feral children

by angeliska on August 6, 2002

tomorrow night i shall be reverting to my true state of ferality for cabaret re-voltaire, our beloved demented dada salon..wish me luck…here’s a sad story of one of my dearest obsessions, genie, the wild child..how i adore her..
Once in a great while, civilized society comes across a wild child, a child who has grown up in severe isolation with virtually no human contact.
Solitary confinement is, diabolically, the most severe punishment, and in my experience, really quite dramatic symptoms develop in as little as fifteen minutes to an hour, and certainly inside of two or three days. And try to expand this to ten years boggles one’s mind.
This is the scene of the crime. The child was locked in a room and tied to a potty chair for most of her life. Completely restrained, she was forced to sit alone day after day and often through the night. She had little to look at and no one to talk to for more than ten years.
She was fragile and beautiful, almost haunting, and so I was pulled, I was very drawn to her, even though I was nervous and had no idea, in many respects, what to expect.
I was captivated by her. I was not the last person to become captivated by her. The story, as we began to learn about it, was sort of one of the things, of course, that would reach out and grab you anyway. But she had a personal quality that seemed to elicit rescue fantasies, and this in a group of people who were interested in taking care of kids and who specialized in early childhood, who were going to be sort of powered by rescue fantasies anyway. She reached out and grabbed lots of us.
When introduced, I extended my hand. She reached out with her fingers and delicately touched my hand, and then, in a sense, that was it. She had made my acquaintance. She was satisfied, for herself, about me. But my reaction was, I had a thousand questions, immediately. Who? What? How? How does this come about? Why is this? Why do I see what I’m seeing?
Could I imagine what that was like? Could I see things through her eyes? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe I really could. Sometimes, I could understand and guess pretty well what she was going to do, but that was familiarity, and not an ability, I think, to empathize with, understand, the way she saw the world
She was a pitiful, malformed, incontinent, unsocialized, and severely malnourished creature. Although she was beginning to show signs of pubescence, she weighed only 59 pounds. She could not straighten her arms or legs. She did not know how to chew. She salivated a great deal and spent much of her time spitting. And she was eerily silent
Genie had a strange bunny walk and other almost inhuman characteristics. Genie constantly spat. She sniffed and clawed. She barely spoke or made any noises.
One of Genie’s most captivating qualities was the intense way she explored her new environment. Oddly, even strangers who knew nothing about her story seemed to sense her need to do so.
One particularly striking memory of those early months was an absolutely wonderful man who was a butcher, and he never asked her name, he never asked anything about her. They just connected and communicated somehow. And every time we came in — and I know this was so with others, as well — He would slide open the little window and hand her something that wasn’t wrapped, a bone of some sort, some meat, fish, whatever. And he would allow her to do her thing with it, and to do her thing, what her thing was, basically, was to explore it tactilely, to put it up against her lips and feel it with her lips and touch it, almost as if she were blind.
There was a time that she passed a father and a little boy who were coming out of a shop, and the little boy was carrying a toy fire engine. And they just passed, and then they turned around and came back, and the boy, without a word, handed the fire engine to Genie. She never asked for it. She never said a word. She did this kind of thing, somehow, to people.

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