(This is the book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Released Fridays, one chapter at a time. Please share this post.)
It was summer. It was a clear-sky day, the kind that takes my breath away. It was one of those deep sky-color blue days. It was beautiful—outside that is. In the morning the lady in the white house made pancakes topped with yogurt, maple syrup, and fresh blueberries, and we had orange juice to drink. The man with the car didn’t have time to eat, so he rushed out for an early meeting with his coffee in his hand. The lady in the white house and I sat at the table, and she was sad. I could feel it. Her shiny black, curly hair was pulled back in a red bandana, and there was a bruise on her right cheek. She had on clothes that looked happy—jeans, and a button down checkered, sleeveless shirt—but that’s where the happy ended. Her blue eyes were sad. It was a little black in the kitchen that morning. After we ate, I helped her with the dishes, standing on my big stool next to the sink, washing one thing at a time.
She wasn’t rushed that day. Everything felt like it was in slow motion. We finished the dishes. The black wall phone rang and she answered it, greeting her friend on the other side, and started talking about the morning with the man with the car. The whole time she talked about the man with the car, I played on the floor. She said, “Michael left again this morning for some meeting. I’m so mad at him. He never told me it was happening, Molly!” She paused, laughed and said, “You are right about that.” They talked longer and she hung up.
Then, the lady, Skye, and I went outside. I liked to splash in the water in the little wading pool in the backyard. We did that for a long time. Big Skye got right down into the water with me. I loved how much Big Skye loved the water. I could have stayed there forever. But clouds came and hid the sun, and it got colder, so we went back inside. I got dried off, and I changed into new clothes: the blue and red-checkered, short-sleeved, button down shirt off the hanger, my blue shorts and flip-flops.
It was at lunchtime when the man with the car came home again. After eating my tuna sandwich and orange sections, I got down from the table. I was playing with some toys on the kitchen floor. I had the big blue Tonka truck with the real rubber tires in my hand and was pushing it around on the floor when it happened.
The man with the car and the lady in the white house had been sitting and talking quietly, but they were both angry. The lady got up from the table, and was at the sink beginning to wash up the dishes while he still sat at the table, when she accused him, saying, “Why did you have to leave in such a hurry this morning, anyway? What’s going on? You know we had planned to eat breakfast together today. And it’s Saturday, after all.”
When she said that, the air turned really black for me.
The man with the car got red in the face. He jumped up from the table so quickly his chair flipped over and slammed against the floor, almost hitting me.
He yelled, “What? You control freak! You knew I had that meeting! What, you expect me to just cancel everything and sit around this place with you and Phillip?” He spit my name out of his mouth, like something that tasted bad. Then the black entered me, tears came to my eyes, and I started to yell.
The lady yelled, “You idiot! You almost hit Phillip! You’re acting like a grown-up baby. You don’t even notice me anymore. And you ignore family time!”
My heart started beating really fast. That’s when I ran, Skye coming with me, out of the kitchen, down the hall, to the stairs—but before I reached them, I heard it.
When I had run out of the kitchen, the lady was still standing at the sink washing a plate, but the crash I heard sounded like the plate had been thrown against the wall and shattered into pieces.
The man shouted back at her, “Hey, you almost hit me! You—”
I didn’t hear the end of his sentence. Skye and I had raced up the stairs to my room. Big Skye reached the closet door first. I turned the knob with the lion on it and we both went in as I heard a slap and a scream and more yelling from downstairs. The fight continued lots longer than usual. I sat on the rug, rocking back and forth, saying my colors, trying to make the black go away. Big Skye had his paws on my leg to comfort me.
That day, I was saying “hold you” over and over and over again, when I heard through my hands on my ears a door slam, and then a few minutes later I heard a second door slam. Then I heard car engines starting and then squealing of tires. Then, silence.
I sat rocking, still saying “hold you” for a while, but the silence got too loud for me. There really is a sound that silence has. And I don’t hear it often.
There was never silence like that silence. It was a loud silence.
It scared me more than the fighting. At least the fighting was normal. At least with fighting, I knew they were in the house. So, instead of staying in the closet, I stood up, inched the door open, and went slowly across the room. Still silence. I stood and then sat at the top of the stairs, listening. Skye came and sat by me. Then, I made my way downstairs, heart beating wildly, breathing ragged. Fear clawed at me. I dragged a stool to the front door and looked out the window toward the driveway. No cars. I ran across to the big living room window that looked out over the big grass and driveway to the street. EMPTY.
The man’s car, the lady’s car, they both were gone.
I was alone. They’d left me.
With that, the black swallowed me. Gulping cries came out of my mouth as I stared at the emptiness through that big picture window. I and yelled and yelled and yelled. Even these people whom I didn’t really trust, who didn’t really take care of me, at least they fixed food. But they were gone.
The word was impossibly large.
I pounded on the window. Yelling. Screaming. Going hoarse. There was no one on the street. It was as if the color had left the sky.
That’s when Skye pulled and tugged at my shirttail. He growled a little to get my attention and then pulled at my shirt some more. I backed away from the window as I gulped air and gasped, tears streaming down my face. He tugged me out of the living room, back down the hall, up the stairs, and into our room. We crossed the rug on the wooden floor and returned to the closet. Once inside, I sat there, shaking and sobbing, and with Skye’s big paws on my leg, I rocked, rocked, and rocked, holding MC bear and said my colors loud to push the black away:
I couldn’t say black. It all felt black. I rocked more. I said colors again and again. But the colors weren’t working.
I still felt all panicky inside. What should I do? Where could I go? I didn’t know. Who would be here to make food for me? Would they come back? I was all alone. So, I started to rub Skye’s soft hair and said:
Rocking and speaking the words again and again, rubbing Skye’s hair and crying, it felt like there was a big hole in my heart. Then, I stopped rocking, stopped speaking, and was silent as stone, still, paralyzed in that dark place, desperately lonely. I don’t know how much time passed. But it was just then that I heard the Voice for the first time.
The Voice was closer than my breath yet filled the whole closet. I didn’t know who it was, but the sound was as if a waterfall had filled the space and made it bigger; it felt that good as if a fresh breeze had blown through, as if the lavender was in bloom in the closet. The lavender grows outside the house where me and Skye and the people live. I love lavender, even though it is not blue. Skye liked the Voice too. For when he heard it, like I did, he didn’t growl but wagged his tail and perked up his ears as the Voice said:
“Child, I see you.”
Four words. They changed everything.
Once I heard the Voice, the closet filled up with a good feeling, like yellow light, or blue water. It filled with a sense that all was well. The black left as if chased away by a hurricane force wind. My heart slowed immediately; I could finally breathe. I looked up. I didn’t see anyone, that time, there was no more light in the closet, but the Voice spoke again, saying:
“Child, I see you and I’m with you. You are Mine. You are not alone.”
And, I knew it was true. Instantly. I knew. I didn’t need to hear it again, for the sound of it filled the closet and my heart. I relaxed.
I had this feeling like I was being held just like I had wanted and wanted and wanted. So, me and Skye lay down with MC and there covered and held by the Voice, as if in a blanket. We all fell asleep nestled in Another’s arms.
I awoke much later when Skye stirred. The outside door opened and shut, and rapid footsteps came upstairs, the light in my room went on, and the lady in the white house opened the closet door.
She reached down into the shadowed space and found me, “Let me get Phillip, Skye,” she said, gently, her voice shaking. Skye moved aside. She lifted me up from the closet floor into her bare arms and hugged me, and I noticed, she was crying. She was crying? I don’t ever remember her crying like this.
She shook as she said, “Mommy is so sorry, honey.” Her breath kind of smelled sweet like it had sometimes after drinking wine. “Sweet Phillip. Mommy is so sorry. I won’t leave you alone like that again, baby. I won’t run away like that again. I’m going to carry you to the kitchen and put you in a chair until I can sweep up the floor. You cannot walk on the floor yet, because I broke that plate. Then, I’ll make us some dinner.”
I looked at her and didn’t talk. I just looked.
“You are not at fault, Phillip. You haven’t done anything wrong. You are beautiful. I’m broken. I need help. I’m so sorry, honey.” She was still crying. It was like the tears wouldn’t stop. I wanted to help her. But what could I do? I didn’t know.
The only words I have ever said are the ones I told you about. So, instead of speaking out loud, as she carried me, I thought
She needed someone to do that too. Then, I went through my colors, inside my head, again and again. She put me down on the chair in the kitchen. I continued saying my colors, while I sat and watched her sweep up the floor.
She opened a can of tomato soup and poured the contents into a pan, adding a can of milk and turned on the heat beneath it. She took out the Tillamook cheddar cheese, sliced pieces, took out slices of the Dave’s Killer Seed Bread, (that’s the best kind) and popped four pieces into the toaster. As she worked, she talked and cried.
She buttered the toast, put on the cheese, then put the sandwich into the second pan to make toasted cheese sandwiches until the cheese melted out and cooked a bit on the pan. I love crunchy cheese. She poured me a big, tall glass of milk. This was like my favorite meal, except I liked having chocolate milk a little better. She cut the sandwich into triangles and put it onto one of the round blue plates.
Then she sat down with me, with her own bowl of soup, sandwich and glass of milk, and we prayed. It was always the same prayer, “Christ our Lord and Savior for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful. Amen.”
Then, I ate. She was crying. She blew her nose. She apologized again for leaving me. She was mad still at the man with the car. She called him daddy. Not a name I’d use.
“I was just so mad at daddy, Phillip. So mad. He had yelled; we both said things we shouldn’t have said. Then he left and I forgot about everything. I just left too. I went to The Local that place by the Dollar Tree and near Bales.”
I knew it only as a place with that neon sign with a big cocktail glass outside of it with what looked like a cherry.
She continued, “I just sat at one of the tables drinking a red wine, and then drank a second. Molly was the bartender tonight. When she was finishing her shift, she came over and sat down and asked me what was going on. I told her about the fight, and it was then, as I described how we both had left the house that it came to me, like a slammed door is heard throughout the house, that you were by yourself. I started to cry, told Molly, ‘Oh dear God, Phillip! Molly, Phillip!’ and said, ‘I must go, now.’”
“And Molly said, ‘Honey, I’ll get your bill. You get out of here.’”
“This was a bad thing today. I’m so sorry, Phillip. I’m sick with sorry. How can you forgive me? How can I make this up to you?” Her questions hung in the air like icicles from the eaves. Solid. Permanent.
Then she said, “We are going to find something better, honey.”
I didn’t know what she meant. She only yelled at the man with the car, it seemed. She told me many things I didn’t understand. I sat there listening and I realized, I wasn’t certain how much I trusted this lady, but I knew this, sitting there, I trusted the Voice.