Susan's Blog

Monday, August 7, 2006

Fresh Dirt

My novel is just about ready to shop around. The main character’s name is now Emmy, the estranged husband is Eric, the love interest is Will, and the son’s speech therapist is Tom. I am calling the book, “Dirt: A Story of Gardening, Mothering, and a Midlife Crisis.” In this scene, which I wrote today, Eric goes to meet with Nick’s speech therapist for the first time and is surprised by what he finds.

“I’m really glad to meet you,” Tom said, holding out his beefy hand.
“Yeah, same,” said Eric, grasping Tom’s hand firmly. They were standing in the therapy room, with floor-to-ceiling games, puzzles, books, art supplies, stacked messily on all the shelves. Instead of the customary fluorescent lighting trays that flickered with strobe-like consistency in most offices, there were tiny recessed lights positioned at regular intervals in the sky-blue ceiling. New jade green carpeting underfoot; Eric could tell it was that expensive non-allergenic stuff. Gave a nice soft and solid feeling wherever he stepped. There were sheets of paper masking-taped up on the wall behind Tom’s head, obviously done by kids, with the predominant theme of orange houses. Eric smiled graciously, trying to show Tom that he could appreciate the things kids did. God knew what Emmy had told him about him.
Tom narrowed his eyes just the slightest bit and said, “Nick’s work.” His voice dipped low, full of pride.
Eric’s eyebrows shot up. “Really!” He walked over to have a closer look. Bold brushstrokes, slanted, thick lines. So much orange. “Orange,” he murmured.
“Yes, he loves orange.”
“Never knew that. But I suppose Emmy’s told you all about me.” He did not look at Tom, but continued to take in Nick’s work: sheet after sheet of painstaking attempts to capture the most basic shapes: houses, stick-figure people, a cat. All in orange. He felt both disturbed and happy at the same time.
“Not really, no,” Tom said. “We just talk about the boys.”
“All of them?” Eric turned to look at Tom, to get a read on him. Warm brown eyes met his with self-assurance, curiosity, but also kindness.
“Well, yes. Treat one kid, you kind of end up treating the whole family, you know?”
“I guess.” Eric shrugged. He hadn’t thought of this before but he liked it. He couldn’t imagine hapless Jackie, the last speech therapist they had endured, “treating the whole family,” however, and this image made him smile.
“You’ve got great kids. All so different. Want to sit down?”
They sat at the worktable. The chairs were surprisingly comfortable, yet supportive. Tom waited for Eric to begin; it was his hour, after all.
“So what do you do with Nick for that hour? Or fifty minutes,” Eric added under his breath, with a smirk. He knew all about the abbreviated therapy-hour from when Emmy had gone to therapy, back when Nick was first diagnosed. Eric hadn’t gone, of course, but Em had told him all about it, to try to bring him into it, he supposed. But he just wasn’t the therapy type. All that sitting around and crying to a stranger. It wasn’t for him.
“Actually I do go the whole hour. I just schedule my clients with good-size breaks in between. Works out better for everyone.” Tom sat back and folded his arms behind his head, showing two yellow sweat circles in his armpits.
Eric raised an eyebrow. This guy was alright; clearly did his own laundry. It made him like him more. “So what do you guys do? Besides paint?”
“These days,” Tom said, “Not much else!” They both laughed. “I think Nick has finally found a hobby others can relate to.”
“You mean other than twiddling string?” Eric was immediately ashamed after he said it and he felt his face reddening.
But Tom waved a hand dismissively. “Of course, twiddling string is highly underrated in these parts. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”
Eric grinned appreciatively. He suddenly felt his body soften and settle into the chair and a sigh escaped him before he knew it. “I guess – “ he ventured, a little at a loss, “I came here to find out more about what I can do. You know, for Nick. Living apart from him, and all.”
Tom thought for a while. The pause went on for so long that Eric began to think he wasn’t even going to answer him. Finally, Tom said, throwing his hands down to his lap, “That’s tough. For all of you. I guess the main thing is, don’t try to do too much, but try to make it good, whatever you do. You know, you don’t have to take them to the circus and museums for it to be a good thing. Sometimes just sitting, guy time.”
“Are we still talking about Nick?”
“I think this applies to all your boys. They just need to enjoy you, don’t you think? They probably miss that, in your situation.”
Eric nodded. This made sense. It also made him feel better, and yet, also wistful. “My situation, yes.”
Tom shook his head. “Not a judgment. Just an observation. The truth. It is a situation, and it can’t be easy. So you’ve got to try to connect with them. And that’s really it. Nick is probably the easiest of the three of them right now, in terms of connecting.”
Eric’s eyes widened in surprise. “Nick!”
Tom went on, “Because you can do the painting with him and make him so happy, so easily. You’ll see. But the other two – well, especially Henry. He’s at a tough age.”
Eric thought, Nick is at nearly the same age, but no one ever remembered that. He leaned forward and said, “I think I see what you mean.”
They didn’t talk about Henry or Dan after that, because Eric felt he needed to use the time to learn more about Nick, which is what he had come there for. Tom gave Eric a few ideas of how to set things up in his apartment for arts and crafts, and talked about Nick’s sensory issues, tactile sensitivities, noise problems. So many things Eric had known but had never really attended to before. But now – he had a concrete task to go with his new knowledge, and that felt good. When he walked out of Tom’s building he was whistling Queen again, and drove right over to Pearl Paint Store in Cambridge, tapping away happily on the steering wheel as he drove.

2 comments

No comments? What, does this book stink? Please tell me!!!

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, August 8, 2006 at 11:22 am

I’m breathless with antici………………pation.

— added by Anton on Tuesday, August 8, 2006 at 3:18 pm

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