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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:

Jeannine Pitas

I can’t stand it when someone yells at me. It really doesn’t matter who it is- a boss, a love, a friend. As soon as I hear the raised voice I draw back; I feel my heart closing in on itself, my arms and shoulders trembling, my body lifting its drawbridge and retreating back to the fort, yet still beginning to shake.

I wouldn’t think of yelling back. No, I cower, retreat into myself as if all of a sudden I were again twelve years old, my hair long and stringy, my plaid uniform jumper perfectly pressed, my knee socks starting to fall down. I am twelve years old, and it’s lunch time, and I’m sitting at my spot at the end of the table and eating peanut butter sandwiches with my two best friends Kim and Tracy, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there she is, her face red, her eyes filled with fire.  She throws me a scowl and indicates for me to come to her, and I have no choice but to obey.
  “Come here,” she yells, gesturing for me to follow her out into the hallway. By now some of the other kids have taken note and begun to snicker. “I am so disappointed in you.” My heart is pounding; this is the first time my mother has actually come for me at school in the middle of the day. I know I’m in for it, and as soon as I step out into the purple-carpeted hallway, as soon as the door swings shut behind me, her voice begins to rise. “Remember that black velvet jacket I gave you? Huh?”

I nod slowly. A velvet blazer she had worn in her youth, still in perfect condition, unique enough to be its own sort of fashion. I was thrilled when she gave it to me; I’d already worn it five times.
  “Well, where is it?” she demands. I look down at the floor. “Huh? Answer me!”
There is nothing I can say as I stare at a spot behind her on the fifth-grade bulletin board where clumsy drawings of reptiles glare back at me. I know where her blazer is- fallen on the floor of my closet amid plastic bags full of old papers and spilled beads from last summer’s attempt at jewelry-making and piles of all sorts of other junk. And even as her voice rises higher, even as I know I have no excuse, even as I start to cry and Sister Antonella and all the eighth graders leave the lunch room and see me, there is something inside me that resists, that wants to turn back and yell at her, to make my eyes wider, my voice sharper, my words more cutting, to succumb to this force between word or description, this ugly Hyde we’d all like to pretend that we don’t know.
I want to fight back because she criticizes me for being messy or careless while the whole house- that perfect kingdom where she reigns as queen – has unraveled like an abandoned garden, coupons growing up like mushrooms, old mail and magazines creeping in like morning glories over the hardwood floor. I want to yell back because it’s been months since she last smiled, because she expects me to spend every free moment with her running errands or playing Bingo, because she talks for hours and hours to me about her problems with my father and asks me for help that I have no idea how to give. And then, seeing her own failings in my weakness, she can’t stand it, and she bursts into a fit of frantic yelling.
Now, as an adult, I am not free of rage. Every time it happens that I yell, snap at a coworker or get impatient at one of my own students…The first time I taught an unruly elementary school class, I got so frustrated with the students for talking amongst themselves instead of listening to me that, when I saw nine-year-old Andrea drawing a picture while I was attempting to teach a set of new vocabulary words, I marched up to her, snatched the drawing ripped it in half and threw it away. Crushed, she started to cry, and all of a sudden I was seven years old again, huddled on the floor as my mother tore through the pile of drawings and poems on my dresser. Small as I was at that time, I felt as if watching my own child devoured in a gladiatorial spectacle. Now, I looked from Andrea’s stricken face to the garbage bin, the tragic recognition come too late. As much as I apologized for taking my general anger at the class out on Andrea, as much as I tried to be kind to her after that, she always made a point to avoid me. And even during recess, I never saw her draw anything again.
My mother does not yell at me anymore. Anti-depressent medication and reconciliation with my father and have freed her of that. But, that does not mean I do not fear that at any moment she might once again break into a fever of shouts and curses, a tornado turned inside out, her voice destroying everything with threats and curses. How I dread that dangerous disorder. Maybe this is why to this day I can’t stand it when anyone yells at me, for behind that raised voice lies something that no word can name- something older than words, older than humanity itself. It hides in all things, threatening to turn everything upside down, break us all down to nothing. And what scares me most about this entropy is that I know it’s in me, too.

© Jeannine Pitas
jumpingjitterbug at

Hidden People
Jeannine Pitas
A few years back my parents began hosting foreign exchange students

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