Henry used to compose his drawings out in the open at our dining room table. He filled notebook after marble composition notebook- pilfered from the stacks I purchased in bulk at the beginning of the school year- with his sketches. Eventually, he graduated to single subject spiral notebooks. I proffered many times to purchase a true artist's sketch book for him. But, he declined. For a child who abhorred those notebooks for school writing because he had trouble staying within the lines and grids, he seemed to find great comfort in defying the confines of the page with his designs. It was almost a "f#@% you" to the academic world- who, at the time, punished him for not being neater in his chirography.
His lines were simple; yet, the stories he illustrated- fantasy scenes freely spilling forth from an active imagination- were epic. They were not masterpieces by any means; but, he had mastered a style that mirrored his personality- always to the point and always black and white. I valued that immensely. I loved that my boy loved to draw. I thought that we could bond over this creative outlet. I offered many times to sit with him and show him how to shade and add dimension to his characters. But, he was reticent. He humored me on a handful of occasions. And I could see in school projects, by his careful observance of shading, that he had taken a little something away from our lessons. I thought I was helping to cultivate his talent, his style. I saw potential for wonderful things- a talent for story telling in its most primitive form. In hindsight, I understand this was a mistake. He interpreted my gesture as a suggestion that his work was not good enough- that it needed improvement. He was not drawing to reach a potential. He was merely drawing for pleasure. But, I did not recognize this then.
Over time he became more guarded of his work- less willing to share. His quiet nature seemed to become more brooding when he was drawing. As he became further haunched over his notebook when I walked in the room, I worried that he was hiding a secret message on the paper, an abstract rendering of a struggle with inner torment. Or, I thought, he was scheming in some way. It is always the quiet ones who wire the family home with explosives and stand across the street to watch as it's blown to ashes- all because of some secret anguish. I asked if he would share his work with me and I was met with a brusque, "No." When I asked Why not?, he would reply, "Because they are mine and I don't want to share them."
When it reached the point where he was actively hiding his work and stealing off to his room late at night to draw, I became more worried and demanded that he show me his notebook. He was so young. If there was something that was bothering him- that he could not express verbally, I thought I might be able to help him through it. He refused and I wrestled the notebook from his hands as he protested wildly. It was a fatal move on my part- for our relationship. As I leafed through the pages, I was simultaneously flooded with relief and guilt. Robots, dragons, spaceships, a landscape of rocks and shrubs, unique and jagged creatures. Perhaps they represented more. But, he was only 9 years old. I apologized profusely, sincerely. I tried to explain that I had been concerned. That I did not want to miss any signs- any quiet warning cry for help. But, I had cracked his trust in me. Needless to say, he shunned me. And, placed the ban on me.
I have honestly, truthfully, faithfully kept my word and I have kept out of his notebooks. His notebooks are his journals. His release. His escape. His world where no one- even someone with the greatest understanding of his learning challenges (the ocular motor dysfunction, the struggle with written expression)- will tell him how he must do something or how he might do it better. If I kept a personal, sacred diary and shared my entries with someone I trusted, I certainly would not expect them to correct my grammar or give me pointers on how to improve my writing. I am certain there are times when the notebook is a way to deal with us- his parents, the authorities. If, much further down the road, he saw it fit to open his notebooks to me, I wouldn't be surprised if I found an illustration that looked something like this:
|That is me, tied up, by the way.|