This is the story of a boy who didn’t speak. The funny thing is that he used to speak all the time. He would recite long monologues of the various things that he did during the day. He would ask countless questions of his parents, in his quest for more knowledge. Sometimes they had the answers for him, sometimes they didn’t. All in all, he was a very normal ten-year-old boy – he just wouldn’t speak.
Then one day, for reasons that he wouldn’t explain to anyone, he stopped talking. It was a Saturday afternoon that this occurred. 3:15 to be precise. His mom came into his room, where he was playing with a stuffed shark, and asked him what he wanted to eat for dinner that evening. He just stared at her blankly. She repeated her question to him and he continued on with his spacey stare. Wondering if the boy wasn’t feeling well, she walked over to him and sat down on his bed next to him. She felt his head to see if he was feverish. No, his head wasn’t even warm to the touch. She asked him if he was okay. He stared back at her again blankly. Becoming concerned by the boy’s silence, she got up and went downstairs to the living room where her husband was sitting, reading the newspaper.
“Have you talked to Junior today?” She asked him.
“No, actually I haven’t seen him at all today. Is there something wrong?” He responded.
“I went up there to ask him what he wanted for dinner and he just stared at me; never saying a word.”
“Maybe he’s coming down with something?”
“I checked for a temperature but he seems fine to me. Should I be worried?”
“I think the boy’s just fine. It sounds like he’s faking it to get something.”
“I would agree with you if he was trying to get something, but he’s not talking at all. You would think if he wanted something he would ask for it.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Do you need any help with dinner tonight?”
“No thank you. Maybe I’ll make him tacos. That’s his favorite.”
“That sounds nice, dear.”
She went into the kitchen to start preparing her family’s meal. The husband, now slightly concerned about his son’s well being, put down his paper and went up the stairs to speak with him. He knocked on his son’s door before entering. There was, of course, no answer.
“Son, is everything okay?” He said as he poked his head through the door.
Junior looked at him momentarily and continued playing with his shark. His father sat on the edge of the bed, as his mother did earlier.
“Son, I’m talking to you.” He said in an escalated tone. Junior continued playing with the shark, making it to appear as if it was jumping out of the ocean – his bed – and into the air. In his other hand, a poor defenseless C-3PO action figure appeared to be flying. C-3PO never stood a chance against the shark. The shark attacked C-3PO relentlessly with his furry teeth. If the boy could talk for the robot, he would have said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Don’t eat me Mr. Shark.” but he didn’t and C-3PO suffered in silence.
“Son, are you all right?” He asked the boy again. Again, the boy didn’t answer but gave him a blank stare. “Well, I guess if something was bothering you, you would tell me, right?” The boy continued playing with the shark and various other action figures. The father stopped at the door before leaving and said to the boy, “Wash up before dinner; Mom’s making tacos tonight.” The boy looked at his father and smiled.
The father walked back downstairs to the kitchen where the mother was shredding lettuce. He began to tell her that their son was playing happily in his room and smiled when he told him what their dinner was going to be. He didn’t think it was anything to worry about. Maybe it was just a phase he was going through. He took the plates from the kitchen and began to set the dining room table.
At dinnertime, they all sat around the table. A large tray was placed on the table that held all of the taco fixings. The boy scooped a mound of seasoned ground beef into his taco shell and topped it with shredded lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. He didn’t much care for the diced tomatoes. His father and mother followed suit, assembling their own tacos. After a little while, the mother became more and more uncomfortable with the awkward silence and decided to break it.
“So Junior, tell me about your day today. What did you play?” She asked.
He looked at her briefly before continuing to eat his taco.
“Yes son, tell me about the game you were playing with the shark and R2D2. He said.
He purposely said R2D2 instead of C3PO in hopes to get the boy to correct him.
He did not.
The boy was just about finishing his third taco when his mother said, “Boy, you must have been really hungry tonight. Your limit is only one usually.” The boy smiled at his mother as he took his plate and empty glass of milk to the kitchen. He placed them on the counter next to the sink. His parents, in the other room, were talking quietly to each other about their son. They were uneasy about him not speaking but at the same time, not overly worried.
The next day were met with the same results. The boy played up in his room while his parents read the Sunday newspaper during breakfast. They called up to the boy to come down before his oatmeal got cold, but he did not respond. The mother asked if they should call a doctor. The father thought about it for a moment and said that he didn’t think it was necessary just yet. The father yelled up the stairs for the boy to come down to eat breakfast. Still wearing his pajamas, adorned with Darth Vader, he walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. He ate in silence as his mother looked at him with concern.
“Are you going to watch the game today with your father?” She asked. “The Giants play at 1:00 today.”
The boy looked at her, smiled slightly and nodded.
“It should be a good one today son. Both defenses are really on top of their game. I expect it to be a low scoring game today.”
He looked at him and then continued to eat his banana nut oatmeal. “When you’re done with breakfast, I want you to go up and clean your room. Put all of your toys away and make sure the bed is made.” She said.
He gave her a look that seemed to say, ‘Oh gee willikers’, although he never uttered the words. He finished up and did as his mother told him.
He went upstairs and started cleaning his room. He, of course, stopped and played with some action figures along the way before putting them into his toy box. He flew his airplane, while making machine gun noises with his mouth right into the box. He imitated an explosion as it landed with a thud. He placed all of his toys into the box with the exception of the stuffed shark – he named him Sharky – and placed it on the bed. He lied down with Sharky, for what only seemed a moment, and drifted off into a soft slumber.
A few hours later his mother came up to see how he was making out with cleaning his room. She saw him fast asleep hugging his beloved shark. She sat at the edge of the bed and stroked his hair gently as he awoke. “Did your little belly get all full and you fell asleep?” She asked him. He nodded his head as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He stretched his arms and popped off the bed and continued putting the few toys left on the floor away. “You know what?” His mother asked him. “You did such a good job with cleaning your room today; I’m going to let you go play in the yard. Would you like that?” The boy smiled and nodded and grabbed his New York Yankee cap and ran down the stairs. “No running in the house.” She yelled after him.
He played for hours out there, tossing a baseball high up in the air and catching it in his glove. Sometimes he missed. He liked to pretend he was Derek Jeter. After catching the ball he would sometimes make a ‘curtain call’ and tip his hat to the imaginary crowd that cheered him on.
Dinnertime came and the boy just poked around at the food on his plate. They were having chicken thighs and peas that evening. He didn’t much care for the dark meat and before he stopped talking, would tell his parents that he was allergic to all green food. They made him eat green food anyway.
The father growing mildly aggravated from the boy wasting his food by not eating told him that if he didn’t finish dinner he was going straight to bed without any television that evening. The boy took a bite of the chicken and quickly spit it out into his napkin. He hoped that his father didn’t just see that. He didn’t. The father finished his last bite of his chicken and said to the boy, “I’m not kidding, junior. If you don’t finish you’re going to bed and you’re not getting out of it until tomorrow morning when you go to school.” The boy took a bite of the peas, chewed them for a few seconds before spitting them back into his napkin. His father saw him this time and made good on his word. The boy went to bed at 7 PM that night.
The boy couldn’t sleep. It was too early. He lied in bed looking around his room. The planetary stickers on his wall were slowly losing their greenish hue that once glowed from the hallway light. His mother came into check on him and brought him a glass of milk. He took it from her and drank it as if was his first drink after being in the desert for a week. “I know you didn’t like what we made for dinner tonight.” She said to him. “I think tomorrow night, after you’re done with your homework, we’ll have tacos. What do you think about that?” The boy wiped his milk moustache, handed her the empty glass and smiled. She mussed up his hair, kissed him on the forehead, and said good night. The boy rolled over with Sharky and went to sleep.
The next day he awoke and got ready for school. He went down to the kitchen where a bowl of Count Chocula® was waiting for him. He poured some milk into the bowl, careful not to spill it. His father came down in a panic. He had overslept and instead of blaming himself, he blamed his wife, although he would never say it out loud. He told her that he had no time for breakfast that day and grabbed an untoasted plain bagel from the counter. He ran out the door, never once acknowledging his son who watched him as he straightened out his tie on the way out the door.
The school day came and the boy went to his classes. He still wasn’t speaking but the teachers didn’t seem to notice. They never once called on him for any of the answers that day. Lunchtime came around and he opted to sit in the corner by himself instead of his usual table with his friends. The cafeteria was serving mini-weenie casserole with Tater Tots©. He ate only the Tater Tots©, tossing aside the casserole. The school bell rang a short buzz to indicate to the kids, along with the faculty, that there was 15 minutes left in the lunch hour. The children had the option of staying in the lunchroom for the remaining 15 minutes or go outside for an extra recess, in addition to the 15 minutes that they received in the morning or the afternoon, depending on the grade. The children dreaded when it rained because it meant that they would have to remain inside the classroom if the gymnasium wasn’t being used for that recess period.
The boy went outside to the schoolyard and picked up a red playground ball. He bounced it against a wall a few times before becoming board and letting it bounce away towards the fence. He walked over to where the other kids were playing kickball – a game similar to baseball where the playground ball is rolled to the “batter” who kicks it instead of hitting it with a bat. The schoolyard was sectioned in half as to have two games of kickball (or Wiffle Ball©) going on simultaneously.
The rest of the afternoon proved to be uneventful as the boy day dreamed about playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, what it would be like if dinosaurs still roamed the earth, whether he should have a soft taco or a crunchy taco tonight; or both, how cool it would be if there was such a thing as talking sharks and what they would say, and hoping the day would end quickly. He didn’t pay much attention as the teacher walked around the desks handing each student their homework assignments for the evening. It was something about history or math or reading or something.
He walked home that day noticing the sidewalk cracks. He struggled to remember that old saying about stepping on them but couldn’t recall. He avoided them anyway because he did remember that stepping on them wasn’t a very good thing to do. He only lived a few short blocks away from school, so there was no need for taking a school bus. In fact the town was so small that there wasn’t even a need for a school bus; nor was it in the school’s budget. It was located in the middle of town, along with the police station, the library, and the post office. Small businesses such as delicatessens, pizzerias, and liquor stores were also on the main avenue. Everything was within walking distance for everybody. Every body knew every one else in town.
The mother was concerned over the boy not speaking for three days and called over to the school to speak with his teacher, Ms. Medavoy. The boy’s teacher was a pleasant woman. Her silver hair came prematurely and made her appear a lot older than her thirty-something year age. The kids seemed to like her a lot and would often volunteer to do work for her after school. She had given her personal cell phone number to all of the parents who attended the Parent-Teacher conferences at the beginning of the school year.
She spoke briefly with the mother before telling her that she had to go to attend a function. She tried to persuade her into thinking that everything was fine with the boy, but she wasn’t sure if she did a good enough job. After the call ended, Ms. Medavoy thought back to the last day and wondered if there was anything that she could have done differently, but with 20 kids in 5 classes it was very difficult to give one-on-one attention to each individual student. She stopped beating herself up mentally and got ready to go to her function although she did start to wonder if there was something wrong with the boy.
The boy made it home and went straight into the kitchen. He went into the refrigerator and grabbed the milk and poured himself a glass. He dragged a chair across the tiles and set it in front of the cabinet. He climbed it and opened the door and grabbed himself three Chips Ahoy cookies and carefully put the package back as to not let his mother know he’d been taking some. She knew.
After he finished his after-school snack, he went into the living room and sprawled out his books on the floor and began to read his homework assignments for the evening. His mom came down from upstairs and asked him how the cookies were. He looked at her incredulously. There was no possible way she could have known. He didn’t answer her nonetheless and went back to deciphering his homework. This frustrated her and she walked into the kitchen to start on dinner. His father came home and asked her what was wrong.
“He’s still not talking. I’m starting to get concerned.” She said to him.
“Maybe it’s just a phase he’s going through.” He responded.
“I called his school today and they were no help.”
“What did you call the school for?”
“To see if he’s talking there.”
“The teacher said she hasn’t even noticed. That the classrooms are all over-crowded.”
“Yeah, that’s what she said.”
“This town is one square mile. How can the classrooms be over crowded?”
“I think we should take him to the doctor and get checked out.”
“Wait, wait, wait a minute. Aren’t you overreacting a little bit? It’s only been a couple of days. I’m telling you it’s just a phase.”
“If he doesn’t say anything by tomorrow I’m taking him to see Dr. Duke.”
“Okay, that’s fair enough. I’m sure he’ll be telling us all about his day tonight at dinner. You know how much he loves to go on and on and on about the minutiae of his day.”
“Stop making fun. I think this might be serious.”
“I’m telling you it’s not. He’s fine. We’ll both take him to the doctor if we can’t get him talking by dinner. Okay?”
Dinner came and went that evening and the boy still didn’t say anything. He did, however, wolf down one crunchy and one soft taco before heading upstairs to the living room to watch whatever was playing on Nickelodeon on the TV. He fell asleep watching a cartoon. His mother woke him up and asked him if he wanted anything before going to bed. He shook his head no and walked up the stairs to his bedroom in silence. She exchanged a look with her husband that didn’t need any words. They were going to take him to the doctor tomorrow.
The boy got ready to go to school the next morning, not knowing that he was heading to the doctor’s office. He hated going to the doctor’s office because he always equated a visit with receiving a shot of some kind. The last time he had to go, he put up such a fuss – crying and carrying on – that he never took the obligatory lollipop from the basket at the doctor’s front desk after the visit was over.
He put on his jacket and then his backpack over it and headed towards the front door.
“Not so fast young man. You’re not going to school today.” She said to him.
A big smile flashed across the boy’s face after she said it. “Your father and I are taking you to see the doctor today.” With hearing that the boy’s face turned stone white. He started breaking out into a little sweat as tears filled up his eyes. His father came down the stairs and said, “You don’t want to talk? Then we’re taking you to the doctor.” The boy’s eyes started dripping the tears that were welling up. The father knelt down to the boy and put both hands on his shoulder. “We can solve this right now if you just told us what’s going on. Why aren’t you talking?” The boy wiped his tears away but still elected not to speak. “Well, you can’t say I didn’t try.” The father said to the mother. “Am I driving or are you?” The mother handed her husband the keys to his car.
The drive to the pediatrician’s office was a short, but uncomfortable, one. The tension was thick in the car as the parents listened to news radio during the drive. Dr. Don Duke’s office was located in the next town and he’d been practicing for many years. The parents admired him and gave raving reviews to anyone that inquired about a good pediatrician. He was calm and patient with the children, as any good doctor should be. He had the ability to soothe them down when they were scared, for the most part – every one except for the boy. He was terrified of him for some reason, except he wasn’t today.
The parents checked in while the boy sat on a chair and watched cartoons playing on the TV in the corner of the office. He sat at the small children’s sized table that had a few coloring books with crayons and building blocks on it but he couldn’t be bothered with that stuff – Scooby Doo was on TV. The parents flipped through magazines while they waited to be called in to see the doctor.
Once called, the boy marched into the doctor’s office, unafraid, and used a step stool to climb up on to the examining table. This impressed the doctor as he usually put up a fuss every time he went. The doctor examined him and found nothing wrong with him upon first glance – no swollen glands, no redness of the throat. He asked the boy if it hurt and the boy only would shake his head no, never uttering a word. He explained to the boy’s parents that he wanted to do further tests on the boy. The tests lasted for the rest of the day and they all came back inconclusive. Dr. Duke gave a referral for the parents to take their son to a psychiatrist, Dr. Hatcher. There was nothing physically wrong with the boy – he just stopped talking.
Dr. Hatcher tried to get to heart of the matter with the boy. When the boy wouldn’t talk, he had to try a different approach. He gave the boy some paper and crayons and asked him to draw for him. He put no limitations upon him and told him to draw whatever his imagination could come up with. The boy drew several pictures, after each one the doctor would ask what it was in that the boy had drawn and was quickly met with a blank stare. The doctor than asked the boy to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. He drew a shark wrangler. He drew himself wearing a cowboy hat and lassoing a shark with big bloody teeth. Next, the doctor asked the boy to draw a picture of him eating his favorite meal. The boy drew himself in front of a big plate of tacos, complete with shredded cheese, lettuce tomatoes, and sour cream. Then the doctor asked him to draw his family. Then the doctor asked him to draw his family. The boy took a little while before he picked up the crayons and started drawing. The doctor looked at it for a moment and asked him to draw another picture of his family, this time to include their house. The boy complied and drew another one. The doctor then asked the boy if this had been going on for a while. The boy nodded yes. He told the boy to play while he went to talk to his parents.
The doctor left the boy in the room playing and went to talk to his parents. “First, I want to say that your son is very creative and has a very active imagination.” He said to them.
“Doctor, what’s wrong with him? The mother asked.
“I want to show you some pictures that he drew.” He replied.
The doctor sprawled out several pictures on the table and he asked the parents if they saw anything unusual about them. The father chimed in that he wasn’t surprised his son drew a picture of tacos, as he knows they’re his favorite. The mother expressed concern over several of the pictures and asked the doctor what they meant.
“These are the ones that stood out to me too.” He said. “Do you notice how in the picture of him eating tacos how big he is?”
“Yes.” The parents replied in union.
“Well, when I asked him to draw a picture of his family he drew this.” The doctor said as he handed them the picture.
The first picture showed the boy standing far away from his parents on opposite ends of the sheet of paper. He was extremely small in the picture, unlike the one he drew of himself eating tacos. They had smiles on their faces while the boy’s instead showed a horizontal line representing a straight face. The parents, who never wore hats, were wearing a fedora and a bonnet. They held hands as little hearts floated between their heads. They were seated at a table with a flower in a vase as the centerpiece. The plates spread out before them were empty. The boy was looking over at them and a very faint splash of blue dripped from one eye.
The doctor handed them the second picture, the one he asked him to draw of his family and the house. In this picture, the mother and father are outside of the house heading towards the family car, seemingly to take a trip. Again, they were smiling and holding hands. The house drawn was a standard kid’s rendition of a house – big square with a triangle for a roof and a rectangle for the chimney. Four other smaller squares sat inside the big square and represented windows. The boy did as he was instructed and drew himself into the picture. He was represented in the top left-hand window. The other three windows had brightly colored curtains, while the one that he was standing in had bars on them. Again, he drew himself much smaller with his little hands grasping both bars. This time instead a faint speck of blue dripping from one eye, there was a blue puddle on top of the windowsill. The father didn’t know what to make of the picture while the mother slowly started to realize what’s been going on with their son.
“What does all of this mean, Doctor?” He asked.
“Can’t you see? He’s crying out for help.” His wife replied.
“Has anything happened that would make him feel this way?” The doctor asked of both of them.
The parents looked at each other for a moment and thought if there was anything that would have made the child feel that way. The father remembered the boy coming home and telling him about his day. He started with the first thing he did that morning, continued on thru recess and lunch at school, what he learned that day and his walk home. The father remembered not really paying attention to his son and even got up right in the middle of him speaking. The mother came in to the room and the boy wanted to continue with telling his story but she was too busy setting the table. “Maybe later.” She said to him. He recalled different instances of the same thing occurring.
The mother recalled the same day, but her recollection was of the morning. She was trying to get breakfast ready and the boy was telling her about his dream from the night before. He told her that he dreamt of being a cowboy that was visiting a far away planet and how he was fighting evil aliens with his six shooters that shot lasers instead of bullets. She didn’t pay much attention to his story and said to him, “Okay Talker Boy eat your breakfast, and finish getting ready for school.” She didn’t see the look of dejection on the boy’s face after she said that. She just went about her day.
The parents realized that they were not paying enough attention to the boy lately and a great sadness fell upon them. They asked the doctor what they could do to get him to start talking again. He told them to pay more attention to him, to listen to his stories. Their son has a very creative, imaginative mind that is also quite sensitive in his formative years. In time, the boy would speak again.
On the way home both parents apologized to their son for not paying enough attention to him, for calling him Talker Boy and promised that things would change. The boy just stared out the window. Daydreaming about a cartoon depicting Star Wars characters battling space sharks.
They all arrived home and the mother started to prepare dinner. She thought that making tacos would start the ball rolling on the boy talking again. The father tried very hard to get the boy talking. Asking him questions about baseball and football. The boy didn’t respond. His mother told him to wash up for dinner and the boy obliged. The parents wondered together how they were going to get him to start talking. They concluded this would take a long while but in time he would certainly come around.
The boy was already seated when his mom laid out the big taco spread. Bowls of sour cream, shredded lettuce, salsa, cheddar cheese sat on a platter with a big bowl of perfectly browned ground beef in the center. The package of taco shells, which were in the shape of a pyramid allowing the taco to stand up on the plate, were already opened and ready to be filled.
The father thanked his wife for preparing such a great meal and asked his son what he thought of it all. The boy stared blankly at him. The mother apologized again for not paying attention to him and the father in turn did the same. The boy cleared his throat as if ready to speak. The father asked him if there was something he wanted to say.
The boy looked at both of them and breaking his silence said, “Are you freaking kidding me? God damn tacos again?”