One night in early September, there’s a crab feast in the cafeteria for dinner. Everyone’s so excited, especially the students from Maryland. I’ve never had crab before. John, sitting next to me, demonstrates for all of us. He whacks his crab a few times with a mallot, and then pulls the crab apart. I watch closely but can’t see how he knows what’s the meat and what’s pieces of bone or innards. It looks like brain surgery.
I’d have to put my face right up on the plate, or at least a lot closer than it is now, to see the differences. And I do not want to do that, no way. I don’t want to ruin these new friendships by introducing my blindness. I know that they wouldn’t literally drop me as a friend if this obvious but unbroached subject came up, but that’s mental knowing. Something deeper, something in my body, my psyche, doesn’t know this at all and is convinced that the slightest acknowledgment of albinism will bring on the end of the world, quick as lightning.
“I think I get it,” Jillian says with a smile. Stacy’s still struggling, so John takes her plate and helps her. I fiddle with my crab, push it around my plate and wish I could whack it so hard it flies into the wall. Things like this—food I can’t figure out, movies with subtitles, gym class with flying balls and birdies and dance instruction of body movements I can’t catch—spirals me down into an instant familiar feeling of profound frustration that gets me at the core. It feels bigger, deeper than blindness and albinism. I feel like an orphan who will never belong anywhere. I am so ashamed that I can’t figure out the crab, a big glaring neon fault that no one could overlook. I am broken. I will never be lovable. The feeling runs so deep and cuts me so to the bone that no matter how much I try to smile and reason and tell myself I’m blowing this way out of proportion, I can’t come back.
“It’s really a pain,” John says, pushing Stacy’s plate back to her, “but it’s so worth it.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I think I’ll have something else.” I get up, turn away, take in a breath and hold my whole body inward so I won’t cry. I never cry in front of anyone. I take my plate and peruse the buffet line for more food I can’t identify. There’s something that looks like pasta so I grab at it with tongs, lump limp ziti on my plate, spoon some sauce and go back to our table. It’s the fifth one in on the left after the salad bar, I counted. Stacy offers a piece of her crab but I shake my head and say, “No thanks.” Knowing me, I won’t even be able to figure out how to eat it.
This is an excerpt from Moonchild. Since I’m going to be working diligently on rewriting and revising that project (read about that mess of a task here), I’ll probably be posting excerpts from Moonchild for awhile.
This excerpt takes place very early on in my freshman year. It wasn’t in my first draft but as I rewrote and revised and tried to work in albinism more, I realized I had to have this kind of thing in the beginning of the story, show my inability to talk about it, or ask for help. And the crab dinner was something that immediately came to mind. I also think that on some level, I left it out of the first version because it’s embarrassing and really doesn’t show me in a good light. But that’s part of the deal of writing memoir, difficult as it can be.
Don’t forget to check out Samples, Published and Early Work for more excerpts and chapters and full pieces of writing.
I don’t think it shows you in a bad light at all, but a sympathetic one.
Well thank you for saying that. It embarrasses me because I really was blowing things way out of proportion, when I could’ve just asked for help. I’m also embarrassed of how embarrassed I used to be (and let’s be honest sometimes still am) about my eyesight/albinism/etc. Plus, I’m kinda having a mini little internal pity party in that excerpt. Ugh, it was not easy to write.