02 April 2013
The little boy ran through the office, not watching where he was going, his gaze fixed on the bright sunlit mass of late-afternoon clouds shining like great red cliffs in the sky. He ignored the more mundane view of Baltimore’s streets in December 2003, gridlocked with both rush hour and holiday shopping traffic, and the crowded parking lot six stories below the window.
He could hear his parents behind him, speaking with a large dark-haired man who wore bright shiny eyeglasses. Their words made no sense to him. He knew only that he didn’t like his mother’s strained tone and her quick, broken speech, trailing off abruptly to sobs. Her voice sounded to him like the gusting wind just before a thunderstorm, when the first drops of cold rain came pattering on fallen leaves.
Looking out the window at the bright red clouds, he touched the rocks in his pocket for reassurance. They sparkled in the sunlight, too. He always picked the brightest pebbles from the landscaping beds in his front yard when he went outside to play. Sometimes he gave an especially pretty pebble to his mother, as she stood watching him with her gray thunderstorm eyes. But no matter what he gave her, it never seemed to put any sunlight into her voice or face.
The man with the shiny eyeglasses was speaking now, his voice flowing smoothly like the stream in the woods behind the boy’s house. The stream had tiny fish darting around the rocks and insects skittering across the surface. On the coldest days it froze and was quiet. If only the shiny-glasses man would be quiet, too. He just kept on talking, and fragments of his speech registered in the boy’s mind without any meaning attached to them.
“Classic autism… residential programs available…”
The red cliffs in the sky reminded the boy of his favorite video, a nature documentary about cliff-nesting birds. He wished that he could fly away to those shining cliffs and soar in the open blue sky above them. Everything would look tiny from up there, like the view from this high window, but even smaller and farther away.
Holding his arms straight out from his sides, he pretended that the sleeves of his gray jacket were his outstretched wings. They would have feathers shading from soft gray down on his chest to brilliant white at the tips. He imagined that the air blowing from the register under the window was a strong wind carrying him away from the rocky shore and over a vast unexplored ocean, launching him aloft into the unknown.