We knew something was wrong.
G. was the best kind of kid a parent could ever want. Except, when he formed his words, we didn’t understand him. At two years old, standing in the kitchen, looking at me with imploring big blue eyes, his unkempt blonde hair–features that four years later today have not changed. But back then in Ohio in our kitchen, he wanted something, I didn’t know what. Apple juice, water, a cookie, a banana? The words he did possess were difficult to decipher. Some words missed complete sounds. Other sounds he replaced with easier to pronounce letters. The R consonant sound, for example, didn’t exist. He pronounced robot omot, and you had no idea what he was saying. What is an omot? And cookie was oo-ee. Or sometimes oo-tee. Or sometimes just oo. These conversations ended in tears and screams. I stood useless, helpless, yelling, “I don’t know what you want! What do you want?” I held him tight and seethed because I did not now how to help him.
G. wasn’t deaf. I could whisper his name from across the room and he catapulted into my arms. “Pick up your toys,” I’d say, and he’d do it.
One of the reasons we moved to Indiana was so we could be closer to my wife’s aging parents. I hated Ohio and refused to go any further than Indiana. I was short two classes short for my bachelor’s degree and convinced my wife I could pick up the classes at Ball State. My parents were so desperate to have us move back, that they walked through a house in Muncie, and I got the call from my mother that it was a nice place: decent and clean. When we arrived with the U-Haul, the neighborhood and house both scared me. We moved our stuff in, and when we walked across the carpet in our bare feet, our soles turned black from the dinge we couldn’t remove with any number of carpet shampoo machines. We did not last long in that house and never scraped the money together for the two classes I needed to finish my degree.
When a position opened at the newspaper in our Ohio home town, Mary, my wife, applied. She got the job, and we moved back to Ohio. Shortly thereafter the housing boom collapsed and I couldn’t find a decent job in an area already economically depressed.
G. was born. I tried starting a couple of restaurants for lack of any other work. The first failed because of naivety. The second failed because the bank foreclosed on the property owner, leaving me with no place to store expensive restaurant equipment two weeks before we were supposed to open. I drove over the road truck for a while, and felt abandoned at the back of warehouses all across America, and was fired for an accident that wasn’t my fault. I worked second shift at one gas station and third shift at another gas station. I was exhausted with no sleep trying to keep up with Mary’s beat reporter hours, my two jobs, and now two kids. And we were utterly broke. Rent was always late.
We had G. tested for free through a county early childhood development agency. They told us G. wasn’t deaf. We knew that. They said we made too much money to qualify for services because G. didn’t test deaf, and they didn’t know what was wrong with him. They could offer two hours of daycare a week and maybe sometimes sneak in a bit of sign language.
Sign language seemed a hopeful option, but mainly, honestly, for two hours a week I could get rid of the boy, not have to decipher his language and straight up sleep. The county agency taught him the words more and boat. The was about the time I began looking at higher education again. In the quiet of an early 4am morning, I told Mary I needed my Master’s. She asked which school I was looking at. I had a list, all of the schools local within a two hour commute. One day, Mary sitting in her rocker chair, watching the news, our daughter came home from school and told us one of her friends was kicked out of their house by the bank. She was seven and didn’t understand why people lost entire homes. Mary asked if I had ever considered the University of Wyoming–this was her dream school. I looked around at where we were, what we were doing, on the brink of homelessness, a son who could articulate very well that he wanted more boats in a land-locked state, and I said, “Sure, let’s go.” We sold everything we had and kept only what could be packed away into a Ford Windstar and a Ford Escort that a few weeks ago I had hit a deer with and managed to crumple the front end. People stared at us as we drove cross country I-80 with a car that had been ripped open.
In early October on G.’s birthday, the four of us stared out in amazement of our university housing apartment into the night sky watching big fat snowflakes drop like soft bombs. We were not used to that kind of weather. The preschool we had enrolled G. in wanted to test him. After the testing, a social service worker and a speech pathologist came to our apartment. They sat around our kitchen table. I don’t even think we had a couch yet. We still slept on the floor and felt inadequate and embarrassed. The speech pathologist was covered in tattoos and kept a neat hipster beard. They had a lot of questions. They had a lot of paperwork. The pathologist said, “G. has childhood speech apraxia.”
“What is that?”
“His brain has problems putting words together.”
“Can it be fixed?”
“What do we do?”
“We want to place him on an IEP.”
“What is that?”
“An Individualized Educational Program.”
“He’ll receive speech therapy twice a week.”
“What does it cost?”
The paperwork was pushed across the table. We filled the forms with trembling hands.