“Charlotte… Charlotte?” after several failed attempts at getting the two-year-old’s attention, Erica called to her husband.
“Rich, will you do something about Charlotte? She’s eating dirt again.”
Rich looked up from his book and took a sip of beer. He had been enjoying the last bits of daylight while his wife prepared dinner. Their other daughter was six. She sat reading next to Rich, still covered in husk strings from helping her father shuck the ears of Jersey corn that were now in a giant pot of boiling water over the campfire.
“Charlotte!” Rich said, shouting to get the dirt-covered toddler’s attention, who, sitting not five feet away from her father, did not respond or even look up. She never did. Nor did she ever speak. Despite two ear surgeries attempting to correct the fluid buildup from birth, Charlotte remained completely unresponsive and mute. Instead she sat alone, unconcerned and eating dirt.
“Charlotte!” Rich said again, this time walking over and scooping her into his arms.
“Just sit her over there,” Erica said. “Dinner is almost ready.”
Rich positioned Charlotte in her high chair, shaking the last fistfuls of dirt from her tiny hands before passing her arms through the chair’s straps and securing the clasp. He then turned to help his wife transport the steaming corn and charred hotdogs to their folding card table. Next to the table, Charlotte squirmed in her high chair.
Until this day, the couple had thought their daughter was deaf. But she wasn’t.
Charlotte opened her mouth, and with authority and conviction, she said her first words, “Let me out. I’m stuck.”