“Hyper–or hypo–reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment.”
Jude has to take his fingers out of his ears to grab the small blue rectangle from his nightstand. It feels smooth between his thumb and index finger. Turning it clockwise over and over helps him focus on something different. He pulls the white headphones from his pants pocket, plugs it into the tiny hole at the base of the blue rectangle, nuzzles the left earbud into his left ear, then the right into his right. Jude hits the play button hard with his thumb. He runs down the beige carpet stairs, rushes out the front door, and starts walking north east.
Jude likes how Paul, George, and Ringo shout “Help!” It makes his ears feel calmer.
Music makes Jude feel good. Jude likes how the right song can have the right words to explain how he feels inside his brain without Jude saying any words himself. The Beatles have a lot of the right songs for Jude.
Mom likes Paul the best. Dad likes George. Henry likes Ringo. Jude doesn’t have a favorite.
Jude follows the sidewalk. He is walking fast even though he doesn’t have any place to be. He does have some place he doesn’t want to be. At least until it stops.
The blue iPod was a birthday present from Mom and Dad last year. Jude remembers smiling while he slid it to the left side of the present table. It was definitely a “yes” present. Jude got to choose all the songs to put on it. These are those songs:
“All You Need Is Love”
“In My Life”
“The Long and Winding Road”
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Let It Be”
These are Jude’s favorites. Jude thinks they are all very good. “Hey Jude” is in there three times on purpose. He asked Dad to buy the song three times because it is the best one. This way, it will play three times more often than the rest. It makes sense to listen to the best the most.
Jude decides that he will go to the tree. The tree is Jude’s favorite place to go in his neighborhood. It is a weeping willow that is planted in the park at the edge of Jude’s street. It is tall, and skinny. And its branches are bendy and its leaves are just heavy enough to pull them towards the ground. Jude likes to sneak inside the branches. It is the perfect place to be by yourself.
The tree is fourteen houses away from Jude’s. He has passed five houses already. Counting the houses helps Jude to focus on something different. Jude’s feet are walking especially fast. At this rate, he will be at the tree in approximately seven minutes.
Jude is by himself. Sometimes it is not safe to be by yourself. But Jude knows where he is going and he is very good at not talking to strangers and he is staying on the sidewalk. Because of all these things, Jude thinks that this is a safe situation. The sidewalk goes a long way and is twisty in some parts. Just like the road Paul starts to sing about.
Jude especially likes the piano in this song. He pushes the volume-up button until it can’t go any higher. The iPod warns Jude:
‘Listening at a high volume for a long time may damage your hearing. Tap OK to allow the volume to be increased above safe levels.’
Jude taps OK. Jude’s favorite music is the only type of sound that feels nice inside his ears when it’s as loud as possible. The piano and horns and Paul’s voice scream into Jude’s ears. It feels good.
The rain has washed away the wild and windy night by the time Jude can see the willow tree. Jude starts running. He can feel the bottom of his sneakers pound against the concrete. By the time Jude reaches the tree, Paul is singing about the many times he’s been alone. Jude knows what that feels like.
The sun is hot and, from the running, so is Jude. The bendy branches and droopy leaves feel smooth like leather against the back of Jude’s hands. Jude likes to touch them so much that he pulls one off its branch. Just to hold. He then parts the curtain of leaves and enters the shadow under the tree. Jude lays down and stretches his arms and legs on the soft grass. He breathes in the cool air close to the ground. Jude rolls onto his side, with his face looking at the tree. He grabs his knees towards his chest, closes his eyes, and stays in this position for a long time. Jude listens to this song fade out and the new song begin. It is the best song. He lays down on his back, breathes in, and lets Paul sing to him.
Jude thinks about how Mom would sing the Beatles to him when he was little. She is the only person who likes their music more than Jude does. He remembers what it was like to be in his dark bedroom, lying down in his crib when he was a baby. Mom would slip her finger between the bars and let him hold it while she sang “Hey Jude” in a gentle whisper. Focusing on those memories helps Jude forget all the terrible noises in the world. Jude’s body feels calm, happy, and in-control.
Mom thinks “Hey Jude” is the best, too. That’s why Jude has his name. Jude knows that he is not the Jude that the Beatles sing about. But sometimes it feels like he is.
“Are you kidding? I can hear that through your headphones! Turn it down! You’re gonna go deaf!”
It is Mom. She is standing under the tree curtain. She is yelling.
“Give me that!” She is pointing to the blue rectangle. Jude sits up, removes the buds from his ears, and hands it to Mom. She snatches it quickly.
“Look at me, Jude.” She is making a serious face. Jude follows her Instruction. “I told you last time. You cannot leave the house when the smoke detector goes off. It is not a safe way to say how we are feeling. We use our words. What can you say when you hear a bad noise?”
Jude looks at the ground. Mom has asked this question before. He knows the answer. “Stop. That hurts my ears.”
“Yes.” Her voice sounds normal again. “Sometimes the smoke detector goes off. You may not like it, but you gotta learn to live with it.”
Jude uses his words. “It’s really loud. It hurts my ears.”
“I know. But you know it was an accident, right? I didn’t mean to burn dinner.”
Jude knows this, but he doesn’t care. Smoke detectors hurt his ears whether you mean to turn them on or not.
Jude watches Mom look down at the iPod clutched in her hand. Her eyes read the song that Jude was listening to. She makes a Facial Expression that could be sad or happy or sorry. Jude watches Mom twist the white earphones in her fingers. She sits down next to Jude on the ground and hands him the right earbud.
“Here,” she says. Mom puts one in her ear as Jude puts the other in his. She hits play.
They listen to the Beatles sing the last four minutes of Na Na Na, Na-Na-Na-Na, Na-Na-Na-Nas. Mom extends her finger to Jude. He wraps his hand around it. They stay like that until the song fades into perfect silence.
Mom is the first to talk.
“Hey, Jude,” she smiles. “Let’s go. Dad is ordering a pizza.”