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Chapter 14. Little Harry gets his mask...
We reached our destination just in time, and I parked our car.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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 rose from his stool, took a big brownish bottle from a shelf, and opened it.
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.
"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...
"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.
"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!
"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.
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.
"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.
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...
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.
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...
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...
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...
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.
"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...
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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...
"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.
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...
"Do you understand now?"
He nodded vigorously, and tried to disappear into my chest.
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.
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.
"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.
"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,
"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.
"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.
"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.
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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I wish you lots of Love in your life, and Profound Peace in your heart.
Harry AnderS, Dutch psychotherapist and writer of 'books with a message'