The boy Jack is very excited today.
He woke his mother up early. He stood next to her bed and repeated today for party store party store party store until she opened her eyes. She was not too happy.
“Jack! It’s not even 5:30! What do you want?”
“It is 5:19. On the clock. Party store. We have to go to the party store. After school.”
“We need. A candle.”
In the beginning, this boy did not want me. I was a surprise. On Easter morning, after all five kids found the eggs and ate the chocolate out of their baskets, the mom person carried me into what they call the living room all quiet and sneaky. I had been hiding in the garage.
She was holding me in her arms. I was so little then—only eight weeks old and five pounds. The other four kids clapped and shouted and laughed, but the boy Jack, well he cried.
I did not for. Want a dog.
He was nine-going-on-ten. He had autism and he was very, very afraid of dogs. He screamed if he saw them walking down the street, and he stayed in the car if there was one at the baseball field or in the parking lot.
He is twelve-going-on-thirteen now. He still has autism. But he isn’t afraid of dogs anymore.
He took a little while to get used to me, this boy. At first, he would not go anywhere near me. He kept asking to take me back. Then one day, he reached out one of his fingers and he touched my foot.
Now, he feeds me my breakfast. Carefully so he doesn’t spill, he measures out my food and pours it into the bowl.
As soon as he comes home from school and he drops his backpack on the floor, he calls out for me.
Wolfie. I am home. For where are you.
I sleep in his room on the floor.
He isn’t sleeping that well lately. Oh, he falls asleep just fine after he takes his one white pill and his one green pill with a small paper cup of water. He snuggles underneath his quilt with the blue and red racecars and he buries his head in the pillows and after a few minutes, he closes his eyes.
Then, at some time in the night, he wakes again. He sits up, and he looks around like he forgot he was under his own quilt in his own bed in his own room. He puts on his glasses, and he squints at the clock.
I feel his heart racing. I hear his breath. It is quick and hot. The room feels like it is holding something heavy and full within its four walls.
This boy Jack, he lives with a lot of fear. His fears are big and fast, and they take his breath away.
He has a new thing now where every night he comes down the stairs after everyone else has gone to sleep so he can check on his mom and his dad. He is afraid that since he can’t see them, they are gone.
Mom? Dad? Are you there?
You can set your watch by him. The first time he comes down is 8:37 and then he does it again every ten minutes until the mom and the dad walk up the stairs to their own bed, usually when the clock on the stove reads 9:45.
If his fear made noise, it would sound like a thousand magpies black and screaming against a yellow sky.
They are a lion uncaged, with a deep, warning growl.
They are a soft, low whisper that circulates my boy’s brain all day, every day.
My boy. He is my boy, and I am his dog.
He doesn’t know how to put it into words. He cannot find the words to explain his fear of abandonment and isolation and danger. He cannot describe the lion’s menacing gait, or the way the magpies keep the sun from shining in its neon sky, leaving him with only darkness.
Sometimes, the mom feels like she is not a good person when she is around her son Jack. Oh, she loves him like crazy. That is for sure. But she is short with him. She is frustrated with him. She says mean things.
Jack! Go to bed! I have had enough!
But later, when his green pill and his white pill have helped him fall asleep and he’s lying in his bed with his hand tucked under his cheek, she sits gently next to him and she strokes his soft, short hair. She whispers into the air above his head.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jack-a-boo.
This time the room is full of the ache within her heart.
The problem is, she does not understand his fear. She knows it is real for him, yet she cannot feel it for herself.
She has never felt the lion’s roar shiver up her spine and into the space between her shoulder blades. She does not know what it’s like to try and catch a glimpse of a yellow sun obscured by so many black-feathered wings.
It is like watching him live inside of a glass box. He can see you and you can see him, and yet he is unreachable; unknowable. For the mom, this is maddening. She just wants her tall boy to step out of his box, and into his life.
One night the mom and the dad were sitting on the couch after all of the kids were settled—even the young, round boy who takes forever to brush his teeth and put on his Batman pajamas and they have to tell him a million times to lower his voice—and they were talking very quietly together.
He’s really anxious again.
Maybe we should adjust the medication.
I guess. I’ll call the doctor tomorrow and see what she thinks.
The medicine helps this boy. It alters the chemicals in his brain so that he can think through anxiety’s deep, confusing fog and learn how to do fractions and keep his body calm. But I don’t think it gets to the heart of the matter, if you will.
See, deep inside of him, Jack is scared he will never be loved for the person he is.
But I will always love him. I will always be his person even though I am not a person. I am a dog. I have a soft grey face and a high, fluffy tail and when he puts his long fingers deep into the fur around my neck I sigh a deep, satisfied sigh.
With me, he does not need the words. When we sit together on the floor or in the big leather chair in the living room, his fingers tell the story of his anxiety, and my deep, restful sighs promise him peace.
This is all the language we have together. It is enough for us both.
Today is my birthday. The boy Jack remembered. At the party store, picked out a red and white candle in the shape of a three. He picked out my red hat.