The boy who breaks everything was used to not being touched very often. Certain touches were fine: a pat on the head, his father holding his upper arm to guide him away from people, his grandmother dryly pecking at his cheek. But he was told to keep his hands to himself at school and at home. There was no more snuggling on the couch with his mother when they watched TV. And his parents bolted their door when they went to sleep at night; they couldn’t risk him crawling under the covers to be with them.
“He’s getting worse,” he heard his father say one morning. The boy was eating breakfast from a heavy steel bowl with a heavy steel spoon while sitting gingerly on a heavy steel stool. His parents thought he couldn’t hear them arguing in the garage.
“He’s just fine,” he heard his mother reply. “Fine” was her favorite word.
“It’s not just bruises any longer,” his father said. “He broke that girl’s arm!”
“He’s special. I’ve told the school that. They have to make accommodations. He didn’t mean to break her arm,” his mother said.
“He never means to do it!’ his father yelled.
The boy tensed and the handle of the spoon split down the middle, the steel peeling away. He carefully got off his stool and dropped the broken spoon into a recycling bin. He crossed to the stove and took a few deep breaths before taking an identical spoon from a tray on the counter. It was cold and heavy and dull in his hand and it didn’t break.
The boy that breaks everything had visited doctors with his mother. She was calm and clear-eyed when she explained what was wrong with her son. The doctors never believed her, not even the time he sat down in a heavy chair and the legs shattered, dumping him to the floor.
One doctor had explained to his mother the diagnostic parameters of Munchausen’s By Proxy and the boy had cried and tried to tell the doctor that his mother had never hurt him. The doorknob came off the door when he tried to run from the office, so he pushed on it and the door slammed to the floor. They had fled before the doctor could react; his mother herding him to the car without touching him. He spent the entire ride home with his hands in his armpits and didn’t stop crying until his father got home.
“Maybe we should send him somewhere,” his father said.
“What do you mean by that?” his mother asked. The boy trembled at the shock and fear in her voice.
“Somewhere he could get some help,” his father said. “A hospital.”
“He is not SICK!” his mother yelled.
The boy who breaks everything took a few deep breaths with his eyes closed then picked up his empty bowl and his spoon and carefully walked them to the sink. He wasn’t allowed to touch the dishwasher any longer. He went over to the door out to the garage. He could hear that his mother was crying. The floor beneath him creaked ominously.
“After the girl and… the car, he might be considered to be dangerous,” his father said. “What if the school had called the police? What if the girl’s parents had pressed charges?”
“You’re not talking about a hospital,” his mother said quietly.
“What if the police come to the house and he gets upset?” his father asked.
“He wouldn’t hurt anyone!”
“Tell that to the girl at school. Both bones in her forearm, her elbow out of joint.” The boy heard his father shuffling his feet, loud in the empty garage.
The boy watched his sister glide through the kitchen like a ghost. She saw him at the door to the garage when she opened the refrigerator. She froze, wary like prey, then grabbed a bottle of water and scurried back to her room.
“I’ll be good, Mommy!” he had told her as they had driven home from school earlier in the week.
“It’s not a matter of being good or bad, sweetie,” his mother had told him. “Even if you hurt someone on accident, they’ve still been hurt. Do you understand?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her!” he had said, tears running down his face. “I was just helping her up. She fell!” The car shuddered and the wheel seemed to twist itself out her hands.
“Calm down,” she told him, hiding the alarm in her voice. “Breathe slowly, in and out, in and out.” His face was pale under his freckles and his chest rattled when he inhaled and exhaled.
“The school is going to want more testing before they are going to let you go back,” she said steadily.
“They kicked me out of school?” he asked.
“No, no,” she said quickly. “Just a few days off. There’s nothing wrong with you. Like snow days. You can play in the yard and we can go to the park.”
“I wasn’t mad at her! I was just helping her up!”
“Strong emotions seem to do it,” his mother blurted out. She had never told him her theory. “Even,” she said. “Calm. Neither happy or sad.” She took her eyes off the road and looked at him. His face was red, squeezed in on itself.
“I’m a freak!” he yelled. He kicked the dashboard under the glove box and his foot went through it. The window beside him crazed. The radio squealed and died. He slapped his hands against the dash in frustration.
“Calm down!” his mother said. But it was too late. The engine made a noise like it was being torn in half and the car rolled to a stop.
“We’re going to keep him here until we can decide where to send him,” his father said over his mother’s sobbing.
“What about school?” his mother wailed.
“We’ll homeschool him for now,” his father said.
“What about his friends?” his mother asked.
“You know he doesn’t have any friends,” his father said. There was no cruelty in his voice; he was just stating a fact.
His mother cried harder.
“And keep him away from that new car!”
The boy that breaks everything walked away from the garage door and went upstairs to his bedroom. He walked softly up every step and closed his bedroom door with a gentle click. He sat down carefully on the mattress on the floor and stared up at the crack in the ceiling of his roof. He breathed, anxiety knotting up in him. “Neither happy or sad,” he whispered. “Neither happy or sad.” He heard the garage door open beneath him and the new car squeal out of the driveway. In the pregnant quiet of the house, he heard his mother coming up the stairs.
“Sweetie?” she said at his door. “Are you doing OK?” She checked on him like this dozens of times a day.
“Yes, Momma,” he said.
“There’s a… spoon in the recycling bin.”
“I didn’t mean to, Momma.”
“I know, sweetie. I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
“I love you,” she said, but couldn’t keep the sadness out of her voice.
“I love you too, Momma.”
He traced the cracks with his eyes and concentrated on breathing until he heard a car door close. His father was back. He got up carefully from the mattress and went to his window. His father was circling the new car, bending down to read the tires, opening the trunk and closing it, opening each door and the hood in turn.
“I love you, Daddy,” he said to the closed window. He watched until his father finally came inside.
“Neither happy or sad,” he whispered. He opened his bedroom door quietly and tiptoed past his sister’s room and down the stairs. His mother and father were talking quietly in the living room. He went to the front door and unlocked it.
“Neither happy or sad,” he said under his breath.
He opened the front door and screen door just enough to slide outside. He held onto the screen door as it closed and let it rest on the strike plate rather than click closed. He walked carefully across the porch and onto the driveway.
“Neither happy or sad,” he said with every step. The sun was hot on his face and hands. He needed to pee. And keep him away from that new car! his father’s voice kept saying in his mind. “Neither happy or sad, neither happy or sad,” the boy began to chant.
He reached out and touched the handle of the car door. Nothing happened. He opened the door. It didn’t fall off, the paint didn’t flake to dust, the hinges didn’t even squeak.
“Neither happy or sad,” said one final time and slid into the driver’s seat. Nothing. He reached out to touch the steering wheel. Nothing. He grinned and bounced in the seat a little. Nothing, still nothing.
He felt a little runnel of fear in his chest when he realized his parents were watching him. His mother was holding on to his father and they were both smiling.
“Momma!’ he shouted, jumping out of the car. “It didn’t break, I didn’t break it.” He took off running toward her. Every step the boy took shattered the concrete under his feet.
“No!’ his father screamed.
“Momma!” he shouted again, the pure joy of a child that had pleased a parent.
The boy that broke everything ran straight into her open arms.