Chapter Six

Just before Thanksgiving my parents got a call from my school. Because of cuts in government funding the school was closing. We would have to find another place for me.

My parents were destroyed by this. My care had already cost so much that they had taken out a second mortgage. Without government support there was no way to keep me in a good school.

“Don’t worry,” my mother told my father. “We’ll work something out.”

But my father was pouring his third drink. He didn’t answer her.

On Thanksgiving my aunt and uncle came over for dinner. After dinner they said they wanted to look at some of our home video. My father got out the DVDs and showed them on the living room TV.

There were pictures of my parents with me when I was about 2. They were holding hands across me. I had a big smile on my face.

I was struck by the look in their eyes. They looked so relaxed, so at peace.

Then we saw Bethany with me in her lap. She was making faces at the camera and tickling me. I was wriggling, my smile bigger than ever.

Too late my aunt and uncle realized their mistake. The video showed us before Bethany died and before I was diagnosed. My parents thought they had two normal children and everything to live for. Since then all that hope and confidence had died.

With a few uncomfortable words my father put the DVD away and turned on a football game. The evening ended with everyone pretending the painful video had not been seen at all.

My birthday was December 5th.  My parents gave me a lot of gifts, but the most important was a little CD player and a set of Mozart’s Piano Concertos. It was obviously my father who had thought if this. He had seen me listen to Mozart and heard me humming Mozart’s melodies.

We went out to a restaurant. The kind of place where they have balloons, toys for kids, kids’ food like macaroni and cheese.

When we went in a very cute waitress put a cowboy hat on my head. I started laughing.

Another cute waitress (I think that was a job requirement in that place) brought me a kiddie cocktail, the kind with the cherry and the little umbrella.

As my parents ordered for all of us, I kept laughing. When I got louder my mother touched my hand and said “Take it easy, Max. People are looking at us.”

Somehow this pushed a button in me, and I went from laughing to screaming. I overturned the kiddie cocktail on purpose. My father touched my hand. “Settle down, son.”

But I kept screaming. I threw all the silverware off the table. I threw a glass on the floor and watched it smash.

The manager, an older woman, came over and quietly told my parents we would have to leave if they couldn’t control me. She was very tactful but very firm.

From screaming I went to crying. My parents held on for two more minutes, then we had to leave. I struggled with them as they wrestled me out of my seat and out of the restaurant. I kept crying as Dad put me in the car seat. I didn’t stop until I was home in my room. I could hear them downstairs talking in low tones.

“We’ll have to be more careful…”

“He doesn’t mean it, really…”

I heard my father making a drink.

“I think in a way he does. He was normal enough this morning. I think he was trying to tell us something.”

What they didn’t understand was that I wanted them to punish me. For everything. For being the problem. For being eight years old and behaving like a 2-year-old. For

taking all their money away. For wiping away the smile they had in that old video. For forcing them into a new life that was torture for them.

But they didn’t punish me. They didn’t get it.

Alone in my room, I immediately calmed down. I got out my biggest drawing pad and my crayons.

I drew a picture of a huge air balloon rising into the sky. I drew birds helping the balloon to rise.

I was in the gondola, looking downward.

Attached to the balloon by two ropes were my parents. They were being pulled up into the sky by me and my balloon. They had happy faces.

I didn’t hear my father come into the room. I was too absorbed.

“Karen, come in here.” I looked up in surprise as my mother appeared at the door.

“Look at this,” my father said.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“He’s saying he’s sorry, Karen. He wants to make us happy.”

My mother said nothing. I smelled the liquor on my father’s breath.

I heard them both sigh. They touched my head softly and went into the living room.

My father had understood.

But neither of them realized that their wide smiles in the picture came from that home video which was made when they were happy. They couldn’t see that far back.

But I did. Now I did.