Lisa once told me that when toddlers learn to speak they have to trade in their line to the spirit world. It is in the acquisition of speech skills that we forget our tethers to the rest of the ancestral universe from whence we came. Because Lisa is someone with strong smell sensitivity and a theater expert, I believe her story about kids and speech.
I read later in The Body Keeps the Score that indeed, neurologists have proven something like what Lisa said: it is with the honing of speech skills that children appear to lose activity in the centers of the brain responsible for dream and imagination. I am surely misrepresenting phrasing that I read too quickly somehow, but I think that’s about the sum of what I heard. Or what I wanted to hear.
My son does not talk like the other kids his age. He requires an entourage of specialized instructors to demonstrate normalcy. And hence a brand new kind of panic have I acquired for myself—and perhaps as a mode of communication it is the reverse of the natural maturity process of speech. It is the panic of being responsible for a child too frequently adjudicated around their incoherence while the adults in the room say in perfect tempo, pitch, poise and timbre: we have absolutely no clue how to serve, honor or help the child who does not speak like the other children.
Well, of course I want to believe my son is keeping quiet to commune with the dead, then.
Anyway today was special. We’ve just returned from a trip to DC visiting in-laws that scare me but in school, as in every Monday, my son’s teachers asked him what he did over the weekend. And for the first time since he began school in September—eight months ago—my son answered the question with a cogent response:
I HAD FUN WITH MY GRANDMA.
This is the very first thing he has said on the record at school. I have to believe him, though if I made that statement it would be a bald lie. I have to believe him because I have to keep up the guise with his teachers that we’re doing everything right, and he’s gonna be normal. This is the kind of thing a normal kid would say. I spontaneously sob because this is such a victory for parents of children who do not talk like the other children. I hadn’t known relief like this in years.
I actually sobbed earlier in the day come to think of it. I sobbed enough to believe I may be a trench coat filled with three children crying. It is funny, honestly. That is how excruciating it is to understand this as relief.
It is excruciating to understand this, all of this, is all of the relief I am going to get from you. You do not know how to speak, either.
Last week I sobbed in the midst of a Mountain Goats show surrounded by fans imbuing an almost religious alacrity but the cries were as intermittent as their laughter. It was meant to be. Literally.
John and I have an exquisite friendship—not determined by frequency but by timing. The timing of our communications has been uncanny. Because John is famous for his musical loquacity and a fervent understanding of the institutes of God, I believe in his words. Without much familiarity with the discography, I went to the concert just hoping for relief. Swaying along with an improbable crowd (I found my friend Adam), I felt enveloped by care and love and though strange to say in this context: intelligence. As in, “astronauts discovered signs of intelligence on the farthest moon of Zafarg.” My friends have done the most tremendous job of holding the trench coat tight so I don’t fall prey to my own delusion of children standing upon each others’ shoulders praying no one finds them.
John says when he feels like sobbing he goes for it. I go for it.
I heard words echoing in unison in this funny gleeful way though the moral was revenge, remorse, rumination, heartbreak. Intermittent as the laughter. I thought, “thank god I am not alone tonight” and sobbed again.
Neglect is such a terrifying place to return from and I pray to god every day I learn to commune with those who cannot speak to me. One day you will speak to me the way I deserve. I hope then I can sob, on time. I hope then sobbing becomes language that you understand.
Thank you so much for your honesty and grace.