I SEE RED: Chapter One

I am Dallas.
I am six and a half.
[I see red.]


Zoe Fletcher, 26
Behavior Specialist
[I see you.] I see who you really are, Dallas.

(And I love you anyway.)



Hot Dog

[I see red.]
“You’re making me die! Let me go!” I scream and shout, with all my breath.
The Evil She is holding my arms across my body, with my hands rolled up in a ball. I try to get free by sticking a fingernail out of my fist to scratch She’s skin. It’s working, but her is holding me so much more tighter than before. I’m going to die; I know it. I am so angry, everything I see is red. I smash my head back it into hers, and I hear it crack on the wall. She’s arms get looser so her can grab that walkie talkie that’s usually clipped onto She’s belt.
The Evil She presses the button and yells, “Hot dog!”
Now is my chance. The stupid idiot can’t hold me with one arm, and this thing is for sure: I am very much faster than her has ever been.
So, I run.

[I see you.]
“Shit,” I say under my breath, as I grab the walkie talkie again. “He ran,” I admit, while five teachers come to my aid.
The principal shrieks, “You have to use the code, for God’s sake, do you want parents hearing this?”
It wasn’t my fault that this asshole of a child ran away again. Six adults are out looking for him now, and you’re worried that I didn’t say, “Hot Dog.” Three more teachers join the search, with one running outside to cover all bases.
My head is pounding.

[I see red.]
Don’t tell anyone, but I’m hiding in the bathroom. I’m sitting on top of a toilet with my knees tucked under my chin. I heared how they’re looking for me, and I wonder if they think a homeless person stole me? I wonder if they were thinking a car flatted me like a pancake? I like how they are so worried, like chickens with the heads cut off. Them are running around all panicky and scared thinking I might be dead. This is the funniest thing because I was almost dead when She was holding me, and I am really very alive now that I’m freed from The Evil She’s grip.
I am the boss of this place, and this time, they’ll all learn their lesson; then nobody will mess with me ever again.

[I see you.]
“Has anyone checked the bathrooms?” I yell.
“Yeah. Nobody was in there,” a frenzied voice replies.
I know the intricacies of Dallas’s brain pretty well by nowan achievement carved out of spending seven hours a day with him for the past two weeks. I know when he’s up to something, particularly when he’s up to no good. I have a hard time trusting other people to understand him like I do, especially considering it’s only our third day at this new school. Jeez, Dallas, we can’t even get through three days without wreaking havoc. You know what they say about second chances at first impressions? Yeah, we blew it. I can’t say I’m surprised, though, because as far as kids go Dallas is definitely the worst.
I walk into the boys’ bathroom. The stall is closed and locked, curiously with no feet showing under the door. A small body breathes almost silently, and I watch his shadow shift carefully on the floor. Lifting the walkie-talkie to my mouth, I press the button and say, “Hot dog found.”
I’m going to sit here and wait this one out.

[I see red.]
No! Hot Dog is still missing. Hot Dog ran away to Mexico for all you know. I could be any kid crouched up on a toilet; I could just be a regular guy taking a poop. Why are you so sure you found the Hot Dog? I think The Evil She wants to wait for me. Oh, I can wait too. I can sit here like this all day until the night, and she will not win.
She will not win.

[I see you.]
“Dallas,” I whisper, “I know you’re in there.”
There’s no reply, which is another thing that doesn’t surprise me in the least. God knows how long I’m going to need to wait for him to come out of the stall. What I do know is that he hates being ignored. So I wait.
“I know you’re in there and just so you know, I don’t care. I’ve got plenty of other things I can do right now, so I’m going to go eat lunchyou can have fun sitting here on a boring, stinky toilet,” I say, walking out the door. Sitting on the cold, hard floor outside the bathroom, I know it’s only a matter of time before Dallas runs again. There’s only one exit point from this bathroom, so I plan to catch him as he goes to make a run for it.
I sit, I watch, I wait. I’m ready to pounce at any second.

[I see red.]
Nobody ever knowed that I can fit through the window in here. I tested it a different day in case I ever needed an escape route. Today seems to be the day I needed it most. The trick is about taking out the middle glass bit, which actually slides out easy. You have to be careful, or you’ll get blood coming out your hands.
I slide it out and set it down gently. Now there’s a kid-sized hole for me to climb through. Lucky I only ate half my bagel for breakfast because if I ate the full thing I probably wouldn’t fit through this tiny window.

[I see you.]
It’s been a while. Dammit, I thought the little shit would come out by nowI’m starving, and I need some ibuprofen. My head throbs in pain, and there’s a bruise forming on my cheek. Suddenly, a familiar face smiles and waves at me through the window to the play yard. Noit couldn’t be? How the hell did he get outside? He laughs at my apparent bewilderment.
“Hot Dog,” I say through the walkie talkie.
“What? Again?” a voice replies.
I sigh, “Again.”
He raises his eyebrow and smiles before running out of view. Here we go again.

[I see red.]
I used to know what was the F-word, but I have forgotten. I would like to yell it, but I am running so fast, and I haven’t got time to remember. Here’s something I know: The Evil She will not catch me. The biggest reason why her will never, ever catch me is because I am always the best. I know how to make people yell, I know how to make people cry, I know how to get the biggest piece of cake every time. People are like big fat toys, with all kinds of buttons to press. The buttons make lights and sounds like sirenspeople buttons are the funniest things. Press a button, and just like thatI maked someone angry.
“F-word! F-word!” I yell as I run, checking to see where The Evil She is behind me. The look on her face is too good! Her is all redpuffing and panting again. Her can’t run much longer. Like I said, I always always win.
“Catch me if you can!” I say as The Evil She steps pretty close to me this time. I am an artful dodger, and of course, her didn’t catch me.

[I see you.]
I’m so mad that I might explode; I swear Dallas will be the death of me. I have to admit that I am also trying not to bust out laughing, since ironically, there’s so much comedy in the ridiculousness. Apparently, he’s forgotten the actual F-word but knows it gets a huge reaction. About a week ago we were listening to music on my computer, and he chose a song with explicit language. I tried to change it straight away, but I wasn’t fast enough. Dallas looked at me and said,
“Oh, so it’s fuck?”
“What did you just say?” I died.
“Fuck means the F-word,” he mused.
He yelled the F-word so many times that day; I thought it would never leave his vernacular. Right now he’s the one appreciating the comedy, laughing at me as I chase him through the school. The mood changes as he heads for the gate.
“This isn’t a game, Dallas,” I say with false confidence. “I won’t chase you.”
“You already chasing me,” he replies in a sing-song tone.
The truth is I have to chase him, because this is San Francisco and he’s nearing on Geary Street. I walk a fine line between pretending not to care and being ready to catch him at any moment. I turn and repeat, “Hot dog. Hot dog at the Geary gate.”
Three grown ass adults run towards us like grade schoolers responding to the recess bell. I have to admit if I were a child I would find hilarity in this scene. A round middle aged lady (I think she works in the library), a nerdy tech dude with a beard (I don’t even know if he works here, seriously never seen him before) and a pretty young thing in heels all attempt to close in on us. None of them can run for shitit’s like one of those movies where they rally a motley crew of misfits to achieve the impossible. Dallas is in hysterics, and at this point I’m starting to become legitimately scared. There are only a couple of feet between his body and cars speeding down the road. Like most San Franciscan children, I can assume he’s got pretty good street smarts when he’s present, but right now his common sense is completely out to lunch. He seems to leave his body when he’s in this state. His eyes narrow and lose focus, and it’s clear that someone (or something) else is at the wheel.
Now I’m caught between a rock and a hard placeif I go too close, he’ll run onto the street to spite me. If I don’t go close enough, he might still run on the road. The vacant version of this kid doesn’t give a shit about the value of his life because his core belief is that he’s worthless. He won’t let anyone put him in danger, but he is completely unafraid to die, so he has no qualms about putting himself in the line of fire. His arms twitch in atypical movements, and he jumps up, laughing.

[I see red.]
I am winning! I win every time and every thing. Cars are zooming down the street, and I step a little closer to feel the breeze on my face. A car almost flats me, and it’s the funniest thing because the driver beeps the horn so loud after. I like how there’s this wind that messes my hair when a car goes by; it’s the most exciting thing. I wonder what it might feel like to step out in front of them and be squished? I’m the boss of my own self, so if I wanted to, I could. I own my life, and I can die any day. Anyone can, you know? You never know the day that you will become dead.
If I was dead I would become an angel; maybe I would grow wings and spend lunch time with God and Jesus. I think dead means you’re quiet and still, and people will love you more. People are always nice about dead people, putting up their photos in their house and giving them a grave. And they cry and say what a beautiful soul they were, and how they wish they could give their legs to be together again.
The car breeze smells like jet fuel, and I like it. Smack! I’m on the ground now, and The Evil She is on top of me with my arms behind my back.

[I see you.]
“Fuck,” it slips out as I pin him to the ground. My blood pressure is at an all-time high.  
“Oh yeah, fuck means the F-word,” I hear, muffled under his giant jacket. While I’m using all of my might to hold back tears, his affect is entirely flat. In fact, his mouth kind of curls at the side in a strangely grimaced grin. He freaks me out, and I look away. The motley crew of misfits joins the scene.
“Are you OK?” one asks.
“I’m fine,” I lie, still avoiding the gaze of the creeptastic child in my grip.
“Hot Dog found,” the round lady reports on the walkie talkie, with the enthusiasm of someone winning a cruise on a gameshow. She’s way too into this.
“I’m going to need help getting him up the stairs,” I explain.
The random guy with a beard grabs Dallas’s feet, the lady in heels does her best to support his middlebut honestly, I have no idea why this girl is wearing such an inappropriate outfit to work at an elementary school. Kids this age will cover you in snot, pee, tears, and yogurt. Frankly, I’ve got no time for heels. The round lady tries to act like she’s being useful but obviously doesn’t know what the hell needs to be done, so I just grab his head, and we start walking.
I expect Dallas to thrash around and try to get away, but he’s oddly calm to the point where I’m afraid to look at him. He locks eyes with me and rekindles that maniacal smile. I hate to think it, but Dallas looks like the kind of person who might just turn up to school one day with a gun and kill us all. His eyes sparkle murderously, and I quickly avert my gaze. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as I try not to let a brief shiver weaken my grip.
“Ahh...This is the life,” he jeers, laying his head back like he’s enjoying champagne at a day spa.
“Goodness. He needs a swift kick in the pants,” the round lady remarks. “It’s the parents' fault thoughthey need more boundaries.”
I can’t even right now. So I hold my tongue, as well as my kid. This lady is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Next minute, he thrashes as I’d expected, and kicks the beardy guy in the face. He drops the legs for a second, and I’m terrified Dallas will run again. Beardy Man whispers the elusive F-word and manages to grab the boy’s feet before he can escape. The look on his face says, “How did I get roped into this?” and I feel genuinely sorry my client became his problem.
Finally, we’re back inside the school building, and I sit on a couch with Dallas in my lapcrossing his hands in front of his body. Dallas has an underdeveloped Moro Reflex, which he should have outgrown by four months of age. You know how newborns throw their arms out when they’re startled? It makes them feel like they’re falling, and that’s why parents swaddle babies. Since he still has this reflex, Dallas shows dysregulation by the movement of his arms jerking and flapping all around his body. I hold them close so he can get a hold of himself.
For someone with the reflexes of an infant, my God he’s strong when he’s upset. The motley crew goes back to whatever the heck they were doing in the first placethe round woman a little reluctantly. I tell her I have it covered, and she looks back twice on her way out. The bearded guy grabs his bag and leaves the premises immediately, confirming my suspicions that he was, in fact, a visitor. The principal calls Dallas’s parents straight away, while I’m just waiting for the storm to pass.
Dallas kicks me in the shins once more, and I am convinced this will be the meltdown that never ends.

[I see red.]
The Evil She is trying to kill me again. Her arms are around me squeezing all my breaths out, and I am choking.
“You not allowed to do this!” I scream. Her ignores me another time, and I know her is getting tired of me kicking and hitting all the time. I will win, you just wait and see. I know that She’s muscles can’t keep up all day. Pretty soon, her will get tired, and I’ll run.
“I am the boss of this place! I am going to kill you, and send the police to kill everyone at this school!” I growl.

[I see you.]
I want to tell him police are for helping, not for hurting, but with what’s happening in the news lately I can’t say that with full integrity.
“I will talk to you when you are calm,” I remind him, yet again.

[I see red.]
The Evil She smells like shampoo and laundry soap. Her leans close to me, which is my biggest hate, and her says all the things I hate most.
“I like you every day, Dallas. It doesn't matter what you say or do; I will like you every single day.”
No, no, no, no, no. Not. Gross, I will throw up on you, disgusting witch lady. I am not to be liked or lovedI am the baddest bad guy. I am smart, and bad. One time I even farted on a book my teacher loved, and I will easily do something like that to you. You don’t like me; you never have, and nobody has ever liked me. There is nothing to like, so stop F-Word lying. I kick her about forty hundred times and I manage to bite her finger. She pushes her hand back into my mouth, and that makes my mouth open too wide to bite anymore. So, I let go.
“You’re not going to win,” her whispers quietly in my ear.
I am a winner and winning is what I do. I break free and snap her glasses in half. Her catches me and tries to kill me again.

[I see you.]
Dallas keeps telling me to take my arms off his tummybut the arms around his waist are his own. He’s disassociated so far this time he can’t tell where his body ends and mine begins. He’s gasping for air now, his own hand grabbing his throat. I take it away, as the principal approaches.
“That boy is out of control,” she says with eyes wide.
No shit, Sherlock.
“This…” I struggle to hold him. Still, he tries to grab my hair, but I bring his arm back down, “This isn’t him. He’s not home right now.”
“How do we get him back?” the principal asks, sarcastically.  
“Honestly, it’s not the best time for conversation,” I say. “I wish we had a more private space to see this meltdown cycle through.”  
She looks somewhat offended, but sticks around to watch the train wreck, regardless. He’s screaming bloody murder and scratching my arms. I remind myself this will pass, it always does. I need to focus; I need to be strongand for God’s sake, this kid needs some dignity at the moment. Yes, he is absolutely out of control, and it’s not his choice: this is a child possessed. Somewhere deep inside this raging body is a soul that is eternally valuable, a little boy without a father, a six-year-old desperately afraid of who he might become. I see him, while he sees red.
I turn him around to face me.
“What’s your name?” I ask. He spits in my face.
The principal interjects, “Dallas! Stop this right now. You're very naughty at the moment, and we just won’t tolerate that kind of behavior at this school.”
“Please, let me deal with him,” I request, shooting a death stare at the principal, whose reprimand was as insulting as it was ineffective. You know what naughty means? Naughty comes from the root word naught. Do you know what that means?  Nothing — it means you are nothing. The principal throws her hands in the air and walks away. I bare through five extra minutes of blatant rage, thanks to her input.
He calms, as I ask, “What’s your name?”
“Dallas,” he says, eyes flicking from left to right.
“We’re alone nowlook at me. What’s your name?”
“Dallas,” he says with locked eyes.
“Tell me three times, what’s your name?”
“Dallas, Dallas...I am Dallas,” he says.
Right then he goes limp. I hold him in my lap like a baby, all curled in the fetal position.
I run my fingers through his sweaty hair as he weeps, rocking him back and forth.
“I’m sorry… I’m bad,” he sobs, voice muffled in my shoulder. “Do you still like me?”
“No matter what,” I admit, holding him close. “I like you every day.”
He violently weeps; tears are pooling on my shirt. His knuckles are white as he holds onto me for dear life. This moment reminds me that I’m his biggest cheerleader, his only safety net. Even though I struggle, I am alone in being able to see him for who he is, however, shrouded in the dust of his actions.
“It’s OK Buddy. You’re safe now,” I whisper.
His breath slows, growing deeper before he falls asleep on my chest.