by Terry Ratner, RN, MFA
When he ate malted-milk balls, he sucked the chocolate off first. Thinking you weren’t watching, he’d roll the candies from one side of his mouth to the other, making the sort of tiny noises you’d imagine a chipmunk would make, or a small bird, or something else tiny and cute. Sometimes, to tease him, you’d ask a question just to hear him talk, and his words would come out all lumpy and garbled, pushed around the sides of the candy. “What?” you’d say, teasing. “I don’t understand.” But no matter how much you teased, he never chewed.
You received a call from the school secretary. She told you your 9-year old son wanted to talk with you. There was a moment of silence while the phone changed hands. He was in fourth grade and you panicked thinking the worst.
“Mom,” he said. You could hear him panting as if he had just finished running a race. “I’m sorry. I took your diamond ring this morning and hid it. I want to tell you where it is.”
You hadn’t even missed it, you thought to yourself.
“Where is it and why would you take it,” you asked him.
“I don’t know why, but it’s in the bathroom under the sink.”
You told him not to worry and that you both could talk about it after school. His voice sounded calmer, as if some tension was released after telling you his secret.
He became moody and restless in junior high. You try and remember what happened, but you don’t recall all the circumstances. Maybe you don’t want to know them. Maybe it’s too painful, a reminder of what went on and how the divorce affected him.
One day he announced that he took a few pills. You didn’t know whether it was aspirin or Tylenol or the exact number of pills taken. You call the family pediatrician and he tells you to give him Ipecac to expel the meds.
He spent three weeks in a psych unit with other teens who had problems. The medications the doctors prescribed changed him into a zombie with slurred speech. His eyes were dull, he moved in slow motion, and had trouble gathering his thoughts. You visited him twice a day, but he seemed distant, like someone you didn’t know. It wasn’t until you took him home, tapered the dosage, and then discontinued the meds completely that he came back to you.
He had a few girlfriends when he was in high school. You always liked his taste in girls. They were smart, sweet and pretty. The girls fell hard for him, but he never wanted to settle down. He was always worried he’d miss something better in life.
His friends came over at all hours of the night wanting to know if they could talk with him. When you asked him what they wanted, he replied, “I’m selling sunglasses to the kids at school.” Somehow you never believed that story.
You remember when he wanted to go to prom, rent a limousine with a few friends and enjoy the evening. You offered to drive him and his friends because you thought he’d get in trouble. He went in the limo anyway and survived the experience. You are glad he didn’t listen to you.
He predicted a first complete-game shutout for the Diamondbacks with Omar Daal pitching, scattering four hits in a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs at BankOne Ballpark (1998). It was a warm day in July, the kind of day you look out the window and think about going to a baseball game. He’d grown up listening to games, sprawled sideways across his bed in the dark tuned into AM stations from faraway Chicago, New York, St. Louis. He remembered the call letters and could reel them off like a secret code. Sometimes he brought a radio to the games and balanced it on the armrest between your seats and the announcers’ voices drifted up in bits and snatches, and part of him was sitting next to you eating a hot dog and cheering while part of him was that child sprawled in the dark listening to distant voices.
To be continued . . . . . . .