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Something horrible happened to me today. I was reading the discussion of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller in the NY and my knees were sort of knocking together under my desk, my pulse was accelerated, I may have been blushing, I’m not sure. I totally love those guys and always have. And then I read about the whole "living lie" incident and my blood boiled. It really is amazing that people actually got pissed off at H.K. for possibly being disingenuous in her writing. Give her a break, for cripes sake! She definitely gets the “shit happens” award of 1880, but can we not find it in our hearts to grant her the least bit more recognition beyond that? You’ll have to read the article if you’re curious. Anyway, Annie Sullivan easily kicks Helen Keller’s ass.

First of all, the romantic appeal of Annie’s traumatic life blows Helen out of the water. Somehow, all little girls who read books about other little girls are socially conditioned to get off on being orphaned. I could go on and on with examples and never write about anything substantial (ha!) here, but I’ll let a few do the trick. There are the classics: The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Rescuers (the latter being the story of Penny and yes, Disney, but no headband— she is technically a minor). I definitely dug hard on the whole orphan motif, never, of course, being moved in any Lizzie Borden sense to do anything about it.

Anyhoo, so Annie and her little brother, Billy grew up in poverty with an abusive, alkie dad, their mother dying from TB early on. Then, Annie had to feel herself going blind gradually as little pustules began to appear and harden under her eyelids. Yick. Then, with her sight dimming AND her little brother lame in the hip from TB, Annie and Billy are sent to the poorhouse after their father walks out. It’s not even an orphanage, it’s this heinous collection of all kinds of social rejects—the old, poor, sick, orphaned, insane. Anyway, blah, blah. You know the rest of the story. But this totally beats out Helen’s cushy childhood.

So I always liked Annie better—and in a way, it didn’t matter. There is a lot written about this, touched on in the NY article. Annie and Helen are the Frick and Frack in the most classic sense—they begin to differ as precise entities in the most imperceptible of degrees. The merge is intended, intentional, and still as creepy as hell. I think the best comparison is to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. T. (And yes, we do all wonder if Annie and Helen ever got hot n’nasty, but there is nothing about this anywhere!) Stein’s autobiography is presented as the autobiography of Alice, yet it is written purely in Stein’s tone and is mostly about “Alice’s” impressions of Stein herself. Hello, Single White Female syndrome taken way too far against a cubist backdrop, with some Hemmingway thrown in.

What starts out as a fun game, like unpacking little nesting dolls and relishing their perfect proportions of connectivity, starts to feel messy and gross, like you’ve just been asked to French braid someone’s small and large intestines. Much like Toklas and Stein, we must depend on their own interpretations of their partnership to draw our own conclusions about Annie and Helen. Both gals penned their own autobiographies and both are sadly lacking in anecdotal evidence that might lend insight to their partnership, much less their friendship. Egotistical bitches, both.

No! I am just kidding there. Remember Helen Keller jokes when you were in, like, fourth grade? Around the same time Ethiopian jokes were in vogue, I think. Well, I love me some Injera and Gomen Watt with a side of Miracle Worker, so shut the hell up (is what I should have said back then).

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