first words

There must be something about sushi that makes conversation flow like sake. Perhaps it’s the way the raw pink fish melts in our mouths like butter, or the way the crunchy seaweed salad with toasted sesame oil lingers on our tongues. Maybe it’s the exquisite, lemony, lavender martini that our bodacious hostess pours into frosty glasses with a citrus wedge. In any case, the conversation with my girlfriend—our first over dinner together—glided smooth like the sweet and savories down our throats.

We snuggled up to the bar and gabbed about work, the recent elementary school epidemic and a tad bit about my former life as an apparel designer. We blabbed about old boyfriends and how she met her husband—you know—the stuff you talk about when you are just getting to know someone in the real sense. The single man sitting next to us offered slices of his seared toro with ponzu sauce, emphatically nudging his square white plate our direction. We happily accepted the delicious ruby morsels using wooden chopsticks, then got right back to our conversation.

“So, how are your boys? What are they up to lately?” I asked. Speaking of her littlest she replied, “he said Mommy,” as her eyes moistened and hazed. Her unbridled joy was tangible and seeing it—feeling it—gave me little bare-armed goosebumps that I smoothed down with my palms. “That’s so great!” and went on to say, “Calvin said ‘Mama’ once when he was about eighteen months old—clear as a bell—then never said it again.” She looked at me solemnly having long since been apprised of Calvin’s neurological deficits explaining his wordlessness. “Now he just says, ‘Uh-uh’, which I am pretty sure means ‘mama,’” I added. She smiled with me.

I went on to tell her how glad I was to see her glee at hearing her son first utter the word, and that I didn’t realize other moms got all misty-eyed about that sort of thing—that her reaction validated my own feelings of longing to hear it from Calvin. Half smiling, she stoically told me of her toddler’s speech delay and that, though he had said “Mommy” several times on Saturday, he hadn’t said it since. Somehow, perhaps because of my immersion in Calvin's global developmental delay, it hadn't occurred to me that her boy probably should've been saying a few words by now.

My heart dropped like a rock into my lap. But somehow I felt confident that he’d be saying it again and again and again, given time. I assured her as much—after all, and for all I know—her son is normal. And I'm an eternal optimist.

Our conversation ensued, went on to other things. We were quite amused by our lovely hostess’ humorous stories describing her twenty-four year old decadence. But all the while my mind kept creeping back to my friend’s little boy—so cute, so soft and pudgy with such a sweet face and impish smile, at times with a look wise as a sage. All I could think was, I hope he says “Mommy” again. I hope. I hope.

photo by Michael Kolster

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