I flip through my laminated cards of clip art images and point to the picture of a boy swimming.
“Yes, Abel, tomorrow we can go swimming.”
I flip again until I find the picture of a face depicting frustration and then point again to the boy swimming.
“I know you want to go swimming, Abel. But we can’t today. We’re going on the train to visit your grandmother in Northbrook.”
I fart in response to this news. I fart a lot. I have an irritable bowel, probably from only eating hot dogs with ketchup, and farting feels good.
It’s embarrassing but what can I do. So is not having the power of speech or needing rides whenever I want to go somewhere or getting erections at church.
I don’t speak, not because I don’t want to or because I can’t make sound. It’s not because I have nothing to say or can’t figure out how to say it. There is some kind of dark space where light can’t travel, and on that light are words that will never be heard.
My Speech Pathologist calls my noises vocalizations. Each sound or grouping of sounds has a specific meaning. One sounds says, “I’m tired but I don’t feel like taking a nap,” while another says, “these mashed potatoes need more salt.”
I’ve created my own language like all intelligent beings. It’s the ultimate form of creation; I brought my own fire down from Mount Olympus. Unfortunately it’s a language of one. My Mom speaks it, kind of, like the way my sister kind of speaks Spanish.
“Mi nombre es Abigail. Me gusta la musica y el baile”.
The train approaches slowly, towering over us as we stand at the edge of the platform. We sit on the first level because I’m intimidated by stairs and terrified of escalators. A man with glasses and a suit sits across from my mother and takes out his laptop. He is commuting to his office job where he will find satisfaction in being conventionally productive. Our value is measured by what we create and what we consume. I don’t know what that means for those of us who do little of either.
“Abel are you excited to see your Grandmother?”
I flip through my cards and point to clip art of an elderly woman.
“Yes, Abel we’re going to see your grandmother.”
I flip to a card showing an excited face and then to a picture of a cat.
“You are excited. You like Tipsy, grandma’s cat.”
My grandmother is kind to me. She confidently translates my vocalizations but her inferences are rarely accurate.
“That’s right Abel, we are going to make cookies. Peanut butter or oatmeal raisin? I agree, you can’t go wrong with oatmeal raisin. My secret, don’t tell anyone, is nutmeg.”
Who was I going to tell? The Pope? Mum is the word, Grandma. This canary ain’t gonna sing. Also, I wanted peanut butter.
Tipsy is black with orange stripes, like an inverted tiger. Tipsy sits on my lap while I eat the warm cookies and waits for the crumbs that fall from my mouth and onto my Beatles’ “Abby Road” t-shirt.
My Mom and Grandma talk about cousins I don’t know who are getting married and how the garden is coming along.
“My tomatoes are growing like weeds. I need to get more cages. I planted cauliflower this year. I thought for some reason it grew under ground like a tuber but it doesn’t.”
Eventually they circle around to my Mother’s favorite topic – Abel’s condition and progress.
“We’re seeing a new speech therapist and she and Abel seem to really be getting along. He’s been loving his art classes at school. Last week he made a drawing of the two of us by boating on Lake Geneva. Isn’t that right Abel?”
I was drawing a picture of Han Solo encased in carbonite but the teacher’s aid decided it looked like the colors of a sunset and changed my concept to reflect her values.
She drew me at the front of the boat smiling wearing a life jacket. I hated that life jacket. My body curls up on itself like the way an earthworm scrunches together when poked with a stick. The life jacket made me feel even more restricted as it chafed against my armpits and strangled my belly.
“I really think he’s improving.”
“Of course he is,” my Grandma confidently asserted. “He is as smart as they come. Another cookie, Abel? You’re right, one more won’t hurt.”