I don’t know if I remember it, or my Mother told me the story so often it was embedded in my brain. Either way, it goes something like this.
There was silence. Blessed peaceful silence. It wrapped around you like a comfy blanket, softening the hard pointy bits that seemed to hurl from people’s mouths to hurt you. I understood the silence. When I reached out past it, there were smiles, gentle melodic tones, and hugs. But there was also the silence to retreat to. Then one day, something changed.
I knew he was the man. The head of the family. He brought home something big and square, with shiny surfaces that didn’t really reflect anything. The first night, he took out a large circular dark item and placed it on the part that spins. He put these things I thought were tiny cushions on his ears, and his lips moved …
He sang. The music was coming from the towering boxes but also from him. It wrapped around me like the silence but brought colors. The tones brought happiness. And most of all peace. This was how the edges were softened. This was what I’d been looking for all of my four years on earth and never knew I needed. I remember toddling over to him, reaching out my shaking hands, and placed one palm against his jaw and the other to his throat. I could feel the words seep into my soul, and make it easier to breathe. To even meet his eyes. Music. I understood this was special. This was the path out of the silence without losing the comfort I found within it.
After that I was no longer silent. I tried to be what the female head wanted. I would repeat her words. I would meet her eyes. I would no longer stay in the silence. We would have Mommy and daughter time, where she would teach me to find other kinds of music. In return, each night, Daddy (as I was told to call him) would sit down at the stereo and sing a song. I was so blessed. My parents loved music of all kinds. I would keep my hands on his throat and jaw, experiencing Miriam Makeba, the Beatles, Elvis, steel drums, Ella Fitzgerald, Motown, opera from around the world, and every show tune album he could find. The more music the more I became part of this world.
This was the late 60s to 70s. Autism was a diagnosis to fear. It meant retardation to most parents at the time. And my genius amazing parents, with their superboy oldest child, were determined they would keep me far from that silent world and thoroughly entrenched in this one.
And I did. As long as they kept playing the music.
The story was such a staple in my life I didn’t even know until they died that I’d never asked for the song. What was my father playing when he unlocked my silence and, in a way, orchestrated my second birth? Through an almost supernatural course of events, I ended up with tickets to Porgy and Bess. As soon as those first notes hit I knew.
It wasn’t just a story.
It was no family myth.
My father played “Summertime” and brought my soul home. As I stood outside the theater crying my eyes out, I really wished I could have told him how much I appreciated it. Life outside the silence is scary, but it has music, and the possibilities that are endless.
So thank you Daddy.