CNF: Some Day I’ll Write About This

by Mary Heather Noble

The waiting room is a like a vacuum chamber. The air so vacant, it draws the moisture from your tongue and lips, the silence so penetrating that you think you can hear molecules rustling against one another in the space between you and your spouse. He busies himself with his iPhone, and for the moment, he looks almost at home.

But not you. The padded chair is too hard, the room too warm even though it’s too cold, and you wring your hands and flip through magazines that you don’t intend to read, because through the door and down the hall, away from the two of you, is your child. Behind closed doors, a team of experts is studying her—evaluating the way she talks, the way she plays, whether she will look them in the eye. All so that you and your husband can rule in, or out, her placement on a spectrum.

And while you’re sitting there, waiting—obsessing about all the things they’re going to find—you’ll try to distract yourself by thinking about all the other waiting rooms of your life. The dentist, the therapist, the OB-Gyn. You’ll remember the time when you were twelve and had four permanent teeth pulled by an oral surgeon, and how, when you emerged from your drug-induced fog in the recovery room, you heard the nurse say, Are you okay? Do you want some juice? But she wasn’t talking to you. She was talking to your father; he had come in from the waiting room and nearly fainted when he saw you.

You’ll laugh to yourself, because it was so typical of your father, his discomfort in medical settings. His awkwardness in others. Afterward, the two of you rode the elevator down to the lobby and then you burst through the doors and threw up all over the parking lot. You’ll wish you could remember his hand on your back, some gentle words of consideration. But that never would have happened. You would’ve had to soothe yourself.

Your father. You’ll think about him a lot during this entire process. You’ll think about the way you are reminded of him when you watch your daughter play. The way she can tune out all other activity and disappear into her own little world. You’ll think about him every night when she is woken up by a distant train, remember the statutes of silence he imposed in your home just to be able to get to sleep. You’ll remember his painstaking process for putting his sailboat away, as you grow weary of the elaborate routine your daughter insists on completing every time she goes to bed. You’ll think about how neither one of them say, “I love you” even after you’ve said it to them.

One day, you’ll reach for your daughter to give her a hug, and she, as usual, will pull away. Except this time, you’ll become the little kid you were thirty years before, standing in your childhood kitchen, watching your mother try to hug your father, and he recoiling from her touch.

Before your daughter’s appointment with the experts, you will have studied the sensory symptom check lists and red flags of odd behavior, and realized you’ve seen so much of it before: in your own home, when you were growing up. It’ll become your biggest worry.

Back in the waiting room with your distracted husband and the sterile air and the magazines you don’t want to read, you’ll think: someday I’ll write about this.

But not before you’re ready. Not before you’re ready.

Mary Heather Noble is an environmental scientist, writer, and mother whose work is inspired by the natural world, family, and place. Her work recently received first prize in Creative Nonfiction’s The Human Face of Sustainability contest, and second prize in the 2012 Literal Latté Essay Awards. Her writing has also appeared in print and online in About Place Journal, High Desert Journal, Orion, Pithead Chapel, and The Sun. Noble received her MFA from the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program, and is the Programs Director for The Nature of Words literary arts organization in Bend, Oregon. She lives in Bend with her husband and two daughters. Please visit www.maryheathernoble.com for additional information.

Tell us (please!) anything you can about the origins, writing, revision, and/or anything else about this piece.

This piece represents an entry point into an exploration of my family story. My youngest daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)—which, in plain English, means she has “sensory issues” that manifest as quirky behaviors resulting from either hypersensitivity or under-responsiveness to sensory inputs. Her brain is wired differently, so she sometimes responds unusually to certain levels of light, to sounds, tastes, odors, and sensations. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at her, but you might notice something by watching her on the playground, or in the classroom, or at the dinner table at home.

SPD is a distinct developmental disorder, but often co-exists with ADHD and conditions on the autism spectrum, and there was a time when my husband and I worried that SPD was just one of many diagnoses she might receive. I am an environmental scientist by trade, so at the time, I was focused on the mounting information connecting autism and other related disorders with exposure to toxic chemicals. But as I learned more about my daughter’s condition, and struggled more with her particular behaviors, I began to recognize a pattern I knew I had seen before.

It turns out that SPD and other neurodevelopmental conditions also have a strong genetic component to them, one I was simply trying to ignore. My family of origin has a painful, troubled history—which, when re-examined through the lens of “sensory issues,” begins to make a lot of sense. Begins to offer explanation, carve a path toward understanding. “Some Day I’ll Write About This” is a portion of a larger working manuscript that tells this story.


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