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Authors: Torey Hayden

Silent Boy

BOOK: Silent Boy
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Torey Hayden

Silent Boy

He was a frightened boy who
refused to speak – until a teacher’s
love broke through the silence


To S. K.

for teaching me to cherish the
brutal privilege of being human



Title Page


Part I

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Part II

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty–one

Chapter Twenty–two

Chapter Twenty–three

Chapter Twenty–four

Chapter Twenty–five

Chapter Twenty–six

Chapter Twenty–seven

Chapter Twenty–eight

Chapter Twenty–nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty–one

Part III

Chapter Thirty–two

Chapter Thirty–three

Chapter Thirty–four

Chapter Thirty–five

Chapter Thirty–six

Chapter Thirty–seven

Chapter Thirty–eight

Exclusive sample chapter

About the Author

Torey Hayden


About the Publisher

Part I
Chapter One

oo-boy. The legs of the table were his cage. With arms up protectively over his head, he rocked. Back and forth, back and forth. An aide tried to prod him into moving out from under the table but she had no luck. Back and forth, back and forth the boy rocked.

I watched from behind the one-way mirror. ‘How old is he?’ I asked the woman on my right.


Hardly a boy anymore. I leaned close to the glass to see him. ‘How long has he been here?’ I asked.

‘Four years.’

‘Without ever speaking?’

‘Without ever speaking.’ She looked over at me in the eerie gloom of the room behind the mirror. ‘Without ever making a noise at all.’

I continued to watch a little longer. Then I picked up my box of materials and went out into the room on the other side of the mirror. The aide backed off and, when I entered, she willingly left. I could hear the click of a door in the outer corridor and I knew she had gone behind the mirror to watch too. Only Zoo-boy and I were left in the room.

Carefully, I set down my box of materials. I waited a moment to see if he would react to a new person in the room, but he didn’t. So I came closer. I sat down on the floor an arm’s length away from where he had barricaded himself under the table. Still he rocked, his arms and legs curled up around him. I could get no idea of his stature.


No response.

Not sure what to do, I looked around. I was acutely aware of the audience beyond the mirror. They were talking in there, their voices indistinct, no more than an undulating murmur, like wind through cattails on a summer’s afternoon. But I knew the sound for what it was.

The boy didn’t look fifteen. Even wrapped up in a ball like that where I couldn’t get much of a look at him, he didn’t appear that old. Nine, maybe. Or eleven. Not nearly sixteen.

‘Kevin,’ I said again, ‘my name is Torey. Do you remember Miss Wendolowski telling you someone was coming out to work with you? That’s me. I’m Torey and I work with people who have a hard time talking.’

Still he rocked. I wasn’t given even the slightest acknowledgment. All around us hung a heavy, cloying silence embroidered with the rhythmic sound of his body hitting against the linoleum.

I started to talk to him, keeping my voice soft and welcoming, the way one talks to timid puppies. I talked of why I had come, of what I was going to be doing with him, of other children whom I had worked with and had success. I told him about myself. What I said wasn’t important, only the tone was.

No response. He only rocked.

The minutes slipped away. I was running dry of things to say. Such a one-sided conversation was not easy to maintain, but what made it more difficult was not Zoo-boy so much as the ghostly presence of those beyond the mirror. It was too easy to feel stupid talking to oneself when half a dozen people one couldn’t see were watching. Finally, I pulled over my box of materials and sorted out a paperback book, a mystery story about a teenager and his girl friend. I’ll read to you, I told Zoo-boy, until we feel a little more relaxed with one another.

‘Chapter One:The Long Road.’

I read.

And read.

The minutes kept moving around the face of the clock. Occasionally there was the muffled noise of a door opening and closing beyond our little room. They were leaving, one by one. Nothing in here was worth wasting an afternoon to see. I was not a spectacular reader. The story wasn’t riveting. And Zoo-boy only rocked.

I kept on reading. And counting the openings and closings. How many people had been in the room behind the mirror? I couldn’t recall exactly. Six? Or was it seven? And how many had gone out already? Five?

I read on.

Click-click. Another gone.

Click-click. That was seven.

I continued to read. My voice became the only sound in the room. I looked over. Zoo-boy had stopped rocking. Slowly he brought his arms down to see me better. He smiled. He was nobody’s fool. He had been counting too.

He gestured at me, a small movement within the confines of the table and chairs.

‘What?’ I asked, because I couldn’t understand what he was trying to communicate.

He gestured again, more widely this time. Only it wasn’t just a simple motion. Rather, it was a sentence, a paragraph almost, of gestures.

I still couldn’t understand. I moved a chair aside to see him better but I had to ask him to repeat it.

There was something he wanted me to know. The motions were poetic in their gyrating, wreathing urgency. A hand ballet. But they were no sign language I understood, not Ameslan, not the hand alphabet. I couldn’t comprehend at all.

From under the table came a deep sigh. He grimaced at me. Then patiently he repeated his gestures again, more slowly this time, more emphatically, like someone speaking to a rather stupid child. He became frustrated when he could not make me understand.

Finally, he gave up. We sat in silence, staring at one another. The book was still in my hands, so in desperation to fill the time, I asked him if he’d like me to read a little more. Zoo-boy nodded.

I settled back against the wall. ‘Chapter Five: Out of the Cave.’

Zoo-boy pushed the other chair slightly out from the table and reached to touch the cloth of my jeans. I looked up.

He had his mouth open, one hand pulling the lower jaw down. He pointed down his throat. Then dismally, he shook his head.

Chapter Two

or a little over a year I had been working at the clinic as a research psychologist. Most of my professional life had been spent as a teacher. While in education I had held a variety of positions, running the full gamut from teaching a regular first-grade class to teaching graduate-level university students, from working in an open-plan progressive school to working in a locked classroom on the children’s unit of a state mental institution. I loved teaching. I always had; I still did. But then, as years passed, the general philosophies, particularly in special education, began to shift and I grew to feel like a stranger in my own world.

At that point I decided to work on a doctorate in special education. I’m not sure why. I never particularly wanted the degree itself, it would overqualify me and I could never return to the classroom with it. And no other aspect of education appealed to me. I certainly would never make an administrator. But I went ahead and started the doctorate anyway. In the final analysis I suppose it was simply something to do while I tried to decide what direction my life should take next.

In my deep heart of hearts I was hoping that the philosophical pendulum would swing again in education and I could return to the classroom without compromising my own beliefs. However, as I dragged out my studies over four years, the change did not come, and I was faced with the brutal decision either of actually getting the degree and slamming shut the classroom door forever or of leaving the whole thing messily unfinished and trying something new. In the end, I chose the latter route because I just couldn’t confront the thought of never being able to return to teaching in the future. So I moved away from Minneapolis and the university with nothing to show for my four years there.

Throughout my career I had been working on research into a little-known psychological phenomenon known as elective mutism. This is an emotional disturbance occurring primarily in children. The child is physically capable of speaking but for psychological reasons refuses to do so. Most of these youngsters actually do speak somewhere, usually at home with their families, but they are voluntarily mute everywhere else. Over the years I had accrued a large body of data on this problem and developed treatment methods. Thus, when I saw an advertisement for a child psychologist, a research position with some clinical work, it seemed a reasonable solution to the difficulties I was having with my own field.

As the months passed, I found I was happy enough in my work at the clinic, but it was different from teaching. The children were parceled out to me, mostly by virtue of their language or lack of it, since that was my specialty. But they were never
children. In the few hours a week that I saw them, each individually, there was no opportunity for that small, self-contained civilization to develop when the door to the outer world was closed.

The clinic, however, did provide a lot of advantages. It was pleasant to be in the company of adults again for the major part of my working day. It wasn’t so much because I preferred their company but rather for the side benefits. I could wear decent clothes and put on makeup and not worry if some kid was going to spit up on my dry-clean-only blazer or escape the room because I wasn’t wearing my sure-grip track shoes. I could wear my long hair loose without worrying about someone pulling it out of my head. And perhaps best of all, I could wear skirts again. I didn’t need the freedom of movement and washability jeans provided, more to the point, my legs were not covered with bruises from being kicked constantly.

Association with my new colleagues at the clinic was reason enough to take the job. All of them were well educated, experienced, intelligent and expressive. There was always someone to kick an idea around with. In addition, there were other good points. I had magnificent facilities at my disposal, including a large, airy, sunlit therapy room, brand-new toys and equipment, a video recorder that worked, a computer down the hall and a statistician to go with it who spoke genuine English. Moreover, I had recognition for my work. I had a good salary. And I had more free time than I had ever had before. So, all in all, I was happy enough.

Then came Zoo-boy.

I hadn’t especially wanted the case. Right from the beginning the hopelessness shone through. One morning a social worker named Dana Wendolowski from the Garson Gayer Home had phoned the clinic in search of me. We have a boy for you, she told me, and the weary despair was a little too clear in her voice.

BOOK: Silent Boy
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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