Listen To Article
On October 31, Eerdmans Publishing officially releases Scenes with My Son: Love and Grief in the Wake of Suicide, a memoir I wrote about my son Auggie. After years of battling clinical depression exacerbated by autism, Auggie Hubbard died by suicide on October 23, 2020. He was 19.
Scenes with My Son unfolds in three acts. Act I, entitled “Beautiful Boy,” shares stories from Auggie’s joy-filled if eccentric early childhood. Act II, “The Family Monster,” chronicles his battle with clinical depression emerging during adolescence. Act III, “The Life After,” shares tender and harrowing stories from the days and months following Auggie’s death.
In anticipation for this book’s release, I have decided to share an excerpt from Act I. This early story is called “Turning Blue with Rage (with Some Forced Allusions to Aristotle and ‘Dover Beach’”). I hope it gifts the reader with a sense of my son’s unique and passionate nature while gently hinting at trails to come.
Turning Blue with Rage (with Some Forced Allusions to Aristotle and “Dover Beach”)
From nearly the first day August Robert Hubbard entered the world until now, I have never met anyone who enjoys himself so much. As he approaches two years old, Auggie brims with happiness, excitement, and delight. The surprise of an ice-cream sandwich, being included in his brothers’ games, a zerbert blown onto his chubby tummy—all these magical events deliver Auggie into sustained bouts of ecstatic joy. Our bouncy boy is a gift to be around, so jubilant, so cheerful, so new.
It’s also the case that in rare moments Auggie turns mad as hell. These flashes of rage usually occur when he physically hurts himself or when he believes himself the victim of a great injustice. He may stub his bare toe on a misplaced rock in the backyard or bump his head on the coffee table’s evil corner. Or worse, he may receive clandestine intelligence regarding a piece of candy that one of his brothers received, or a negligent parent might prematurely turn off an episode of Teletubbies. In these moments, God help us; Auggie turns blue with rage.
Auggie literally turns blue with rage.
Here is how it works. Immediately after enduring a physical injury or a perceived inequality, Auggie initially appears strangely tranquil. To an untrained eye, he is fine. Careful observation reveals, however, the invasion of barely perceptible tremors vibrating his otherwise frozen little body. Astute viewers may also notice that no breath enters or escapes his mouth, so complete and consuming is the escalating rage.
Next comes the color change. His face takes on a fiery glow as the capillary loops within his huge cheeks flush crimson. Then the hue of his skin metamorphoses two steps along the color wheel from fire engine red to a pale blue. During this transformation, Auggie’s angry mouth may open into a contorted snarl, although no air yet escapes his petrified scowl. The color conversion takes several seconds and is quite jarring. Just at the point when the transition from red to blue concludes, he faints. His unconscious little body flops onto the ground like a top heavy Jenga tower. When he wakes up a few seconds later, oh my. Confused and furious to find himself on the floor, he screams bloody murder with enough volume to rattle nearby windows.
Sometimes when he faints, Auggie hits his huge head. After a necessary gulp of oxygen, this added indignity causes the entire episode to begin again. As students of this unique physiological response, April and I become practitioners at minimizing the damage. Before our enflamed son turns blue, we whisk him into our arms or lay him gently on the floor. “You are okay. Breathe,” we repeat. But despite our assurances and coaching, his rage response never shortens. The cycle is involuntary: silent outrage, turning red, turning blue, passing out. Every. Single. Time. Once, an understandably freaked-out babysitter whom we forgot to warn about her charge’s unique condition got as far as talking with a 911 operator before being interrupted by Auggie’s inevitable inhalation followed by livid wails.
Our son’s deep capacity for joy and rage epitomized his unique personality. The ancient Aegean adage “moderation in all things” did not apply to Auggie. He was all-in; involuntary passions and impulses ruled him. From infancy to the dawn of adolescence, he lived mostly in a state of joy. He embodied the gift of joy. He occasionally experienced waves of rage, but, overall, the tide of Auggie’s optimistic nature lifted all nearby boats. Indeed, the world seemed to lie before preadolescent Auggie like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new.
The moments of blue rage seemed to his family like a colorful eccentricity. We did not know then that these extreme shifts in mood hinted at dangerous imbalances to come, a portent of the darkling plain from which there was no escape nor help for pain.
(Scenes with My Son 8-10)