Without a Voice

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It had been happening almost every day. And this morning was no exception. Cade’s allergies have been relentless.

“Ugggh.” Cade grunted on the couch. The painful, frustrated sound could be heard all through the night. My Cade radar was on high alert keeping REM sleep at bay.

“God, please grant my son peace.” I prayed. The salty tears crossed my lips as I lay. Tightly gripped my hands remained as I continued. “Please keep him free from pain.” There’s no worse feeling than knowing your child is suffering. “Please…” At times the man upstairs appears to be listening. Then, there are other times where he simply appears preoccupied with more pressing matters. Either way, I prayed.

6:00 a.m. came way too soon. My hands still gripping. My heart still praying. I made my way to the living room. This is where Cade chooses to sleep these days.

“Uggh.” The grunting became louder. The heavy wood frame hammered the floor as Cade slammed his 250 pound body against the couch. Repeatedly he jerked with the greatest of force. Scrambling, I retrieved his migraine pills. There was one last thud then the trial was over. The sturdy couch shifted sending the tall mahogany end tables crashing to the floor. My wife’s favorite lamps once rested atop these tables. It was during a previous migraine that we found them shattered across the terracotta tiles.

“Here Cade.” I reached out to him. “This will make you feel better.”

With water cascading down his shirt, he swallowed the pill.

“Now,” I assured him. “The headache will be gone real soon.”

“It’s gone real soon!” Throwing the plastic cup across the room he shouted. “It’s gone real soon! It’s gone real soon! It’s gone real soon!”

“Try to relax son.”

“It’s gone real soon! It’s gone real soon! It’s gone real soon!” The forceful stomping echoed throughout the house.

“Please try to relax son.” I implored. “I’m going to go make your breakfast.”

Crossing through the doorway to the kitchen I stepped over the bits of sheetrock dusted across the floor. Yet another hole in the wall. Living with Cade I’ve become a master at spackling. It’s just that lately I’ve sort of given up on home improvement. As a result, my home remains lost somewhere in the middle of a half-finished renovation. With so much destructive behavior I ask myself, “Why bother?”

“Breakfast is ready buddy.”

Cade approached the dining table awaiting his breakfast burrito. “OOh…” Speaking of himself in the third person he continued. “You broke the TV.”

Cade always gives himself away when he’s done something bad. Slowly I crossed over the dusting of sheetrock and hoped for the best. I, of all people, should have known better. The television screen was annihilated.

“Why the hell would you do that?” Furiously, I yelled as loud as I could. Tired of repairing and tired of replacing my rampage endured. Ashamed of what he’d done, Cade buried his face into his palms. That’s when it hit me. Cade’s frustration stems from his chronic pain. Cade has limited verbal skills. Without a voice to be heard, destruction is inevitable. Growing up I recall my father having a stroke. The challenges presented during recovery remain vivid to this day.

It was dimly lit. My father’s eyes remained sensitive following an ischemic stroke; the type of stroke caused by blood clots. Our Louisiana home lacked the usual smell of a southern kitchen. With dietary restrictions, mom set out to make the best baked chicken and broccoli possible. Let’s face it, nothing beat her buttermilk-cornmeal fried chicken with baked macaroni and mashed potatoes. However, doctor’s orders didn’t allow it.

“I made your dinner,” mom gently called out to my father.

Holding his right forearm he glanced at the table. With a look of disappointment he reluctantly took a seat. Gently he lifted his right arm and placed it on the table beside his plate. Mom closed the refrigerator door. It was an era when appliances lasted long enough to go out of style. Avocado green was all the rage in 1970’s kitchens. Releasing the push and seal top of the yellow Tupperware pitcher, mom filled our glasses. Unsweetened iced tea has always been somewhat of an abomination in the south but you learn to get used to it.

As dad took his first bite, an unexpected look of gratitude appeared. To my surprise, he actually enjoyed the healthy meal. Not a word was spoken until the very last bite. Contently, he leaned back in his chair. The smile on his face told me all he was about to say. A sudden twitch shifted his head to the side. Opening his mouth, he attempted to speak. There was no sound. With a deep breath he attempted again. His silence was deafening. I could sense the fury within. His left fist pounded the table.

“Casie,” my mom called out. “The doctor said not to get worked up. It’s bad for your blood pressure.” Mom was always very soft spoken and naive; the complete opposite of my dad. He was always grumpy. My friends compared the two of them to Archie and Edith Bunker from All in the Family. To be honest, it was a fairly accurate depiction.

Unclenching his fist, dad closed his eyes. His chest rose as he inhaled. Gradually he re-opened his eyes. Glancing toward the love of his life he parted his lips. Once more he attempted to speak. The frustration reached a boiling point. Swiftly he rose as his right arm fell heavily to his side. My mother’s favorite dishes soared throughout the room. Although dad had been right handed all of his life, his left arm was proving to be quite powerful. With a carpenter’s grip, he flipped the kitchen table sideways. I ducked as the last of the wheat pattern dinner plates shot above my head.

What was he trying to say? What could have caused such a violent outburst? My father did eventually regain his speech. Months later, while drinking from the last surviving coffee mug of that evening, I asked him.

“The words were on the tip on my tongue.” He continued. “But nothing would come out.”

We sat there a moment, he and I. Laughing, we gazed over the kitchen cupboard. Mom had replaced all of our dishes with Tupperware. What was it that he trying to say that dreadful evening? Two words–“Thank you.”

The past few weeks have been trying times in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve watched protests become violent as hatred filled our streets. Brothers and sisters became looters and vandals. Random violence became rampant as fear let evil reign. What were they trying to say? What could have caused such violent outbursts? Staring at my shattered TV screen I wondered.

There’s no excuse for random violence; not now and not ever. But what about the mass destruction of property? While I do not condone it, I understand. People are hurting. Their frustration stems from years of pain. People have been crying out against injustice and inequality for generations. It’s time for us to listen. Listen to the many voices.  For without a voice to be heard, destruction is inevitable.

Kelly Jude Melerine