I had just started a job as The Wall Street Journal's national affairs reporter. My wife, Cornelia, a former journalist, was home with him -- a new story every day, a new horror. He could barely use a sippy cup, though he'd long ago graduated to a big-boy cup. He wove about like someone walking with his eyes shut. "It doesn't make sense," I'd say at night. "You don't grow backward." Had he been injured somehow when he was out of our sight, banged his head, swallowed something poisonous? It was like searching for clues to a kidnapping.
After visits to several doctors, we first heard the word "autism." Later, it would be fine-tuned to "regressive autism," now affecting roughly a third of children with the disorder. Unlike the kids born with it, this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months -- then they vanish. Some never get their speech back. Families stop watching those early videos, their child waving to the camera. Too painful. That child's gone.
But a tenuous connection remained between Owen and his pre-autistic self: Disney movies. And through them, Owen slowly learns how to communicate with the outside world again.
So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November 1994. Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish.... "Juicervose, juicervose." It is something we've been hearing for the past few weeks. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. "The Little Mermaid" is playing as we settle in, propping up pillows. We've all seen it at least a dozen times, but it's at one of the best parts: where Ursula the sea witch, an acerbic diva, sings her song of villainy, "Poor Unfortunate Souls," to the selfish mermaid, Ariel, setting up the part in which Ursula will turn Ariel into a human, allowing her to seek out the handsome prince, in exchange for her voice.
When the song is over, Owen lifts the remote. Hits rewind.
"Come on, Owen, just let it play!" Walt moans. But Owen goes back just 20 seconds or so, to the song's next-to-last stanza, with Ursula shouting:
Go ahead -- make your choice!
I'm a very busy woman, and I haven't got all day.
It won't cost much, just your voice!
He does it again. Stop. Rewind. Play. And one more time. On the fourth pass, Cornelia whispers, "It's not 'juice.' " I barely hear her. "What?" "It's not 'juice.' It's 'just' ... 'just your voice'!"
I grab Owen by the shoulders. "Just your voice! Is that what you're saying?!"
He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!"
Walt starts to shout, "Owen's talking again!" A mermaid lost her voice in a moment of transformation. So did this silent boy. "Juicervose! Juicervose! Juicervose!" Owen keeps saying it, watching us shout and cheer. And then we're up, all of us, bouncing on the bed. Owen, too, singing it over and over -- "Juicervose!" -- as Cornelia, tears beginning to fall, whispers softly, "Thank God, he's in there."
This is the best thing I've read in a month, so so heartbreaking and amazing. Just pre-ordered the book...can't wait to read the full version.
Or maybe I'm the biggest sap in the world...either way, I'm totally crying at work.
ps. But of course, that can't be the best Apple advertisement ever because that title will always and forever be taken by a drunk Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the iMac's internet capabilities:
Just warning you, this piece by Ariel Levy will wreck you, put you back together, and wreck you again. Damn powerful beautiful writing.
My doctor told me that it was fine to fly up until the third trimester, so when I was five months pregnant I decided to take one last big trip. It would be at least a year, maybe two, before I'd be able to leave home for weeks on end and feel the elation of a new place revealing itself. (It's like having a new lover-even the parts you aren't crazy about have the crackling fascination of the unfamiliar.) Just before Thanksgiving, I went to Mongolia.
People were alarmed when I told them where I was going, but I was pleased with myself. I liked the idea of being the kind of woman who'd go to the Gobi Desert pregnant, just as, at twenty-two, I'd liked the idea of being the kind of girl who'd go to India by herself. And I liked the idea of telling my kid, "When you were inside me, we went to see the edge of the earth." I wasn't truly scared of anything but the Mongolian winter. The tourist season winds down in October, and by late November, when I got on the plane, the nights drop to twenty degrees below zero. But I was prepared: I'd bought snow pants big enough to fit around my convex gut and long underwear two sizes larger than I usually wear.
File this one under crying at work: a man finds a newborn on a subway platform and he and his partner adopt him and then blub blub blub, I'm sorry I have to go there's something in both my eyes and my nose.
Three months later, Danny appeared in family court to give an account of finding the baby. Suddenly, the judge asked, "Would you be interested in adopting this baby?" The question stunned everyone in the courtroom, everyone except for Danny, who answered, simply, "Yes."
"But I know it's not that easy," he said.
"Well, it can be," assured the judge before barking off orders to commence with making him and, by extension, me, parents-to-be.
This photo was taken recently by Sergey Ponomarev in Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan:
The line on the wall is the high water mark from the March 11 tsunami and the time on the clock is when the water crested (Wikipedia puts the max readings right around 15:20 local time). Each element alone is documentation of a thing...together they tell a story.
I have a soft spot for storytelling clocks in photos. Joseph Koudelka's 1968 photo of the empty streets of Prague before the Soviet crackdown of The Prague Spring is one of my favorite photos. And obviously I love the photo taken by my wife of me holding my son Ollie when he was exactly 20 mintues old. It was the first time I'd held him and oh crap I'm crying at work again... (via in focus)
So many choices. Which car insurance. Which cereal. Which deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo. Rows and rows of products. Varieties, sizes, colors. Which is cheaper? Which is better? What's the best buy? Which gum to chew? When he went into prison there were, like, two kinds of chewing gum. Now there are a zillion. One of the small gifts he gives himself is trying all the gums. "I can spoil myself a little so long as I stay within my means," he says. Papaya juice! Kiwi and strawberry nectar! Green tea! Arnold Palmer -- he was a golfer when Towler went down. Now he is a drink, sweet and so incredibly thirst quenching.
He loves work. He got out May 5 and started working June 21. Hell, I've been vacationing for thirty years. He wears a smock and pushes a mail cart. He stops at all the cubicles, greets everyone with his friendly smile. Ray even loves commuting to work, especially now, in his new car, a black Ford Focus. He's like a sixteen-year-old who can finally drive himself to school. It costs almost the same to park as it does to take the train.