This short story was written by Robin Kellner. She is a Disability Studies student and wrote this piece for a professionally related elective called Writing for Disability Activism.
Working as an intervenor for people who are deafblind has given me insight into how our senses change our perception of the environment around us. Fast, loud, and unpredictable—how would it feel to have limited access to visual and auditory information? Some individuals who are deafblind have shared their stories, insights, and experiences with me. Inspired by their perspectives, I wrote a short story called “Undone.”
While “Undone” is fictional, I drew upon my conversations with my clients to create Monika. She encounters situations that reflect stories faced by my clients that display the inaccessibility of every day events. Monika is pressured into going to a bar which becomes catastrophic as she is separated from her friends. It is not uncommon for guide dogs or intervenors to be unwelcome at family gatherings. Restaurants, wedding venues, and even religious centres do not always make accommodations for people who are deafblind. Requests for simple adjustments to lighting or the volume of music are often denied putting more barriers in front of people who are deafblind. Through writing, we can advocate for change.
Follow Monika through her journey as she pushes her inhibitions aside for just one night
By: Robin Kellner
“Hello, hello, can you hear me?” My ears strain to hear a quiet voice.
My left hearing aid is gone, but the right is still there. I’m on a cold, hard mattress with steel bars on either side. A scratchy wool blanket is wrapped around my naked body. My knee caps are swollen, deep scratches cover my face, and there’s a fire burning between my thighs. Where am I?
“Talk into my right ear.” My limbs are shaking.
“I am Officer Hansen, you are at St. Michael’s Hospital. You were found by a dog-walker four hours ago in Moss Park. It is a quarter past six on Saturday morning. Is there anyone we can call?”
I give her our house number. She calls Mum, and tells her where I am.
“Are you thirsty? That water bottle on the table is for you.” She says. My hand wanders in the air.
“Can you see?” Officer Hansen asks, as I desperately search for the table.
I shake my head, and she hands me the water bottle. Half the bottle is gone after just one sip. My eyes want to stay shut. There’s a brick in my head keeping me still.
“How old are you?” She asks.
“I’m nineteen.” I answer.
“Did you have a wallet with you last night?”
I shrug my shoulders; I can’t remember if I even left the house.
“Dr. Lindop took blood and found Rohypnol in your system. Did you consume any drugs last night? ”
“No.” How did that happen? What’s going on?
“We are going to find out who did this to you. An investigator from our Sex Crimes Unit is going to speak to you as soon as possible. Do you understand?”
Tears begin to fill my eyes “I don’t remember anything.” My heartbeat like an electric current sends shocks through my body. I now can’t control the tears, they are pouring down my face like a running faucet. A flash of last night begins to appear in my mind.
“Hey ladies.” Yells Kristin, over the auditory puzzle of sounds outside the bar.
We walk in and the sour stench of stale beer hits me in the face. The thumping beat of the music sends vibrations through every bone of my body. My heart is galloping and it’s as hot as the desert.
Kristin yells something but I can’t make it out.
“What?” I ask.
“I want to dance.” She repeats slowly in an irked tone. She jerks my arm, like I’m a ragdoll, and pulls me into a crowd of people.
“Come on, dance, move those hips.” She sings.
I move my hips and feet, hoping I don’t look too ridiculous.
“Birthday shots.” I hear a voice yell. Please tell me I’m left out of this one. Sure enough, a small cylinder glass is pushed into my left palm. The bitter smell flares my nostrils.
All six girls yell, “Happy birthday, cheers.” They clink the glasses in the middle of the circle. I gulp and feel the tingling heat travel down my throat into my chest, forcing a coughing fit.
The sound of Officer Hansen’s eloquent voice brings me back to the hospital. “A nurse is going to come to your house every day to make sure your blood pressure is stable, and you have an appointment with the OBGYN. She’ll see you in a couple days.”
Mum rushes in like a frenzied hyena, swoops me up, and practically carries me to her 2002 Oldsmobile Station Wagon.
Four days go by. Full of doctors, nurses, and countless questions I can’t answer. Sitting down at the kitchen table with Mum has been hopeless.
“The investigator is coming tomorrow … we have to give her something to work with.” She repeats for the thousandth time “Monika … come on.” Her voice is cracking.
I have nothing to say.
“Honey, I need some air.” She picks up her mug, walks to the balcony door, and slips her feet into her slippers. She collapses into the wicker chair that faces the field behind our building. Mum always tells me how much she loves the trees in autumn. I love the smell of the maple trees and the echo of the river rushing to the waterfall. On good days, I can hear it from our third floor balcony.
Mum’s been outside for ten minutes now. I trail along the wall trying to find my bedroom door. I have to pull off my jeans slowly. There are spots called bruises on my thighs. I crawl into bed … my only escape.
Mum’s on the phone again. In our small apartment, I can hear her when she’s sitting in the living room where she likes to go off on her endless tangents. I turn my hearing aids down a notch.
“This is all your fault.” Mum’s hoarse voice creeps through the crack under my door. I wish she would stop calling Kristin, blaming her. “I don’t know, she hardly talks to me these days. She hasn’t even picked up a book.” I can’t take it anymore. I rip out my hearing aids and throw them toward my bedside table. I don’t know if they landed on the table, the rug, or somewhere in between. I want to fall asleep and never wake up. I finally start to dose off, when, as if I’ve stepped on a landmine, more memories explode in my mind.
Kristin barges into my bedroom, breaking my Atwood trance. The CNIB Library delivered my transcribed books this morning – keeping my busy all day.
“Please come out with us … you never do.” She sounds like an alarm clock that goes off every weekend, reminding me of my non-existent social life. Just what I need on this miserable misty Friday afternoon. She always tries to get me to go out, but I have never even been to a bar.
“I can’t.” I answer, rashly.
Kristin lets out a throaty sigh, “Come on, we’ll look out for you.”
I’ve heard one too many stories about her drunken stupors, having to ask friends what she did the night before. “I’ll think about it.” I say.
She turns around to face the door, “I better see you tonight, I’m turning 21.” I can imagine the spunky hair flip as she walks away, then down she goes to her second floor apartment.
I make my way back to my desk and try to pick up where I left off in “The Edible Woman” by Margaret Atwood, getting to know Marian as she reveals her sense of detachment from her own life. I open my closet door to feel the different textures it holds. I pull down two tops and a dress, and walk to the creaky elevator. Touching the numbers to make sure this is 206, I knock on Kristin’s door.
“What up Monika?” There’s a smile in her voice.
“Which one of these should I wear tonight?” My left hand holds up the crumpled pile of clothes.
“That a girl.” She hugs me so tightly I can barely breathe. “Ew none of these. We’ll find you something. We’re basically the same size.” I’ve always wanted curves like Kristin’s. Everyone says she’s stunning with her hazel eyes and long brown locks. I’m stuck with this twiggy body and mousy brown hair. People are shocked when they find out we’re cousins.
“Try this one.” She holds up the dress like it’s her masterpiece. I slip it on over my tank top. The cold fabric barely covers the top of my legs.
“A little loose around the hips but we’ll work with that. Red looks hot against your ghostly skin.” Her voice is getting quieter. She rushes around her room. “So we’ll meet the girls around 10. I’ll come get you when I’m ready. Oh, and don’t bring Roger with you.” Continues Kristin.
“But – “ I won’t find my way without my guide dog.
“I’m taking a nap, see you later.” She closes the door in my face.
Without delay, she knocks on my door at 9:30 and we walk down the crowded Queen Street East. I am holding Kristin’s hand tightly and she laughs at me. Sure as hell, she’s drunk already. I can picture Mum clutching the phone, eagerly anticipating the need to jump to my rescue.
Out of nowhere, a hand lands on my shoulder bringing my mind back to my bedroom.
“Who’s there?” A hand goes under mine, forms the letter ‘t,’ and then places it on the side of her face. Oh, it’s only Terry. She’s my intervenor, what is she doing here? She’s supposed to come tomorrow. Shit, where did I put my hearing aids? Terry guides my hand to my bedside table, and I feel them in their usual spot next to my crystal jewelry box.
“Your mom is worried about you … that’s quite the gash on your forehead.” She runs her index finger across my forehead to move my bangs. She has always done a lot more touching than I would like. Finding my way to my closet, I throw on my silky robe and sit cross-legged on my single bed. Terry drags over the rocking chair from the corner and sits down across from me. Heat rushes up my spine. Of course Mum called her over.
“Do you remember anything?” She asks.
I try to open my quivering lips, but I can’t make a sound.
“Monika … I’m —“
“Get out of my room” I’m not trying to be mean. All these people hovering around me need to go away. I check to make sure the rocking chair is empty. Terry is gone. Memories creep back in, forcing my legs to crumble onto the carpet.
“Let’s get another drink.” Kristin yanks my arm and drags me to a table that feels sticky. “Two rum and Coke please.”
“Captain Morgan’s okay?” A man behind the sticky table says.
“Of course, Tim.” She answers.
“Alrighty, comin’ right up.” He says, enthusiastically.
Chatter fills my ears, but I can’t grasp a word of it.
“Ugh, give that back right now.” Kristin snaps.
“What happened?” Why is she mad?
“Some numbskull just snatched your drink.” She explains.
“What’s the matta, you don’t want to share with me?” I hear the muffled accent of a drunk.
“Here you go.” Kristin finally frees the drink from his hand to mine.
We finish our drinks, she pulls me back to the dance floor, but drops my hand.
“Kristin!” Suddenly, there’s a hand in mine that is smaller than hers. The ring on the index finger is unfamiliar. A bigger hand takes mine, swaying my body sideways, and then another hand pulls me back the other way.
My head is spinning. My spine painfully rattles as my back hits the floor.
Someone pulls me by the arm. “Careful.” Who is this man? “Let’s get your ass out of here.” He drags me through the crowd and tosses me outside. I throw up all over Kristin’s favorite dress.
“Alright, she’s trashed.” Who is he talking to? “You’ll find a taxi out here.”
“I need help.” I say, but it’s clear that I’m alone. I can’t keep my eyes open. I find a spot on the sidewalk, lean against the brick wall, and put my face in my hands.
My swollen knee caps are pounding against the flattened carpet. I lean my arms against my bed to get myself off the floor, walk to my door to find Roger’s harness and pull it off its hook. He runs over, tail wagging. Like a typical golden retriever, he knows when I need him to hurry.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mum sounds mad.
“I’m taking Roger out for a pee.” I lie and throw on my coat … moving quickly enough to avoid hearing another word. I’d rather step on a broken piece of glass than be asked another question I can’t answer.
Roger tugs the harness when we get outside. “Not now Roger, you can wait until we get to the park.” I yank the harness, making him walk forward. Dirt blows onto my face, stinging my wounded forehead. We continue walking into the lightless night.