Empathy No. 020
07/29/02, Brawney off. 3:08 PM
DR. BRAWNEY: Thank you very much for your time, Mrs. Levitt. Would you feel comfortable if I called you Eleanor?
ELEANOR: Eleanor or Ellie is fine, Mrs. Levitt is a little formal for someone like me. You know, though, I'm really only here because Roderick wouldn't come if I didn't come with him.
DR. BRAWNEY: And we will talk about your son, but I do want to talk about your situation.
ELEANOR: I'm willing to do that, but I still think that Lloyd is exaggerating a little. Sometimes I'm uncomfortable when his friends are around, but...I mean, that's not so unusual, is it?
DR. BRAWNEY: Why do you think they make you uncomfortable?
ELEANOR: I know why. Look...I'm not a schoolgirl here, but I'm younger than Lloyd. And I'm younger than Violet was. People are going to say things about both of us. Lloyd says I shouldn't care, but I can't help it.
DR. BRAWNEY: Please go a little more in-depth on that last part.
ELEANOR: ...I guess I've never really been part of a community. I didn't have a lot of friends when I was young, and after Roderick came I really just had my sisters and some co-workers. Lloyd is part of a community, and...and they don't understand. I knew Lloyd and Violet, they weren't friends but I got to know them when they brought the kids to get school clothes. Then maybe a year after Violet died, he asked...you know, dating's a lot different when you both have kids at home. They don't understand that.
DR. BRAWNEY: What was your life like when you became pregnant?
ELEANOR: ...Hard. Back then, I thought I could be a commercial artist.
DR. BRAWNEY: I've seen some of your drawings. You are exceptionally talented.
ELEANOR: Thanks, but I didn't have what it took. School was already going rough, my parents and my sisters did what they could to help out, but they had lives of their own. And then Roderick came. I provided for him as best as I could, but God help me...I know I've been shortchanging him.
DR. BRAWNEY: Did he express any dissatisfaction with his life?
ELEANOR: You know, I don't think I ever heard him complain. Even in the worst times, he wouldn't complain - but I know when he's disappointed. Whenever I give him bad news, he always says the same thing: "It's fine." When I didn't have money for a birthday present he wanted, or I had to work through some event that was a big deal to him, he'd just look at me and say "It's fine, Mom."
DR. BRAWNEY: Roderick has an impressive collection of accolades. Were the activities your idea or his?
ELEANOR: Well...I talked to people who said that it would be best if he kept busy. You know, if he kept his mind working. Where we lived, there were lots of things for him to do that were free or didn't cost much, and they gave him a chance to show off how special he was.
DR. BRAWNEY: And when did you realize that he was exceptional?
ELEANOR: Oh, he was very little. There was a lady in the neighborhood that watched some of the kids - a real daycare wasn't really an option, you know. And one day, when I went to pick him up, she called me in. She asked me "Is Roderick reading yet?" I said no. She called him over, handed him one of those little early readers...he'd taught himself to read. He sat there in the corner of this playroom and taught himself how to do it. And after that, people kept telling me that I needed to get him tested.
DR. BRAWNEY: Did Roderick's intelligence ever present any problems for you?
ELEANOR: No, not at all. Every day with him was amazing. Some days I'd wake up, and he'd just learned how to do something else, I don't even know where. It was incredible! By the time he was eight, he was smarter than me - I was learning from him! I just...I wish I could have done more for him.
DR. BRAWNEY: And did he have any adjustment problems back then?
ELEANOR: Adjustment problems? I mean...everyone said he was different than the other children. He couldn't stand getting dirty, they said he cried a lot, and...you know, he just liked to be by himself. He was six, he was eight, he'd be outside sitting by himself with a book, or just walking around in circles. I'd ask him what he was doing, and he'd say "I'm thinking."
DR. BRAWNEY: Did this behavior ever trouble-
ELEANOR: No! I'm...sorry, I didn't mean to shout. People used to come up and talk to me with all these ideas, like they were going to fix him. He didn't need fixing. He needed...he needed to be protected from their kids. And I couldn't do that, either.