Excerpt from Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Eye Contact

by Cammie McGovern

Eye Contact
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 304 pages
    Mar 2007, 320 pages

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His wandering eyes flicked to hers.

Oh my God, she thought. His skull has been touched, by many hands probably. Her heart sped up and she feared some kind of internal combustion, death from embarrassment, a heart attack of stupidity.

Later Miss Lattimore told Cara she did a fine job but she was going to assign a boy from now on. “In case Kevin needs any help in the restroom. It’ll be easier this way, less embarrassing to him if he has to ask.” Cara stood beside Miss Lattimore’s desk, in the second and last private audience she would have with this teacher for the rest of the year, and saw, in a flash of the terrifying insight children sometimes have and then shake off, confused by their own capacity for truth, that she was not alone in loving Kevin for inexplicable reasons: his needs, his silence, the bad hand he had to place with the other on top of his desk. Miss Lattimore loved him, too, and thought about him at night, far more than she should. They each believed their version of the truth about Kevin: to Cara, he was fine, or even better than fine—a brush with death had
aged him prematurely and placed an adult in their midst, trapped in-
side a broken child’s body; to Miss Lattimore, he would forever stay the child who climbed on a bicycle and rode for three minutes, his arms
outstretched. Perhaps they both hoped for similar things: to erase injury with ministrations, to find a hole, a vacuum to pour their liquid love into, or maybe it was slightly darker, what Suzette had implied in her annoyance at Cara’s refusal to eat lunch with her all week. “You just want everyone to notice you.”

Suzette had been her best friend for three years now. They’d suffered through seven months of Girl Scouts, had jointly quit when denied their artistic creativity badges because the Shrinky Dinks stained-glass proj-
ect Suzette dreamed up, incorporating bird feathers and aluminum foil pieces, fit no definition of art the leader had read. They had learned to ride bikes together, to swim, to make God’s eye yarn stars they hung above their beds. Suzette knew everything about Cara, and had spoken a certain degree of the truth: Cara did want to be noticed. Against the hard, plain truth of all Kevin’s needs, she saw herself for the first time during those lunches, heard her own voice, felt herself become the person she might one day turn into.

Years down the line, Cara would come to realize she wasn’t wrong about Miss Lattimore, either. She would learn firsthand that there are many responses to a child who has “special needs” (as they weren’t commonly called then but would be soon), that people seem to feel, in equal measure, compassion, disdain, terror, and pity, yet also this—an equation of possibility: Here you have this need. Come, sit beside me. Let me fill it.

Now, at age thirty, Cara sits in the office of her old elementary school, waiting for Margot Tesler, the principal, to return and tell her what’s going on with her son, who has been missing long enough for her to be called down here. Most of the time Cara forgets she went to this school some twenty years ago, that if walls could talk, these corridors could speak to a long history of her failures and successes. It only occurs to her in odd moments: kneeling beside a coat cubby as Adam negotiates his way out of snow pants, she’ll see a heating vent and remember her and Suzette, bored, decorating the slats in tiny ballpoint-pen Hellos, and she’ll lean over to see if coats of beige paint might not have erased evidence of her old, now dead friendship.

Though Cara never came to the principal’s office as a child, she knows this office well now, with its wall-to-wall bookshelves and conference table big enough to accommodate Adam’s yearly education plan review, which sometimes involves eight people hammering out goals, benchmarks, the accommodations necessary as the curriculum grows more demanding with each year. Strangely, Cara has happy associations with being in this room. She isn’t friends with any of these people, but she also isn’t adversarial, as she suspects some parents of special-needs kids are, with a bottomless list of requests and demands. Cara takes the opposite approach, baking cookies for all her meetings, distributing fudge every Christmas, writing elaborate yearly thank-you notes to everyone on staff, because she’s always believed what her mother taught her—that kindness breeds kindness—and if she thanks people, and thanks them again, Adam’s world will be cushioned by a bit of remembered gratitude. So far, Cara would argue, her approach has worked. Even when she walked in here, Shirley, the principal’s secretary, caught her eye and said, “We love Adam, sweetheart, and we’re all going out of our minds. He’ll turn up in a minute.” Cara nodded and mouthed, Thank you.

Excerpt from EYE CONTACT by Cammie McGovern. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from EYE CONTACT Copyright (c) Cammie McGovern, 2006

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