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Reflections By James Halpin : Who I Am
Who I am
Who I am
I wrote a piece shortly after my 30th birthday for a writer's workshop. It was to be about our earliest memory. The instrutor had wanted more from the story and asked me to dig deeper. This is what I found. I also realize that the following is one of my deeper reflections. I hope you enjoy it. Just remember that this was from a different time and place in my life and what may seem depressing to the reader was actually uplifting for the writer.
Have you ever taken a test where there were two columns? Each is running down separate sides of the paper. To ace the test you had to match one word from one column to a word from the other column. There was always one word that could match up with a bunch of the words from the other column. Sometimes I wish that I could have myself on the one side of the paper and all my calamities in life listed on the other side. Then I could match myself up with one and stick with it. What would I choose? What shouldn't I choose? All that I am is from what I've been through. In preparation of what I will become and will happen.
I was born on a Tuesday afternoon. The date was November 14, 1972. Upon my entrance into the world the doctors wanted to wisk me away. Something had gone wrong. I wasn't the picture perfect baby to the doctors. But my Mother had insisted that they bring me to her. She cried. Not because something was wrong. She cried because she was holding her son. The child she had carried for nine months. The baby she had endured great pain to bring into this world. Her son, James Franklin Halpin II was born.
My introduction into the world would also introduce my family to cleft palette and cleft lip. My first surgery to start reconstruction would be a short two weeks later. The surgeons had stitched my upper lip enough that I would be able to eat from a special bottle. They also closed up the roof of my mouth so the formula wouldn't come out my nose.
I was told that I cried a lot as a baby. Can you really blame me? I can only imagine what I was thinking. All these Doctors pricking me with needles and looking at me like I was some type of project. How was I to know that they were just trying to give me a better life? They weren't shooting for normal. Which I had always wished for when I was older but just a better life then had I not had all the surgeries.
I hold my family in a high place in my life. Here they had this new addition to their family who wasn't perfect. Even when I look at my baby pictures I see that I wasn't the prettiest baby. But I was theirs. I never understood until I had my first niece. She would cry non-stop when you put her to bed. If it had been some stranger's baby I would've been irritated and mumbled about how they need to shut the kid up. But with Melanie it was different. I loved her and wanted to do all I could do to console her. Some may joke, ok, most would joke that my signing is lousy and that's why she fell asleep so I would stop. But I sang anyway and it worked. That was my way of showing my love to her just as my family showed their love by being there.
Being there. The old expression: "You had to be there" sticks in my head. What if you didn't want to "Be there"? I never wanted to be there. Even in my earliest memories I was looking for a way out. Some question the validity of my memory but I tell them that if they didn't live it they can't question it. To go back all I have to do is think about that crib. It must've felt like a cage to me. Long narrow bars with space between to barely fit my hand. The loud rattling noise it made whenever someone put the side down. The only bright side of the crib was its yellow color.
The color of the crib must've seemed insignificant to the nurses. But being inconsolable and at the urging of my Mother they were willing to try anything. With the introduction of the yellow crib I was soon fast asleep. Awaking in the middle of the night everything was quiet. The nurses had been off attending to other duties as I planned my escape. Unbeknownst to them at just under two years old I was in a toddler bed. You know. The ones with the rails that were supposed to keep me from rolling out of the bed. Being an escape artist my parents worried I would hurt myself falling out of the crib so they switched me to a bed.
It didn't take long for the nurses to see that I was missing and capture me. They returned me to the yellow crib, which was now sporting a lid. The feeling of being in a cage was now complete. After getting past the lid they resorted to strapping me down.
People would soon find as I went into my "terrible twos" it was even harder to keep me down. One moment I would be standing by your side the next I was gone. Perhaps you would find me climbing a tree. Or climbing onto the back of the sofa and doing somersaults off of the top. Which is where I got the small scar above my eyebrow. I don't remember doing it but I've heard the story so many times I can see myself doing the stunt. I did a somersault off the top of the sofa and when I hit the seat cushion I bounced off the sofa and hit the coffee table. That wasn't the only coffee table I had problems with. When I was older we had one that was the shape of an octagon and the pointy corners were the same height of my knees. I still have the black and blue marks from all the times I hit those corners.
Just a few weeks ago I was out for lunch on a Sunday afternoon, just like every other Sunday. Our waitress had asked me if I had cleft palette also. Looking up I noticed that she had a cleft lip. I smiled and nodded. My Mom and others were wondering if she had the same doctors that I had as a child. So when she returned they asked and she preceded to tell us about Dr. Davis, who had been my doctor also, and how she still goes to the poly clinic every year.
I can remember going there every year as a child. My view wasn't the same as the waitress'. She saw it as bringing the kids together so they would see they that were not alone in all the drama. But I didn't see it that way. I saw it as a place where the surgeons could get all their patients together and show off their work. That is totally wrong. I knew Dr. Davis so well and knew how much he cared for us that it wasn't to put us on display. I can even remember the way he talked about me to the other doctors. It wasn't "Look what I've done", on his part. But "Look what he's done", on my part. Which I can agree. Considering my extreme fear of needles as a child. I endured all the needle pokes for a hope that my life would be more normal. He was always impressed about my good attitude with all that was being done to me. Also that viewpoint is wrong too. Its not what was being done to me but what they were doing for me.
Normal. I think of that word in my life a lot. I have always wanted that "Normal" life. What is normal? It's strange how we can look at people and say now that person has a normal life. In reality we don't know their inner struggles. I don't know, there might even be some poor soul who thinks I have a normal life. Most of my life I've striven for the normal life. A normal speaking voice. Normal looks and normal hearing.
BUT IT'S NOT ABOUT ME! Why do I get on this self-centered thinking? This is the part I think the PolyClinic failed on. They concentrated so much on our physical needs and being sure that our parents had their questions answered they forgot our mental needs. How were we to cope with the teasing and the constant questioning of what happened to you? My biggest thing is my voice. I've always hated my voice I attribute my not being in a committed relationship because of my voice.
I've done a lot of posting on single's websites and typed to several women. When it came around to that time where you exchanged numbers and made the call it would be the last I heard from them. I've even gotten into arguments on the phone with telemarketers when they would ask for James Halpin and I said I was he and they didn't believe me. It was usually that they thought I was a woman or a child. I love my parents dearly but as a kid I used to think that the worst thing they ever did to me was give me the name James. The worst letters for me to say are J, M, S, and Z. Three of those letters are in my name. That is why when I went to college my phone bill and the name put in the phone book was listed as Jane Halpin. My roommates got a kick out of it. I just saw it as a slap in the face for thinking I could have a normal life.
But why be normal? Do you realize how boring it would be if we were all the same. I remember a certain year that I had gone down to Ocean City with my sisters Dani and Jo and our friend April. They had all bought t-shirts with why be normal decals. Instead of getting the regular boring decal. They had the guy cut the normal off and had him put on the normal part in different ways. They started a trend that summer. Ever since then the normal has been upside down.
As I sit here today I have come to love my name. James has been handed down through my family and I wear it proudly. Granted I would've wore William proudly also but my cousin who was born a month after me has that honor. I could've gone by my middle name however I don't look like a Franklin. I also don't really care for Jim, because of the fact that people think I'm saying Tim. People call my father Jim and that's mostly what he goes by. The best way I can explain it is that James is my name and people don't get me mixed up with my Dad. It's my way of being my own person. I don't mind being called Jimmy. I know some people who don't like to keep their childhood nickname. I can understand that. But its wrong to be mad and be rude with someone who has known you your whole life if they use your nickname.