Choking the Monster

I first saw Ellen on the playground of the two room school house that we attended, in 1954. Ellen was laying on the ground, writhing and jerking. It was terrifying to this little eight year old girl, but I was more horrified by the chanting crowd of children who surrounded Ellen.

“Witch…witch…witch…witch….” I’ll never forget it.

“She’s having a fit!!” Someone shrieked.

“She’s possessed by the devil!” Someone else hollered.

Ms. Allen, our second grade teacher, streaked toward the mob from across the playground. When Ms. Allen arrived, I was already on the ground hovering over Ellen and screaming at the kids to leave her alone. Ms. Allen dismissed Ellen’s tormentors with a withering look. By this time, Ellen had stopped her jerking, and she was in a deep sleep.

Ms. Allen scooped her up, and she carried her into the school and down the hall, where she laid Ellen upon a small cot. Ms. Allen, tenderly brushed Ellen’s hair back, and she asked me to stay with her until she woke up. That was when Ms. Allen explained to me about Ellen’s epilepsy, and that she had just suffered a “grand mal” seizure.

“When Ellen wakes up, don’t upset her,” Ms. Allen admonished. Then she left the little room, and I sat with Ellen, who soon awakened.

“I had a seizure, didn’t I,” She stated, with a smile. I nodded, as I took her hand.

“Did the kids all gather ‘round, again?” She asked. Trying not to upset her, I could think of nothing to say except the truth.

“Yes.” I said.

“They think I’m demon possessed, you know,” Ellen stated, simply. I nodded again, not fully understanding the cruelty I had witnessed.

Soon Ellen’s mother came for her and took her home. I then followed Ms. Allen down the hall to our classroom, where all the children sat with there heads down on their desks. Ms. Allen told them to sit up straight, and she laced into them, immediately. She must have talked for over an hour, explaining about epilepsy and superstition to a bunch of ignorant kids who had been programmed their entire lives.

From that moment both Ellen and I were ostracized, but I didn’t care, because I felt called to protect Ellen, and she became my first real friend. Ellen and I were total opposites. She was gentle. I was willing to initiate a fight at the first sign of trouble. She was a “lady.” I was an original “tom-boy.” She forgave all her tormentors. I was hunting them down, just aching for an opportunity. To me, Ellen was an angel of grace, and I became her guardian angel. And guard her I did, from the other kids.

I hated Ellen’s disease, because I saw how vulnerable it made her to a bunch of cruel and ignorant school yard bullies. What really upset me the most was knowing that the other children’s words and actions were a reflection of the ignorance of their parents.

Protecting Ellen, in the face of bigotry changed the course of my life. I had once been cruel and ignorant, just like the other kids, picking on others less able to defend themselves. I began to hate my own cruelty, and in time I rejected it entirely. Although I could not control the thoughts and actions of others, I could change myself. I began to choke the monster within myself, until it finally died.

Ellen and her parents moved that same year, and so did we. I’ve never seen nor heard from her in fifty years, but still she remains one of the most important persons in my life. Befriending Ellen taught me that I didn’t need to be a part of a crowd or a mob. Life has been lonely at times, but at the end of the day, when I take that last look at my face in the mirror, I know that I can live with the person who is looking back at me. And most of all, I can believe that I have the strength to stand alone, in kindness.

Jaye Lewis

Jaye Lewis is a born again Christian and award winning writer, who lives and writes in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, USA. Jaye is completing her first book, entitled Entertaining Angels. Jaye says: "Entertaining Angels celebrates the spiritual and even the miraculous events in my life, and the angels who have blessed me along the way."

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