“It’s not fair, why does Billy get to wear play-clothes?” Lindsey’s big eyes were bright with accusation.
Billy sat with his hands folded on the table. He smiled at Lindsey a little.
“That’s because Billy won’t be going to school today. His big appointment is at half-past ten o’clock.”
“Hush, now, Lindsey!” Mother was flitting around the kitchen, moving decorations. She kept talking as she fluttered into the book nook behind Billy’s chair. “Your brother’s being very brave. He needs you to be a good big sister and not argue with me this morning.”
Lindsey grumbled until her mouth was full of food. Billy smiled again.
Lindsey started choking. “Mama! Billy’s not eating! Why doesn’t he have to eat breakfast?”
“Lindsey!” Father scolded, coming into the book nook from the other room with paper-crumbling sounds. “Your poor brother can’t have anything to eat until after his appointment is over! Now is not a good time to complain.”
“Sweetheart…do you know for certain…”
Billy’s ears perked at his mother’s soft worrying behind him. His father was brushing past, settling down at his place at the table next to Billy. His mother followed, so that he could see her face when she spoke again.
“Isn’t he a little young…” Her eyes on Billy were full of gentle caring.
He smiled at her.
Billy’s Father regarded him, then chuckled. “Of course not! Our boy’s growing up, no doubt about it. Now’s the time to have it done.”
Billy sat a little taller to return his father’s beam. He angled his body just slightly toward his sister, who was pouting with her hands in her armpits.
His mother seemed reassured. Her eyes were still soft with love. “Wittle Biwwy’s always Mommy’s baby.”
* * *
Billy enjoyed pushing the buttons on his hospital bed. His mother fretted by the window, his father’s arms around her. The doctor was a hairy man, with tufts of wiry gray sprouting from his ears and nostrils.
“Never too soon,” the doctor nodded, eying Billy across the room. “Your little guy will wake up, for the first time in his life, fit as a fiddle! When we relieve him of his issue, I think you’ll notice a change in many areas at once. He’ll sleep better at night. He’ll focus better in school. He’ll make friends more easily. One of the benefits of treating it at this stage is that Billy’s too young to have experienced much social pressure; now with any luck he’ll never have to. Statistically, in cases like this we see a marked decrease toward adolescence when it comes to drug abuse, truancy, and physical altercations, as well as overall reductions in risky behavior.”
“What you’re saying, sounds wonderful, doctor.” Mother’s loving eyes still held a grain of doubt. Suddenly, there was a tear standing in each eye. Billy stopped pushing buttons.
“I just can’t help but feel…guilty, doctor,” Father whispered hoarsely. Mother squeezed his hand. “As though it’s somehow our fault that he has to be here in the first place. I know it’s not true – it’s all biology – but I can’t help feeling that way. His teacher was the one who let us know that there was something wrong. And we’d considered homeschooling – I guess we wanted so much for him to be normal, we blinded ourselves.”
“Your story is not at all uncommon.” The doctor nodded sympathetically. “It’s very difficult for parents, especially, to recognize these symptoms. Teachers have the benefit of seeing all the children in a classroom side-by-side, and every year they get a new group. It makes sense that the teacher would be the first to spot an abnormality. We can forgive any quirk in those we love the most – which makes it, ironically, more difficult to treat those with the most supportive home lives. But you’ve done the right thing in following up on his teacher’s concerns and bringing him here.”
Mother had to take a breath before she spoke. “Doctor, to tell the truth, I’m worried we may be making the same mistakes with Lindsey. She’s already a year ahead of him and – If I’m honest with myself, I’m afraid her symptoms are even worse than his. Just like Billy – I think the signs have always been there, we just never noticed.”
“The problem is more common with boys than with girls, but there is some evidence to suggest this may be more due to the way that boys and girls respond to subtle social cues than an actual disproportion in the disorder’s occurrence. Girls are more often able to conceal these issues than their male counterparts. In any case, I would never dismiss a mother’s instincts that something is wrong with her child; we’ll schedule an exam for Lindsey as soon as we’ve finished with Billy here.”
* * *
Billy laughed a bit when they put the mask on his face. Maybe it was because he was not feeling so brave, after all.
“Now, Billy,” The hairy doctor smiled, his nose-hairs shimmering in the ugly hospital light. “I want you to breathe in, and out. Count in your head backwards from one hundred.”
The child breathed and counted. Breathed and counted. Breathed and felt his mind drift far away.
Billy was awake a couple of seconds, staring at the little clumps on the ceiling, before he felt pain. When he did, it scared him, because of where it was. Cautiously, breathing very little, Billy lifted the thin white hospital quilt and stared at his crotch, where there was absolutely nothing now, except a hospital bandage with a trickle of blood showing through. Some time went by before he started screaming.