The Silent Boy
From the prologue of THE SILENT BOY:
.... By thirteen I already knew that I wanted to be a doctor, too. I read accounts in the news of the war that was raging in Europe, and I could not wrap my mind around the reasons for it or the terrible logistics of battles far away. I listened to my parents talking to their friends, our next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop, as they fretted over their oldest boy, Paul, who was just finishing Princeton then and should have been looking ahead to law school and to joining his father’s firm one day. But Paul was already talking of his yearning to enlist in a war that had not yet, in 1915, begun to take American boys.
But at thirteen, when I read the war news, I thought only of the wounded and how if I were a doctor I could set their bones and heal their burns. I had watched my father do so many times.
I was not yet four when San Francisco toppled in an earthquake and burned. Even so young, I heard talk of it.
At eight, I had heard of the terrible fire in New York, of the factory girls, scores of them, leaping from the windows, their clothes aflame, and dying, burned and mangled, on the sidewalk while people watched in horror. My mother had said, "Shhh" to Father when she saw me listening, but he, seeing that my interest was real and not just a child’s curiosity, spoke to me of it later. Though I was still a child, we talked of the ways in which death comes, and how perhaps, not always, but sometimes, a doctor could push death away, could hold it back, or at the very least make it come easily.
By thirteen, by the time I had the sailor dress of which I was so proud, many of those moments were past. San Francisco had been rebuilt. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire had brought about new laws to protect factory workers.
And on the edge of town, when I was thirteen, stood the stone building called the Asylum. It still stands there today, though newspaper editorials call it the Eyesore in an attempt at wit, and there is talk of tearing it down to make room for a housing development. Its windows are boarded over now, and the grounds are littered with debris. Sometimes, in my growing-up years, when Austin was my beau, we would walk out that way, holding hands. Sometimes I found myself glancing at the ground, wondering if I would spot the gleam and flicker of a cat’s-eye marble dropped by a boy. I wondered, then, as I still do, about the boy who had once given me a kitten and changed my life forever. His name was Jacob Stoltz.
His is the story I mean to write down now.