Mary Beth Windsor was nine years old when she walked into her closet, sat down and started to scream. She didn’t stop. She didn’t stop for a very long time. Her mother tried to drag Mary Beth out of the closet. It took half an hour, and Mary Beth drew blood. And when her mother finally managed to force her out of the closet, she let go of Mary Beth for three seconds and the little girl just turned around and ran back into her closet and slammed the door behind her.
Mary Beth didn’t stop screaming the whole time.
Eventually, Mary Beth’s voice wore out. Mary Beth’s mother took advantage of the quiet to bring Mary Beth to a doctor. The doctor ran an assortment of tests. He found nothing wrong with Mary Beth. Other than the screaming, of course. The doctor gently suggested that Mary Beth use her words and tell her parents what was bothering her, rather than screaming about it all day long. But Mary Beth wasn’t listening. She was staring out of the window, up at the clear blue sky.
That night, Mary Beth’s mother insisted that she sit at the dinner table with her family. Mary Beth ate silently, eyes glued to the window and the glittering winter stars. Finally, Mary Beth’s father decided that it wouldn't hurt to ask a simple question. He put down his fork and looked at his silent daughter.
“Mary Beth, why do you sit in the closet and scream all day long?”
Mary Beth had screamed her voice away, so she couldn’t answer. She just stared up at the stars. Mary Beth's little sister, Jane, who was only six, said, in a tone of voice that made it clear that this ought to be obvious, “Mary Beth is screaming because they’re coming, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them.”
Mary Beth’s parents met each other’s eyes across the dinner table. They decided, silently, as parents do, not to ask any more questions. Whatever it was that made their daughter sit in her closet and scream, they didn’t want to know.
A few days later, Mary Beth went back to screaming in her closet. The pediatrician recommended that they ignore the screaming. “Negative attention seeking behavior will only be reinforced if you acknowledge it. Just pretend it isn’t happening.”
So Mrs. Windsor and Mr. Windsor and little Jane pretended that Mary Beth was not screaming in the closet. They did this for weeks.
It wasn’t so bad, as long as she kept the door closed. Mary Beth’s mother felt a little bad about keeping her oldest daughter closed up in a closet, but Mary Beth didn’t seem to mind one bit.
Then, one day, Mary Beth stopped screaming.
She walked out of her closet, sat down at the dining room table beside her sister and started coloring. Mrs. Windsor was startled. “Mary Beth, you’re not in your closet. And you’re not screaming. What—“
Jane looked up from the very blue flower she was filling in with a colored pencil and said, in a tone of voice that made it clear that this ought to have been obvious:
“She doesn’t need to, not anymore. They’re here now.”