(This is the serial release of the book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Purchase your copy here. Feel free to share these posts with others. If you want to read past installments, search “Phillip’s Story.” As this chapter begins, they have just returned from the paint store. Enjoy.)
The lady talked all the way home. She was so excited about the time in the paint store. “And Phillip! The way you could see colors and helped Jeanne and Stewart Jamison. Well, I knew you loved colors, anyone can see that, but that you would see like you did. I just think I need to get to know you better, my boy. I’m just amazed at you.”
What was I to do with that? I stroked Skye.
We pulled into the driveway and up to the house and we could see the man with the car was still there. The lady huffed a bit and said, “Now, Phillip, don’t worry. We will find a way through this. Don’t be afraid.”
I saw a picture of a volcano erupting in my head. Just blowing its top. And looked toward the house and there was the man standing out in front of the door nearest the driveway, with his arms folded. I didn’t want to get out.
As the lady opened the door, I cried and kicked. She looked from me at the man and understood. “Philip, he’s not going to do a thing. It will be okay. Come on Skye. Come on, Phillip. Let’s face fear and go inside.” Skye jumped out and used the lawn to go. And then she helped me out of my car seat and picked me up.
She called over to the man, “Hey, would you come get the paint out of the car and take it up to Phillip’s room? We are going to repaint it like I told you three days ago.”
“You money waster, you.” He snarled. “His room just got painted.”
“Yes, with no thought to color nor the person who needs to live with it. You’d have done better to ask. So, come help. You started this. Phillip and I will finish it.”
The man left where he had been standing and walked towards the car, uncrossed his arms, and opened the back and began to take out the paint. The woman, still holding me, turned and walked into the house. Looking over her shoulder, I had never seen anything like this. I didn’t know if this would last or not. They hadn’t fought. And when she didn’t, he didn’t. I heard the man growling and muttering as he carried the gallons of paint past us upstairs, but he still did it. The lady put me down on the floor in the kitchen.
“You did great today,” she said. “What would you like for lunch today? It’s about that time. Let’s see.” She walked to the refrigerator. I was picturing a sandwich, sliced apple, orange juice and string cheese in my head. I liked the feel of the bread in my mouth, and pulling apart string cheese, and apples, you cannot go wrong with them. The lady said I was a “carb-aholic,” but I had no clue what that was. After opening the fridge, she said, “There’s some tuna, how about a tuna sandwich and an apple and string cheese.” I nodded. “Oh. There’s orange juice. Does that sound good?”
“Let me make that for you,” she said, taking a plate out of the cupboard, pouring the orange juice, and making the sandwich, slicing the apple and unpackaging the string cheese. She brought it to the table. I got up in the chair and she came and sat down. “Honey let’s pray. We have not done that much, have we?”
She took my hands. I liked that. Then she said, “Jesus, Lord, I’m sorry for places I’ve failed Phillip. Help me make a better world for him. Thank you for this new day and new possibilities and for this food right now. Thank you that you are real and brought Phillip home. Um. In Your Name. Amen.”
I looked up at her. There they were again. Tears. I had not seen them much, but there they were. She looked tenderly at me and said, “Now, then, you eat up and I will get a little something for myself.”
At that point the man came into the room and with him a black cloud that caused my heart to beat faster. I put down the sandwich after I had taken just one bite. Chewing, I watched.
He took two steps across the kitchen, yanked the refrigerator door from her hand and grabbed her shoulder. The lady had been bending into the refrigerator, and these actions took her by surprise. She was pulled up and stood facing the man.
He yelled, “What are you thinking? Who do you think you are? What are you doing?”
“Get your hands off me,” she unleashed at him, and began to shout “And…” She caught my eye, and whatever she saw abruptly changed her words and tone. “And, Michael, stop this. Stop being mean. Stop being loud. Stop this fighting.”
“What? Me? I’m the problem? Oh, you don’t have anything to do with anything I suppose. It’s all me.” He began to shout with a singsong voice. “It’s all me. I’m the one who causes everything. I caused Phillip’s problems. Well, what about you, woman?”
My stomach hurt. Even though she was not yelling like she had begun to, his voice, the black in the room, the sense of the black air closing in around me, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think of it. Everything felt wrong. I slid off the chair as the woman responded to the man again, more quietly, and more seriously, but tensely. I ran from the room and up the stairs with Skye right behind me.
I knew there was no place to go but went anyway. I just needed to get out of the room, I needed to find a way to make the black go away. Skye and I turned left at the top of the stairs instead of going straight ahead to where my room was. We came to the end of that hall to the door that went to the spare bedroom, where I supposed I would be sleeping that night. Opening the door, Skye and I went in, and then looked around. Where could I sit? Where could I go?
Tears had begun coursing down my cheeks. I opened the closet door, but it was filled with things. On the floor the Christmas creche wooden figurines covered in big plastic bags. Above me, all the coats, some hung in plastic covers, shelves filled with boxes of storage items. I closed the door. Then I turned and saw the bed was high enough for me to crawl under. I crawled under it and Skye came under after me and laid there on the floor. I didn’t have MC Bear so put my arms around him. He let me. And then I began to say my colors. My stomach hurt so much. The black was so dark. I didn’t like it.
Skye scooted closer into me. He pushed me so that my back slid against the wall and then he pressed and pressed into me. The pressure helped. It calmed my heart. It eased my stomach’s pain. I clung tighter. It sounded like the argument continued downstairs. I heard the lady yelling too.
All the joy, all the light, all the colors of the day drained out of it. Lost was the hopes I’d had. Who knew what would come now? Would my room be repainted? Would I ever have my closet back? And would we ever get to go to Maggie and Henry’s house again? Light flickered in the corner of the black as I said my colors again and again and again. Finally, my heart stopped its ragged beat and my breathing soothed. Skye moved a bit away. I placed my head on his side. And the next thing I knew, I heard my name.
“Phillip?” the lady in the white house called for me. She had come to the door. “Phillip? Are you in here?” Skye thumped his tail. I heard her open the closet door, but then shut it again. Skye’s tail thumped again. She then knelt by the bed and looked under and saw us. “Oh my. You poor little guy! Thanks, Skye, for letting me know where you were. Phillip, can you come out? I’m sorry buddy. You must be so hungry. Daddy went to work. It is safe now.”
I didn’t know if I could believe anyplace was safe. The only place that had had color and life had been Maggie and Henry’s house. But I crawled out after Skye and she took me up into her arms. I didn’t ever remember her holding me in times past as she had done the past couple days. It was like she had softened, somehow.
“Phillip. You and I need to get some food in you, and then we need to start working on painting your room. Molly agreed to help us paint it tomorrow. She is off the whole day. So, if we can wash the walls then we will start painting it tomorrow. That sound good? We might even finish painting the primer coat onto the dark wall this afternoon after your piano lesson. You good with that?”
I looked up at her and nodded.
“Okay. Are you ready to eat something?”
I shook my head. Food didn’t sound good right now.
“Well, how about I get you some chocolate milk, so you have something inside your little stomach?”
I shrugged. I thought I could drink that. So, we walked back down the hall with the pictures on the walls painted by the lady’s sister, my Aunt Sarah. They were landscapes and filled with color and beauty. I always liked seeing them. They were windows into another place. We walked downstairs past the photos on the wall of one with the lady, the man, me, and Skye, and another of Nana and Papa and Grandma Faith and Harlie. Then there were photos of people I did not know. When we came to the kitchen and the lady poured me some milk and there on my plate was my sandwich still. Actually, maybe I am hungry. I climbed up on my chair, picked up my sandwich and took a bite, and then another, and then another.
The lady noticed, chuckled, and said, “Well, that’s the best sight I could imagine having today. Here’s some chocolate milk to go with it.” And she set a glass next to my plate on the wooden table.
The sandwich tasted good. I dropped a couple pieces of tuna for Skye. He loved my sandwiches almost as much as I did. He gobbled up the bits and settled down next to my chair, looking up, expectantly. Then, he settled his head on his paws and just waited. He knew not to beg.
After finishing the sandwich and milk, the lady cleaned up my plate and glasses. She saved the orange juice for later. And then we got a bucket, rags, and something she said was “TSP” to wipe down the walls. She filled the bucket with warm water and carried it back upstairs and she taught me how to wring out the rag and wipe down the walls. I helped as much as I could. I liked the feel of the warm water and the rag in my hand. It was hard work wiping the walls. But it was work. And it felt good to work together. And the thought of covering the dark paint on the wall felt so wonderful.
I’d taken off my shoes when we had gotten home earlier and put my shoes and socks by the door. I loved the feel of the wood floor under my feet and liked being barefoot lots. As we wiped down the walls, the lady began to sing a song. It was one of the ones Maggie had played last night. I didn’t know the lady knew songs. I had not heard her sing much before. But now her clear, strong voice echoed in the room with everything moved away from the walls. It was a song Maggie had played and Henry sang once called “How Great is Our God.”
I stopped washing the walls as she sang. The music and words washed over me. It was like I was not in the house where I lived, but back at Maggie and Henry’s. Why didn’t the lady sing more? Why had I never heard her sing at home before? Then I remembered, I had heard music when I was still inside her. I told you I could remember strange things. I remembered the music then. But it was seldom.
This time, the song seemed to fill the room with light. As she sang of the greatness of God. I trembled with joy. How was it possible to feel so washed and cleansed in this house? It was new. I only felt this when the Voice spoke here before, or when Maggie was playing the piano. Or when I had played. But now, while the lady sang. I wished I had a keyboard to play that song.
She stopped singing. She was looking at me and she smiled. “Look at that. I don’t think I have seen a smile like that on your face ever, Phillip. Not ever. And it feels like forever since I have sung at home. There has been lots of pain here. I feel sorry about that.”
We just looked at one another for a moment. How was this possible? This lady was changing. I never thought I’d see this happen. She was changing. I had hope for the first time since I first felt it when Jesus promised he was sending his servants to help me, and Maggie and Henry had come. Since then. It was like little seeds of hope had been planted and were already growing.
“You know what?” she was saying. “You know what, Phillip?” I didn’t know so I just looked at her. “We are going to make a different life here than we have known. We are going to change some things around here. And we are going to see new things take place.”
That was not the normal thing she’d say to me. No, normally she said things about the man with the car, or about disappointments, or about how hard things were. Or the things she had done. Like the time she pushed me down the stairs and then ran to the bottom and acted like I had just fallen. Or when she had gotten really angry at me when I wouldn’t look up at the doctor and shake his hand. She had told me in the car how ashamed she was of me.
But this was different. Something was happening. Maybe that man hitting the car was a good thing after all. Maybe it really was like the whale from the book in Miss Jeanne’s classroom. Maybe, just maybe, it had been God shaking life to bring change.
I looked at her and realized that perhaps she really had experienced something new last night and Jesus really was at work, even here.
I remembered another part of the story that Miss Jeanne had told us in Sunday School about Jonah running from God. And I wondered if the lady, too, had been running and running and last night had finally been thrown into the sea. Well, I was so grateful that when someone got tossed overboard, something would happen to make the mute sing, just like the lady, and watch darkness tremble at the voice of the God of light. How great is this God!
We worked and worked until the walls were washed down and rinsed. Then it was time to clean up and leave for Maggie and Henry’s house. After we put everything away, I pulled on my red and white socks and red canvas shoes. The lady tied them. And then we left with Skye for their house. We arrived and walked up to the door. I was so excited to be there again. It was like a home base unlike I had known before. I walked up ahead of her, over the brick pathway, and knocked on the big dark brown wooden door.
The single-story house itself was painted a dark sea blue with white paint around the windows and on the shutters. The front yard was filled with roses, gnomes and decorations like a peace pole, a Koi Pond, a ceramic cat dipping its paw into the water, and a fountain of a fish with water gurgling from its mouth.
The door opened and there was Henry. In the light he seemed larger than at night with those hands twice the size of my head. His greeting was even better than his size, “Maggie!” he called over his shoulder, “The bessst things jus’ happened to us! Phillip and his mmmom, Dorothy, are here! Ain’t that the bbbest? Our little buddy is bbback.”
I didn’t know what to do with this greeting, which was really to Maggie inside the house, not to us directly. Then he looked down right into my eyes and said, “Hey, bbbuddy, thanks for making our ddday by coming over!” Then he reached out and patted my shoulder. He patted so hard by back rippled. It felt like dominoes all lined up and falling one after another. He said, “Come onnn in, would you?” He reached past me to the lady, shook her hand and said, “And Dorothy, glaaad you can be here. Thanksss for making thisss possible.”
Maggie came from the back room as we entered into the hallway, just off the kitchen where we were standing, and she was already exclaiming, “Laddie! I am so glad to see you!” that made two of us. She rushed over and enfolded me in her arms. I don’t usually go for touch much, but things were definitely changing. It was like I was being immersed in blue. It felt good.
Then Maggie greeted the lady and we all, Skye included, made our way through to the piano. I climbed up on the bench and Maggie sat down beside me.
Maggie looked at me and said, “Phillip, I think that you might like to know how the piano creates sounds. Could you do me a favor and stand up on the bench?”
“Now, if you lean forward and place your hands here,” she gestured to the top of the upright piano, already holding the lid open, “and I think then I can show you the insides.”
I did so. I was looking down into this deep cavern filled with long, long strings and little things that looked like hammers.
“Every one of the strings you see plays a single note. When I press a key on the piano, I want you to watch what happens inside. Here, I am playing a note named Middle C.”
I watched as a hammer hit a string and this wonderful sound and a rich color came up to splash into my face. “Now, watch what happens when I play a chord, which is more than one note together. Here is a C major chord.” She played the three notes and I watched as three hammers struck the three strings. Again, a splash of light and color. I was fascinated. It was beautiful. And best was the light. It was like every sound had its own color. Those three notes made this rich gentle ripple of blue, gold and yellow. It was rippling and beautiful. She demonstrated many, many notes, scales, chords and I watched and felt and saw what happened.
“So, Phillip,” she said after I had sat down on the bench again and she had closed the lid. “You see notes work together. The notes arrange in scales and in chords and in arrangements that fit together, like the colors of a painting, or the flowers in a garden.” As she said this, I remembered Miss Liz’s garden at her house the day we got Skye. I understood.
“Today I would like you to learn how to play a set of scales. They all work together. The way they work is called the Circle of Fifths. Can you count to five? Of course, you can. Ok, in the circle of fifths, you start here, on what is called middle C and then count, up five notes. Then this note here, which is called G is the second note in the circle of fifths, it is the fifth note above the C. If you count five again, this is D, it is how many notes above the G?” I held up my hand showing five fingers. “Okay. As we count in fives, we will come to the next note in the circle of fifths.
“Each note is five above the previous note. And as you move up, each of the scales in the circle have one extra sharp, that’s a black key, in the scale. Start here and hear the sound. Play the first five notes beginning here, on what is called middle C.”
As I played those notes one after another, I saw some colors too while Maggie told me each name to call the notes. Then we began on the next note, where I had landed, the G, and started to play five notes above that and arrived at what was called D again with her naming the notes. And then we began at the D and as I played the five notes, I noticed that if I just stayed on all the white keys it didn’t sound right. But when I added in a black key at my third finger, although I hated the thought that black could be a good thing, it sounded better. Even, beautiful.
“Right, you heard that,” applauded Maggie. “That F sharp is needed to make D sound right. The scale of D, all 8 notes, has two sharps, whereas G has one F sharp to make it sound right. Let’s keep going and listen for the sounds.”
And see the pictures!
If I played a wrong note the colors were off, but when I played the right ones, the ones that fit together, the colors I saw were lined up. Like crayons in the box each key a different color. Working through the five-finger scales, as Maggie called them, I could hear the black notes needed.
“So, Phillip, that was just five notes of each scale. Every scale has 8 notes. So, if you were to play through the whole scale, you would hear the need for more sharps. Like I told you C has no sharps, and G one, and D two, and A three, and E has?”
I held up four fingers.
“Yes. That’s one thing the circle of fifths tells us — how many black notes, or sharps, we will need to play in each scale until you reach C# which has seven sharps! So, play through them again.”
I did. I lost which note to make “sharp” a couple times but could immediately hear that it was wrong and corrected it. As I played each scale, I began to hear how the notes fit together. So, I played my left hand and right hand together in each five-finger scale. It was fun. I saw the scales. They were in my head. I could see them unfolding. It was fun to watch.
Maggie applauded as did the lady. They were both watching me. “Now, Phillip, how about you play the song you played yesterday that Henry sang.” She reminded me of the sound of it, and at once I saw it and played that song and she and the lady sang along. It was “Amazing Grace.”
Then I remembered the song that the lady was singing while we washed down the walls. It felt like I could find it and play it, if I just closed my eyes and pictured it. It was a river flowing down a mountain, it was a blue sky and a sunlit day, it was filled with everything the words the lady had sung said, how great, how great is our God.
My fingers knew where to go. The blue enveloped me; the joy filled me. Then I finished playing and looked around as clapping filled the room. Maggie, the lady and Henry filled up the room with applause. And they were laughing and crying and hugging. And Skye sat next to me and nuzzled me with his nose. He was happy too.
“Well, Phillip. I think you are getting it. As you play a song, something else happens.” As she explained how every song moves through keys, Maggie placed her left hand on my shoulder and demonstrated with her right hand on the keyboard. I felt covered, safe, and protected. The patterns in the music made sense to me.
“So, play ‘How Great is Our God’ again, but this time begin here, on D, and see what happens.”
I began to play and suddenly the notes needed to change notes and the picture went from the one I saw before to an even brighter one, a mountain with snow, trees and a lake at the bottom of it. I was caught in the beauty of it and played on and on. Then I decided to move up one more note, so moved starting on the E and played it again. Each time I played what I saw in a scene painted by the colors in my imagination. The room was full of such peace and joy when I stopped. No one clapped this time, and when I looked, they were just standing there with wet faces.
“Well, Laddie. Oh my, I cannot even speak this is so exciting. You are all set. You understand. Do you have a way to practice the five-finger patterns at home?”
“Oh, we don’t have a piano or keyboard,” the lady blushed.
“I didn’t expect so,” said Maggie. “We found that we had an old electronic keyboard sitting around here. Henry dug it out of the attic this morning. You see, it really was not being used. So, if you allow it, we’d like you to borrow and let Phillip use it for the time being.”
“I don’t know what to say,” the lady started.
“Just sssay ‘thank you,’” boomed Henry with a voice as large as his hands. “It’s sssettled. It’s going with you. Itttt is clearrr this boy needs to play.”
“Well, thank you both, so much.” the lady said.
We arranged to come back a week later at the same time and said goodbye. I didn’t want to leave their house and already could not wait until we got to return.
Maggie understood and said, “You will have music with you all the time, Phillip. You’ll see. It will be okay.” Henry picked up the carrying case with the keyboard and stand and followed us to the car.
As we drove home the lady said, “Phillip. I had no idea—what music! I’m so excited to see what happens with this. You have a gift, son. I am so proud of you. I don’t really know what else to say.” And she stopped talking. I stroked Skye and looked at the day as bright as a song and smiled.
The light was shining into the kitchen window as the sun was slanting toward sunset and a yellow color lit the far wall as we entered the door. The man’s car was gone. The lady laid the keyboard in its bag on the floor in the living room, and then began fixing dinner. Skye and I got out my blank paper and crayons and I sat at the table to color while I waited. I wanted to get a picture from my head.
Usually I just colored, but this time, after seeing all the scenes of light, I wanted to somehow create those. So, using my box of 72 crayons, I began to use colors carefully in order to make it happen. Light blues and purples in the back, like cool mountain air, and darker, warmer colors, like the sunlight in the kitchen toward the front. I made snow-covered mountains, the trees, the stream coming down the hill, and the lake at the bottom. I used some of that sea blue in the lake and other colors as well, for water reflects the sky, like Miss Jeanne said, so it needed to have in it the colors that were around it. The mountain needed to be reflected in the water too. I put that in. All this time, the lady was making dinner, humming, and working. It took a while. When she came to the table, she stopped, expecting to see one of my normal pictures.
“Phillip! How? That’s…that’s…Phillip, I did not know all this was hidden inside of you.” I looked up. Her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes again, she looked and looked and looked. She picked up the picture and held it out in front of her. She looked down again. “Well, my little man. You have gifts that no one ever would have imagined. You are going to be someone, Phillip. I always knew that. But this. I am undone. Are you finished with it?”
Before I could nod, for I was, she said, “Wait a minute. This is missing your signature. Every artist must sign his work.” She placed it down on the table. I was not writing yet. I wasn’t certain what to do. The lady pointed to the lower left corner. “As the artist, you put your name here. You don’t have to know how to write all your name. For now, you can just put something that shows it is yours. And you have been practicing your letters.”
I thought for a moment. Then I picked up the white crayon, for that is the only one that would show up on the dark rocks at the bottom of the picture and wrote the letters PJS. I knew those began my names. So, that was enough.
“Could I put this on the refrigerator?”
I nodded. Blue light was shining even in the kitchen.
There was no other art on the refrigerator. Before the accident and what happened to the lady the other night, she had not held onto what I had done. Before then, my pictures were placed in the box at the end of the kitchen next to the smaller toy box and Skye’s water dish. That’s where all my kid drawings were. But this one was on the refrigerator.
She’d made cheeseburgers for our dinner using homemade rolls that Maggie had sent home with us, a green salad with blue cheese dressing, mashed potatoes and a glass of milk. We sat down and she prayed and then we ate. Salad is not my favorite, but I ate some. The burgers were so good. I love ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise together. I don’t know why—they look gross—but the taste.
Later, standing on my stool next to the lady doing the dishes, she looked down at me. “You know,” she began, “I feel like you had to run away the other night. When you ran, it awakened me. I knew you were thinking ‘I cannot handle this family the way it is.’ For the first time, I saw I could lose you. It caused me to seek Jesus and experience him. And by running, music and now art have come out of you in ways I had not expected.”Something new was happening. Something different. That night the lady pulled MC Bear from the box where she had been tossed, got my favorite baby blanket, helped me find a way to feel comfortable in the new room. Skye and MC slept next to me. I closed my eyes and it felt perfectly blue in the room.