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I’d Imagine That Being Buried Alive Must Feel the Same Way, If Not Similar

I’d Imagine That Being Buried Alive Must Feel the Same Way, If Not Similar

A Story by Taylor St. Onge

verbal emotions as taboo


It’s the black Pathfinder she drove, then the purple Grand Caravan, then the silver Rav4.  I cannot eat dark chocolate without thinking of her. She is why I cannot read mystery novels before bed, or play sudoko in the sun, or drink rosé boxed wine out of a bendie straw in a pink Kalahari souvenir cup.  There are actions I avoid so that I don’t think of her. Sometimes I cry when I talk about brain aneurysms or the ability to breathe or about the sense of hearing to be the last sense to go. She did this to me. My mother caused this.  

I was afraid for a long time, (or maybe I still am afraid), of the idea of being perfectly conscious in my body, but being unable to show it: unable to move, or speak, or breathe on my own without a machine.  This is not a thought I had before I turned thirteen.

Sometimes I don’t know if the reason why I do and think certain things is because they’re the things I would have naturally done and thought had things gone differently, or if they’re things that happen because of my mother--because her absence has molded me--or if that even matters.


This is not something I can say out loud.  There are a lot of things that I can’t say out loud.  I can’t tell my dead mother that I am mad at her for something that was out of her control.  Or that I’m mad at her for never going to a neurologist and getting an MRI, even though she was a nurse and knew better.  Or that I’m mad at her for staying with my alcoholic father for as long as she did out of fear. I won’t let myself seem that outwardly angry and bitter and rotten.  


Do you ever wish, on some level, that you were Genie the Wild Child?  That your father strapped you to a potty chair in a small, otherwise empty and secluded bedroom, and never taught you how to communicate?  That he growled at you, forbade you from crying, starved you, and never spoke a single word to you in any human language when he was in your presence?

You only have a few years to learn language before your brain is incapable of fully comprehending the words, the grammar, and the figurative meanings like metaphors and similes and irony and sarcasm. This is what they learned when they found Genie the Wild Child.


There is a book that I want to be able to unread.  I want to be able to unlearn each and every word that makes it up.  Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  It’s quite possibly the saddest children’s book to ever have been written, and it was also my mother’s favorite book to read to my sister and me before bed when we were little.  

The book chronicles the life of a young boy and his mother.  All throughout his childhood, the mother would hold the boy tight in her arms at night and croon, “I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living my baby you'll be.”  This goes on until the boy is a man and his mother is old and frail.  One night, the roles reverse and he holds her in his arms and sings, “I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living my Mommy you'll be.”  Munsch then goes on to write how the man sings the song to his own baby when it’s born.

I want to set this book on fire.  I want to burn it out of my mind and never remember a single, solitary, sad line from it again.  I want to actively repress this part of my childhood so far into my mind that nothing will ever jog its memory ever again.  I want to deconstruct the refrain until it loses all meaning, until the words don’t even look or sound like real words anymore.  I want to time travel and rip the book out of my mother’s hands. I am sick of remembering, of understanding and creating a foreshadow for my mother.

I don’t think my sister feels the same way.


Genie the Wild Child’s problem was not that she couldn’t speak at all, rather, that she could not fully understand grammar and syntax.  When they found her, psycholinguists figured out that there is no age cap on being able to learn and retain lexicon, the building blocks of language.  There is a cap, however, on the ability to work further with this lexicon--there is a cut off period on the ability to use the grammatical tools needed in order to string these vocabulary words together into coherent sentences.  

At thirteen-years-old, Genie the Wild Child had passed this threshold.  She could learn words like, “blue,” “orange,” “mother,” and “go,” but was unable to piece them together in a sentence that made logical sense.  She learned her first language too late.


My grandmother is upset with me because I now feel uncomfortable in the church I grew up in and I don’t know why.  That is not my biggest problem--I don’t have time for it, I don’t want to put the words together to articulate it.

I’d rather figure out why talking to people is hard for me now or how I managed to kill that succulent that was given to me at my sister’s bridal shower.  All the goldfish I have ever owned have died of some sort of bacterial infection and I don’t know how or why. Why does it seem that everything I come in contact with shrivels up and dies?


I think I have only seen my sister cry once since our mother died.  Maybe she she is able to internalize what I am not:

watching your mother, finally unhooked from the ventilator, tucked into bed like she was tucked in for sleep, the heart monitor slowly quickening only to slowly slide down from 120 to 108 to 90 to 88 to 64 to 36, and then--you tell her, you say, “It’s okay, you can go,” even though you don’t really mean it, even though it makes you cry, and then you look away from the heart monitor and back to your mother’s face and, there, tears, there are tears on her face; you were told that she couldn’t hear you because she was in some sort of coma from the aneurysm, so is she crying because she heard you, or is she crying because she is awake inside of her mind and knows her death is near and knows that she is not ready, and why am I writing this when I am getting too upset?

Maybe she can’t put words to this.  Maybe she doesn’t know how.


This is what language does to us if we are not careful and precise with each and every word we say or write or type--we end up meaning the opposite of what we had intended, perhaps without even knowing it.  Who vs Whom. They’re, their, there. You’re, your. Good vs well. One in the same vs one and the same. Red herrings. Overgeneralization. Begging the question. A good old ad hominem.

Without grammar, we could say words like, “blue,” “orange,” “mother,” and “go,” but be ultimately unable to string them together into a communicable sentence, ultimately unable to communicate through language.  We would have to rely on the body, have to rely on nonverbal communication like movements or drawings, or maybe small, animalistic sounds like growls and hisses. We would not be able to fully understand the rhyme, “I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living my baby you'll be.”  We would be able to erase its meaning entirely.

(A world without syntax is a very hard world for me to envision, but a very real reality for Genie the Wild Child.)


There are people that fall into comas from things like strokes and aneurysms that are still somehow perfectly conscious in their bodies.  Science does not know if this happens to everyone, if they are just unable to remember the experience when they awake. But there are some that do remember.  They could’ve been in a coma for two days or three weeks or four years, and then they wake up and tell us the chilling tale of how they were awake the entire time.  They were trapped inside of their bodies for however long.  

There are patients that awake during surgery, patients that look around the room and cry in pain, but are unable to make any communicable sounds because of the ventilator they are hooked up to during the procedure.  Sometimes they remember it, and sometimes they don’t--depends on how their body handles the anesthesia.

Is this how Genie the Wild Child feels?  Awake but unable to use her words? Trapped in her body?  Is this how my mother felt, if she was indeed awake and conscious the entire time, even though her eyes were screwed shut?

This is not an experience I ever want to have.


In my family, we don’t talk to each other, don’t tell each other the deep and gory details, until we are so upset with each other that we really have to because the only other choice is self-destruction (which is something I’ve grown to be rather good at).  

I never told my sister that I saw a therapist in high school, or that I see one now, but I think she she deduced it herself, or maybe she asked my grandmother about it, I’m not sure.  We don’t talk about it. I never told her how sometimes, when the sun is setting in just the right way on just the right day, it looks like the fluid that came out of our mother’s shunt: the clear, sugary, cerebrospinal fluid mixed with loose curls of rusted blood--I never told her that this is what the blood moons made me think of.  We don’t talk about it. I don’t want to. I will never tell my grandmother how actually petrified I am over the thought of her or my grandfather dying.  We don’t talk about it. I won’t say those words to acknowledge their mortality out loud.


On some level, do you ever wish that you were Genie the Wild Child?  Wish that you didn’t know what something meant? Wish you could be unable to comprehend the bad news that you were just given?  

When my mother died, I felt too much because I knew too much for a thirteen-year-old.  I let it eat and eat and eat away at me for years on end. I could not let the knowledge go.  Could not unknow the how and why my mother died. Could not unsee it.

Genie the Wild Child behaves the way she does because she was not taught a first language early enough.  She points and draws and uses a fragmented lexicon to get her point across. But she is still unable to fully communicate with others through words.  She’s limited. She frustrates neuro and psycholinguists.

Does Gene the Wild Child feel a sense of loss over not fully understanding language?  Does she even know that she is missing this ability? What is nature and what is nurture?  I don’t know.

© 2018 Taylor St. Onge

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Added on June 18, 2018
Last Updated on June 18, 2018
Tags: death, grief, genie, wild child, language, nonfiction, essay, psychology, taboo


Taylor St. Onge
Taylor St. Onge

Milwaukee, WI

Hi. I like literature a lot. more..