Growing Into the Quiet
I held a blue whale with long teeth in my hands, sticking my fingers into its open mouth, dramatically. And my son squealed with delight. I did it again, and he burst out laughing. I felt the bony fist that had been lodged in my chest for weeks begin to slip its grip, allow a deeper, cleansing breath. You see, my three-year old son stopped talking five weeks ago. He stopped answering questions, calling out for me in the night, chatting in the backseat of the car, telling his brother to come up the stairs. He set our cozy, safe world spinning into silence. In doing so, he became the loudest person in the room.
He became a puzzle that we needed to solve. A wound we needed to heal. A patient that needed every spectrum of testing—one that quickly had a team analyzing his every move. We called it his “recovery process” in an attempt to relocate the words he had been collecting and polishing over the past year.
I began to imagine those words were hiding behind a gate, one secured with an antique lock—impossible to pick. I surrendered sleep to considering every possible element of trauma as the cause. I imagined it was the one night he pulled the blanket over his head, the medication that had breeched the barrier and streamed through my milk, maybe even our recent move into a new house. I tried to insert some form of my own failing into the equation, because being able to identify a cause promised the possibility of a solution.
And then my name fell out of his reach. It was the last to leave, to duck behind that gate. In its place, he tweeted and squealed like a baby bird, made frantic hand gestures, shadow puppets in the light. His silence grew into a shattering din.
I dedicated my days to researching every angle, trying to find the key, pleading with our angels and ghosts to not let him slip any further away. Then, somewhere in between the forms, research, tests and therapy sessions—I started to forgot that he was also our three-year old boy. Our stoic, funny, delightfully stubborn little man.
Which is why, when we left the therapist’s office that day, we were on a fluttering high—he had laughed. In a room with terrifying words nestled into the corners—Autism, Expressive Language Delay, Head Trauma—he had shifted the very vibrations with his infectious, klutzy laughter. It was a sound we had forgotten to listen for, a simple happiness we hadn’t realized had also slipped behind the gate.
And while I grew to hate the sign that hung in his preschool—Use Words, Not Hands—grew to hate the struggle of his own frustrated fists pinging the air, his tense mouth opening and closing soundlessly, and the home therapy sessions that weren’t enticing the words to return, I also started to grow into the quiet with him. I tucked it around us in the house, allowed the music of it into the car, and held his hand in place of instructions.
I joined him behind that gate, dedicated more hours outdoors, listening to the crows and woodpeckers, the fleeing traffic, the sound of leaves enchanting the fall breeze. I let him throw objects into the pond, romp around in the mud, and navigate uncertain terrain on his balance bike. I grew into the pulse and magic of his world, filled with unspeakable light. And at the same time, noticed that I had stopped feeling so alone.
Megan Merchant’s poems have most recently appeared in publications including Red Paint Hill, Rat’s Ass Review, Mothers Always Write, Crack the Spine and First Literary Review East. She is the author of Translucent, Sealed, (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), In the Rooms of a Tiny House ( ELJ Publications, October 2016), Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, forthcoming) and a children’s book through Philomel Books.