A Rubik’s Cube saved his life.
Sam was always such a happy boy. Slow to warm up, yes, but a social butterfly once he got going. Everybody loved him. From his teachers to his school friends, to his family. Hell, even the cashiers at our local supermarket loved him.
Such a sunny disposition he had. I even used to call him Sunshine Sammy.
But that was before the gray storm clouds moved in and eclipsed his wide smile, leaving his warm brown eyes cold and dark with despair.
His favourite song was even filled with sunshine, and I would sing it for him each night as I lay in his bed stroking his golden hair and breathing in his little boy smell.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I lo-o-ve you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
“Please momma, just one more time! Then I promise I’ll go to sleep!”
And so, each night, I would sing his song at least three times, until his eyelids closed heavily into a sunny dream. My little boy. How I miss those days of innocence. His - and mine.
It feels like yesterday. But life has a cruel way of lulling you into a false snuggery of warmth.
Sunshine Sam sailed through junior primary school –
“Such a popular boy he is. Gets on so easily with all his peers.”
“My classroom lights up when he walks through the door.”
“Your boy is such a pleasure to teach, always smiling and glowing.”
We kept up our nightly singing tradition as the years passed, and no matter how cold the bitter winter evenings were, or how the wild storms would rage outside, it could not dampen the warmth of our sunshine song and our sunshine world.
But even the warmest summer is eventually swept aside by the biting autumn winds and the chill of approaching winter.
And so it was for my Sunshine Sam.
Senior Primary was not as golden for my boy. Moving to a new school, he followed a different path from his old friends and was faced with a whole new world. Long cold corridors, bigger classrooms, and stricter protocols dragged the slow-to-warm-up boy back to the surface and my social butterfly went into hibernation. I wasn’t worried – he would warm up soon enough. He always did. He would find new friends and his confidence, and the sun would shine for him again soon.
Days turned into weeks and then into months, and as time passed, Sunshine Sam’s warm brown eyes became a little duller and a little colder.
“How was school today, Sam?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Who did you sit with at lunch today, Sam?”
Every day was the same. Approaching his teacher, she seemed less concerned. He would settle, she said. They always do, she said.
But as the months passed, Sunshine Sam slowly turned into Stormy Sam. Even our special song failed to coax his beautiful wide smile from him anymore. Each day at pick-up he would climb into the backseat and stare gloomily out of the window. His face shadowed and his eyes shuttered.
Where was my Sunshine Sam and would I ever see him again?
Our bedtime routine continued, but one song was enough for him now. Then one cold night I realized that I was singing it for myself – Sam was only indulging me and tuning in to his own thoughts inside his cold mind. Even our special song could no longer break through his gloom.
That’s when I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I could not hold off the approaching winter.
Another year passed, and my sunshine boy had become a shadow in my memory. Sullen Sam no longer indulged me, and our special song was left behind in the forgotten warmth of an old bedtime routine.
Trying to get him to talk to me felt like walking barefoot through snow. The harder you tried to move forward, the deeper the snow dragged your feet down and the less you could move until your feet were frozen in place.
I wanted to shake him. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to force my Sunshine Sam back through the ice, but it seemed he was lost to me forever.
Why was Sam still struggling? Why did he not have any friends yet? What was going on?!
And then finally, in one of my many meetings with his teacher, the ugly truth was exposed. She showed me a letter she had intercepted that was being passed around the classroom. The leader of the ‘cool boys’ had drawn a picture of Sam with a black raincloud for a head and lightning as eyebrows. Raindrops were streaming down his face, and there was an arrow pointing to a gravestone on which was written: ‘Here lies Stinky Sammy. Less stinky in death than he was in life. Do us all a favour and just DIE ALREADY!’
A thousand lightning bolts hit me all at once. How long had this been going on? Is this what Sam had been enduring all this time? Why had the school not picked up on this sooner?
How had I not known?
Sam would not talk about it.
“Leave me alone mom. It’s no big deal. I can handle it. I’m okay mom. Trust me.”
Trust him? I could no longer even trust myself! What kind of a mother was I that I had not picked up on any of this before? How was I going to help my precious boy? The sunshine of my life? How could I get him to talk to me?
The big freeze continued.
“How was your day, Sam? Are those boys leaving you alone?”
“It’s no big deal mom. I’m cool. I can handle.”
“Sammy please talk to me. Should we move to a different school? What can I do to help you?”
“I’m not moving mom – I’m no loser. Just leave me alone.”
The long winter continued, and the snowy fingers had dragged my boy even deeper into its icy clutches. One night I awoke from a nightmare where Sam had been pulled so far under the snow that he could not find his way out and was gone forever.
That’s the first time I truly realized that I could lose him.
By now he no longer indulged in any of his old interests and lay on his bed constantly staring at the ceiling. He had stopped contacting his old school friends altogether and was now fully isolated. I would jolt awake at night clawing at my throat to release the suffocating helplessness that choked my waking and sleeping moments. None of us could continue like this much longer. But how was this going to end? I dreaded that answer.
And then, one afternoon on our way home from school, Sam cleared his throat softly in the backseat and quietly said, “Uh, mom. Would it be okay if we stopped at the shops on the way home? I just want to get something.”
I would have driven over mountains to get him to those shops.
“Of course, Sammy. Anything you want!”
I still called him Sammy; he would always be my little Sammy to me.
We arrived home and he went and lay on his bed as usual, but this time he had his new shiny Rubik’s cube with him. Was I imagining less drag in his pace to his room, less of a slam as the door closed, a tiny prick of light in his eyes?
Maybe it was the bright colours of his new cube, or maybe it was the nostalgic thoughts of my own Rubik’s cube too many years ago to admit, but I felt a twinge of a long-forgotten ray of something alight inside me. Was it hope?
Sam focused all his pre-teen energy on his new prized possession. It went to school with him, it was the first thing he reached for when his eyes reluctantly opened each morning, and he would fall asleep with it on his chest at night. I would hear the clicking of the cube long after his bedtime and it was the first sound that greeted me each morning.
Sam was starting to talk to me again.
“Mom! I’m almost there! I learned the white cross algorithm on YouTube! You must get the white cross first and then you solve it from there. I’m gonna solve it soon!”.
Algorithm? I thought that was a complicated mathematical equation for programmers on fancy computers. Or for rocket scientists to work out how long it would take a banana to dissolve in space? But for a Rubik’s cube? This was too much for my prehistoric brain!
What I did know was how my heart was thawing at his tentative smile that was growing wider and warmer as he learned each new algorithm.
And then, one golden night, as I leaned into his room to say goodnight, he put his cube down on his bedside table and shyly said, “Momma, can you sing me my special song tonight please?”
Momma. He hadn’t called me that for the longest time, and it felt like a warm blanket settling over my cold shoulders. I lay down next to him in my old familiar space, stroking my fingers through his still golden hair as we sang our sunshine song together.
Hope rose inside me like a glorious sunrise. Could my boy be coming back to me?
Within the next few weeks, he had learned enough algorithms to solve it completely and was now focusing on increasing his speed. Our rides home from school were now filled with stories about his day and the new boys he had met. He no longer sat by himself at break but was now teaching his new friends how to solve their own cubes. It seemed that he had started a trend in his class, which spread through his whole grade, and even beyond.
His old nemesis had now left the school and he no longer spent each day with downcast eyes and hunched shoulders to avoid being spotted but rather basking in the warmth of his newfound fame as the best cuber in the school.
Our home was filled with sunshine once again and the ice of that nightmare time had melted away. His wide beaming smile was back, and the sun rose in his warm brown eyes once again.
Sunshine Sammy had returned to me, and it was all thanks to a Rubik’s Cube that he had seen that dreadful boy clumsily playing with one morning before class. He may have nearly indirectly taken my beautiful boy’s life, but he had inadvertently saved it too.
Sam’s cube collection has since grown (who knew there were so many different kinds!), but that original cube still sits in a place of honour on his bookshelf.
And each time I see the sun glinting on its brightly coloured surface, I swear it is winking at me.
Long may the glorious sun shine on my Sammy and long may the magic of the cube live on.