Was love between us, a scent of danger, of linger, of orange and lemon, of salt and sand, of time dare not, of leave not please, of please come back, of one minute more, of one minute more, then gone.
Surreal, how April is autism and poetry month, how poetic really,
Surreal, too, I imagine, how it must be to be autistic, or poetic, maybe both. I watch fish in a tank, imagine how one can only get so close to being a fish if one is not a fish. I try imagining myself as a fish inside the tank looking out, trying to figure out why the family is rushing past, or what’s a family? I imagine myself saying, as a fish.
Outside looking in, inside looking out.
Every morning my six-year-old son and I “swim” to our car, get into our “submarine.” We putter past imaginary blow fish near the mailbox.
“Pink reefs over there!” I say to my son.
Today we saw a spotted blue whale with cute spotted blue whale babies over a glen plaid hill, shrieked at too close sharks chasing us to school before the first bell.
I imagine myself painting the painting at home and someone buying the painting.
“How nice,” I imagine I say to my son when I’m done, “someone bought the painting of our family, the picture now hangs on someone’s family room wall (maybe over a fish tank).
Surreal how April is autism and poetry month.
Today, on a hike, I decide to make my bed only on major holidays. Awesomeness. I then give myself a virtual star, pat on my back, for a job well-done, being solution minded, proactive, and out exercising with my six-year-old son as he runs ahead of me yelling at the mountain, the day, the path.
Today I am ahead, even thinking ahead, all points for me.
In wonder mode, I wonder how I could have forgotten my son’s meds yesterday, chastise myself about something I cannot afford — forgetting. How forgetting sets off a sequence of awfulness.
Awfulizing anquishifications. AaaaAAAAAAgghghgh!!!
I employ the only tool I have, try the “U” turn one. The begin again one. The one I learned from my son, his summer “camp” last summer.
“Try again. Do over,” the teacher said at some behavior aberration.
Yesterday, as a result of his no medication midday, when I picked him up from school, he hit me flat palmed across my face while we sat in my car making plans. I reached for consciousness, for that lovely responsive mother I want to be. I found the glovebox empty.
A difficult moment, these, managing him in upsets, helping him transitioning from school to the next thing. Me too. Changing course, beginning anew, U-turn ones. Even to remember I have tools, much less the finding of them, the ‘finding my breath,’ the counting up or down ones, practicing to get it in his practice, his toolbox, concepts he learns in therapy, I put in mine. Some all but lost to me at crystal moments.
While he exploded, we sat in the car, my son screeching behind me. I sat pointing at his car seat behind me, for him to return to it. A sculpture holding the steering wheel with my other hand as my son twisted in his flailing lash-outs. A regular front lawn Remington Mom fixed for time, something the world needs more of, bronze mothers, chilling.
Later, in a sensory seeking moment, his meds running low, he ran down the house hall crashing his right hand through a bedroom door window. Needing something to pound, might as well be the glass.
How lucky he was not to have gotten hurt. More, how lucky I was.
“Go get the broom,” I said.
Drama sucks. And how it must suck to be caught in his dragon fire skin. This, how I imagine my son must feel. It sucks breath on my side too.
How, at his age, his can only mind himself in small degrees. His caregivers — mother, father, brother, teacher, therapists — “outside brain.” How he so wants to be in control, I do too. Or, else the fears set in. His and mine. He just tips into survival mode. Speeding to high, tipping to panic, almost unreachable for soothing.
Days I wonder how many meds, behaviorists, diet, exercise reiterations, new BFF-music-action-hero-mindful kite therapies must I throw at our tiny boy?
His autism lays me low. Lays him lower. Exhausted, I cannot unplug forever in a spa. Today as good as any day to discover the almighty U-turn, begin again minute, the next minute one.
A day in a minute, I come to believe life, the work of God and His arsenal of earth workers, saint-sinner, angel-sentient beings, goodwill ambassadors, universe teachers, earth or heaven-bound, good triers, all supporting us.
A madness not to be in control of one’s self.
Today I feel his pain, hold tight on the wheel. Form a triangle with my hands. Grip thumbs on my wheel. I do not say a thing, tell myself, to hang in one minute longer, re-frame life, fold up my hope tent, give-it-over, give-it-up to angels.
Soon enough some kind of grace comes, a low interest loan helping me keep my head as a special needs parent. There will be many assumptions to untie by nightfall.
Some days the old adages seem best. Tie, un-tie, re-tie, rather, than cut something out of the garden. Do nothing, sit out the storm, sayings.
Times maybe I shouldn’t negotiate with Mr. Takeover but still I do, like today, when I said, “Let’s go for a hike.”
This pleased him to no end, “Okay!”
Play’s, the thing. A language that does not come easy to my son or myself. A hierarchy of play missed kids like mine.
Last summer we played according to plan. Therapist-directed play that started with him as a lone player with his preferred toy, trains. He played as if the two were one. The goal, to progress up a play scale as neurotypical kids do. Toy as agent-object, outside of the child, toward empathy. Players playing, with other players, giving, taking, adding, sharing ideas folding, expanding, accepting.
A whole UN in a sandbox. Peace has a taste somewhere between butter and fruit.
Our days of playing trains on the tracks started simple, we added buildings, airports, pirate ships, bridges, dinosaurs.
Moving up the play scale when we coupled our play with dolls — jumping in and out of the ‘doll as agent’ box — with our engineers, passengers, conductors, construction workers. Change-ups my son allowed, affecting his senses — boundaries — easing somewhat with peers,’ let downs improving with his flexible thinking. His asking me to borrow a toy, a huge leap. Rebounding, through failure key to games, sports, team, classwork, life.
What a strange country each day. His ‘visa’ not allowing us access to each other’s borders, language, ideas, much less moving along with other travelers, affecting his learning of social mores, ABCs, and numbers.
Finch, crow, deer, hawk! Hawk! Hawk! Hawk!
On a low branch of an ancient — an eight trunked oak — I sit under a cave of branches. More, a giant bouquet, granite boulders beneath it. My big hiking boots in the thick brown mulch. Sounds of civilization are finding the canyon — the grey panther — agenda types on their brisk walks; Latinas in sausage casings, leggings, tummies and breasts under one big curved zipped blur, their peach dogs hunched, refusing to walk one inch further into the wilds. Expert hikers, gone already, hours ago. And others — spectator-walkers, nature lovers palming sage with the summer trainees and me.
People with backpacks and music piping through their ears passing chatty bun girls, twenty-somethings, doing what girls do these days with too much Rapunzel on their heads — their hair — landed drones or big, beefsteak briskets – hair stuffed with who knows what – listening devices? Teddy bear parts? Puffed hair covered over with more hair, held in place with a single stretchy hairband. The leaf turners behind them, AA folks next, walking at a labyrinth pace who seem to have all day, some, as big as parade balloons, striking the path like everyone else, one step at a time.
Days I love them all, but today, I want to be invisible. Fly ‘there,’ wherever there is, like a hawk, do my hawk business, but not think so much, not think about how better it might be to be an eagle, crow how better to be a tiny yellow bush house finch diving in and out of brush like the ones I let go off my front porch years ago. A day when a fist full of flutter became more itself. Let birds be birds, skip the cage. Ah, to be a red tailed hawk, have dinner for breakfast, not worry about stuff, the nest, clocks, kids, the man.
I’m the bride in the room. Eight bridesmaids on the altar and only now do I realize I do not know what keeps my sisters awake at night. All those white wine spritzers wasted talking about ribbon.That I should have picked my best friend Marianne I don’t pick her because she’s fat. Now I’ve broken something I can’t fix. Oh, I hate how I feel, that and, that my fiancé and I fought last night gives me the creeps. Did I make a mistake? I’m thirty, so all right already. I just want to forget my best brother is dying and get that man and that woman over there to see there’s a bride in the room. That everything’s perfect.
I see Pat, my dying brother up front. At least you’ve got a plan man, I think. A bartender, sailor, a ‘gonna be big kind of guy,’ HIV deadbeat inside of three years. Me? Hah! No plan. I’ll give it a year, maybe two, but at least I’m not going to get stuck like Mom.
I’m looking down the aisle toward the front of the church, right hand on Dad’s left arm twirling my engagement ring with my left thumb, Mass’s about to begin. Whoa, got a train to catch Dad? In four strides, we are at the altar. Wait, gotta think this thing through. I tilt a look at Dad, a dog sending signals. Start the car, man. I am scanning all the nice people looking my way, smiling, nodding heads, looking at the flowers, the dresses, each other, at me. Hey Dad, get a load of the Fishers. Oh, how I wanted to be in that family. God soaped faces, the kind of love at 80, found on the head of a pin.
Pat and my eyes lock. Idiot’s busting a smile. I’m framing him. He’s framing me, for a picture for later. You’re not leaving me man I’m leaving you. Don’t even think about it, or, you know I’ll murderize you. (How we talk love in those days.) I smile until my face hurts. Damn no. Then, I tell him a lie with a look. Looking good man. I want to stop this madness. Stop, no, run, no, give. Give God my right arm, my right lung, my left kidney. Whatever God wants God gets, right? He can have it. Except for Pat. All I want is for God to give Pat back to Pat, Pat back to us, back to me. Then run, tell the jerk world, our folks, the jerk him self — guess what man? God’s only kidding sucker. Your ass is saved. You’re off His short list. Just one thing though — you owe me big. God was just kidding. Then, we will have one f***ing long, long, long laugh.
I watch my brother as he rubs his cheek, his hand doesn’t stop though, goes around to the back of his neck. Sure looks tired. He squeezes some loose flesh inside his jacket through his tux shirt, bet he didn’t eat again today. A straight line forms where my smile should be. Alongside my brother now, I get in his face and think. What kind of tough Mick are you? Drink that thick shake the doctor told you to drink and M.’s gonna grow on you. Maybe Pat has some sixth sense about junk maybe its just weirdness.
I pass by Mom. Stop. In my tracks. Nice. Dress. Mom. Guess you didn’t get the memo. Remember me saying just please no white dresses unless you’re the bride? I look back at Pat. What about this man? You couldn’t take care of this? Thanks for nothing buddy. Now I got a sixty-year-old twin with the same name wearing a white dress all day long. Oh, God, my fiance’s a Gemini too, not that I believe that crap. I look over my right shoulder see my mother-in-law. She’s wearing white too. I look back at Pat. Bartender, make it a triple. We got a theme party of mothers wearing white.
Maybe it’s worth the extra fifty. Extra sixty, eighty, ninety bucks. One-hundred sixty. Six hundred sixty bucks.
For three months of sitters, I mean.
For one month of therapy, I mean.
For the paint and play class of mixsters kidsters glue-sters, pressing discard plastic Easter eggs into corrugated and clay in a class of parachute dance and art, the tot mountaineers with Miss Sandy, I mean.
Worth it for someone to run new figure eights on my old kitchen tarmac. The 60s pebble limey linoleum floor or outside, on the black top line going round our house, up the neighborhood drive. the money it takes for fresh horses, a sitter, to run with someone unseatable, our five-year-old, S..
Someone magic enough, with bubbling energy, enough day and night to follow ’round my little guy, stem my “I wonder if he’s feral (insert here. Help me reroute panic about his acronym diagnosis menu kind of thinking). Someone to follow Mr. Nonstop to the trampoline out back, jump their hundred plus along his forty-three prone flat on the mat. Someone to jar his noodle preschool body enough so my kid feels alive enough, enough to stop, pause, wait, calm himself back to quiet hands. Back to regular alive.
Parents in the know, know what I mean, know what I mean. Someone alive enough, to keep up with the alives. A Buddha Knievel type of helper. Buddha Knievel — Christ — “hey, what the Hell is he doing up on the roof of my car? — Yeah, someone so alive to take care of that kind of alive. Someone above humanity alive, but, but, but someone realler than that.
Even if this someone is a dog.
Someone dog enough — so dog un-tired running out the front door round back, out to the mailbox, out to the vegetable garden out by our foothill road where we live off the main line of Los Angeles.
Someone nice enough too. Willing to go the distance. There and back. There and back. There and back. Again. Again. Again. Just takes practice. A lot. And a village. Thank you very much.
Thirty times seven times three hundred and fifty two times infinity times.
That’s how much practice, how many times it takes to get it right, seconds to count to cool, to get chill enough to deal.
I need someone who can hang on. With clamped teeth hang on. Hang on a Frisbee. Hang in with the yelling, banging, tumbling, head butt leaping and transition switch-ups. Okay with playing too hard scrabble through dry grass, thickets, mulched oak to slick parquet. Someone like — Fergus — our neighbor’s dog. Fergus, the dog. I need someone like Fergus the neighbor’s dog, a Wheaton terrier.
A dog so good at being a being, that my afraid-of-dogs-little man now calls him his dog that we keep at her place, and my dear neighbor does not mind.
So good a dog that Fergus is I call him Sir.
Sir Fergus the Dog, thank you, very much.
This, the dog I want to be when I grow up someday. This the dog I want to be when I wake from the nightmare gnarl of autism tooling, paring our old parenting ways. The ups, downs of autism. Even high-functionaries like S. leave no room for rest. Fergus doesn’t need the rest. Fergus says, “Bring it on.” This pup wants action. I want to be as good as this dog, I mean.
So good is Ferg, that if he pushed a grocery cart, slid pot pie in the microwave by six each night, maybe, could type this when not ‘sitting freeway shevasana’ in daily traffic, could take over my daily meditations of ‘ohm building,’ run my son to his special behavior camp, us stuck in the 405 traffic school twice a day, stuck in the carpool lane, two to four hours a day — I’d be out of a job. Quite the pair.
So good at being a better me that Sir F. pup is that he gets the better of me. I have to laugh and thank heaven.
F. and S. on loops around our place, in and out of our falling down early 1910s farmhouse and barn, kicking gravel into piles, making train tracks, tug o’warring, F.’s rope knot in the dog’s mouth, the two begging favors for treats that I beg too, sit too, sit up too, sit back, take notes, watch the all day puppy fun.
Fergus and S..
“Fergus’s my brother,” my son said two days ago running past into camp kitchen.
His seventeen-year-old brother knows, laughs it off, knows S. is right. The dog is magic, transforms the day. Brother love flows rivers between our first born and the two ‘pups’ by different Dads. With F., S.’s so easy to have around, his fun side flips onto sweet, manageable, he even acts his age.
I pray the sweet days stick.
Give me that cuddle boy we adopted five years ago at birth, give me the kid who asks without grabbing, without impulsing heedless vibes into streets. Days, I pray someday he’ ll come back when I call, will be safe from his too-forward hellos to strangers, safe from his tippy-tip toes to his head, gain the tools for a future, not dip so much into sad.
Days on end I want to run away too. Or, take a clue, go outside and run with friends, be the third silly pup in the picture to the right, maybe be Fergus the dog for a day or two, hang loose, and be Ferg, be like him.
Me, as Ferg. Me as F. with S.
My son’s small hands running through my Wheaten dog dreads, my Wheaton hair (not-fur) messy shag, my ‘I-see-the-big-picture’ now clear, unteary,now, unshaken, me as pup. Tail wagging, my ‘don’t stop now boy’ springing, ‘we’re almost there c’mon kid, keep trying, keep going, going, gotta keep going, up, up, up, and away. Cool water just ahead. Days, I can see the long run from here. And, it’s good, real good, puppy-boy.’
Days on end I want to feel my dogface joyface in my son’s, my dogface joy licking my son happy. Hands, arms, legs. For my son to see me. My regular Mom lady face like he sees Fergus’ face. See my ‘I’m too tired,’ but I’m still a lover, still a giver face, you can count on me, your Dad, your big bro. All of us next to S. and friend F.
That day, I’ll declare a holiday, say, “Somebody play me something with trombones, trumpets, something Aaron Copland.”
Each day it’s triumph.
The days, I watch and learn from F..
This, I’m told our best chance. Learn to play. And, so I observe the two and I start again. I play, we play.
Ferg’s temperament not undone like ours, mine. The dog, not undone by S.’s close-range screaming. Days, I reach for my Bose headset and go toss a ball. Fergus,’ not frayed in the least, by the five, six door slams — nothing emergency — unlike myself. S’s dysregs., stims, almost-Tourettables, his “I hate you, Mama, hate you, hate you, hate you. You’re not my friend.” Blade turn every time.
Fergus, the dog saint, doesn’t mind the yucks.
“Tell me about that again puppy-boy,” I can almost hear him saying, “I don’t believe you mean that puppy-boy. Get ready to roll puppy-boy. I am going to nip you, frisk you, bite you back to happy puppy-boy. If you go too far, I’m coming back anyway, puppy boy, you unshepherdable, unshepherded friend, my Snaggletooth will test your Little Debbie Snickerdoodle arms and legs. I’m a lyin’ dyin,’ open invitation eatin’ Wheaten greetin.’ Nothing matters when I’m with you friend, nothin’ but your puppy-boy sunshine. Play me friend, neighbor, eternal friend of the special sunshine kind, let’s teach your parents it takes lots of practice to be special, to be the parent of a kid with special stuff. I see you’re in there kid. Come out and play.
Rain or shine someone puppy, someone people, loves you, kid. Someone is loving you, me, the kid. Someone knows you need a shepherd kid, maybe a fluff-ball shepherd who needs the work, works for cheese wages, someone who knows It’s just the work we shepherds do.
Mom and Dad believe in big. God, family, houses. In that order. In big conversations Mom has with God. By morning God takes his leave. Before He does He leaves lists. Chores, tests. Lists God tucks into our house’s eaves, garage, shed, basement, backyard. Crypt places where we prove our potential for heaven. The reason we’re on God’s planet, not born in Africa, not Biafra babies, not yet called ‘Home.’
“Work separates the wheat from the chafe,” Mom tells us.
I wonder if the others in our house will be sorry come Judgment Day. I, for one, am taking no chances. I am determined to be 100% wheat.
All I know by thirteen is not to utter two unholy words.“I’m bored.” Words of the fallen. Those, God has extra business with. He will keep them busy for years and God and Mom will talk some more.
“Not in my backyard,” Mom says hearing the phrase. Mom doesn’t care who said it. She says, “May 1st, go get your brothers. Go and clean the pool.”
“Not the pool,” I groan.
My brothers Pat, 16 and Andrew 12, myself, 13, the stricken elect, suffer most because we are slow, easy to catch.
“Anything but the pool,” we beg.
Mom weighs the now against the later, flicks no-see-ums in the air. Then she points, we scatter. Mom heads upstairs with her New American Bible. The good book with hip slant between denim covers. An un unchartered republic we know as Mom, like the one God opens on Sundays on my lap. Always a page to turn, re-psalm, for our one true Boss, Him.
Outside, we sigh at the winter wreck that is our pool. The up close smell of baked twigs, leaves, sludge and sediment warming under death glow blueness, the tarp. Pat lips the hose, a siphon starts. He flings the hose over the fence, drags it down the drive as far as it will go. Past three hundred years of European copper beech, over our yellow rutted lawn to where our brother Matthew, 8 drops pebbles into the gutter for a dam.
“Forget this mess,” someone on the deck yells, “Let’s come back tomorrow.”
Always a better day to begin a project.
Next day, Saturday, it is chilly and overcast. Someone drops the ladder over the side. Pat orders us to get in. Ten minutes in, the job ahead is too much miracle. Around white pole legs, Comet tides surge mosquito larvae. Pat pulls the ladder away.
“Make it like new swabbies,” he sneers through clenched teeth.
We call for Mom to come but our pitch must not be emergency enough.
“Wait until we get out of here. You are going to die.” we call to him fumbling to climb over the pool walls.
We do not know yet we have seen into the future. Put a curse on our brother. That an irrevocable horror waits. For twenty-one summers we treat him like one of us, an ignorant comrade, a fool kid, then Pat goes out like a light. Another slime strikes him dead. AIDS. One, bleach cannot reach. Through tears we console each other he was a good worker. He’s the right hand man. Not today. Today is not that day.
To stay with the pool job, Andrew and I walk around the oval, Pat jumps in, we speed to a chop chase, and a whirlpool begins. We spin, slide, and throw foulness at each other. First water. Then words. Forever curses of winter puke lay on our skin.
“Heads up,” Andrew calls. He hurls a bucket of slime. Pat ducks. Drenched I am pulled into the abyss. All I can think of are the ads from the back of Marvel Comic Books. Books in the attic under the boys’ beds. Ads for ‘Live Sea Monsters’ and my body swimming in a feces petri. All I want to do is die.
“Get him not me,” I scream.
Pail by pail, we empty the bilge, until we get to the bottom. There, we scoop with our bare hands.
Mom out, we go inside for long breaks, get lunches we cannot bring to school. Lunches that smell bad look like bruised skin, lunches we love. Liverwurst on rye, cream cheese, jelly on white. The one good tomato we eat.
Andrew knows something Pat and I do not. In life you must choose. You cannot have it both ways, pick mustard or mayo. Fire or water. Andrew is a mayonnaise man.
Not me. Not Pat. We’ll never learn, we like fire and oil in our taste. We pick the mustard mix it with mayo.
We then go back to hell.
So far things are going fair at today’s church fair. Saturday’s October Fall Fest Fair I mean.
By eleven fifty I paint two butterflies, two ladybugs, a few ghosts while I nurse my coffee, a big invisible sign over my head reads: ‘Enter At Your Own Risk.’
A toddler waddles over, asks for only knives and skeleton tattoos. I comply. Hope kids are not too particular with my attempts with stub crayon details. Hate painting their superfine skin. Ask them not to wiggle so much. From one Botticelli I take four tickets for a greased cherry and purple flower.
Another comes in, switches me up. Just the hair, she says. Hot pink.
Okay, okay, I can do this, I tell myself. Suit up, put a paper towel over her eyes. A glow cloud sprays in her direction. Hangs over the both of us. Weather conditions prevail. It goes everywhere. Splatters mostly on the chair where she sits, drips across her thin trash bag apron.
How much are we both breathing of this quality air?
Still I cannot get her hair to turn vivid pink. More a fade of sheer. I keep spraying until I get a splotch over her forehead. A widower’s ‘dot,’ fuchsia. Hand the kid the mirror. She thanks me sweetly, hands me her four tickets.
Keep the tickets, I say, feeling a twinge, I’m just tuning up.
Ten minutes later, shift over, booth manager arrives from her son’s soccer game to take charge. Thanks me profusely for doing nothing. Your welcome, I say. Hand her my clean apron. Watch the booth from afar for the rest of the day. See the boss go to work. Spread her flat bristle tip tools of the church carnival trade across the table. Plastic gloves, baby wipes, alcohol, make-up assorteds, face paint, pirate press on tattoos – large, small – roses, ribbons, candy designs, photocopy examples for make-up counter consults.
Then, she takes out her line of hair products.
Super gooey epoxy stuff from the black depths in her purse. Comic color neon hairsprays, hair waxes, that will take weeks to wash from baby hair. Ones teachers will write notes home over all week.
‘Maestra Capelli.’ Spaghetti hair meets its match. A hair contortionist.
Hair that should not stand up, goes ridge pole in her hands.
In an hour flat, the church parking lot fills with rainbow punks, flare freaks, Goths. Lines wrap the Gathering Tree from where I sit to watch the scene where I take notes with my colleagues, other off-duty types in the ‘volunteer breakroom,’ a place where we parents do double duty, where everyone’s a winner, sales always brisk. We sit back and peel yet more tickets for our kids, greenback answers to young and old.
Do our prayers. Where all is forgiven.
‘Done,’ or not, we are unjudged in the pop-up chapel for the fallen away. The Beer Tent. (c) MK Smyth 2012