A green light to greatness.®

Where the Wild Things Are

by Sierra Mendez


Editor’s Note: The last names of Ethan and his parents have been omitted because Ethan is a minor.

The horses were René’s idea. She has two of them—a giant, sweet-tempered Gypsy Vanner called Xena who works with autistic children and a stocky, 14-hand pest named Jay-Jay who bears almost exclusive responsibility for the number of broken fences at his barn. René has used horse therapy with many of the compromised children she works with and has seen the good it brings.

René spent one fall convincing Ethan’s mother, Annette, to let him visit the barn and meet the horses. They talked about possible germs, uneven ground, ill-behaved mares, raucous dogs, blood-sucking insects, manure and wayward tractor equipment. René brought pictures of her horses to Ethan and his mom, wore her cowboy boots into the apartment without wiping them on the mat, and talked about the magical place that was Esperanza Farms. Finally, Annette agreed to allow René to take Ethan to meet the horses with the understanding that she was not expected to accompany them; Annette hates dogs.

Esperanza Farms is located on the northeast outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, in the hills of a small town called Helotes and less than a mile from the famous Flores Country Store. A long, white fence leads up the gray drive, past oak trees and weeds and grass and flowers. There’s an old water tower where the drive forks at the overgrown remains of a vegetable garden. The space is full of noises—the swish of dogs’ tails and the scratch of cats’ nails and the efficient click of boots.

Take a right at the fork and there’s a sprawling house with five dog beds on the front porch, a make-shift volleyball court and a garden of blue plumbago, red salvia, and Esperanza. Take a left at the fork and there’s a long swinging gate, a green storage unit overflowing with tools and a mesquite tree wilting in the Texas heat. The gravel drive loops around a sandy pen with a tall fence and towards a white barn with an old wooden floor worn by decades of sun and rain and pounding hooves. 

***

Half an hour away, on a scrubby piece of land in the middle of San Antonio, close to Lackland Air Force Base and off of Loop 410, sits a gray strip of gravel called Horal Street. It’s a narrow road, bumpy from decades of repair, with a skinny sidewalk on one side that begins and ends sporadically. Nearby highway signs flash in orange: “Limit Outdoor Activity: Air Pollution Levels High.” The air is thick with the cackling of black grackle-birds nesting on telephone lines and bushes.

Halfway down this street is an apartment complex with tannish walls and greenish shutters. In Building C of the complex, up stairs of cement and iron, is a door with a scratchy Welcome Home mat and brass letters. Maroon plaques warn “No Smoking” and “No Animals.” It’s quieter here in the dark breezeway of the door where the concrete is stained with spilt coffee and half smoked cigarettes.

On the other side of the front door are textured white walls, small furniture and four table chairs. The kitchen is almost microscopic—something that belongs in the efficiency of a co-ed subsisting on microwavable pizzas and turkey sandwiches. There’s no art on the walls, and the dark curtains stay closed. All focus seems to be on the large, high-definition TV that, with its size and clarity, has the ability to transport its viewers to another place. The carpet is a landmine strewn with toys.

A boy lives here, behind these closed doors and closed curtains, staring at what little light filters through. Out of the boy’s mouth tumbles mumbling and grunting noises as he scoots and crawls his way around these rooms, his hair as black and soft as the grackle-bird’s wings. His body is small and strong, and his eyes are dark in the delicate skin of his face, glowing in the apartment’s pale luminous light like a fish in a watery cave.

Ethan is 7 years old. He’s lived in this apartment his whole life where ten nurses and teachers and doctors and therapists keep vigil over him, testing his blood, his eyes, his heart, his lungs, his ears and his mind. He’s 7 years old, and he only steps outside every other weekend when he is transported to another room in another apartment. Ethan is 7 years old and has never spoken a word. Nor has he ever seen anything that was not within six inches of his face. He has metal devices in his ears like steel antennas and cannot swallow without aspirating. He’ll need heart surgery soon.

Ethan has Charge syndrome; his mother and doctors never expected him to make it this long.

Ethan was diagnosed with Charge syndrome when he was an infant. He has holes in his eyes and sees the world as though looking through a slice of Swiss cheese and a grimy, fogged window. His weakened lungs make even a minor allergy or cold a major threat that can send him to the hospital. His stunted heart prevents enough blood from reaching his organs to support his motions and movements. He can’t hear except in bursts, even with the aid of medical devices that enhance vibrations to his eardrums.

Medical experts consider Charge syndrome one of the most complex conditions affecting children and adults. Caused by a minor mutation of the Chromosome CHD7 gene, it impairs—and sometimes destroys—the functions of the body’s major organs like the heart and lungs, short-circuiting the development of the eyes, ear, nose, throat and genitalia. It is a birth defect that occurs in one of every nine to ten thousand births. His mom says that when Ethan was born, his doctors suggested putting him in a home or institution.

René Laminack is Ethan’s teacher. She’s worked with him four times a week for three hours each time for ten months. René has worked with children with disabilities in both public schools and private homes for 12 years, and for years before that with troubled teens. Currently, René works with seven compromised children and their families. She says Ethan is very different from them.

According to the Charge Syndrome Foundation website, doctors who work closely with Charge syndrome patients and are now beginning to realize it doesn’t always affect their minds, only their bodies. René says Ethan is different from her other students because he knows something is wrong.

 

***

Today is one of Ethan’s bad days. He wanted Cheerios for breakfast and got mushed-up ham instead. His nurse says he got mad and threw the mush at her. He tried to play with his blocks but they—his caretakers—kept coming in, poking and prodding and taking his temperature and making him stand and making him sit and pointing to the signs on the walls. His nurse can cite the dozens of times Ethan has torn down these signs labeling rooms and items in the house if forced to look at them for too long.

René brought the box with the colors and sounds today. She says they had fun, but then she tried to show him that thing with her hands that he can barely see and the sounds he can barely hear, and she says he got frustrated. René thinks it angers Ethan that he doesn’t know what she’s trying to tell him.

Ethan has been taught how to move his hands to tell someone he doesn’t want something, so he does it again and again. He signs, “no, no, no.” And other caretakers keep coming. With their scratchy clothes and hard, cold things. René says Ethan hates being touched with their scratchy clothes and hard, cold things and hands that don’t seem to care that he hates it. He signs, “no, no, no.”

René thinks that, for Ethan, all of those people crowding around all of the time make the air feel tight and scary. They press in on him from all sides. They speak in hushed voices. In response, Ethan’s hands flutter to his chest and stay there. He curls up into a small ball, hiding himself from what he doesn’t like and what scares him.

His doctors make him swallow those things again and again and again. One of Ethan’s nurses, Karen, says it makes him act differently because it makes his head feel fuzzy and his blood pump too hard and makes him feel angry. So he throws his toys at René. Ethan tries to tell them what he wants with noises and grunts and his hands. He signs, “no, no, no.” But no one ever seems to get it, and it makes him madder.

He tries to show them what he wants. Karen says he’s trying to make his eyes work when he pulls at them and sometimes when bangs his head against the table. René and his doctor say that sometimes he can make them work. Today he can’t. Karen notes that his legs won’t work today. She says sometimes he can make them work. Today he can’t. He’s angry he can’t. No matter how hard he tries or how hard he fights or what he does, today he can’t make things happen. He signs, “no, no, no.”

Annette wants Ethan well. She can’t count the hours she’s spent in the hospital waiting for his next breath, counting his seconds. She can’t count the money she’s spent on doctors, nurses, toys, therapists, speech teachers, pills and medicines to keep Ethan well. Her apartment is sparse with things that are hers—basic kitchen table, small couch, two small mirrors, some art made out of brightly colored cut cloth. Ethan’s room, on the other hand, is a menagerie of blue and cars and bright toys—a world to keep her son safe. She’s not sure what she’ll do when Ethan grows too big for his world. Maybe little boys are like goldfish—if you keep their bowls small enough, they’ll never be too big to live safely inside them. Ethan makes it so hard sometimes. Every minute is a struggle, every second a demand or a need. And Ethan is not an affectionate child. He’s tough and wiry and slippery when she tries to hold him.

Annette wants Ethan to learn sign language so that Ethan can talk to her like other kids can. She’s frustrated that Ethan has learned only a handful of signs when “the experts say” he should have learned around 70 by now. She wishes she knew how to change him. She wishes she could tell Ethan what she wants and that he would kiss her without her asking. She wishes she could teach Ethan when he is bad and when he is good. She wishes Ethan could talk to other people to tell them what he needs. She wishes she could understand.

Karen is Ethan’s other mom and Annette’s former partner. As one of his nurses, Karen spends more time with Ethan than anyone else; and as an R.N., Karen is the decision maker regarding his physical needs. Karen wants Ethan to walk. She wants him to be active and independent. She wants him to be strong so he can do the things he wants to do and healthy so he can have new experiences. She hopes heart surgery will make him strong enough that he can do those things without the Viagra to make his lungs stronger and his heart pump better. She wants Ethan to have the chance to see things like other kids—like Disneyland, the zoo, and the Grand Canyon. She thinks that the apartment is too small and too comfortable. She thinks kids need more space.

She wonders what kind of life he’s going to have.

René wants Ethan to be Ethan. She wants to introduce him to new environments and let him experience the world outside of his apartment in the unique ways he experiences things. She thinks that if she can do this, he’ll change. She believes Ethan has considerable intelligence and energy, yet every day is the same for him—a day of never realizing his wishes. She thinks it’s very frustrating for him and that’s why he’s angry all the time. René knows Ethan will never be like other children, but she’s convinced he can still be happy, healthy and alive and that there are better ways to make him that way.

***

Today is Ethan’s first trip to the barn. It is a warm day near the end of winter and Ethan is wearing his Buzz Lightyear shirt. He, René, and Karen stand by a white iron gate at the entrance to Esperanza Farms—dogs barking, grass crackling, afternoon air perfumed by the mountain laurel blooming on a nearby hillside, the smell as purple as grape Jolly Ranchers—while Ethan screams. A scream that writhes in the air and pierces the tallest tree branches, a scream that grunts and hiccoughs and squirms to get away.

René thinks it’s the bigness. The strangeness. The pull of the trees and the emptiness of the sky and the missingness of a ceiling. It’s the absence of walls and the goneness of windows and curtains. It’s the weirdness of smells and the greatness of space and the unfamiliar brush of the moving and unknown. Ethan curls himself into a ball against Karen to avoid all of the something bads that can fit in that big emptiness.

Flailing and fighting against Karen’s arms and legs, Ethan is walked from the gate to the picnic table. A Hawaiian print table cloth covers it, dogs run around it, and behind it sits a large pasture filled with grass and a herd of horses. Now alternating between screams and grunts, Ethan is helped to sit on the bench.

Then Ethan goes quiet. René says he’s trying to know. Large things move to his left, different from the soft, fuzzy things under his feet. Different from the people pressing around him. These things are big. They move slowly and lazily, then with dashing jumps. There are lots of them close by. Ethan’s black eyes are shiny and wide and glossy and turned towards them. The big things move closer, and Ethan’s eyes get bigger. He has come to the place where the wild things are. They stomp their giant hooves and swish their giant tails. They toss their giant heads and kick their giant legs until Ethan stays very still and does his magic trick of listening to bodies move and tasting sounds and smells without blinking his eyes once. And the wild things notice this and accept him. And in their company, it seems like Ethan is no longer afraid.

Karen stands with her arms folded across her chest, sunglasses on. She leans away from the dogs when their tails wag against her and stays firmly on the road, away from the grass and manure and barn cats. She barely looks at the horses. Then she begins fluttering around the picnic table where Ethan sits, consoling and wringing and questioning and pointing. Encouraged by Ethan’s quiet, worried by Karen’s fear, and desperate for this trip to go well lest Ethan’s moms decide he shouldn’t venture out of the apartment again, René buzzes around trying to engage Ethan’s interest. She doesn’t want to introduce him to a horse yet; she has a feeling it will be too much for his mother. So René decides to focus on getting Ethan used to the space. She brings him horse brushes to touch and pushes grain into his hands. Karen sees this and thinks it is right and begins bringing hay and halters and leather girths and lead ropes to Ethan, as well.

With every item pressed and every thing presented, Ethan grows tenser. His head starts swiveling. His eyes grow wider. His hands start shaking. His back hunches as he rocks. He reaches for Karen, then squirms to get down. He signs, “No, no, no.” René and Karen give up and sit down on the picnic table with Ethan, on either side of him, blocking what they think is so upsetting to him. Ethan continues to sign, “No, no, no.”

Then the red-haired lady who owns the barn sets a small flower on the table next to Ethan. René and Karen immediately pick it up and press it into his palm. They want him to feel its soft petals, smell its sour freshness and see its bright color. Ethan flinches away and lets the flower fall to the ground, rocking backward again. The barn lady picks up the yellow bud and places it on the table next to Ethan again before walking away. She takes René and Karen with her to show them a very pregnant mare in a stall nearby.

Ethan grows still, neck tight, and shoulders watchful. His eyes move quickly, never focusing. His fingers move through the breeze, curious and questioning. His nose is raised slightly in the air,

nostrils flaring with the new smells. The big things move sleepily. The furry things run around him. Something small is next to his leg. Ethan’s hand reaches towards the flower, seeking where it lay against the hard, grainy wood of the tabletop. He picks it up very gently, very slowly, and with no one looking, he twirls it luxuriously between his fingers.

The red-haired barn lady has a different plan than René and Karen. Without waiting for say-so, she fetches Raine from the pasture. Raine is a bay Arab mare, fine-boned and athletic. Her halter is blue. The red-haired lady doesn’t lead Raine directly to Ethan but to the grassy patch beyond him. She lets the rope go slack so that Raine can graze.

But Raine doesn’t want to graze. A small thing is sitting not far from her, still and quiet. Different from the tall things striding around and the quick, fuzzy things dodging between her legs. Raine’s body stills, neck arches and ears perk, listening for movement and intent. Her eyes are moving, watchful. Her tail swishes in the breeze, curious and questioning. Her nose pushes forward through the air, nostrils flaring with the new scent.

The small thing doesn’t move.

The red-haired barn lady, Janine Mendez, doesn’t really know Ethan. She’s known René for a long time, and she’s known horses her whole life. But this is the first time she’s met Ethan. Still, Janine does know children. She’s had four of them herself and countless little ones visiting the barn to learn to ride, to run faster than the wind, to sit up tall and keep their hands gentle. She’s taught them to brush and groom and take care of things that need them, to grow up and be responsible for another’s life. They learn how much shorter animal’s lives are than theirs and the pain and acceptance and unconditional love that must come with that knowledge.

Janine knows about things that need to be wild and need to be free. She knows that it must be accepted that things happen—that horses grow and children develop and animals die —in their own time, and they must be allowed that time. She knows it’s all about what they’re ready for. She knows you can’t force anything.

She says that humans try to force everything. They rarely accept. There’s always want, always more, always what’s missing, always what-could-be-had and what-could-be-gotten. They’re always thinking of Tomorrow, of Next, of In Ten Years, and they push and prod the present. They want tomorrow now. They want more now. They want next now. They never see the now that actually is, only the next that could be.

Janine knows that all children like Ethan have is now. She knows their world, unlike ours, is unavoidably shaped by their bodies, which roots them in the feeling and condition of the present. She knows the expectations and values placed on other children do not apply to them and yet, she says, we try to apply them because it’s the only way we know how to be. But children like Ethan exist in their own time and act in their own time. They’re lives are not “on the clock” and “on the tight schedule” that ours are. Janine says that’s what creates the tension and the struggle—all these children have is now, and we’re not capable of being there. Because we’re not capable of accepting that. That’s why Janine wants Ethan to meet Raine and the other horses and the dogs. Animals live in the now better than we do.

Ethan sits still as a stone on his perch on the picnic table. Head moves. Hands move. Cool breeze brushes skin with unfamiliar smell. Ethan inhales deeply, smelling. It’s one of the big things.

Unfamiliar. Close.

Ethan shrinks back.

Clicks his tongue.

Hands flutter. Shoulders pull up and curl in.

Raine steps forward and lowers head, shoulders down, inhaling deeply. Eyes forward, ears forward, nose moving with the breeze and scent of boy.

Ethan moves his hands to his eyes. Pulls at the skin around them.

Raine moves forward and stills.

Ethan rocks forward and stills.

Raine inhales air, scent, muscles taut with alertness

Ethan inhales air, scent, muscles taut with alertness.

Raine sticks out tongue to taste boy’s scent on the air, round and pink.

Ethan stares.

Raine sticks out tongue to taste boy’s scent on the air, round and pink.

Ethan stills.

Raine takes a step closer and sticks out tongue to taste the boy’s scent.

Ethan sticks out his tongue, round and pink.

***

Horses are herd animals. They spend their lives in groups, listening to one another’s movements, talking to each other in ways alien to humans. Pinned ears are a threat. A raised tail means agitation or excitement. Pacing is distress. Horse’s skin can shiver on command, a trick mostly used to dislodge flies.

Everyone at Esperanza Farms knows that Grace, Raine’s daughter, is in love with another Arab at the barn named Gus. They are never apart, and Gus runs in circles around Grace whenever someone tries to catch her. Jenny and Sparkle are best friends, humorously because Sparkle is an 18-hand Quarter Horse mare and Jenny is an 11-hand pony. Lightning and Charlie have both passed away now, but they spent their thirties roaming Esperanza Farms together, sharing each other’s food and each other’s age.

Raine came to Esperanza in 1993 from Brighter Days Farm—a rescue stable for abused horses. Over the years, many of the horses at Esperanza have come from Brighter Days. There was Jezebel, a black-bay thoroughbred mare, who was wild and fast and wouldn’t let her previous owners catch her. She was, therefore, deemed useless by them. There was Apple Jack, a spotted Appaloosa gelding neglected in a stall for years and covered with barn sores and infections from flies, his muscles weak from lack of movement. And there was Cooper, a black-bay thoroughbred terrified of people and anything that came near his head from the years he spent as a racehorse when a man with a whip hit him regularly on the face to make him run faster.

Raine was 2 in 1993. She’d been rescued from a man who had dozens of horses and no means to support them. They were all locked together in a small pen with limited food—all of the horses, from large, aggressive stallions to small, still-growing fillies. Raine was pregnant when she came to Esperanza, her ballerina frame heavy and back scarred from the stallions’ violence. Janine had fallen in love with her on sight at Brighter Days and brought her home. She was too young and too delicate and too malnourished to support the baby. It was stillborn. It was buried by the water tank at the back of the property. Now Raine has another daughter, the half-Arab Paint named Grace.

Raine has always taken of the children who ride her like a bossy older sister. She quickly rose in the ranks of the herd to head mare and the formidable protector of young horses. Her daughter, as a baby, would prance through the herd like a princess while Raine followed behind with her ears pinned, daring the other horses to lay a hoof on Grace. And when another mare died from birthing complications, Raine adopted the baby filly and guarded over her as though she were her own.

In America, the use of horses for therapy began in the 1970s. It had been established as a formalized discipline only ten years before when it was used in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as an adjunct to traditional physical therapy. Scientifically, the success of hippotherapy is related to the rocking motion of the horse and the resulting movement of the rider, which stimulates spinal nerves directly connected to critical nerves in the brain.

This scientific description, however, does not explain all of the benefits of hippotherapy, particularly for children like Ethan who do not actually ride the horse due to their physical restrictions. There’s something mystic about this part, something at odds with modern vaccines and plastic surgical equipment. Yet the effectiveness of horse therapy has been cited time and time again with far more consistency than other scientific experiments.

Ethan started trying to talk after one trip to the barn and his time with Raine. Other children who spend their time curled in a tiny ball in their wheelchairs have been introduced to a horse and spread their arms wide in welcome. Wounded Warriors, a group for veterans, uses horse therapy to help soldiers with PTSD. The North Texas area has more than two dozen centers for therapeutic riding, helping everyone from children with disabilities to troubled teens. Rupert Isaacson, a man from Austin, Texas, whose son has autism, witnessed remarkable changes in his son after three years of riding. He wrote a book called The Horse Boy, created a film documentary by the same name and started The Horse Boy Foundation to help make horses and nature available to other children, autistic or not, who might not otherwise have access to them.

“With the horses,” René says, “I think it’s the motion. And the warmth. And the kindness. They breathe in and they breathe us in. And they breathe out and we breathe out. And you realize that you’re really the same.”

With the horses, there’s acceptance. Something no one else can really give Ethan, because, as humans, we worry too much. We’re worried about his health and if something is going to make him sicker. We’re worried about all those things he’s never going to do or get to be. We’re worried that he’s not enough like us and if he’ll always suffer for being different. We’re worried about what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling and if he’s going to die and if we’re doing the right thing and what Ethan thinks of us. We’re worried about what we did wrong or what we could do better.

And Ethan—a child who understands the world through feeling and sensing in a way that exists beyond sight and sound—feels that worry. And feels afraid because the people around him feel afraid. But the horse just breathes. And there is peace. And there is acceptance. And there is now. And there’s nothing beyond that to worry about.

***

Today is Ethan’s third trip to the barn. He sits on the picnic table, swinging his legs. Raine continues to eat, lips drawing up grain, flat teeth chewing musingly. Her neck is soft and warm in the 3 o’clock sun, and her eyes close lazily. Ethan’s whole body strains both towards Raine and away. His arms are clenched, his weight rocking. His face is set on the horse’s face, eyes directed towards it but never focusing. His hands move towards his eyes; his fingers spread—thumbs on his cheekbones, fingers on his forehead. They pull at the delicate skin around his eyes, black irises as wide and as glossy as marbles. Ethan’s face is baby doll smooth and pale. He rocks forward and back and forward. His hands jerk back to his chest, backs of his fingers pressed against his blue shirt. He rocks forward and forward.

Raine moves closer.

Ethan’s mouth opens partially. Small, liquid sounds come streaming out. Then stop. Stream out. Then stop.

Raine moves closer.

Ethan’s shoulders twitch, hands flutter. Nose flares with familiar smell. Soft noises come from Ethan’s mouth, bird noises. Coos.

Raine moves closer still, mouth no longer moving with food. Neck soft, ears forward, eyes soft, nose inquiring. Movements are slow, measuring.

Ethan’s legs swing from side to side and back and forth and side to back to forth. Familiar. Sharp outtake of air in delight, in laughter.

Raine’s nose lowers and nudges boy’s shoulder. Rests there.

Ethan’s body stills. Coos.

Ethan’s language is the language of crickets and frogs, of tails swishing in the darkness, of ears erect and on guard. Ethan’s language is that of the first humans—the language of gestures where a thousand distinct messages could be conveyed in the delicate wrists and the fluttering of fingers, in the movement of shoulders and the posture of necks, in the direction of a chin and the lift of a nose. Ethan’s language is of the body and the senses.

Our language is of the mind and its conceptions. While Ethan’s is a statement of what is, ours is a statement of what we think it is. It is our concession to one another. Some of the most important people in Ethan’s life are desperate for him to learn sign language. René does not think, however, that this is so that they can better understand his needs. She thinks it’s so that he can better understand theirs and become more like them.

René cites speech pathologists who have worked with Ethan and who have told these important people that sign language is not the most useful solution for him. They say it would be better for him to try alternative methods more aligned with his physical capabilities; Karen herself says she and Ethan spend so much time together she can read his language even though it’s not hers.

Annette, however, insists that he learn it. Ethan’s doctor says it’s important because it’s “not possible to determine the child’s cognitive ability” before a viable system of communication is established. When Karen was asked why Annette thinks it’s important for Ethan to learn sign language, even though other ways work better and are more natural for him, she said it was so that he could talk to everyone and so he wouldn’t be so different.

Dr. Linda Ward, an audiologist in the Speech and Hearing Sciences Department at the University of North Texas, explained the experiences of some parents with children like Ethan is akin to the grieving process—except that instead of one death, there are hundreds, and they happen in small ways every day. She says that every day is a struggle as parents realize the ways they can’t help their child and begin to fear every decision is a mistake. She says most of these parents are looking for the chance for absolution.

Annette will never have that chance if Ethan cannot learn to understand her. If she cannot make him see that all her wringing, all her pulling, all her holding, all her fluttering, all her touching, all her pushing are the million ways she’s signing “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

 

***

René says today is an exploring day. It’s only Ethan and René, and she’s not trying to show him those hand things anymore. Ethan smiles and laughs. Today is a slide day. Today he gets to put the ball on the slide, and today he’s strong and he can pull it back, and today he can let it go, and the ball jumps high and hits the wall and there’s a loud sound. Ethan does it over and over and over again. René says he likes to make things happen. He likes to see what happens when he does things.

He’s been taught how to move his hands to say he likes something and wants it to keep happening. He signs, “More, more, more.” Today is a talking box day. It’s different from the other one. It’s small, and he can make it do things. He can press this and a sound happens, this and a vibration happens, this and the color changes and Teacher will help him see it. He tries to put it in his mouth so that he can know it better, but René won’t let him.

René says today is an experiment day. Today he can put his feet on things and move them around and feel them and learn about them. Today he can put his head on things and hear the tiny lines and waves they make and learn about them. Today is a standing day. Today Ethan figured out how to stand by himself. He scooted to the corner of the living room, tight into the corner. He braced one side of his body against the right corner and pushed and slid up. He braced the other side of his body against the left corner and pushed and slid up.

He signs, “More, more, more, more, more, more, more.” It made René so happy.

Today is a talking day. “Nananananananananananana. nanananananananananananana.” Ethan sings it now, and René sings it with him.            

Today Ethan can do things. Today he can make things happen.

***

Ethan’s third trip to the barn was his last. René is resigning as his teacher because she refuses to teach him sign language, and Ethan’s next teacher has no interest in horse therapy. Ethan will never see Raine, the dogs, the other horses and the barn again.

On the day at the barn that would be his last, Ethan was guided away from Raine and the picnic table by Karen and her friend, his head wobbling frantically up and down and side to side as he was lifted from the bench. His arms had become tense again. His body had seized again. His fingers on both hands had curled around his thumbs as though he was picking something up and began tapping together. Karen and her friend helped Ethan become steady on his feet. Out of sun and down the gray driveway, they’d shuffled back to car, Ethan’s hands still pushing together insistently. René explained that he was signing “More.”

“More, more, more, more, more.”

 

—In memory of Maurice Sendick, who knew about little boys who need to be wild and need to be free and about a mother’s wild love.

 

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by Sierra Mendez
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