Monday, April 11, 2016

Asking the right questions

Asking the right questions

It is 9AM.  A mother, interpreter, and an
impossibly small boy follow me to my office.

Did you have any trouble getting here? I ask.
The mother tells me they took three buses because nobody will help her boy.

He is always sick.  He is not talking.
She heard I would help him, so she came.

I tell her I can help his listening, and his learning, and his talking.
I can help with his hitting, and throwing, and running away from her.

She talks rapidly with the interpreter who holds up a manicured finger,
giving me a silencing glance. I wait.

The interpreter clears her throat:
"She's wondering if you can improve her son's immigration status."

I glance at the clock.  It is 9:15.

The boy with long eyelashes sits on the chair and taps the window.
Tap tap tap.  Tap tap tap.  He laughs.

Does he ever do anything that hurts himself?
"He hits his head on the floor sometimes," his mother says.

"But I don't worry.
My best friend told me not to worry if he hits his head.

His head is soft so he can't do any real damage yet."
There is a pause and she says, softly,

"Sometimes I worry because he's almost 4 and
that's when their heads turn hard."

We who do this work talk in short-hand questions to one another -
Making it?  Ready?  Okay?  Need help?

I hear my colleague on the phone:
"But do you have enough food to get through the weekend?"

Later, I poke my head in.
You eat?

It's 11:30.
"My creative writing teacher is the best teacher ever.

I think she's the best person I've ever met."
What makes her the best person you've ever met?

"She likes my writing.
 Like, she really actually likes it because she thinks it's good.

She isn't just saying it's good because I have autism.
That's not very usual."

It's 1:30pm and my office has so many people in it
we are all sweating.

Mom sorts through a plastic grocery bag of records, receipts
prescriptions, Mountain Dew, and cheese curls.

She hands me an MRI report, an IEP, and an inhaler as the baby in the stroller screams.
"This one," she says, rolling her eyes.  "He'll come see you next."

I explain the paperwork, hand Mom a pen and she grabs it with her whole fist.
There is fear in her eyes.

Would you like me to read it to you?

I point to the line where it says signature.
She carefully prints each letter.

How does she tell you what she wants or needs?
"Well, she's starting to talk,

but she only knows English words.
No Arabic words. 

So she's finally talking but
I still don't know what she wants.

She's only in Kindergarten
but I can't help her with her homework.

I told her teacher I was trying to help
but she just stopped sending the homework home."

It's 5:30.
I close the door and stare out the window at the playground, watching

the flow of children running, falling,
climbing, crying as

the steady line of people trudge across the muddy spring grass to the rest of their lives
I didn't even know to ask about

big hands holding tight the small ones
mouths forming words not meant for me.

Unanswered questions like prayers burn upon my lips as
I pack my bag and walk through the eerily quiet lobby.

"Dr. L," says the security guard with a nod.
"We'll see you tomorrow?"

Yes sir, I say.
Bright and early.

"A'ight then," he says, seriously.
"We're counting on it.  You hear?"

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