July 14, 2010. Sophie and I walk outside to leave for Peter’s swim lesson yesterday and find him standing on the lawn, catatonic. “What’s wrong, Peter?” Sophie asks, and then repeats the question, her voice crescendoing toward hysteria as the seconds proceed. Peter is standing in his Crocs and bathing suit, leaning slightly from the waist, his arms outstretched like a Marionette as drool spills from his mouth. His beautiful brown eyes are expressionless. “Peter!” I command as I quietly approach. I too am beginning to feel panicked. Has he had a stroke? A seizure? What’s going on? He won’t answer either of us, and Sophie’s on the verge of tears. “Peter!” I repeat. I’m about to have her run and get the telephone so I can call 911 when I see a single tear slip over the lid of one eye. I’m standing immediately in front of him and I reach to pat his cheek. “No don’t,” he manages. The tears are flowing freely now and despite the situation, my panic begins to subside. He is neurologically functioning. Otherwise he would not have responded to my attempt to touch him. “What’s wrong?” I say, taking a step back so that he knows I respect his need to work through this. Five minutes later he is composed and rational enough for me to piece together what happened, which is this: he was swinging and some sort of stinging bug flew into his mouth and bit him on the inside of his lip. Although he sounds and looks like his mouth is paralyzed, or perhaps full of Novacaine, I know that his quirky sensory system is completely overloaded by what would be a traumatic experience for anybody, and which is proving a surreally terrifying one for Peter. Each spring we have to coax him outside because he has an overwhelming fear of bugs. He can’t stand the sight, sound, or the feel of them crawling on his skin. The very thought of one stinging him sends him racing for the nearest door so quickly that the trailing sounds of his screams outlives his actual presence. So what happened on the swing is about the most awful thing his little mind could ever imagine, and he spiraled into a full-blown shut down. Although he won’t let me assess the damage, I know he’s okay once he begins drying his eyes and making other purposeful movements. My instinct is to load him in the car and take him to swimming; otherwise, I fear he’d fixate on the trauma and the rest of the day would be lost for all of us. Luckily, I’m correct. The cold water and the distraction of his lesson allow his sensory system to “forget” about the assault, at least for 30 minutes. I watch as he happily shows off his skills to “Coach” and then climbs out of the water with an easy smile when he’s finished. A round of ice pops for the ride home seals the deal. Or at least so I think. As soon as he finishes his treat, he again begins speaking like someone afflicted with facial paralysis. His lip had been a little fat but the temporary swelling is gone. The problem is that without anything else to occupy his focus, every fiber of his being is hyper-alerted to the injury, which at this point is all but imperceivable. By the time we pull in the garage, however, he can barely navigate his way out of the car. I have to keep calling his name and spurting out directions. “Now open the door.” Then, “Peter, get off the seat. Now climb out. Close the door.” And then finally, after what seems an eternity, “Good boy!” A few years ago I would have been annoyed by such a show of helplessness but now I understand its not a ruse. He’s not putting on a show to gain sympathy, treats or favor. A bee or wasp sting in the mouth to a boy like Peter is akin to being shot with a bow and arrow in a vital organ. It is shocking, painful, and most of all, a memory that is difficult to set aside. At least, that is, until tomorrow, when Peter’s world will be fresh and new, like it is everyday, unburdened by the lessons of the past, but equally crippled by the lost opportunity for wisdom they impart.