Everything They Didn’t Teach You In School

The bird, which couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, had been laying there for a few days now. Long enough for ants to start marching in and burrowing deep inside it. Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were standing over it, in Derek’s parents backyard, as he poked it casually with a stick. Sandy took a puff off her cigarette and then tossed the butt to the ground, stomping it out with her hiking boot.

“School didn’t prepare me for anything like this,” Sandy said, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dark blue windbreaker, “School doesn’t teach kids what they need to know about death or anything important. Everything they teach you is a lie.”

“I guess there’s some things that are bets left to parents, but even then most parents don’t want to take that initiative,” Derek said, “But could you imagine if schools did teach that kind of thing? Parents have a hard enough time with letting their schools teach kids about sex, I can’t imagine they’d even let them touch death.”

“Both those things are natural and inevitable!” Sandy said, “I mean, unless you’re asexual, but god dammit, why do people have such a hard time talking to their kids about stuff? Why did I have to learn from a dropout uncle that we killed the Indians and took their land, whereas school just taught me that we got along and were all friends and ate the first thanksgiving together? What the fuck kind of world is this? We’re just going to LIE to children, and then expect them to believe everything, and then get mad when they call something that’s clearly bullshit out on its bullshit?”

“I’m on your side, remember, don’t yell at me,” Derek said, kneeling down and turning the bird over with the stick. Sandy put a hand over her mouth, coughing a bit. Derek looked back at her, “Does this disgust you?”

“Well it’s not like you’re playing with a puppy.”

“Did your parents ever have ‘the talk’ with you?” Derek asked, making quote marks with his fingers when he said that, and Sandy smirked.

“Don’t do that,” she said, half laughing, “And yeah, they did. They didn’t have it with my brother. They figure it’s ok to give it to the girl, because it’s her job to be responsible, make sure to use protection. Apparently men can’t be bothered.”

“That is some serious patriarchal bullshit,” Derek said, “My dad had ‘the talk’ with me when I was, I don’t know…maybe 15? Like 3 years after already jacking off constantly. A little late to the game, dad, but whatever. I was happy he did though, like, sure it was uncomfortable at first but in the end, his advice came in handy. My parents never talked to me about death though.”

“No, like, I had an aunt that died when I was like 11, and we went to her funeral and everything, and they told me she was sleeping. Like, I was 11 for christ sakes, and they still fed me that bullshit. Why would they give me the talk, and then just gloss over death. Like, of those two things, death is the way more important one, I think. Sex is a decision you make. You CHOOSE to participate in that. Nobody chooses to die. I mean, I guess suicidal people do, but still.”

Derek stood up and wiped his hands on his pants, then looked at the glass door on the wooden porch that led to the kitchen, where he could see his mother and mentally challenged sister sitting at the kitchen table, doing a puzzle together.

“While my mother was pregnant, they learned that the baby might have some brain damage. They were given the option to abort her, in case they didn’t want to have to deal with that. It was never in the baby’s favor, by the way, it was always ‘in case WE, the ADULTS can’t handle it’ not ‘let’s spare this child pain and misery’. Anyway, they obviously didn’t, but that’s how they explained death to me. They talked about, ya know, aborting her and what that would mean, and they asked how I felt about that. I was like 9. The thing is, all I got out of that conversation was that my sister hadn’t even been born yet, and was going to have mental instabilities that she wasn’t to blame for or could control, and they might kill her. I’m not pro life by any means, but as a 9 year old, that set a really weird standard in my head. Your child isn’t even born and they might not want or love you. Certainly made me try and be perfect in their eyes from then on, cause I was a kid, and I didn’t want them to abort me somehow.”

“That’s fucked up dude,” Sandy said, as they sauntered over to the picnic table in the backyard, next to the plastic playground, and took their seats at the table. Derek watched Sandy fidget, clearly a bit cold, and he took his scarf off and wrapped it around her neck, holding onto the ends of the scarf and pulled her close, their foreheads landing on one another. Sandy smiled and shut her eyes.

“They also never teach you in school what to do if someone hurts you,” Derek said.

“No, they don’t. I imagine because everyone deals with it differently,” Sandy said, their eyes opened and locked now, both breathing somewhat heavily. Derek leaned in and pressed his lips against hers, his warm breath making her shudder. A few seconds into kissing her, the backdoor opened and his mother and sister came out. The kiss broke apart, and they went back to sitting there.

“Derek,” his mother said, approaching the table, “Are you staying for dinner, or do you have other plans?”

“I guess we could stay,” Derek said, glancing at Sandy, who was blushing and nodded, affirming his decision. As his mother smiled and walked over to the playground where his sister was playing on the swings, Sandy looked at Derek.

“If one of us dies, can we promise to haunt the other?” Sandy asked.

“I think we can swing that,” Derek said as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it for her. Sandy took it and placed it between her lips. She smiled and blushed as she exhaled the smoke into his face and he laughed.

“I wish they had taught me more useful things,” Derek said, “I don’t know how to balance a checkbook, but thank god I know what the volume of a cylinder is. How to handle heartbreak, how to deal with death, how to be careful with sex…none of those things are important, apparently.”

“Sometimes it takes another person to teach you, not an educational facility,” Sandy said, coughing, and Derek looked at her, then looked back at the bird, and sighed.

“Let’s take him home, clean him up and make him part of the family,” Derek said, “He might be dead, but he doesn’t have to be alone.”



“Oh god,” I thought, staring at the other girls in the room, socializing and laughing and enjoying themselves, “Oh god…” it had just hit me; a truth I’d been running from for years, “Oh…god, I’m..I’m mentally ill.”

All I’d ever heard growing up was that if you were mentally ill, you were a sinner. That you wouldn’t have nearly as many romantic partners, and that you were less likely to be hired. That you could easily be tossed out by your parents, disowned by your entire family, and berated by society, all for something you can’t control. It hit me like a ton of bricks, as such life changing revelations often do. It started innocently enough, thinking I wasn’t good enough to do something, or then that I would never think those sorts of things about myself. Then it got worse. Then I wasn’t getting out of bed, and I wasn’t bathing as often. My eating habits were getting worse too. Before I knew it, I was searching the internet for any sort of help, typing things into a search engine such as “I might be sick” or “Mentally ill discrimination”.

I went to see a therapist who told me to try and go to a support group. Maybe even bring my parents. That lots of families go through this and it’s perfectly normal…but if it were perfectly normal, why did everyone talk about it behind closed doors and in such hushed voices? I started to learn very quickly to not tell my parents unless I was absolutely sure, because once I came out about it, there would be no going back. I was obsessed though, staring at these…normal people…and how easily they could interact with one another. How easily it came to them. How they didn’t seem to question themselves or second guess everything around them. The friends I had didn’t do this either. They could talk, they could think positively. It was infuriating. I wanted to be like them. Well, it turns out they were right, I should’ve thought before telling my parents, because once I did I got the usual comments and questions:

“Have you thought about trying to be happy?”

“It’s just a phase, you’ll see. You’re going to be fine tomorrow.”

“You’ve never shown signs of being sick before!”

But once it sunk in, once the reality had settled, they knew it was true. Now when I visited, they only referred to me as ‘their sick daughter’. I was soon referenced in conversation as ‘you know, I have a sick daughter, and etc’. It became my personality, my identity, my entire being. I wanted to fix this, but I felt shameful for not accepting myself. I’m sick. Why try and run away from that? I should be proud and respect myself. Yes, I’m sick. I’m mentally ill. I have emotional and psychological problems, but I’m still a human being and there’s tons of people just like me. It’s nothing to feel badly about. Friends started to try and hook me up with their other sick friends. They told me, “You should go out with my friend, she’s just like you, you two would get along so well!”

I’m mentally ill. This is just who I am. Try and put me down, try and pass bills about me, tell me I need help or don’t deserve the same human rights or respect as everyone else, but in the end, you and I are not so different. I’ve just accepted myself. I know who I am now.

And I’m happy about it.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be offensive. It’s meant as a satirical look at ‘coming out’ as mentally ill and how we might treat people if they had to ‘come out’ for things such as mental health. I’m not in any way comparing the two, or saying ‘mental illness’ is an analogy for being gay. I’m gay. I’m also mentally ill. They are mutually exclusive. Believe me. I was sick long before I knew I was gay.