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Chapter 14. Little Harry gets his mask...

    We reached our destination just in time, and I parked our car.
Little Harry jumped out, and headed directly for Peter's shop; followed by us at a short distance. He opened the door, and politely let John and me enter the shop first, before going in himself. Next, we looked around, but the store seemed to be empty...
Little Harry's sudden disappointment was palpable, and he almost started to cry.
    Then, a familiar voice sounded from the workroom in the back of the store:

    "Just a minute, please. Have a seat, and I'll be right there!"

    All at once, the sun returned into little Harry's eyes, and he started to smile again. We sat down, and waited patiently for Peter to show up.
Two minutes later, Peter entered the shop, on the way drying his hands with a towel:

    "Hello, my friends, it's nice to see you again. Sorry you had to wait."

    He threw his towel somewhere into a corner, where it found its place on a chair.
Next, he walked to another corner, took a key out of his pocket, and opened a small cabinet. He took a green model from a shelf, and carefully placed it onto the table, directly in front of us.  In amazement, we looked at a green copy of little Harry's head, without any hair, its face covered with a flesh-colored substance with openings for the mouth, nostrils, and eyes...
Little Harry bent forward and stared at the model, holding his breath. Tentatively, he brought a hand towards it, and carefully touched its nose with one finger...
    Immediately, he pulled his hand back, nervously chuckling:

    "Is that ME? I am REALLY a 'green alien'..."

    Again, he touched the soft rubbery substance that covered the green model:

    "This is creepy! It feels as if I am touching a real face."

     Of course, all of us had to feel the amazing softness of the rubber mask that would cover little Harry's face. It really felt like normal flesh, and the mask seemed to come to life when you pushed your finger into it.

    Peter smiled, waiting patiently until we recovered from our amazement.
Then, he took a stool and sat down next to little Harry.

    Slowly, he demonstrated how his little client had to remove his mask from the model without tearing it. Next, little Harry had to put it back onto the model, and remove it again, so that Peter was sure he knew how to handle the mask with care.

    Together, they went to a large mirror, and Peter showed little Harry how to put the mask onto his face. At first, little Harry was a bit giggly, and he told Peter that the edges tickled his lips. Then, he became more serious. He looked at his new face in the mirror, and indicated something about the nose.
Peter got his equipment from a drawer, took the mask off, and carefully made a few adjustments. He handed the mask to little Harry, who put it back onto his face with a bit of help from Peter. The lips were still tickling; and, again, Peter made a few small modifications. Now, both Peter and little Harry were satisfied with the result.

    Peter rose from his stool, took a big brownish bottle from a shelf, and opened it.
Its cap held a brush, and Peter showed little Harry how to coat the inside of his mask with the sticky rubbery substance from the bottle. Next, he showed little Harry how to handle the sticky mask and carefully glue it onto his face.
    Slowly, little Harry turned around, to let us have a look...

    John and I were stunned! Suddenly, we saw a normal looking eight-year-old boy; with a cheerful pug nose, slightly stuffed cheeks, and full lips showing a broad smile. It was a miracle! Nobody would recognize the 'freaky alien' little Harry had been before. Peter had done a marvelous job.
Peter had tears in his eyes, and furtively wiped them away with a tissue.
    He put the tissue back into his pocket, and turned towards little Harry:

    "Please, don't wear your mask for more than four hours at a time, because its inside will become sweaty, and your skin might become swollen or inflamed. If that ever happens, don't hesitate to visit your family doctor and ask him for some ointment. He will know exactly what to do about it. Always clean your mask with water and liquid soap, after you've worn it; and, please, put it back onto the model when it's not in use, to keep its shape. This mask will last for about three months, because you are a young boy and growing fast. Then, you will have to come back for a new one."

    Little Harry threw his arms around Peter's neck, nearly suffocating him:

    "Thank you, Peter, thank you very much! Finally, I can go to a normal school, just like all my friends."

    He stormed towards me, climbed onto my lap, and threw his arms around my neck:

    "Thank you, Dad, for buying me my new mask. You are the best Dad in the world!"

    He kissed my cheek... and froze, with a shocked expression in his eyes. Slowly, he touched his masked lips with his fingers, winced, and touched the lips again...

    Then, he started to cry, still touching his lips:

   "I can't feel my lips any more, Dad. I think they are gone..."

    He turned towards Peter, looking at him with desperate eyes...
Peter tenderly lifted my crying son off my lap, and carried him back to the mirror. He sat him down, and told his little client to have another look at the mask.
    Softly touching the masked lips with his finger, he told little Harry:

    "You will have to get used to your mask, because it also fits around your lips. Your lips are still there, but now they are hidden behind the rubber. Within a few days, the mask will feel more natural, and you will learn to cope with its restrictions."

    Little Harry looked a bit ashamed, and again carefully studied his new face:

    "Oh yeah, now I see why I can't feel them any more. Well, I think I overreacted a bit. Sorry for my panic..."

    "That is okay. You are not the first one who panics after wearing a mask for the first time. Sometimes, even broad-shouldered grown-ups start crying..."

    A smile appeared on little Harry's face, and his built-in sun started to shine again. He left the mirror, climbed back onto my lap, and offered me another big kiss.
    Peter smiled at us... and then asked me a bit hesitantly:

    "Sir, may I ask you a private question, please?

    "Yes, of course you may. What do you have in mind?"

    "Yesterday, I took the liberty to talk about your son; to a friend who happens to live near a clinic that specializes in severe burns. During the last few months, this clinic has achieved astonishing results with skin cultures and transplantations. The only thing is, they are very expensive..."

    Suddenly, I understood what Jack meant, when he told me: 'Spend everything you have on him.' And, what Christian meant with: 'Your question will be answered within two days.' Now, I knew exactly what I had to do to help my little soul mate!
    I started to smile, feeling very happy, and told Peter:

    "Thank you very much, Peter, for caring for my son. Do you know their address? I will be happy to contact them; and, of course, I will let you know about the results."

    Peter smiled happily, and handed me a business card with the address already written on it! I thanked him abundantly, put the card away in my wallet, and paid him for the marvelous work he had done with little Harry's mask.

    Peter packed the green model and two huge brown bottles into a cardboard box, and handed the package to little Harry. Of course, John offered to help his brother carry the heavy box, but little Harry politely refused.
This was HIS model, and he wanted to carry it all by himself...

Everyone hugged; and little Harry even kissed Peter, without bothering about his covered lips. Peter turned a deep red, and hesitantly returned the kiss onto little Harry's forehead. After another goodbye and well-meant thank-you, we went to our car. Little Harry dragged his heavy cardboard box across the sidewalk, and only reluctantly allowed me to help him put it into the trunk. We got in, buckled up, and drove off; this time heading for a big mall, to look for a nice computer desk for my son.

    John couldn't keep his eyes off his little brother. Our new boy sat glued to the window, looking outside with beaming eyes. All the time, he smiled broadly, trying to wave at every living soul we passed. Now and then, somebody hesitantly waved back; and then, he was almost delirious.
    Jumping up and down from enthusiasm, he shouted:

    "Dad, did you see that? That woman saw my new face, and she waved back at me!"

   Finally, we arrived at the huge mall, again with the help of John's guidance.
I parked our car in the big parking lot, and little Harry immediately jumped out and rushed to the sidewalk. Excitedly, he started to look around, again smiling at everybody who happened to look in his direction...

    Unfortunately, for our overenthusiastic boy, nobody paid him any attention. All they saw was a small boy with a huge smile on his face, happy to be allowed to visit the mall. They smiled inwardly, and resumed whatever they were doing...
This time, nobody looked shocked or pointed at his burns, and nobody laughed at him or ridiculed him. At the same time, nobody noticed his beautiful new mask and complimented him with his new face...

    Slowly, little Harry started to look more and more disappointed. He lowered his head, and his enthusiastic smile faded away. Obviously, he already missed all the surprised looks and comments he was so used to.
He returned to John and me, and silently put his small hand into mine. John took his other hand; and, walking together, we entered the crowded mall.
Little Harry stared at his feet, and his joyful spirit seemed to have left him.

    Inside the mall, I went to a security officer and asked him where the 'computer desks' were. The man smiled professionally, and politely pointed me to the second floor and the furniture department. Little Harry looked up at him, and stared in awe at the man's decorated uniform with several shining insignia. Desperately, he tried to get the officer's attention, by smiling, coughing, and even bumping into him...
However, the man didn't notice him, and just walked away. Looking disappointed, our little friend turned around and sauntered to the ascending escalator.

    We followed him upstairs and headed for the furniture department, with little Harry leading the way. Again, he smiled at every living soul he passed, trying to make eye contact; but nobody reacted. Again, he looked disappointed...
Suddenly, a sordid looking man with a pimpled face smiled back at him. The man stepped forward, licked his lips, and demonstratively brought his hand to his crotch.
At the same moment, John stomped towards the man and balled his fists!

I grabbed his arm and pulled him back, because I didn't want us to be in a fight. The man wouldn't be able to harm little Harry, being here in the relative safety of the shop...
Fortunately, little Harry already put his new pug nose high into the air, and ignored the man totally. John relaxed with a sigh of relief, unclenched his fists, and smiled at me apologetically. He certainly cared a lot for his little brother!

    Now, little Harry seemed to give up his efforts. He sighed, lowered his head, and slowly sauntered to the computer desks. There, he started to look each desk over; walking from desk to desk, and carefully studying them one by one.
    John pulled at my arm with a look of bewilderment on his face, and whispered:

    "Why does Harry behave so strange? Isn't he happy with his new mask?"

    "Well. I think he misses all the attention he always got. He is so used to all the looks. and, suddenly, nobody is interested in him any more."

    John shook his head in disbelief, and stared at his little brother:

    "That's weird! Two long years he waited for this moment, and now he isn't happy?"

    In silence, we waited for little Harry to make his choice. He looked at all the desks, opened the various cabinets, and tried out all the drawers...
Finally, he came up to us, pointed to one of the desks, and told me:

   "This one, Dad. This is the desk I like most."

    His inside sun started to shine again, and he seemed to be happy with his choice.
We followed him to a dark wooden desk with a lot of drawers and cabinets; and, of course, a sliding keyboard shelf in the middle. The desk looked really nice.
A smiling sales clerk came up to us, politely asking if we had decided to buy something. Little Harry smiled back at him, and enthusiastically told him which desk he wanted to buy. The nice clerk wrote out a slip for the stockroom, and handed it to our happy looking boy. Next, he told us where we could collect the unassembled desk in three separate packages.

We went downstairs, and headed for the huge stockroom at the backside of the building. With a proud face, little Harry handed the receptionist his slip, looking up at him expectantly... However, the man took it without even looking at our little friend, and started to type some data into a computer.
I paid him with my credit card, and we stepped back and waited...
    After a few minutes, an electric transporter appeared from a sliding door, carrying three enormous packages. A man unloaded them from the transporter, piled them on the floor, and disappeared... What should we do now? Would we be able to carry them to our car on our own, maybe one by one?
Fortunately, John had already seen that the shop also had a few small carts. Little Harry unlocked one of them with a coin, and wheeled it towards us. Working together, we piled our heavy packages onto the cart, one by one. Next, we pushed the now very heavy cart to our car in the parking lot.

    I unlocked the car doors, opened the trunk, and John and I lifted the first package from the pile. Alas! It turned out to be way too big to fit into our small trunk.
What should we do now? After some thinking, John came up with a clever solution. He raced back to the mall, and fetched a couple of ropes from the stockroom.
Again working together, we piled the packages onto the roof of our car, and carefully tied them with the ropes! Little Harry wheeled the cart back to the stockroom, while we waited until he returned. Suddenly, I got an excellent idea, and asked John:

    "Wouldn't it be nice for you to have your own desk in your room?"

    John looked back at me with so much love in his eyes that I nearly melted away. I even got tears in my eyes, and choked up. At that moment, little Harry returned with the coin, and handed it back to me. Then, he sensed something, and looked at us with a questioning face... John turned towards little Harry, and asked him:

    "What do YOU think, Harry? Dad wants to buy me my own desk, but I will probably only stay with you for a short time."

    "What do I think? I think you are afraid that I will be jealous! But, I already got my mask as a present, remember? And, I think Dad has an excellent idea. Of course, you need your own desk, because you will soon have to do your homework with us."

    "That means I will stay with you even after school starts. How can you be so sure?"

    "I don't know. But, you will see that I am right!"

    "Well. I HOPE so! Okay, Dad. This time, I will kindly yield to your pressure, and humbly oblige."

    I laughed at his funny dignified use of words, and playfully ruffled his hair.
Again, I felt blessed to have this clever and inventive young friend at my side. Walking hand in hand, little Harry in our middle, we returned to the mall and went upstairs to the desk department.
John and little Harry examined the various desks, carefully deliberating all the pros and cons. Now and then, John asked a question, and little Harry answered him. He had seen all the desks before; and knew why he had chosen his new one.

    Finally, John decided to choose the same nice looking dark wooden desk that little Harry had chosen. He looked at little Harry with respect in his eyes:

    "Wow, little brother, you have a very good eye for details. Thank you for your valuable help and advice."

    Little Harry beamed. He put his small arms around John's waist, and held him close for a moment. Next, both of them started to look around for the sales clerk.
    The clerk saw them and hasted up to us, looking very surprised:

    "Do you want to exchange your desk for another one, or do you want a refund?"

    "Well, none of that; but I want to buy a second desk for my oldest son."

    The smiling clerk wrote another slip; and handed it to John with a bow, telling him:

    "I think you have a Dad to be very proud of!"

    Both boys beamed. Walking shoulder to shoulder, they went down the escalator and back to the stockroom, closely followed by me.
Again, we piled three more heavy packages onto a cart, and wheeled them to our car. We untied the ropes, added the new packages, and carefully tied all six of them together. Our old car started to groan from the heavy load, but didn't collapse.
Little Harry brought the second cart back; and we got in and buckled up. We went home, driving slowly and carefully because of our heavy load.

    On our way home, the boys noticed a small drive-in restaurant, and we decided to stop for a rest and a drink. I parked our car, and all of us went out and headed for the entrance. Again, little Harry walked upfront, looking around and proudly smiling at every living soul he saw... This time, a few visitors smiled back at him, and our surprised friend almost started to dance with happiness:

    "Did you see that, Dad? They SMILED at my new face!"

    We found a free table along a window, and I ordered coffee and colas.
Little Harry couldn't sit still for a moment. He looked around, waving at everybody who happened to look in our direction... Again, nobody reacted at his desperate efforts to get at least some attention. Slowly, his face started to cloud again, and the lights in his eyes went out. He slumped down onto his chair and started to pout...
    Suddenly, John punched his shoulder and hissed:

    "Why are you behaving so disappointed and unappreciative? You are making me angry. Do you REALLY need all the attention? Then, peel your mask off, and let them look at your burnt face again!"

    He turned away from little Harry, and demonstratively looked out of the window...
    Little Harry looked at his big brother with a shocked face. He tried to formulate an answer, but choked up... He stared at the ground; wiggling his toes and getting tears in his eyes... After a minute, he rose from his seat and slowly left the restaurant.
    John tried to follow his little brother, but I stopped him:

    "No, John, let him go. You did the right thing, and don't feel guilty. He has to sort this out for himself. Now, he needs his personal space, to get some more insight. He will come back when he is ready. Of course, we will keep a close eye on him, because he is only eight years old, but from a distance. Okay?"

    John nodded, and we moved our chairs so that we could look outside.
Little Harry slowly crossed the terrace and slumped down at the edge of a small pond, with his back against a tree. He stared at the quacking ducks for a long time, supporting his head with his hands. Now and then, he kicked small pebbles to the ducks, who thought it could be food and tried to catch them. Tears dripped from his eyes onto his hands. He wiped them away with his shirt; and kicked the next pebble, careful not to hit the ducks.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, his posture started to change, and he lifted his head from his hands. He sat more upright, and I could clearly sense his increasing inner power. Even his aura of Royalty returned, and his built-in sun started to shine again.
Now, my initial doubts vanished, and I was sure I had done the right thing.

    Finally, after some more thinking, little Harry left the tree and sauntered back to the restaurant. He returned to our table, took a chair, and sat down without looking at us. After a moment of silence, he took his glass of cola, and started to sip it. Slowly, he emptied the glass, until he suddenly burped and reacted a bit shocked. Still without looking at us, he put his glass onto the table, left his chair, and crawled onto my lap...
I put my arms around his small frame and held him close, still without saying a word... As a therapist, I knew that I had to let him decide for himself where and when he would open up. Clearly, I felt his little heart under his ribs, shuddering and forcefully pumping in distress. Then, my boy started to sob...
Now, it was time to have a talk. I worked my handkerchief out of my pocket, and handed it to him. He looked up at me, took it, and started to blow his nose.
    I kissed his small head, and asked his blond hair:

    "Do you understand now?"

    He nodded vigorously, and tried to disappear into my chest.
I looked at what John was doing, and he looked back at me with tears in his eyes. Fortunately, he seemed to understand what was happening, and wouldn't intervene...
After some time, little Harry released his death grip and straightened his small back. He wiped his eyes with my handkerchief, blew his nose in it, and suddenly turned towards John with a shy smile...

    Displaying a surprising maturity for such a small boy, he told John:

    "Sorry, John, for being such an ass. You were right, and I WAS selfish! It sounds stupid, but I really missed all the attention. Wow, you saw straight through me."

    I nodded at John, and he rose from his chair and tenderly embraced his little brother. Both of them started to sob, holding on to each other with all their might. Feeling grateful, I held both boys in my arms for as long as they needed me, oblivious to the rest of the restaurant.

    After a while, little Harry stopped his sobbing and disentangled from John and me. He slid down onto the floor, and went looking for a bathroom; of course, immediately followed by his worried brother! Both of them disappeared around a corner, while I called the waiter and paid him with my credit card.
Both boys returned to our table, now having clean faces and beaming eyes.
Little Harry handed me my dripping wet handkerchief, grinning and showing a naughty smile on his face. I tried to look angry, but didn't succeed very well. Laughing at his antics, I took the dripping thing in my hand and tried to slap him with it. He was too fast and dived away, hiding behind a chuckling John who caught the trickles.

    Frolicking and teasing each other, we went to our car. I went in, and spread the wet thing out onto the dashboard, to let it dry. All of us buckled up, I started the engine, and we went home, driving slowly and carefully with our heavy load on the roof.
Suddenly, I felt two hands around my neck, and a mouth tenderly kissed my head. Little Harry had unbuckled and stepped forward, and now he leaned against my seat.
    With a muffled voice, he told me:

    "Sorry, Dad, for being such a nuisance."

    "Why do you think you would be a nuisance? You had an important insight and learned a valuable lesson; and there is nothing wrong with that. I am sure you will never make the same mistake again, and you displayed an astonishing maturity. Today, I am PROUD of you!"

    "Really? Thank you, Dad; for making me feel better. I love you very, very much!"

    Little Harry was back on earth. We had our beaming boy back. He even seemed to have grown at least an inch today. He sat more upright, and he looked around with more pride in his eyes and with less dependency in his demeanor.
With a big smile, he clambered across the front seats. He took the empty seat next to me, buckled up, and scanned the stereo for some nice background music. Soon, he started to hum along with the songs, immediately joined by John and me.
    After some time, he turned towards me and asked:

    "Will you phone Peter's 'face clinic' today, Dad? I hope they can help me. I love my mask, but it itches now, and it feels sweaty. As soon as we get home, I want to scratch my face and wash it with buckets of water!"

    "What about Harry's pending hospital appointment?" John asked me,
"I think he has to go there in a few days, to have his next surgery."

    "Well, let's phone the clinic first, and listen to what they have to say..."

    Again, we hummed along with the music, until our street showed up. I turned the car into our driveway and switched the engine off, enjoying the sudden silence.
    Little Harry tried to scratch behind his mask, moaning and writhing around:

    "It's really itchy now! I will be happy to peel it off and wash my face."

    He snatched the keys out of my hand, and left our car in a hurry. He raced to the front door, unlocked it at lightning speed, and bolted inside.
John and I followed our little friend inside at a bit slower pace. From the kitchen, we heard our desperate boy moan and pant. He saw us, and raced up to me:

    "Please, help me, Dad! It's too sticky, and I am afraid I'll tear the edges..."

    Carefully, I helped him peel his sticky mask off. With a sigh of relief, he jumped towards the water tap, turned it on, and put his head under the forceful stream.

    "Nnnggg. That feels better!" he murmured, spluttering and gasping, scratching his face and splashing it with even more water.
Next, he dried his face with the kitchen towel, heaving deep sighs of relief. He filled a bowl with warm water, added some soap, and started to painstakingly clean his mask with his fingers and an old toothbrush.
In the meantime, John had fetched the cardboard box and my wet handkerchief out of our car. He took the green model and the bottles out of the box, and put them onto the kitchen table.

    Little Harry took the kitchen towel, and carefully dried his mask. Looking thankful at John, he draped the mask around his green model, to keep it in shape as Peter had told him. He took the model to the living room, and put it onto a corner of the dresser, in plain sight. Suddenly, he chuckled:

    "Look, folks, this is ME, the freshly cleaned 'green alien'."

    John looked from the mask to his little brother, and grinned:

    "That sounds like the catchy title of a creepy film."



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Harry AnderS, Dutch psychotherapist and writer of 'books with a message'