The reason I have holes in the right armpits of most of my t-shirts is that I take my shirts off the wrong way. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me otherwise. I resist changing the way I remove my shirts because I feel like it’s something that makes me me. My habits distinguish me from other people. Without them, who am I?

When I was ten years old, I realized that I always came in the house through the side door. Always. I never used the front door. I decided that this was something that made me who I was. If I were to change, I thought, I would risk losing my identity.

I had more habits that set me apart from others. For example, I always left my water glass half full – I would never drink all the water from it. I didn’t know why. One day, in 4th grade, all of this came to a head. Other kids, and even teachers had begun to notice my strange habits. Mrs. Hawthorne asked me why I always bent down to touch the floor when leaving the building for recess. I didn’t know why I did it, but I had to say something, so I told her I was like a track runner getting into position – I wanted to get a running start for recess. She had asked me in front of my friends, which embarrassed me. I didn’t know if they were going to start asking me about all the stuff I did, but I was really stressed out by it.

One day late in that same school year, there was a disaster at school. The war monument crashed into the roof. It was a big, big stone statue of some soldier. I guess he wasn’t done killing people from whatever war he was in, so he smashed down on the school. I was right there by the front doors, outside the classrooms, when it happened.  A big piece of metal from inside the ceiling came down right over me. The only reason I wasn’t killed was I just happened to be bending down to touch the floor at the same second the roof caved in. So that thing that other people thought was crazy saved me.

There was a lot of noise when all that happened. Mechanical noises from air and water rushing through broken pipes. And there was still stuff breaking and falling. People were screaming and crying under all that machine noise. It was pretty dark, even though it was day time, because the lights were all broken. But there was a kid named Mike that I could see about 20 feet from me. He was lying on the ground. I crawled over to him and I was afraid that he was dead, but he was kind of moaning so I knew he wasn’t dead. I pulled him to where the front doors used to be but they were all twisted and bent over.

Now the thing is that there was a picture that hung on the wall near the front door. It had a purple frame. Nobody ever noticed, but every time I left the building, after I touched the ground, I had to touch this purple frame. But there was too much stuff on the ground between me and the where the frame had fallen. And so I was going to have to leave Mike on the floor and crawl over a lot of stuff to get to the frame. I thought it was probably especially important for me to touch it now, during this disaster. It just seemed like something I had to do. But then, I decided that I couldn’t just leave Mike like that, so maybe I could drag him out of the building and go back in just for a second and touch the frame. Then, everything would be alright.

Well, I got us out of the building. There were a lot of people around, but I turned around to head back for that frame, which was all I could think about. Touching that frame was the only thing in my head. Right then, there was a huge “Bang!” and a lot of wind came from the building. They took us away from there. It turned out that some gas had exploded inside.

The thing is that if I had stopped to touched the frame when I was with Mike, we both would have been killed by the explosion. And, if I had gone back in then I would have been killed. So, on the one hand, my habit of touching the floor saved my life, but ignoring the purple frame also saved my life.

Tonight, I will look up the “correct” way to take off t-shirts and learn it. Maybe there’s more than one correct method. I like options.

Click the flower for a song about mental illness!


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