By Karen Brode
It was a warm May morning and the last day of Billy’s speech therapy before summer vacation. He had turned five in April.
His mother, Becky, sat in the school cafeteria with three other mothers whose children were in speech therapy. They listened to second graders practice their end of year program. They were performing a rendition of “Annie.”
“The sun’ll come out tomorrow….bet your bottom dollar that it will….”
The second graders looked so hopeful and certain that the sun would come out. Becky thought it probably would–for them. She wanted to think that the sun would come out for Billy, too; that all of the problems would be in the past. Tears ran down her face. She wiped them away in embarrassment.
“Allergies!” she exclaimed to explain her tears to the other mothers. Tears always seemed close. Winnie had died in February. She sorely missed having her aunt to talk to. Winnie understood her in so many ways that her own mother did not.
And Billy, she didn’t know a lot of other children, but he wasn’t like any of the children she knew. His preschool teacher had approached her the year before concerned about the way he sat in his chair. Panic set in as soon as the teacher mentioned that she didn’t think he sat normally. She went on to say that other things that weren’t quite right as well. She suggested that Becky take him to Children’s Hospital in Dallas, just to have him checked out. So she did.
At the hospital, doctors gave her a printed report that said her son was a little behind in speech and language development, but his IQ was in the normal range. There was a slight abnormality, though, on the right side of his brain, but it was barely mentioned in the report. She carried the report in her purse and often took it out to reread it. She prayed everyday that he would be okay. She didn’t want anything beyond normal, average, or mediocre. She no longer wanted anything for herself. She only wanted Billy to be okay. That was all that mattered.
She thought that surely if so many people looked at her son and saw problems, there must be something that she was missing. When she mentioned this to her husband, he got angry and told her she was being ridiculous to let people upset her. But he wasn’t the one hearing things. He was safely at work protected from hearing the reports and seeing the concern on the faces of teachers.
One by one, different mothers went to talk to the speech teacher about their child’s progress during the past year. Finally it was her turn. Maybe it wouldn’t take long and she and Billy could go get an ice cream cone.
The teacher came to the classroom door and held it almost shut as if she were talking to a pushy door-to-door salesman. Billy stood in the hallway looking up at his mother and teacher.
“I don’t think there’s much else that can be done,” the teacher said. “I gave all the students a verbal test to assess their skills and everyone else did great on it. Billy just couldn’t do it.” She looked down at Billy. He looked up worried as if he thought he was in trouble.
“He couldn’t repeat the words I gave out, and the other children said them back in order. The only recommendation I can make is a class at Terrell Elementary school. It’s a class for children with special needs. Most of the children are still in diapers. It’s the only class I could recommend for him. He won’t make it in public school.” And then, the speech teacher closed the door ever so slowly until it clicked shut.
Becky stared at the closed door and wished she could think of something else to say, something that would make all of this end better. Slowly, she backed away from the door, and took Billy’s hand. Her mind began to spin as they walked to the car.
Once there, she saw she had forgotten to take in the present they had bought for the speech teacher. Becky had carefully wrapped it the night before, but she had left it in the backseat.
Oh well, she thought. She took the package out and looked at the name tag: “To Mrs. Taylor from Billy.” She placed the package in front of her rear tire and drove over it once, backed up over it, and then drove over it again.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.