A soothing voice in a storm (#37)
Charlie’s swim in the town pool lasted for all of ten minutes. We got there at half-past five, at the end of a day when the heat seemed to be rising in steam clouds from the asphalt. “Something” bothered Charlie at the transition moments, after waking up (burying himself under the couch pillows) and en route to his verbal behavior session (yelling “home house” and staging some lie downs on the grass; the actual therapy session was very fine). At the pool, Charlie jumped in, arms straight at his sides, and sunk feet first to the bottom. Small waves stirred as the wind picked up and a systematic exodus of the poolside crowd began.
“It’s starting up,” said a woman in the water. Charlie somersaulted and the lifeguards scurried about, stacking chairs, eyes on the darkening sky, and it was no surprise when they blew their whistles and the voice over the loudspeaker told us to get out, lightning had been sighted. He was the last out (and only because of the promise of sushi).
(You do what you have to do.)
“Into the black car!” Charlie was running circles in the parking lot and chattering. The car shook to the sound of rain spattering from the north. Except it couldn’t be rain; there were no drops on the window: As I turned the key in the ignition, volleys of dust and dirt from the nearby playing fields flew onto the windows and lightning bolts flashed, Mississippi River-long and deadly beautiful.
It’s past midnight here and Charlie is still nervously awake, twisted up in his “daddy’s blue blanket,” his right hand snug under the deep pressure of his head. Jim and I listen from the first floor and we do not imagine, we feel, that something is racing like wild horses in Charlie’s head.
It is so easy for Charlie to be in the water, immersed in the satiny wet. Over the past year, I’ve become hyper aware of how many hard surfaces the world presents: tables, the cement stairs of our porch, white-painted walls, car windows, the ground under the grass, a tree trunk, the bone of my right shoulder. The back of the couch is deceptive: It’s the same comfy blue as the cushions but it’s hard wood underneath. When Charlie moans a certain vexed moan and his eyes grow big, my radar alert is activated and, it could be shooting hailstones from the sky, but I talk to him in the straightforwardly sweet and soothing tones of his best therapists. I can still hear them, saying “build the cave” and gently tapping at a pile of legos, or jangling their car keys ever so slowly in the air and smiling at a needy boy: “Keys! Listen……I’ve got keys!” and one enthralled Charlie would do whatever she wanted him to do. He’d touch the number 8 and up would shoot the therapist’s arms as if he’d scored the winning touchdown: “Yay! You got it, hot stuff! Here’s the keys!”
The merest flicker of anxiety, or annoyance, or worry in one’s voice is picked up by Charlie. He needs to hear that kindly, coaxing voice in his moments of duress which do occur much more frequently for him; Charlie is a cognitively disabled child and the world can be one tough place for him to negotiate.
Charlie’s gone to sleep now. “He’s dreaming about those waves,” Jim said once. When Charlie was a baby, Jim was forever going into his room and placing a hand on the little, little guy’s chest: “I want to make sure he’s breathing.”
Good night, hot stuff.