Laila watched herself move her head uncontrollably. She can’t stop the movements—they’re part of her Tourette’s Syndrome. ‘But I can,’ she thinks.
Her mother’s thoughts float into her mind. ‘You just want attention. Seema Aunty and Priyanka Aunty have normal children. Why aren’t you normal? Special medical case. You don’t have any Tourette’s problems. So stop this. Don’t tell me you can’t. Her mother is supportive on the outside. So sweet and kind. But Laila knows the truth. She’s a disappointment, a disgrace.
Laila rolls up her sleeve and finds the familiar spread of skin. Pinch marks litter the area. Jerk. She adds one, two, three more. The pain distracts her, reducing the movements. Jerk. Jerk. Nothing’s stopped? Alright. She lifts her hand and slaps herself. Once, twice, thrice. Harder, harder. Four times, five, six—until the wave finally finally
Laila spends the rest of the period in a bathroom stall. Jerk. Jerk.
The sound of the bell echoes through the empty bathroom, and Laila begins her walk to her therapy session. She gets a call from her mother. “Hi beta, just checking in. Have fun at your therapy session!” But unspoken, ‘Let the lady do what she has to in order to fix you. Don’t know what I did to deserve you and your problem.’
The phone goes silent before Laila can respond. ‘I’m sorry I’m not the perfect Indian child,’ she says wordlessly. She looks up. She can see the therapy office across the street. Jerk. Jerk. She begins to hear the thoughts of the people around her. ‘Weirdo. Freak Retard.’ Nothing she hasn’t heard before. Jerk. ‘Ew, weird.’
Laila walks. In the opposite direction. Away from familiarity and down a new road. Worn-down buildings hold worn-down shops, stranger than anything she’s seen before: “Auditorium for Insects.” “Mary Ann’s Home to Wigs and Woozles.” “Uncle Jim’s Curing Center.” Laila stops in front of the last one. It’s a hovel, covered with graffiti. Jerk. Jerk. ‘Wacko.’ She walks into the Center, determined. ‘He’ll fix me,’ she thinks. Laila enters the room, and within a second—
To read “Jerk” in its entirety, please order Reed Magazine Issue 154.
Sarah Nolte's Commentary
“Jerk” submerges the audience into the depths of neurodivergent alienation with a brutal yet delicate honesty. What begins as an innocent choir class slowly malforms into a painful ordeal filled with repetitive epithets and panic. But it isn’t until the narrator reveals her struggle with Tourette’s syndrome that the audience truly is invited into the life of the main character, Laila. With this invitation comes the prevailing knowledge of both pain and perseverance. The duality of the world Laila lives in creates a mirror for the audience to experience the struggle of a neurodivergent teenager. It is through this struggle that Laila is able to realize her true, superhuman potential and accepts her own “normal” in a riveting and heartfelt ending.
in conversation with
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to spend my free time writing stories. I wrote every day, and about anything and everything! When I was in the seventh grade, I submitted a story to a small writing competition, and it won a prize. It was then that I realized that I wanted to be a writer. That experience made me realize that writing was more than just a hobby. It was something that I wished to pursue for the rest of my life!
Who is your greatest influence?
My father is my greatest influence. As a child, I wrote and narrated stories with my father, and we visited authors together. He constantly immersed me in the world of writing, and it is because of him that I have grown to love it. He is one of the most talented creative writers I know, and I have always wanted to be able to craft stories the way he does. He has always talked about following your passion, and that is what truly influenced me to pursue what I love most—creative writing!
What is your writing process?
First, I plan! I have three categories—characters, setting, and plot—that I like to plan out before I begin drafting. I follow a 2-5-10 process for each category. I spend two minutes writing the most important details, five minutes expanding upon those details, and ten minutes finalizing my ideas. After completing this process, I take a ten-minute break before writing my first draft. Upon completion, I take a break until the next day, which is when I begin to edit. I will continue to edit until I feel satisfied with my writing. I like to spend three or four days on this process because if I spend any longer, I tend to edit my piece so much that I lose my original idea.
What inspires you to write?
My main inspiration for writing is the prospect of sharing stories that people are comforted by. Growing up, I found the greatest consolation in stories that were similar to experiences I was going through. The plots gave me hope that I would be able to get through the problems I faced, and I would love to be able to help and comfort other readers in the same way through my writing.
What are your goals?
Professionally, I would love to be able to work for a magazine as either a writer, an editor, or a marketer.