As always, I am indebted to the people who helped make this book happen: editors Patricia Lee Gauch and Tamra Tuller; agents Kendra Marcus and Minju Chang; my many writer friends, including Moira Donohue, Maureen Lewis, Susan Barry Fulop, Kathy May, Anne Marie Pace, Fran Slayton, and Julie Swanson; and, of course, my always supportive and wonderful husband, Bill, and awesome children, Gavin and Fiona, who all deserve special tribute, as does my sister, Jan, my biggest cheerleader. Thanks to all of you.
IT LOOKS LIKE A ONE-WINGED bird crouching in the corner of our living room. Hurt. Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it flutters for just a moment and then falls down again. Still. Dead.
Dad covered it with the gray sheet so I can’t see it, but I know it’s there. And I can still draw it. I take my charcoal pencil and copy what I see. A grayish square-ish thing that’s almost as tall as me. With only one wing.
Underneath the sheet is Devon’s Eagle Scout project. It’s the chest Dad and Devon are making so he’ll be ready to teach other Boy Scouts how to build a chest. I feel all around the sheet just to be sure his chest is underneath. It’s cold and hard and stiff on the outside and cavernous on the inside. My Dictionary says CAVernous means filled with cavities or hollow areas. That’s what’s on the inside of Devon’s chest. Hollow areas. On the outside is the part that looks like the bird’s broken wing because the sheet hangs off of it loosely. Under the sheet is a piece of wood that’s going to be the door once Dad and Devon finish the chest. Except now I don’t know how they can. Now that Devon is gone. The bird will be trying to fly but never getting anywhere. Just floating and falling. Floating and falling.
The gray of outside is inside. Inside the living room. Inside the chest. Inside me. It’s so gray that turning on a lamp is too sharp and it hurts. So the lamps are off. But it’s still too bright. It should be black inside and that’s what I want so I put my head under the sofa cushion where the green plaid fabric smells like Dad’s sweat and Devon’s socks and my popcorn and the cushion feels soft and heavy on my head and I push deeper so my shoulders and chest can get under it too and there’s a weight on me that holds me down and keeps me from floating and falling and floating and falling like the bird.
LOOK AT THE PERSON
I don’t know what this means but the people come to our house. I wish I could hide in Devon’s room but I’m not allowed in there now. Not since The Day Our Life Fell Apart and Dad slammed Devon’s door shut and put his head against it and cried and said,
I try to hide in my room and draw but Dad comes and gets me.
There are so many voices in our house. Voices from Devon’s Boy Scout troop. I recognize their green pants. And the nice things they say about Devon.
Voices of relatives. Dad introduces me to them. He says,
Dad says to Look At The Person so I look quickly at a nose or a mouth or an ear but I still don’t remember.
One voice says,
One even says,
I don’t feel lucky but they keep coming.
Relatives we hardly saw when Devon was here so how can they help?
Neighbors like the man who yelled at Devon to get off his lawn. How can he help?
People from school. Mrs. Brook my counselor. Miss Harper the principal. All my teachers since kindergarten except my real fifth-grade teacher because she left after what happened at Devon’s school. I don’t Get It because nothing bad happened at James Madison Elementary School so why did she have to leave? Now Mrs. Johnson is my teacher. She didn’t even know Devon except she watched him play basketball, she says. Twice. I’ve watched the LA Lakers play more than twice. I don’t try to help them.
I look around the living room and stare at the sheet-covered chest.
I shake my head.
She doesn’t move. This means she is waiting for me to say something. I hate that. It makes my underarms prickle and get wet. I almost start sucking my sleeve like I do at recess but then I remember.
She moves away.
I got it right! I go to the refrigerator and put a smiley face sticker on my chart under YOUR MANNERS. Seven more and I get to watch a video.
When I turn away from the fridge I see a puffy blue marshmallow wall in front of me. It smells of apple cinnamon Pop-Tarts and breathes noisily. It’s another neighbor or relative. I don’t know which. Her hands are shaking. One hand has a tissue and the other hand she holds out to me. There is a white circle in it.
So I take it just to get her hand off of mine because her hand is squishy and flabby and makes me feel sick.
I take it quickly so I won’t have to feel her hand again.
She tries to pat my head with the candy hand but I duck.
I run and hide behind Dad. And eat the candy. They are mints. I wish they were gummy worms because that’s my favorite but I Deal With It. The good thing is I can’t talk when my mouth is full because that’s rude so if I keep my mouth full I can be in my own Caitlin world.
When I finish the candy I still don’t want to talk so I push my head under Dad’s sweater and feel the warmth of his chest as he breathes up and down and I smell his Gil lette Cool Wave Antiperspirant and Deodorant. He doesn’t even say,
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
DAD SAYS IT’S TIME TO GO BACK to school so here I am.
Back in Mrs. Brook’s room.
Sitting at the little round table.
I look at the walls and not much has changed except that the mad face on the Facial Expressions Chart now has a mustache. I know because I have looked at that chart about a million times to try to figure out which emotion goes with each face. I’m not very good at it. I have to use the chart because when I look at real faces I don’t Get It. Mrs. Brook says people have a hard time understanding me because I have Asperger’s so I have to try extra hard to understand them and tha ...