Wednesday, July 24, 2013
We’ve all had to cope with frightening or dangerous experiences now and then.
Phoebe didn’t cope well with these situations. Thankfully, she also had a strange condition that caused her to make uncontrollable noises like a car alarm any time she was threatened.
Her parents didn’t understand it, but there wasn’t much they could do about it either. They first noticed it two days after she was born. The hospital did a good job of covering up the fact that a child snatcher had come into the newborn nursery and almost taken Phoebe right out the front door. But given the circumstances, they at least had to tell her parents. The nurse had found Phoebe, all swaddled up like a caterpillar ready for metamorphosis, lying on the floor by the elevator, a horrible, wailing honk emitting from her tiny, rose-shaped mouth. Her face was as red as if she were screaming, but no scream; just that honk.
Phoebe was a quiet baby. She hardly ever squeaked or gurgled or even whined for almost 2 years. When the parents asked Phoebe’s doctor if her silence was a problem, he jokingly said that maybe the snatcher dropping Phoebe on her head in surprise had “knocked the honk out of her.” At the parents’ stony-faced reactions, he cleared his throat uncomfortably and told them that Phoebe would be fine, maybe just a late bloomer.
It soon became clear that the honk hadn’t been knocked out of her at all.
After a grocery store outing, when Phoebe was four, she and her mother were walking to the car when a man rushed by and grabbed her mother’s purse. Her mother held on. Phoebe, watching the scruffy man from the child’s seat in the grocery cart, went red in the face and opened her mouth, as if to start crying, and out came the honk. The noise was so loud that her mother and the thief both let go of the purse in surprise. The thief stumbled backwards and swore. He turned and ran out of the parking lot, staring at the honking Phoebe over his shoulder.
Her parents tried to keep Phoebe away from anything that would bring out the honk. They appreciated its usefulness, but it worried them. They were afraid that if the wrong people heard Phoebe’s honk, they would take her away for experiments or use her for some sort of unorthodox police training. But it wasn’t easy to predict when the honk would be triggered.
Phoebe often went hiking with her father. During one hike, when she was fourteen, Phoebe fell behind and couldn’t see her father anymore. Although her father had taught her exactly what she should do if she ever got lost (in the hopes of avoiding exactly what ended up happening), Phoebe panicked and started honking.
The hiking incident embarrassed the adolescent Phoebe. Her father had only been around a bend in the trail and had found her right away honking with tears streaming down her face as she held her hands over her mouth to try to cover the sound, to no avail. When they got home that night, she asked her parents if she could get her vocal chords removed. They told her no.
Over time, Phoebe learned to embrace her honk (indeed, her parents knew she was beginning to accept it when she started calling it “my honk” instead of an expletive). When she bought herself her first car, she also got a bumper sticker that said, “I brake for tailgaters,” but she crossed off “brake” and wrote “honk.” The more she embraced it, the more she was able to control it. Indeed, there was a time when Phoebe was 26 and she was walking to her car one night. She noticed a man following her in the shadows. She turned around and let out one loud HONK, and the man fled. Phoebe smiled and kept walking.