Alexithymia, a story by Elaine Fisher
Five-year old Alex surveyed his surroundings, data streaming into his eyes and ears. He watched his baby sister looking out through the crib railing, her soft cry becoming a wail. Almost immediately, he clasped his hands over his ears. Following a prescribed exercise, he dutifully mimicked the baby by contorting his face, moving his fingers along his gaping mouth, feeling his facial expression, and finally giving out a cry.
His mother, Lisa rushed in and picked up the baby, singing the same song he heard whenever his sister cried. He stood stiffly by his mother’s side, looking away from her. His feet stamped to the rhythmic, but expressionless words that spilled out of his mouth. “Baby is loud. Alex is loud. Hate it loud…loud, loud…hate it loud.”
“Alex, it’s alright, I’m here, now. Abby needed her diaper changed.” Lisa hesitantly touched his face to comfort him and then tried to reinforce an “emotion” word. “Abby is unhappy! I am going to help her.”
Alex’s expression remained blank as he reached for the colorful rattle in the crib, and then ran off to sit in a corner of the nursery. His mind and body relaxed as he shook the rattle with a syncopated beat.
Lisa swiped at her tears and then placed her child on the changing table.
Alex left the corner, ran to the diaper pail, and lifted the lid releasing a foul smell. He played with the hinged lid, like a mouth opening and closing, oblivious to the smell.
Lisa changed Abby and then walked over to the rocking chair. At the sound of his sister’s cooing, Alex left the diaper pail. He approached the chair focusing his attention on the rocking motion.
“Look, Alex, Abby is smiling. Show me your smile.”
She modeled a smile and said, “Happy.” Alex tried to say it, adding an artificial grin to his face as an afterthought, and then stretched out his hand toward her waiting for an expected reward. As they practiced, the supply of chocolate Kisses grew smaller. Lisa always had them ready for her son, chocolate Kisses replacing real kisses for imitated feelings. She reached in the bag for a Kiss for herself. Its bittersweet taste lingered as she watched her son abruptly turn away.
Without a word, Alex left the nursery and headed back to his bedroom where his computer lived.
After placing Abby back in her crib, Lisa walked down the hall to Alex’s room. The closed door separated her from her son and his machine. The house became unnaturally quiet except for a few electronic beeps seeping out from the room. At one time, those sounds were harsh to her ears, now they strangely provided comfort. She gently touched the cold doorknob, gave out a sigh, and walked away.
# # #
On the day that Alex started 5th grade, he awoke early to play Power Planet: Android Adventures on his computer. He mimicked the synthesized voice of the android pilot that sounded very much like his.
“Need to break through the sound barrier. Need to break through the sound barrier…”
“Alex, you’re going to be late for school!” Lisa shouted at her son’s bedroom door.
“Need to break through…”
Lisa entered the room, pulled him from the computer, and led him to the kitchen table while his body fought back, his voice rose in volume as he logically negated her complaints. She left the room until he calmed down and finished his breakfast.
She returned with his matching Power Planet backpack and lunch box.
Alex grabbed the handle of the lunchbox, his eyes never leaving the picture of the android pilot. He automatically punched the air in a power salute, escaping into his world, so far away from reality.
She quickly squeezed him to her, not allowing him to squirm away as he came back to life.
“Love you, Alex. Left you something special in your lunchbox. Better hurry, now!”
“Love you, better hurry, love you, better hurry,” he repeated rhythmically, eyes scanning the lunchbox. No longer did he need to open it to know that his mother’s note and a chocolate Kiss waited for him inside.
“Have a happy day, Alex…you have the power!” Lisa cheered, watching a tense Alex leave the house. She watched his body relax as he gave out a final power salute.
# # #
Alex’s emotional challenges continued as he entered high school. Sitting at his desk during homeroom, he tapped out a rhythm with his fingers. With his other hand, he began sketching another adventure for his super hero, an android from the planet, Alexithymia, the same name as his rare condition. He glanced at the pretty girl sitting across from him and showed her his sketches. His palms got sweaty, his heart felt like it would burst out of his chest, and his body went into meltdown. Then the android inside him downloaded the appropriate words into its memory bank.
“Love…you.” His hand opened and stretched out toward her, waiting for his reward.
The girl gave him a sneer. “Go back to your planet, weirdo.”
“Overload, overload,” he heard himself spew out and then all systems crashed, zoning out into the safety zone where a younger Alex lived.
Later at home, he sat next to his mother and told her about the girl. Avoiding sitting too close, he allowed his mother to hug him, which pleased her. Then, squirming out of her embrace, Alex held out his palm and patiently waited. A chocolate Kiss was the one thing he couldn’t get on planet Alexithymia.
Copyright © 2016 by Elaine Fisher
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