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I hesitate before opening my son’s bedroom door.

He’s buried under the covers, not even a pinky toe or finger showing.
 
The ceiling fan whirls nearly as fast as the high-powered portable fan aimed at what appears to be his head.
 
For a few seconds I let myself think he is just playing the game I taught him years ago, the one I played as a child, where a nuclear bomb was about to land and my entire body had to be covered to be saved. Once the bomb hit I could never move again (to prevent radiation getting in).  Matthew never warmed to the game, at age four quickly raising all sorts of practical problems (no way to eat or drink without getting radiation poisoning; laying in pee; eventual suffocation).  I never brought the game up again, feeling too silly to share my biggest concern, the impossibility of finding an eternally comfortable position.
 
Now, the covers move slightly and my son’s face peers out, spits a couple of tears, and dives back under.

I should ask what’s wrong, and try not to overreact when he struggles to say some prick today called him
M-M-M-M-Matthew or that Mr. Sayles didn’t let him skip his turn reading to the class.

I pull back the covers and begin explaining a new game to him, one of substituting words, avoiding stressful
situations, surviving. I will let him decide whether to continue speech therapy.  I’ll remind him that his
therapist never stuttered and, like Mom, will never know what we know.

He is too upset to take it all in, but he's listening.  He will learn much sooner than I that therapists devised the ultimate game, hiding the fact that easy onsets and word lists and positive self-talk and deep breathing exercises will never really protect us.
 


Dave Erlewine is a schlubby bureaucrat who can't seem to quit writing little stories.





  

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