and logic puzzles. They are easy and relax my mind.
Do you have any hobbies? I hear they are a lot of fun. I mostly measure things. I don’t think that fits the definition of a hobby properly, though. It’s more of a compulsion. I do get relief and a temporary sense of relaxation when I do it, so in that way, it is much like a hobby.
I’ve been measuring less, lately, because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about you (and that is never a waste of time). I would like to find other sanitary things to do, though.
I googled “hobbies” yesterday, but most of them looked disgusting to me. When I saw that stamp collecting was a hobby, I almost vomited. I apologize for using such a crude word, but it is the truth.
My brother Emmett likes to spend time outdoors. I’m not opposed to the idea, but you can only spend so much time out there before not having a clean toilet and soap becomes a serious concern.
Many of my colleagues play online wargames and RPGs (Role Playing Games). I checked a few of them out, but the blood is too graphic for me. I’m quite surprised the characters don’t die from blood borne illnesses! I was particularly upset when I discovered that there are rarely antiseptics available. Clearly the level of accuracy is lacking.
Before my mother died, I used to play the piano. I was quite good. They had to sell it to pay for her burial. Esme, my adopted mother, had one, but I was always afraid to touch it. I’ve thought about purchasing a baby grand myself, but I’m still not convinced that it wouldn’t be a potential hazard to my health.
I hope you don’t think I’m too forward by asking this, and if I am, please tell me, and I will never bother you with it again: How do you cope?
That was one of the first questions Dr. Cullen asked me when I started seeing him. It made me feel better right away because I could see that he really cared about how difficult my life can be.
I hope that my question communicates the same level of concern. I am very interested in what life is like for you. Perhaps, if you can help me understand, I can do a better job of making you feel comfortable talking to me.
I look forward to your letter.
P.S. I’m glad you weren’t offended by the sex references.