I Was a Clam This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
     Michelle ... are you listening?" The nice man in the white coat who was going to help me tapped his fingers on his desk.

I looked up. He stared back. Was I supposed to be listening? A slow nod seemed to satisfy him and he went back to talking. He wasn't talking to me. I could tell. People always talk slow when they talk to me.

He was talking to who brought me here. My new parents. I get new parents all the time. Something happened to the first ones and ever since then each pair doesn't seem to want me for long. These ones are Harry and Virginia.

The man turned back to me. Had I been staring again? No. He had more to say.

"I know this won't be easy. Coming to a new place. But we here at St. Lutheran will do everything we can to help you."

I knew what they must have told them. About the accident. And me being crazy. Harry and Virginia looked at me with hope. Maybe I'd respond. Maybe they'd be able to help me here.

I smiled at the master head. The vacant smile that helped cover so much. It was like frost. It blurred everything just enough so you couldn't be really sure what was there.

I was led from the master head's room. Virginia took my hand and smiled. A warm smile. Too bad she didn't know yet. They are always nice be-fore they know.

"Now, Shelly, you're going to go to school here. They'll help you get better. Harry and I will come back a few times a month to check up on you."

Again she smiled, a warm smile. I smiled my frost smile and tried to stop her from seeing for a little longer. I wonder, if fire and frost got in a battle, who would win? Harry started talking.

"You sit here while we finish some things up with the headmaster. If you need anything, just call."

Virginia looked concerned. The warm smile burned itself out. She leaned closer to Harry.

"Are you sure it's okay if we leave her out here alone?"

Harry snapped back like a rubber band angry it had been stretched.

"Good God, Ginny, she's almost 18. Half the reason she's the way she is is probably because no one leaves her alone long enough."

These were nice people. I was going to get help here. They'd take care of me. I'd heard it all before. I would be hearing it for the rest of my life, I figure.

After a while I wouldn't get better. And the nice people would get mad. And they'd stop caring. Then I'd go back and it would start all over again.

My brain buzzed. A hive of thoughts. Flowing in and out. Up and around. Getting an idea and coming back.

My leg tapped. Counting the bees. I was sitting. Harry and Virginia went back to the master head's room. If only the bees would be quiet so I could hear them.

"If you don't mind, what made Michelle the way she is?" the master head asked.

Harry's voice snapped again. "They told us her parents died in an accident when she was seven."

More bees. Each with honey and a sting.

"Hmm. I do believe that will be the root of this case. It shouldn't take long for us to have her cured," the master plotted away.

Virginia's warm voice, round and jolly. "She's such a beautiful girl. All she needs is a little help and lots of love."

"Yes, well, I think that will be all. You can visit any time you like. We here at St. Lutheran will do our best."

The doors opened. Master head came out looking like a squid with glasses. Virginia was a ball of sunshine behind him. Harry snapped his way out as a rubber band.

I chuckled at this sight.

Virginia ball smiled at me. With a twinge of pity this time. Her smile wasn't as warm as before.

The master head's cold tentacle came to rest on my shoulder. The rubber band twitched as if someone was plucking him.

Bees buzzing busily around the jumpy leg.

Harry and Virginia walked away and the master head looked at me with squiddy eyes.

"So, little miss, shall we get you settled?"

I was his little clam, he was whisking me off to be with the other clams. Surely there must be other clams. The master head's house was huge. Thousands of clams could live here.

He brought me to a room with a big wooden door. I was a clam in a forest. The tree opened and sure enough there was another clam, looking out the window.

The door closed behind me.

The other clam turned around. He had brown eyes. I almost smiled at him. But smiling was a formality only the adults asked for.

His gaze was cold and quite clammy. He scrutinized me with the utmost of care.

"Michelle?" A nod. He nodded back and returned to looking out the window.

"I'm Peter." Out the window was a bird feeder. Two squirrels were on it.

I stood in the corner of that room a good five minutes before Peter gave me another thought. I was inclined to wait, though. Perhaps like me he was a clam who didn't like to be interrupted while he was thinking. More bees buzzing around to be dealt with.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

Because I am a clam with bees in my head.

"Do you talk?"

"Yes. I'm here to get help." The words were toneless. No emotion was needed.

"Hmm. Me, too." Peter scratched his chin. He had a squirrel growing on it. Of course. Clams were not allowed razors to combat squirrel growth. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen, they say."

This seemed to perplex him. "What do you mean, they say?"

"Just exactly what it sounds like. They say it."

He paused and started petting his squirrel again. The bees were quiet for a while. Squirrel Peter's were not, though. After a moment he said, "I suppose that's true. What is age, really? You could be 17 or 70. Once you're here it doesn't matter. They say I'm 19."

Nineteen seemed an appropriate age for squirrel growth, the bees said.

Go to the bed. You're sleepy. They said that, too. I went to the bed. I was tired. The nice people in white coats would blame it on the drastic change in environment. But environment means little to a clam. No matter where you go, you're still a clam. Fit only to be eaten or live among other clams.

The bees always brought me dreams. Some were good, others bad. Many of them strange. Tonight the bees brought me horrible dreams. It was raining outside. Me and two people were in a car. I could hear them talking about how exciting the aquarium had been. One of the people turned around and began tickling me. It was not me, though. It was a baby me. Before I was a clam. She kept making buzzing noises and saying the bees were getting me. Then a scream and the screech of rubber on wet pavement. A bright light came. I never stayed asleep long enough for the bees to finish the dream. The bright light always makes me wake up screaming and shaking.

My clam squirrel companion didn't seem to like this. He threw a pillow at me and told me to shut up. He had since gone from the chair to the other bed. Maybe the bees had been bringing him a nice dream and he was trying to sleep. I apologized. I could not sleep. The bees might bring me that dream again. I stared at the tree and let the bees bounce my leg again. Soon I could hear him snoring.

My fear of falling asleep and disturbing Peter again was not enough to keep me awake. I knew this when he was shaking the bed trying to wake me up.

"Get up. Quick, before they come."

Who? Master head? The bees began to stir.

Seconds later, or maybe lifetimes later, a man and a woman walked in. Both were dressed in white coats. More nice people. Peter walked over to the man. I watched as the woman came toward me. Her face was a frost smile masquerading as a warm one. The false fire that adults put on when they don't really want to hear what you've got to say.

"Hello, Shelly. My name is Melody. I'm going to help you get ready for the day." I understood she did not want to be here.

We walked to a room where other girl clams were. It was a shower room. How fitting for a clam to be in a shower. I stood under the warm water while Melody went to get another clam to replace me once I was done. After I dried myself another Melody woman led me to a hall where all the clams were gathering for what appeared to be a great feasting. I was placed at a spot marked with numbers. Soon Peter sat next to me. A plate with toast and an orange was placed in front of all the clams. Milk flowed into the cups, and a small plastic cup of pills rested next to it. Squirrel Peter commenced eating these and ignored the pills, which everyone else took. I watched him until he finally looked up.

"What?" he asked, agitated.

"The pills ... " I started to say.

"I refuse to take them. I'm here for therapy, not to be doped up. You should do the same."

I looked at the pills. They seemed like candy. That's how everyone else seemed to view them. Adults give pills when nothing's wrong, and waiting children and clams gobble them up without a second thought. How could they say they're helping anyone when all they're doing is making people not who they are? Just because people aren't quite happy doesn't mean they need to be on medication. Sure, some need it, but not everyone.

"You better eat. They don't let you take it back to your room." Peter interrupted the thoughts the bees were bringing to me.

Following his advice, I ate. Finally it was down to a swallow of milk, and the cup of candy. He looked at me and nodded, giving me courage. I drank the last swallow of milk and placed the glass next to the pills.

"Good choice. Do you remember the last time they gave you pills?" he asked.

"Before Virginia and Harry left." They were pink and white.

"You won't feel the withdrawal for a while." The Melodies came and rushed everyone back to their rooms.

Peter went to his session as I sat in the room looking around. It was empty. The less mark of human life the better for incoming clams.

That afternoon I went to my session. The nice lady sat me on the couch and asked me questions. I had been through this many times. I recited what all the others had been satisfied hearing. She crossed her legs in the chair.

"You've been through many therapists before, haven't you." It wasn't a question.

I nodded. She made a funny sound by clicking her tongue.

"That's the story you've given them?"

Another nod, and she wrote something.

"I'm going to ask not what you have to say, but what the others said."

So many questions for one clam. But she asked and I told her all I knew about what the other nice people had said about me. She seemed to take great interest. After a few moments she asked why I thought I had been in therapy all these years.

I told her what I knew: after the car accident I stopped talking. And each person found something new and wrong with me. People didn't ever ask what I had to say about it, they just went by what the nice people said. I explained how each place was like a home for clams and we were all clams. And how the bees sometimes made honey and sometimes stung. I talked and talked and talked more than I had for years. Each new word unfolded more about how I felt and what I thought. I finally reached the end and was silent. The nice lady looked at me and clicked her tongue. She pulled out a pad of paper and told me to write down all the things I had just told her. I looked down and nodded. The buzzer rang and I walked out into the forest of clam rooms.

Suddenly I knew that I was here to tell everyone what it's like being a clam. To make the people see that everything they do isn't always necessary. That no matter how strange a person might be, there's always part of them that is like you.

So here it is. This is why I am here. To be me.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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