I slipped the letter into the mailbox when I went back to get his things. Pink construction paper folded in half, no envelope, “To Lolo” written in purple marker underneath a sideways heart. The dog watched me from the window of the school. It was Saturday morning, and I made sure it stayed safely pinched in the mail slot, in case the dog was a letter-eating type. There was a paper bag on the porch labeled “Ewan,” mostly empty, and I rifled through the contents: a painting, a laminated name card, a potty seat, a water bottle left behind on the last day when I carried him, sobbing, from the classroom to the car. And a self portrait. White page with a black border. His name written in small letters underneath a smiling face. Dots for eyes. No ears. Four individual strands of hair hanging down like noodles. I put the bag in the front seat of the car and suddenly had the urge to toss it all out the window. Unwanted memories. Had they already covered up the space on the wall where the noodle-hair picture had been? Removed his name from the coat rack? Erased.
I drove down Fremont, past the sugar maples turning red, through the stop light, diagnostic jargon running through my head. Hyperlexic children are often very outgoing and affectionate with family, but reserved and distant with peers and would be playmates. It was true. It was not true. “Lolo’s new favorite game is 'The Obamas,' Emily told me after one of her weekly visits. Emily, his therapist, but also my only window into that part of his life, knew how much I loved those stories. “She showed him how to walk and wave. He seemed confused, but happy. She wants him to make speeches.” She laughs. “Only if he can read them," I laugh.
Lolo watched, unblinking, as I carried him—all 41 pounds of flailing limbs and muscle and tears, from the downstairs class, through the playground and out the back gate. I’m sorry. Not a good fit. He interrupts the lesson. Reads the boards. Wants to answer all the questions. Can’t sit still. The other children need to learn. Not a good fit. We were as invisible as a howling, writhing alligator is invisible, but the teachers looked away or slipped back inside. The other children wandered off. Except her. She watched from the top of the stairs--a tiny girl in an Elsa dress, staring out from under blunt bangs. I thought I heard her say “come back," but the gate clicked shut.
The year before, he found a book at the bookstore. Friends, by Eric Carle. “Well, it’s no Very Hungry Caterpillar,” I thought as he read it aloud. But he flapped his hands and mimicked the expressions, acting out each page, and the sweetness won me over in the end. There were a lot of questions about “best friends” in the months that followed. Mickey Mouse and Daddy and grandma and I were all contenders. Somehow he began to realize that was not right. That the girl in the story was none of us. He did not know her. He was distraught. And then I hated the book. I hated it for showing him what was missing. I hated it because I did not know if it would ever not be missing. There were no words to reassure him. I put the book on a high shelf, next to a volume of Scandinavian fairy tales--a gift from one of my librarian friends at his baby shower. The shelf for books that are scary.
It seemed like the most natural thing in the world, the way he curled over the pink paper, writing each word with a purple marker as I wiped down the kitchen counters. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Long past the age of needing help with spelling, because that age never existed, his tiny hand, too small for the marker, wrapped around it like a fist. To, the marker scratched, Lolo. “Can you help me make a heart?” he asked, and started with a backward three. I attempted to attach a tail, but it went sideways. He seemed satisfied anyway. I put the letter in my bag, and he asked again to go back. “I miss school.” It had been like that every day. He pulled a workbook out of the cupboard.
The noodle-haired picture sits on top of the microwave with its smiling face. I can't seem to throw it out. He drew himself happy. He was not welcome and he drew himself smiling with no ears. I thought it might be magical thinking, the way some children draw themselves as superheroes or princesses. It wasn’t. He wrote her a letter.
“To Lolo. You are my friend.”