(This is the book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Released Fridays, one chapter at a time.)
The lady in the white house and the man with the car took me to get Skye when I had just turned two. I remember stuff like that.
You know what else? I can even remember the day I was born. Not because someone has told me about it, but because I actually remember it.
I was scared to come out and meet the people I live with. I already had heard the fighting of the lady in the white house and the man with the car when I was growing inside her. Even then. I remember things the man said. They were mean, angry things like “It’s probably not mine anyway!” and “Why in the world did you have to go and get pregnant?”
I didn’t know what his words meant, but I knew it hurt when I heard him say those things. I decided then they were not really my people. I knew I wouldn’t be safe with them. So, I didn’t really want to come out!
That big, tall man with the car, isn’t very nice. He scares me. Last week I overheard the lady as she described him to a friend of hers, “…like a crow! His black, close-set eyes and pointed nose, his thick, black hair, and his bushy mustache, they look scary. And I hate when he yells. Then he’s a lobster with his red face, the purple veins that pop out on his forehead. He intimidates me. Oh Molly, I sound bitter and angry, don’t I.”
I never liked crows.
And when he gets mad, sometimes he hits the lady or me and that’s really scary.
When I was still inside her, the lady would yell back, and I felt the fear, the sadness, and the hurt wash over me. There, inside of her, that’s when I first felt the color black. But I felt joy, too, inside of her. I also felt lots safer there.
I was born about 10 days late. I told you I didn’t want to come out! I was ok, they said. I mean, there was nothing wrong on the outside, and really there’s nothing wrong inside either. Things just arrange differently for me than for other kids.
When nearly two, the lady in the white house started telling the man with the car again and again that something was going on and that they needed to get me checked out. He didn’t believe her and would yell at her. I’d yell a lot, too, then. It was hard to have all the things happening outside of me, and all the pressure inside, too. I felt all full of pressure, and when I yelled or hit the floor and kicked my feet, it felt like something emptied out and got better. But when I yelled, they would yell more, too. It was hard. I didn’t like it.
Finally, the lady in the white house convinced the man with the car that they needed to see someone about me. We went in his car. I never liked his car, even though it was blue. We drove to this really big building. The lady carried me. We went through these big white doors with windows in the tops of them, and down this hallway that was white. Everywhere white. There were lots of people in white coats. And lots of frowning faces. I was given tests with more people in white coats. Some of the people were nice enough. It took a while. Some big machines! I didn’t understand much of what was said, when I was back with the main doctor. Something about being “far on the spectrum toward autism.” The lady looked sad and the man mad at that phrase. The doctor said, “He’ll never talk. And he will not develop normally.”
The doctor talked about me as if he knew what was going on inside my head, but he didn’t. I did understand that! He was wrong; I could talk, I just chose not to. There is a difference!
And I knew what was going on, probably more than he’d ever guessed. But the result of those appointments was this: the doctor said “It’s early for a service animal, but I think it would help him to have one around. He needs a friend to stabilize his environment. Take this card and call Liz. She’s a friend. She raises and trains service animals for kids.”
I get to have a dog?! The picture of a big furry bear-like creature came to mind, and then Grandma Faith’s little Toy Poodle Beatrix. The ones in the park where the lady took me on walks barked loudly. They looked scary. I was not certain about this idea. Neither was the man.
“I told you we shouldn’t have taken him in,” the man with the car hissed to her from the driver’s seat as we drove home.
“Stop it! Just stop! Phillip needs help!”
“You just want to shackle me with this burden, this albatross.”
“Shackle you?” she responded, voice rising. “How can you say that? He’s your son!” “You keep reminding me. But there’s no proof, is there? He has blond hair not black! He’s got this problem and we are normal. His eyes are blue.”
“Proof? I have blue eyes! And my mom had blond hair. You and your—”
I started screaming. Black was all around me in the car, and it was soaking into my skin.
It felt like it would eat me, and I would be gone. Gone! That man didn’t want me, love me, or care about me. I yelled, covering my ears with my hands. Their arguing stopped. They couldn’t hear each other anyway. The man glared at the woman and at me in the rearview mirror. The lady reached her hand back and touched my leg. And I screamed. It was a bad, black day.
But it wasn’t long after that, when I’d turned two, that we went to meet Big Skye.
Do you know what color the sky is?
We went to this green house, with a big, round driveway, surrounded by flowers of every imaginable color and shape. They made me feel like I had bubbles on the inside. We walked up to the door and this plump, short lady with really short black hair that had bits of grey in it, opened the door to greet us. She had slippers on that looked too big for her feet. They looked like a dog’s face—a smiling, happy dog. I smiled at them. She had the kindest eyes.
She knelt down in front of me and said, “It’s nice to meet you Phillip James. My name is Miss Liz. Your parents told me you’d be coming.”
She said my name like she knew I could understand. I looked at her. She really was glad to meet me. I shook her hand. That was the first time, right there meeting Miss Liz that I felt like a person, not a problem. And it was my first time to shake hands with someone. I usually shied away, but not with Miss Liz.
In fact, tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t help it. Happy tears—I liked her. So, I looked down, my cheeks burning, and then wiped my sleeve across my eyes.
But Miss Liz, she just stayed there a moment. Her hand still clasped mine and her other hand lightly touched my shoulder. That moment—I can still feel it—was filled with the best colors, like Miss Liz’s garden: all yellows and blues and greens and golds. Suddenly, her whole garden had moved inside me.
All that time the lady and man had stood behind us. It was the first time they had seemed willing to just wait. The nice lady, Miss Liz, then stood up, shook hands with the man and the lady, and led us into the house, talking to the big people behind me.
There was a big, open front room, with a skylight overhead, and one of those thick rugs on the floor with every possible color in it. I loved that rug. I got down and rolled around on it until the man with the car snapped at me, “Stop that! You’re not an animal!” And he yanked my arm and pulled me to my feet again. Normally, I would have started to shout, but because Miss Liz had greeted me like a real person, and because her garden was still inside of me, then around her, I didn’t need to.
The lady in the white house looked crossly at the man for doing that, though. I knew if we had been at home, she would have yelled, but in Miss Liz’s house, she didn’t. She just gave him a look! What power Miss Liz had!
Miss Liz led us through the big room to the kitchen. The floor there was made with real tiles, each square had red and blue and yellow paint in it and made a pattern so that together the tiles created this painting on the whole floor. I couldn’t breathe it was so beautiful. It was like walking into a landscape painting. It was cool to the touch. There was a round wood table in the room with four chairs around it. The table was smooth when I touched it.
“Stop touching everything,” the man growled.
Then Miss Liz stopped at a white door with a window on the top part of it. She looked at me, only at me, and said, “Big Skye is excited to meet you. I told him his new family would be coming. He really likes people a lot and he might act excited. So, Phillip, don’t be scared, okay? Big Skye won’t hurt you.” I liked how she said my name.
I nodded. I got it. I looked up at the man with the car and the lady in the white house as they looked at each other. The man really didn’t think I understood things, but I did. And they looked surprised at how peaceful and calm I was. I was so excited to meet Big Skye. He had a name that gave me hope. Maybe he was blue!
The nice lady opened the door and Skye came out. He wasn’t blue, but I wasn’t disappointed. Big Skye was all kinds of colors. Mostly golden, yellow, and light brown colored, curly, curly, curly hair covered his body. Kind of like a walking rug! And, more than his color, I looked at his eyes. He had the happiest eyes. They were brown with little gold spots in them. He kind of bounded out the door, but when he saw me, he skidded to a stop and looked curiously down at me—I was shorter than he was, then! And then he sat down on his butt in front of me, head tilted to one side, lifted up his big right paw and placed it gently on my left shoulder, and pressed down so that I sat down, my legs crisscross-applesauce. Skye sat down all the way on the floor by me, put both his big paws on my thigh, and rested his head in my lap. Tears came to my eyes—the happy kind of tears that come when the best thing in the world has just happened to you. I leaned forward and placed my head on his head and put my arms around those big fluffy ears. I knew then. Big Skye was my friend, a friend I had been waiting to meet all my life.
We stayed like that for a long time, Skye and me. I just liked holding his head while rested on my lap. He was so big and so fluffy and so happy. Just holding him was peaceful and, well, blue to me. Above me, the adults were talking, kind of quietly. I looked up and saw that the lady in the white house had tears in her eyes. Those were the first tears I had ever seen her have, ever. She looked happy. That also was a first.
The man with the car, with this grey, striped suit, purple shirt, and black tie was grumpy and grumbly, but got out some money and gave it to Miss Liz. Big Skye and I stopped our hug,
and I stood up, and then Miss Liz put a leash on Skye. She gave him a big tearful goodbye hug, gave us some food to start with, and sent us off with his kennel. I hugged Miss Liz goodbye. We went back out the front door, down the stairs to the lady in the white house’s red car. I climbed into my car seat, because I can do it myself, and she buckled me in. Skye jumped in and sat next to me. His head was so high that the man with the car could see Skye’s happy face in his mirror. I don’t know if he noticed, but I did.
Skye acted like he was already comfortable and was happiest when I was around. After all, Skye had a job to do— look after me. Skye and I have been inseparable ever since. At first, Skye used to sleep on the floor by my crib. Now he sleeps on my bed. Whenever I’m upset, even at night, Skye snuggles close to me. That helps.
There was another especially tough time for me. That happened when I was four…