hardened tar encases his body
breaks free

Ollie often fabricates scenarios in his mind. How he believes events ought to proceed:

My friends will all wholeheartedly go along with my new and unique twist on this round of Four Square.

How he anticipates his needs will be fulfilled:

I will open this drawer whereupon clean, folded laundry will be abundant, and the specific article of clothing I need in plain sight.

How he imagines his interior emotions are easily discernible:

If I don’t talk for the next fifteen minutes, Mom will know I’m angry about X and she’ll try to make me happy again.

Combine those unspoken expectations with a deficit of attention and events inevitably play out the opposite of the ideal he’d imagined. Combine that further with an emotional sensitivity so fragile that a hairline crack ultimately causes the whole dam to let loose a deluge fit to flood a valley.

The friends want to play Four Square the usual way because recess is almost over and they don’t have the patience to listen to Ollie explain the new rules he came up with on the spot. Wounded, Ollie hides under the slide while the other kids line up to return to class. Ms. P finds him hiding there later and he mistakes the alarm and worry in her voice for anger. He cries and won’t calm down until Mom is called, rushes across town, and talks him down from his anxiety precipice.

The drawer is empty except for a stiff pair of jeans he avoids wearing at all costs. He shrugs and returns to playing a video game. Ten minutes later, Mom arrives in the doorway of his bedroom. Frazzled and running late, her hands full of keys, wallet, papers, Ollie’s backpack and jacket.

“Why aren’t you even dressed?” she shouts.

“I couldn’t find any pants!” he volleys in response along with an accusatory glare.

“That’s because you didn’t put your laundry away like I asked!” Mom cries incredulously.

“I didn’t hear you say that!” he confesses, telling the plain, unhelpful truth.

“I am going to be late now! I wish you would listen! Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t find your clothes?”

Ollie’s face crumples. “You’re right. I’m horrible.”

Ollie is upset that his friend isn’t coming over as planned. Mom explained why and offered condolences, but then got swept away by a phone call or the dog barking to be let back in and hasn’t checked back in awhile.

Ollie’s disappointment deepens, unfurls from its genesis in his heart until it spreads, sludging like tar until it reaches every nerve of his body. He lies on his bed utterly silent except for rhythmic breath pushing past his lips, unmoving except for the rise and fall of his chest. Time passes and Mom comes to check on him.

“You doing okay, buddy?”

No response. His eyes are flat, pinned to the ceiling.

“Hey. Hey.” Mom comes and sits beside him. She reaches out to touch his arm and he flinches away, but his face is expressionless.

Mom knows this pose and what it means. It might take hours to get him to open up again, unless she can do something or say something extremely happy, some invention or act so surprisingly wonderful that the hardened tar encasing his body cracks and an irrepressible smile breaks free.

I’m his mother. I, too, have intricate scenarios and imagined proceedings only to find them repeatedly disproved, unfulfilled, destroyed.

“If you don’t tell me, I won’t know,” I remind Ollie over and over, ad infinitum.

“If I don’t tell them, they won’t know,” I remind myself again after a misunderstanding at work, and once again when a text isn’t returned, and when I’ve driven away and I’ve muted my way past a remedy. Like Ollie, who is my child after all, the disappointment brims, overflows, splashes from my heart to my extremities, out the front door, onto the street, hot tar that inks and swallows all in its path.

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