By Megan Starbuck
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She was concerned—enough to do something about it. The first doctor she took him to was no help. When she explained that her boyfriend was twenty-four years old and illiterate, the doctor simply laughed and said that it was normal—he even made the statement, “I myself am still trying to learn to read.”
It’s not that Billy didn’t want to learn or that he wasn’t very smart. His GPA when he graduated college was almost a 3.5, and ever since they started dating three years ago, he let Allie try to teach him. But this type of reading was definitely not his specialty.
Allie was disappointed to discover that his mother hadn’t taught him this while he was growing up, but she was certain she’d be able to. Three years and still he is unable to read. She could tell he was trying, though.
Like the time he was driving them to a nice restaurant for their one year anniversary and she rubbed her arm. So he turned the air down.
“What’d you do that for?” she asked, confused.
“Aren’t you cold?” he questioned back.
“No—what made you think that?”
“You were rubbing your arm.”
“That’s because it itched—and I heard it’s better to rub an itch than to scratch it.”
“Oh,” he said, disheartened that he’d gotten it wrong again. As he turned the air back on, he added, “Remember last time, though?”
She remembered. She wished she had forgotten. It had been a miserable day—her believing him to be a rotten jerk. Things have been so much better since she found out that it’s just because he has a disease. That day, though—that’s the day all this mess began….
She didn’t say a word. She sat with her arms crossed looking out the window, finding great interest in each tree they passed.
“Come on—what’s wrong?” he asked.
She heard the concern in his voice but still didn’t answer. She wouldn’t. He should know what’s wrong; he’s the one that did it. Obviously she was cold and wanted him to turn the air off. Any gentleman would have noticed the chill bumps on her arms—and it’s not like he needed to watch the road while he was driving. This is where she rubbed her arms to draw his attention to it, but he completely ignored her! He was so thoughtless—he must not care about her at all. He just kept staring at the road. She thought he must love it more than he loved her.
The frigid air propelling into her body had penetrated so deep that her warm heart had now turned cold. All because he didn’t listen to anything she thought. She would’ve done it herself—cut the air off—if she hadn’t already asked him nicely in her mind several times.
Somewhere in there, he even had the nerve to mumble, “What’d I do this time?”
She crawled into the backseat.
This conveniently served a dual purpose—to get away from the AC and to be further from him. Actually, it wasn’t that convenient seeing that she nearly fell to the floor when he sped up through the green light. He probably did it on purpose. She had noticed his huff at her unbuckling her seatbelt and awkwardly fumbling to get to the back between the two front seats. She could see that he was both thinking she must be crazy and wondering how he ended up with a girlfriend that would do this type of thing.
Frustrated with what he considered childlike behavior, Billy startled her with his tone as he threw his arms up and said: “Seriously—what’s the matter?” Regretting his uncharacteristic outburst, he then apologetically added in a calm and sincere voice, “You can tell me.”
She had already told him. In her mind, at least. What more could he want from her?
“Please talk to me.”
I’ve been talking to you the whole time. You’re just not listening. You have no communication skills whatsoever.
“Look—you’re gonna have to help me out here; I can’t read minds.”
Hearing that frustrated admission to something so humiliating removed all of her own frustrations. There was only room for compassion. This poor boy could not read minds. Oh, the things that he was missing!
She had previously noticed this problem in less important instances, but she thought he was just ignoring her. She had let it go. This time she wouldn’t let it go—and was glad she hadn’t or she never would’ve been able to help him with his disease.
Yes—disease. The doctor she took him to for a second opinion informed her of that. To Allie’s dismay, she also said it was incurable; Billy was just glad to hear it wasn’t terminal, although the doctor did add that key word: “usually.”
Using a very sophisticated voice the doctor continued, “The official term for this condition of not being able to read minds or body language is ‘Irreadability.’ Now—I’m going to refer you to Dr. Rasworth, a specialist in this department. This is necessary because not many cases have been reported—although it has recently gained much interest. However, we still don’t have sufficient information in our offices to really help you in any way. Dr. Rasworth will be able to fill you in on all the latest research information and is a very trustworthy doctor.”
Walking into yet another doctor’s office, Allie thought to the receptionist, We’re here to see Dr. Rasworth. Seeing Allie just staring at her, the receptionist asked, “Are you here to see Dr. Rasworth?”
Billy replied with a “Yes,” while Allie thought: Wow, these people are legit! After signing in, they were called to the back where a nurse informed them that Dr. Rasworth “will be here in a minute to see you.”
She arrived several minutes later, surprising them with her young appearance. Her long, thick, dark-chocolate hair was pulled back with a few strands hanging down on each side. Her glasses went almost unnoticed but stood out just enough to complete her professional look. Her clear complexion was enhanced by the latest make-up products, which she applied using natural tones to complement her features. She sat with perfect posture resting a clipboard, thick with papers, in her lap. Her refined hands, free of any rings, were clasped together on top of the clipboard with a sleek black pen between her fingers. The doctor looked up to see Billy slumping against the dull, gray wall and Allie sitting with her legs crossed in a chair beside him.
“Well, let’s get straight to the point. I see that—” She studied her paper for a moment. “William?” She looked back up and he nodded, about to add that everyone calls him Billy, but she continued before he could get a word in. “…has been diagnosed with Irreadability. If you’ll look at this scan of your brain, you’ll see a healthy brain to the left of it.”
Billy studied the images and shrugged. “They both look the same to me.”
Dr. Rasworth smiled coolly and replied, “That’s what they all say, dear. However, your kephalay is severely near nekros.”
Uncomfortable and trying to lighten the mood with a joke, Billy simply replied, “Um, ok. Sounds like Greek to me.”
“Maybe that’s because it is. I’m impressed, although I’m sure it was just a lucky guess. Basically it means your head is almost dead.” Here Dr. Rasworth let out a groan and thought to herself, “Oh, simple language is so tediously drab. But I suppose it’s what I’m reduced to in my chosen occupation.” She snapped out of her soliloquy and returned to her conversation with Billy. “This is an extremely serious disease, and—although it has only this year been qualified as a disease and given a name, research shows that there have actually been many cases throughout all of history. Adam, for example—if he had only read Eve’s mind when she was thinking ‘I’m offering you this apple because the snake told me to, but don’t really eat it because it’ll just cause a lot of trouble,’ then he would’ve been a lot better off.”
“But how do you know what she was thinking?” Billy interjected.
Allie tried to elbow him but instead only succeeded in hitting her funny bone on the arm of the chair. After a little yelp, she settled for whispering through clinched teeth disguised as a smile, “Billy, don’t question a doctor.” His ability to read minds would’ve come in handy just then.
Dr. Rasworth continued, “Perhaps a better example would be Ananias. His wife was obviously screaming in her mind for him not to keep any of the money. But he just went ahead and lied to the church, causing them both to die. You, however, are probably more familiar with Romeo. Juliet told him on numerous occasions to never kill himself…but look what happened!”
“That’s not even a true story.”
“Oh, William, William. You must know things like that happen in real life all the time. But if you prefer nonfiction, another example would be Hitler—”
“Ok, can you just tell me what to do about it?”
She pursed her lips obviously holding back what she really wanted to say. She instead settled for: “Currently, the disease is known only to appear in males. Scientists are diligently, even desperately, searching for a cure. Until then, it is critical that you see me once a week so that I can examine and chart any progression. You will also participate in sessions so that we are able to train and study your mind. This will only cost $400 per visit.”
She stared at Billy as if to emphasize the seriousness of the matter, and then went on, “Irreadability affects everyone around you. They have to work with you a lot, and it’ll be hard on them. But you need them in your life to help you cope with this disease—otherwise it is sure to overtake you and quite possibly cause you to end up like Hitler.”
Alarmed, Allie ran through ideas the whole drive home of ways she could help this cause. Finally, she knew. As soon as the car came to a stop, her seatbelt was off, and she shoved the door open, slammed it behind her, and rushed to her desk causing the rolling chair to slide a bit as she sat in it. Using her feet to scoot it closer to the desk, she sat on the edge as she typed frantically. She didn’t bother checking for errors, for she never had any—especially when it came to this sort of thing. She quickly changed the number of copies to forty-four—that had been Billy’s high school football number—and clicked “print.” She then sent it as an attachment, to everyone whose email address she had, with a message on the importance of them forwarding it to everyone they know—in the next twenty-four hours. She was sure to add that, otherwise, all of the guys in their lives, including themselves if they’re guys, would get the disease. She shut her laptop, put on a sweater, and grabbed the stack of papers before fluttering out the door. Invigorated by the cool night breeze, she rushed down the steps and onto the sidewalk.
The crunch of the crisp autumn leaves crumbling beneath her shoes was such a delight to her ears that she went out of her way to crush each one while walking through the town posting the flyers on as many businesses as she could. Crunching all the way back to the stepping stones that led to her front porch, she breathed in the night air before twisting the doorknob to let herself inside. Exhausted from her brisk walk, she nestled beneath her comforter and drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face knowing she was doing a favor for everyone on earth.
After the fourth time, she finally heard her cell phone blaring “I’m walkin’ on sunshine…” It was only 7:30. Who would call me at this time? She snatched it from the nightstand, wanting to throw it across the room. Not recognizing the number she almost ignored it but decided to answer—even if it was with a groggy “Hello?”
“Oh, thank God you answered! I saw your flyer when I was opening my flower shop this morning, and I think my boyfriend has Irreadability. Phone conversations with him are the worst; he calls me sometimes and then hangs up like I never even answered the phone. Oh, but I answered. I could hear myself—I knew just what I was saying. I think he seriously has a problem. At first I thought he was just faking it, but even when I say nice things, he pays no attention.”
“Ummm, ok. Well—” Sitting up, she tried to clear the fog in her mind, “—give me your email address, and I’ll be in touch.” She grabbed paper and a pen from the drawer of the nightstand and continued the process of answering the phone, only taking breaks for meals—the list finally reaching a total of 53 names and addresses. How can it be that all these girls have been going through this? It has to end. How many others are there? Putting one hand to her aching head yet feeling rejuvenated by her newfound purpose, she emailed Dr. Rasworth who also felt an urgency to help these people. She readily agreed to have an outdoor meeting in the town the last Saturday of the month and urged Allie to encourage others to bring financial support for the research of the disease.
Wednesday Allie spent the day making another flyer and putting it up around town:
Wanna make history?
Attend the meeting on Main Street!
Be in the know about “Irreadability”
If you care about any men,
You’ll be there
at noon ready to learn how you can help
to support this critically important cause!
Saturday, October 27, 12 noon
Thursday Allie spent the day reading emails such as this:
it’s true it’s true! i didn’t believe it so i didn’t send the email. that night i was sittin in my room wishin my brother and dad would come talk to me so i asked them to but they didn’t come! i did the same with all the guys in my life & it didn’t work on any of them. so now none of them can read minds!
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Allie spent the day responding to email and answering more phone calls.
Monday, she took Billy back to Dr. Rasworth for another appointment. While getting out of the car, they heard a girl call out to another: “Stay away from him…he has Irreadability!” They giggled and hurried off in the opposite direction. Billy had grown to expect that reaction, but he still hated it.
Inside, after Dr. Rasworth explained the procedure for the day and was preparing to begin it, Allie remembered she had left her notebook in the car.
“Billy, can I have the keys? I left something in the car.”
“Sure,” he replied, reaching into his pocket. After handing them to her, he focused his attention back on Dr. Rasworth, who stared at him in dismay.
“What?” he finally asked, wondering how he could have already done something wrong.
“You truly aren’t aware of what you just did?” Dr. Rasworth asked with disbelief. He slowly shook his head questioningly, and she explained: “She wanted you to go to the car for her.” Billy looked at her blankly—unconvinced. So Dr. Rasworth continued. “That’s why she hesitated after you handed her the keys. You didn’t read that in her body language?”
“She wouldn’t want me to go to the car—she wants me here, meeting with you.”
“Ok. Of course you didn’t notice. Allow me to point it out—she was sitting down while she asked, and she got up slowly…waiting for you to say you’d do it.”
Not knowing what she wanted from him, he responded, “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” she retorted. “There’s no need to apologize; it’s not your fault you have Irreadability. This is good—now I’ve seen it for myself and have more information with which to work.”
A week later at his next appointment, Dr. Rasworth greeted Billy with an, “Ah, welcome back, my simpleton friend.”
He hoped she read his mind when he thought, “I’d rather be just a simpleton than your friend.” His thought made him smile, and she seemed pleased as she added, “Let’s take your third session outside, shall we?” Without waiting for an answer, she led them outside to a shaded, grassy area. She handed Allie a baseball glove and tossed another glove to Billy, who was relieved that this test was an activity he was comfortable with—even good at.
They tossed it back and forth to warm up, and then just when Billy was really getting into it, he noticed that Allie wasn’t smiling anymore. “I think we need to stop,” he said.
But Allie replied, “Billy, this is important…just hang in there.”
“But you don’t look like you’re having any fun. You shouldn’t be punished because I have a disease.”
“No, it’s not punishment. I love throwing baseball.” You’re just throwing it too hard.
They continued throwing it, and Allie continued to wince every time she caught it. Finally Dr. Rasworth said she had enough. As they walked inside, he asked Allie where she wanted to eat, and she answered that she didn’t care.
“Ok, we’ll go to Burger King.”
Allie smiled, making him think she was pleased…until Dr. Rasworth whispered to him: “You know that’s a fake smile. She must hate Burger King—you better choose something else.”
“Alright,” he said whispering back, “since you’re so good, why don’t you read my mind?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t know?” he asked, his voice growing louder letting his anger out as he spoke. “I thought my mind was pretty clear. Maybe my body language will get the message across.”
As he headed for the car instead of the door to her office, Dr. Rasworth composed herself quickly in order to respond, “William, I know what you’re thinking—“
“Good, then you know you should leave me alone right now.”
“Billy, what’s gotten into you?” Allie finally found her voice.
“William, that’s not what you’re thinking. You don’t want to leave; you know this is good for you…your Irreadability has just gotten so bad that your own thoughts are getting jumbled and you’re having difficulty reading your own mind. I didn’t realize it was this bad. This is serious, William.”
Fuming, he continued his exit, ignoring Allie’s calls after him. He wished Dr. Rasworth had been able to read his mind when he was thinking, “It’s no wonder she’s not married. She’s beautiful enough to attract any man, but no man in his right mind would stay with her after a day or two of her mind-reading games.”
Saturday. Finally it had arrived—and so did a crew from every news station in the surrounding areas. Men and women alike filled the streets, some simply curious others nervously concerned. Everyone began to quiet down as Dr. Rasworth walked across the small temporary stage in her black heels and suit with the grey button-up showing from underneath, the collar spreading an inch or two on each side pressed neatly around her neck forming a “v” in the front. As her thin fingers curled around the microphone, there was a hushed moment just before she spoke. With everyone enraptured for the entirety of her fifteen minute speech, she engagingly, compellingly, and concisely told of all she knew about Irreadability. She then introduced the town’s familiar face who had “worked so hard to make this event possible.”
Allie received the mike and began: “It is such a privilege to stand before you with Dr. Rasworth. I would like to share my own experience of dealing with my boyfriend’s Irreadability and how it has affected my life. When we first started dating, I hardly noticed it, but it kept getting worse.” The women across the crowd who had convinced their men to join them, lovingly and pityingly patted their husband’s and boyfriend’s arm at this part of the speech.
Allie continued, “Then came our two-year anniversary, and he asked what I wanted. So I told him to get me something from the heart. But inside I was thinking and hoping he’d remember the gorgeous earrings I’d shown him less than three weeks earlier. The day finally came and I opened the box to find a bracelet—much to my disappointment.” Here, the women moved away from their men and booed in agreement that a bracelet instead of her hoped-for earrings was pathetic and heartbreaking. They continued their move toward the stage slowly as Allie encouraged them not to put off taking a guy to the doctor at the first sign of the symptoms that Dr. Rasworth had mentioned.
“It’ll save you a lot of heartache,” she said. “After all that I did to help him, my boyfriend left me.” More boos came from the crowd of women. “It’s been really difficult, but I still want to help people like him and people who know those like him. And I hope you want to do the same.” Men in the audience lingered together towards the back as the women had been drawn to the front by the story. Some of the men were even leaving—furious—as Allie concluded with this statement: “Now we want to open it up for any questions you may have.”
Not even Dr. Rasworth was expecting the reaction they received; questions were shouted from every direction. Overwhelmed by the chaos, Allie searched for who to call on to ask their question. Her eyes stopped on a young girl wearing a red, black, and white plaid dress that reached to her knees. This girl stood halfway towards the back and to the side of the crowd. Allie smiled with pride at the fact that they are learning and interested at such a young age. She pointed to her and said sweetly, “You there—please come ask your question into the mike.”
The eleven-year-old girl’s thin brown hair reaching down to her waist sways as she walks forward nervously looking down at her black mary janes and back up at the stage. She is very aware of her own inability to read minds and even sometimes body language.
All eyes are on her as she looks up at Allie and innocently asks into the mike, “When and how did you learn to read minds and body language?”
An eerie silence falls over the crowd as Allie thinks for a moment; the child wonders if she should have kept quiet. However, she doesn’t like the idea of her brothers having to go through this ridiculous process of being told that they are ill. Thinking of them again makes her glad she had spoken up. Finally there would be a realization that no human can read minds—and that it’s ok, probably even best.
Allie’s eyes begin to water; she shakes her head and bites her lip. She squeezes her eyes shut tightly and takes a deep breath before answering with a fearful, “I never did.” A gasp from the crowd adds to her hopeless mortification. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? she wondered. The microphone was slipping from Allie’s slightly limp hand when the specialist grabbed it.
She spoke into it: “Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed the first announcement of a female case of Irreadability. Please take all appropriate precautions. As you can see, this disease is spreading quickly. If you would like to make a donation to help support the research of Irreadability so that we can find a cure, you can make your checks out to Dr. Michelle Rasworth….”
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