Dread, sass and beyond 


MIAMI -- A man arrested after hitting a 13-year-old girl with a belt for what he called "out of control" behavior at his mini-mart faces criminal charges and a lawsuit.
"She's beyond sassy; she's out of control," said `Lonnie` Grigsby, who said he hit the girl after she called him a number of expletives and hurled two coins at his head. "I bet her parents never gave her a whupping. She needed it."
— Associated Press, Dec. 29, 2003

EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF ANNIE SULLIVAN, CASE WORKER, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES:

Dec. 14, 2003:

Dear Diary:

What a strange and wondrous thing it is to see one's destiny walk directly through the door of one's office. Today I was introduced to the girl who will be my greatest challenge -- and, should the fates permit, my most spectacular success. In accordance with DCF rules, her name must remain a secret, even to you, dear diary; I shall hereinafter refer to her solely as Althea X. Althea has come under the department's care for an incident in which she is said to have visited abusive behavior upon a purveyor of conveniences. Surely enough, the moment Secretary Regier ushered her into my presence, I detected a certain, shall I say, sassiness to her mien.

"This is Miss Sullivan," Secretary Regier told Althea. "From this day forward, she shall be your closest companion and confidant most dear." Whereupon the girl made several angry, foul assertions about the excretory habits of my mother and threw $.35 in coins at my head.

Yet even in the darkest night, God sends a beacon of hope: The change was all valid U.S. currency, and my lorry driver of this evening accepted it without a glance cast askance.

Dec. 27, 2003:

Althea, as the saying goes, is proving a tough nut to crack. We have now enjoyed a total of five sessions together -- though the enjoyment, I daresay, has been hers and hers alone. I have gone to great lengths to teach her the delicacies of social interaction, even putting out an elaborate tea-party setting for a crash course in politesse. She responded by pouring the hot liquid in my lap and accusing me of intimate relations with certain members of the animal kingdom. At another time, I sought to improve her frightfully crude diction by having her read aloud from the collected works of Rudyard Kipling. My thanks was a fusillade of obscene limericks and a stout pistol-whipping.

I know that this horrid conduct stems from some lack of care in her upbringing, but such insight will amount to naught unless I am able to knock down the wall of her studied resistance. For now, I fear that she has gone beyond simple sass and reached the next plateau of juvenile pathology. Should her comportment not improve substantially, I will be forced to record her condition as profoundly rambunctious.

Jan. 2, 2004:

Progress is still slow, and the external pressures mount. I have met with Althea's parents, a term I employ for its biological connotations only. A right shady pair they are, outwardly unconcerned with their daughter's welfare and preoccupied with the celebrity her troubles may bring. For most of our meeting, they ignored my explanations of her ongoing treatment and peppered me with questions about something they called an "original movie for NBC." They wanted to know if I perceived a significant resemblance between their Althea and someone named Amber Tamblyn. As I do not partake of the chapter-plays, I was happily unable to comment.

Secretary Regier, too, is becoming a thorn in my side, growing impatient with my painstaking methods and urging me toward a stronger course of action. "Tan her hide!" I frequently hear him shouting from just outside my door. "Turn her over your knee and beat her like Rick Santorum at a leather bar!"

This input, predictably, only serves to make the girl more agitated. Just yesterday, she interrupted our morning French lesson by commenting on the alleged pliability of my reproductive organs and braining me with a box of Wheatables. Reluctantly, I am forced to move her diagnosis beyond rambunctiousness and into the realm of outright hooliganism. Even this professional opinion, however, has been challenged by my increasingly faithless colleagues at the department, who have been heard to advance contradictory theories that the girl is merely (a) flip, (b) cheeky or (c) an incorrigible smarty-boots.

Jan. 7, 2004:

Eureka! At long last, the breakthrough I have prayed for! With all other avenues exhausted, I attempted this morning to engage Althea in a game of image association. Having procured photographs of her parents, the merchant who hit her and even Secretary Regier (for good measure), I placed her right hand onto each picture in succession and told her to blurt out the first words that came into her mind.

Down her hand went onto the photo of her parents. "Rec-room narcissists!" she cried.

Her fingers moved to the picture of the vendor. "Sexually confused dime-store Nazi!" she spat.

Then it was Secretary Regier's turn. "Bed-wetting nincompoop!" she declared.

With my heart pounding in my breast, I moved her fingers to my face and implored her to let the game continue.

"A boring but nice lady who's in way over her head!" Althea announced, tears of shamed understanding streaming down her face.

"You see, Althea?" I prodded. "It's not hatred I've been trying to rid you of. Hatred is good; in this hectic world of ours, I strongly suspect that nothing could get done without it. But if you don't learn to express that hate in a dignified and literate manner, how can you ever expect anyone to take you seriously?"

She rested in my arms awhile, still sobbing gently. And then we went out into the reception area, to see about getting her discharged. Or at least downgraded to a fussbudget.


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