* * * *
The sister watches as her brother starts to make progress, as all the hard work starts to pay off. The illnesses begin to fade, the tantrums become less and less frequent. People stop staring in the grocery stores, at toy stores, and at the mall. She watches as her family begins to fade into the background of buzzing everyday life.
One day, as she comes home from her apartment to do laundry, the sister sees an envelope on the kitchen counter with her name on it. It’s in her mother’s handwriting. Her mother smiles as the sister looks at her from across the room with questions dancing in her eyes. She tears the envelope and inside is a homemade Valentine’s Day card from her brother. It was big, red, and covered in child-like scribbles. But amidst the colored markings she made out his name. S-t-e-p-h-e-n. The letters were lopsided and the ‘n’ looked more like an ‘h’ but it was definitely his name. She looks back up at her mother in surprise.
“Did he write this?”
“Yes.” Her mother’s faced shined.
She looked back down at the page. Then back up at her mother. “Without help?”
Her mother nodded.
“That’s amazing!” She turns and gives her little brother a hug, whispering into his ear how much she loves him, and how well he’s doing.
* * * *
Her brother slowly learns how to talk after hours and hours of speech therapy. He first learns to make sounds with his mouth, how to shape his lips and form his tongue to make different vowel sounds. He then learns to blow: blow bubbles in the air, blow out birthday candles. Then finally come the words. At first he sounds as if he is deaf. Those around him can make out what he is saying but the words are still ill formed, as he doesn’t have complete control over his mouth and oral motor skills.
He learns how to say his name, how to say the names of his family, and how to say simple words. Next come simple phrases: “I am Stephen.” “I am five years old.” “I am hungry.” Then comes conversational speech: “How old are you?” is now followed by “I am five years old. How old are you?” (This prompts a few giggles from the older ladies at the supermarkets who stop to talk with an irresistibly cute blonde boy.)
Finally come the words that his entire family thought they would never hear, the words that they were told to never hope for. His sister hugs him and tells him how much she loves him. The little boy doesn’t miss a beat: “I love you too, Laurell.”
Valerie comes back to the house after taking her brother to the park as reward for a job well done in therapy that afternoon. She approaches mother and sister who are in the kitchen discussing dinner options for that evening. Valerie has pained look on her face as she excuses herself for interrupting the conversation.
“Something strange happened while we were at the park just now. I thought I should tell you about this right away.”
The sister and her mother wait for Valerie to continue, expecting something awful. Did he injure himself, did he injure another child….?
“As Stevie was playing on the jungle gym he shouted ‘We’re all gonna die!’” at the top of his lungs – completely unprompted. This really worries me….
Mother and sister stop for a moment, then burst out laughing. Valerie’s looks wounded and her eyes widen even further.
“Its from one of his computer games, Disney’s Atlantis. One of the character’s says, “We’re all gonna die” if you fail a mission,” her mother explains as they continue to laugh. “He plays the game constantly. He purposefully messes up missions over and over because he thinks it’s hilarious.”
Valerie’s body relaxes. “Oh my God, for a second I actually thought he had some weird premonition all of a sudden. Like the world was going to blow up or something.” She shakes her head and laughs at her mistake.
* * * *
Her brother is now seven years old. This morning he puts on the red and gold striped Harry Potter shirt (he was Harry two years in a row for Halloween and watches the movies constantly – he can even recite half of the lines from memory. He routinely shouts “alohomora” at doors that are locked and fully expects them to open.) and new pair blue jeans that his mother left on his bed and straps on his white light up sneakers.
“Stevie, come downstairs please!” Her mother calls from the kitchen. “It’s time for breakfast!”
Answering his mother’s call, he races down the stairs, jumping off the last two with a thud. He runs into the kitchen and sits at the kitchen table where she has left out his glass of rice milk, banana, and Gluten-Free Casein-Free squash muffin. Immediately, he begins to stuff his face as he watches the morning cartoons. Sponge Bob Square Pants is a morning favorite.
“Are you excited for your first day of school?” The sister asks when she walks in the room. Her mother stands at the other end of the table, putting his crayons, his notebooks, and lunch into his blue backpack that looks too large for his body.
The boy nods, not wanting to stop eating to answer, not wanting to take his eyes away from the TV. His sister laughs and, not wanting to disturb him further, quits asking him questions.
“Valerie is going to be there today. She is so excited that she gets to see his first day of school,” her mother says quietly to the sister. “After all these years the hard work is paying off.” While her brother is going to a neuro-typical first grade classroom he still needs an aid full time to help him.
As her mother finishes packing his things, her brother finishes his breakfast and takes his plate and glass to the sink to be washed later.
“You ready to go?” She hands him his backpack and he swings it over his shoulder.
The boy nods again, and the three of them walk out the front door to head to the boy’s first day school.
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