Words

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“Come on.” Curling my index finger I called Cade to the bunny slope.

“Hamburger Helper!” He yelled. A feeling of frustration was evident in his voice. Slowly Cade scooted his way across the snow.

With a smile on my face I extended my hand. “Let me help you.”

Determined to do it on his own he let me know, “Cade do it.” And do it he did. He continued moving fractions of an inch. “Mashed potatoes!”

Throwing my poles down I laughed. I knew he was frustrated but Hamburger Helper? Mashed Potatoes? “Come on buddy. Let’s go on the tubes.” There was a hill near by with inner tube slides. We kicked off our skis and marched through the snow. Despite the cold temperature it was a beautiful day. The birds flew across the blue sky. They obviously missed the “fly south” memo. As we made our way to the inner tubes a group of eager teens scrambled by. The excitement was obvious in their stories of surviving the Black Diamond. I smiled. With a feeling of guilt I thought of how things could be if Cade were typical. Slowly my smile vanished.

“Screw it,” I thought to myself. “We’ll make our own Black Diamond.” Just like the lazy birds still hanging around the northern sky this will be our paradise. There were some brave stunts performed on the inner tubes that day. By far, we were faster than all the pre-schoolers on the hill. So what if it wasn’t very exciting. At least Cade wasn’t yelling random lunch items. And how would I feel not being able to verbalize my true feelings?

Would I get pissed off and want to kick someone in the couscous? Or tell them to go foie gras themselves? I remember my father telling me what it was like after survivng a stroke. He eventually regained his speech but for a while it got ugly. “The words were on the tip of my tongue,” he told me. “But nothing would come out.” Frustrated by his lack of words he threw objects around the room. If there was one thing my father did well it was cuss. And he was bi-lingual. Growing up, I had to weather his short temper in English and in Spanish.

Good or bad, words are wondrous. They have the power to guide, calm, hurt, astound, humble and bewilder. I have spent the past eighteen years helping Cade build an arsenal of these mighty tools. I recall our first session with speech therapy.

“Cade,” queried the therapist, “can you show me which one is the goat?”

Overlooking the plastic animals displayed before him, Cade scanned the office. His eyes shifted about the many objects in the room. There was no interest in this so called goat. A familiar rustling sound brought his attention back to the table. Laying near the herd of collectible wildlife was an opened bag of Cheetos. Tempted by the cheesy morsels Cade reached for the bag.

“No Cade.” Pulling back the snack sized pouch, the therapist continued. “Which one is the goat?”

Knowing what was at stake, Cade immediately picked the bearded member of the Bovidae family.

“Very good Cade. You earned a treat.” With the crunchy goodies held high she presented a new question. “Where is the giraffe?”

Without hesitation Cade grabbed the animal to the far left.

“No Cade. That’s a horse.” Again she asked, “Where’s the giraffe?”

Moving quickly, he made another selection.

“No Cade. That’s a camel.” This time she did the unthinkable. Removing a bite-sized puff, she crunched. As she licked the powdered cheese from her lips she asked once more, “Where’s the giraffe?”

Appalled by what just happened, Cade gave some thought to his next selection. Carefully he browsed the assortment of plastic creatures. “Giraffe!” He shouted as he proudly displayed the long necked terrestrial being. Cade and his therapist continued and within no time the bag of Cheetos was empty.

That’s when I learned to think outside of the box. I began narrating my every move.

“I am holding my toothbrush…”

“I am squeezing the toothpaste…”

“I am brushing my teeth.”

This narrative speech became my way of whistling while I work. Day after day our house was filled with relentless chattering. It was like the lyics of an R. Kelly song. Slowly Cade began to understand when to use certain words.

“I am placing the omelet on the plate…”

“I am carrying the plate…”

“I am walking to the table…”

“Here’s your breakfast buddy.” Handing him a utensil I continued, “And here is a fork.”

Looking up Cade gave me a heartfelt, “Hakuna matata.”

“Wow Cade! Hakuna matata. That means ‘no worries’.”

“For the rest of your days,” he finished the line.

I couldn’t help but smile. The remainder of the morning was spent quoting the Lion King. Cade has always had a fondness for movie watching. I am thankful that he is now into more than just animated films. I must admit, however, Cade and I are a lot like Shrek and Donkey. He might seem big and menacing at times but I will always be his noble steed. Cade also has a fondness for Superheros, James Bond and Samuel L Jackson. Watching movies became a way to increase his vocabulary. Granted, there may not always be an opportunity to warn someone of snakes on a plane, but there is always an opportunity to connect.

Deep down we all have a desire to connect. There are many times that I wish I was more into sports. I see the passion when fans engage in discussion. The truth is I am just not that into it. However, I use what little knowledge I have of the game just to be a part of the conversation. Likewise, I make the same efforts to be more familiar with Cade’s interests.

Lately, my conversations with Cade have centered around two topics; Batman and Superman. He has been anticipating the new Dawn of Justice movie for well over a year now. Although we have the same discussions eight or nine times a day, I just can’t get enough. To one of my best friends, who is also one of the biggest Superman fans that I know, I must apologize. I love you like a brother, Phil. But when I ask Cade who’s going to win, he replies, “Batman will beat Superman’s ass!”

Kelly Jude Melerine

  • Hakuna Matata, Produced by: Jay Rifkin, Fabian Cooke and Mark Mancina,  Written by: Elton John and Tim Rice, From the movie The Lion King, Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation, 1994.