Chapter 8: Joy, With Maple Syrup on Top

Liberty felt like the worst mother in the world. No matter what she tried, she could not find a way to cheer up her son. She arranged for him to go on playdates with other children. She read him funny stories and took him out to see lighthearted family movies. She even took him to Triassic World to see the dinosaurs. But Callen never cracked a smile. It was not just that he was a serious kid. He simply had no interest in anything or anyone.

“Would you like French toast for breakfast?” she would ask.

Callen would shrug. “I guess so.” And Liberty would serve him a thick, fluffy slice of french toast with creamy butter and golden maple syrup, which Callen would chew and swallow with the same indifferent expression he wore while eating Cheerios. He had no favorite foods. He had no favorite music or colors or toys, or anything that Liberty could see. Like most normal kids, he did what he was told, mostly, and answered questions, and earned B’s in school, and played youth soccer when Liberty signed him up. But unlike normal kids, Callen’s face was always a shadow, deep circles rimming his eyes, his mouth turned downward in a permanent frown.

“It’s like he’s lost his joy,” Liberty told Dr. Lehoia. “No wait…more like he’s never had any joy. Like he was born without it.”

“Well, I’ll run some tests, and we’ll see if we can get to the bottom of it,” said Dr. Lehoia. “Don’t worry. If there’s a medical reason for his lack of joy, then we’ll find it.”

So Liberty checked Callen into the hospital. Over the next few days, Dr. Lehoia ordered test after test. Callen was silent as he was poked and prodded, and stuffed into machines which scanned his brain. Finally, Dr. Lehoia sat them down in his office.

“From what I can see, there is no urgent medical cause for Callen’s depression,” he said, showing Liberty Callen’s brain scans. “No tumors or anything to explain it. Perhaps melancholy is just hard-wired into your son, the way some people are naturally cheerful. But here is a prescription for antidepressants, just to be sure.”

Liberty’s heart sank. Callen’s psychologist had already prescribed antidepressants, and after a year of taking them, Callen’s mood showed no difference whatsoever. She thanked her old friend, got the new prescription filled, then took Callen home. At dinner that night, Liberty tried again to cheer him up.

“I bought us some tickets to a major league hockey game next weekend,” she said, forcing her voice to sound bright and cheery despite the lump swelling in her throat. “The Arctic Llamas! Won’t that be fun?”

Callen gazed up at her with his big, sad eyes. “Yeah. Sure, Mom,” he said in a flat voice. “Lots of fun.”

The lump in Liberty’s throat broke open, and she burst into tears. Her son was broken, and she had no way to fix him.

A month later, a friend of hers gave them what turned out to be a magic answer. She was getting rid of an old electronic keyboard, and offered it to Liberty and Callen. Liberty accepted it, and decided to sign up Callen for music lessons. Within a short time, Callen was playing music like he’d been doing it for years, his fingers flying over the keyboard and producing complex melodies, rich with all of the emotions that he himself had been unable to express. Liberty listened in awe, tears of relief and gratitude spilling down her cheeks. Finally, finally, Callen had found one small thing that brought him pleasure.

What she didn’t know — what neither of them knew, was that at the same time Callen discovered music, Al was also discovering his niche. During the time that he lived with his sister, he began to write his own music — mostly grunge rock, and perform it at small clubs around the Portland area.

It was almost as though some strange spirit had taken over his hands, and was producing incredible music through him. His fan base began to grow, and so did the venues he performed in. At last, his dreams were beginning to come true. He was on his way.



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