Three years ago today, Buddy Yorke McFaull — a cherubic-faced terror, forever on the hunt for adventure, perennially in motion, thundering and charging round the gaff like a barrel-chested tiny Godzilla — said what would be deemed, on the grounds of technicality*, his first word.
*(let the record show, he did, at 18 months exclaim ‘Daddy’. It was admittedly delivered with a feint whiff of sarcasm as I changed his nappy. The poor bastard probably caught the scent of my whiskey-soaked-breath masking his rancid turd. It could be why he never uttered another word for so long. Who can say?)
He was, as I recall, sitting in his high chair like some ruddy-cheeked king awaiting the latest gout-inducing feast. There was a banging of spoon. A jabbering of nonsense (probably baby profanity) and that curious noise he would make whilst sitting in his crusty, mighty disgusting throne of squished foods and broken dreams. Not quite a grunt, not entirely an excited gargle. The sound a mute toddler would make if seeking to convey 1) extreme displeasure at the waiting-on service round these parts and 2) excitement at the incoming specials of the day.
“Apple. Apple”, said the King. His subjects were initially dumbfounded. Was there an apple in sight? A scan of the room suggested no. There were no apples.
But the excitement was soon felt as we giddily erupted with helium-pitched joy.
“Apple? Such a clever boy!”
“Apple! Apple!”, said the clever boy. He was very proud of himself. Who wouldn’t be? The kid not only learnt the finer workings of speech but he clearly had a gift. He could see phantom ghost apples like Haley Joel Osment! Incredible. What a talent. Apple! Fuck Yes! All the apples my son! Delicious, invisible apples for all!
“Apple! Apple! Apple!”
Oh! It was truly a giddy thrill. The village priest was called at once — “The exorcism is off, Father”; the town crier was summoned — “Like I just fucking said: Apples, apples for all! What? We’ve been over this many many times. It’s really quite simple. Can I see your crier credentials?”; and a 6 year sponsorship deal with Magners was looking ever more lucrative — “Magners? We did it. Oh yes. You’re welcome! I know! We always believed. The Apple Boy hath spoken! Like the prophecy foretold! Anyway, call me back when you get this message”.
Yes, what a time to be alive. But ultimately, the day descended rather sharply. Listen, I’m going to be honest. I was looking for the kid to build on apple. Use it as a foundation.
I love apples.
Mo’ apples mo’ problems.
Bloody apples hey lads? Tasty nectar of the God’s am I right? But one has to work for an apple. You’ve gotta chew that fucker right down. Get your cow on and moo the hell outta it. Apples? Ha. A grafter’s paradise.
But alas, none of these quite brilliantly realistic depictions were to be. The kid just kept saying…well, apple. There were no fucking apples! None! It’s quite deranged. The emotion within the room changed sharply from thrilling to bewildering and, in no time at all, to deep terror. Imagine anyone just uttering the word ‘apple’ on a maddening loop for hours in a place bereft of apples. It’s bloody certifiable.
Anyway, the eyes of Buddy started to widen as his parents egged him on and on, ever more desperately, seeking more — far more than merely apples. There was slight fear beneath those simmering baby blues and a retreat ensued. For a time, there was a equilibrium in the cosmos where no apples even existed. We decided, as responsible parents, to stop interrogating him Guantanamo style.
“Tell us about the apples wise guy. What the fuck do you know about ’em, huh?”
I don’t know if we were in denial at that point or so consumed with warming relief at the spouting of a word — any word — or maybe a crazed mixture of the two, but what I remember is a despondency that followed relief.
I just felt in my bones that Buddy was a bit different. The thought rattled and raced through me.
We sang Happy Birthday and his older brother, Hunter, tried to convey the significance of this special day. Buddy was overwhelmed. He looked shaken and afraid. The Facebook photos and family albums worked their editing magic of course and happy familial bliss was conveyed. Inwardly, in the real world, were two terrified parents and a displaced boy, seeking the soothing comforts of welcoming normalcy.
Fast forward to three years on, and I write this in the wee hours of Buddy’s 5th birthday. There are sentences now. Fleshed out, inquisitive and brimming with that same eagerness of experience. He is incessantly demanding. Particularly of his Mother.
“Mummy? Where you been? Have you had a poo”. he will say, hilariously, as she vacates a room in which he resides. I bask in the warm glow of his voice — a sweet and giddy squeak of purity — and scarcely believe what I’m hearing: this character now possesses a voice. It is a feeling that now has made way for mundane normality. Each day he astounds us with new words, the past travails are forgotten.
But it is also, rather like the process of watching your children grow, utterly surreal and otherworldly. The kid has overcome so much. And now he spends his days interrogating his Mother’s bowel movements like an Inspector of Shit. It’s amazing.
He has strange habits. Insistent on beeping the car horn, like a junkie in need of one more fix, there are regular battles as to where is appropriate for such honking.
“Daddy? I do one beep?”, he says as we approach a rush-hour Quarterbridge.
“No Budster, maybe later”
“Mmmm”, he ponders. “Maybe another day. I do a beep?”
“Yes Bud, another day”, I sigh.
I catch sight of him in the rear-view-mirror. He needs that beep but he will have to wait.
Bud is also a big fan of blowing raspberries on us. Particularly his long-suffering mother. Nothing pleases him more than to whip up Lisa’s top, press his eager lips to her belly and blow like a dolphin in distress as she waits in the Shoprite queue.
“No, Buddy. Only at home”, she pleads in vain.
“Mummy did a massive trump!”, shrieks the excitable boy with a voice.
That character. Everyone who ever met Buddy spotted it. The way he would charge into a soft play area like an upstart mafia don eager to make a name for himself, maybe kill a few weaklings, and leave an indelible impression on Don Buddyleone. He was mute in voice but louder than Sunday bells in personality. Fearless. Hyped. Alive. And quite mad.
My brother-in-law summed him up simply and perfectly: “Buddy just loves life”.
Good god, the boy loves life. And now he can speak? He’s a menace with words. It’s a weapon of mass destruction placed in tiny hands.
The sweetest, most innocent boy cocooned in his own bubble of wonderment. Where the outdoors call to him. Where other kids — known or strangers — become “my friends” and where he rallies against his own need for control, order, routine and normality.
I aspire to be like Buddy Yorke McFaull. His world is one that floods him with waves of anxiety, troubles with the great unsettling unknowns. But the lad is relentlessly optimistic. He sees opportunity and wonder in the simplest of things.
“Look Daddy! It’s a leaf!”
It bloody is, son. It’s an absolute leaf. Rock on Budster. Happy birthday. Apple, apple.