A thousand times a day, I have a reason to hate autism. When he’s bouncing on the trampoline, laughter peeling from his small frame, and the laughter turns to shrieks in between bounces for no apparent reason; I hate autism. When I try taking him into a store, and he starts pounding his head with his fists; I hate autism. When I want to talk to him about why he loves the Tigger Movie so much, I hate autism. When he’s carrying on a conversation in a language that I can’t understand, I hate autism. When he cries at night, and I can’t ask him about his nightmare; I hate autism. When his sister asks me when he will talk, and all I can say is “soon, baby, soon;” I hate autism. When another boy his age asks me to throw him a ball, while he bounces alone in his own world, I hate autism.
A thousand times a day.
And then comes a new day like yesterday at the park.
Matthew’s exploring. Here’s a stick; here’s a piece of bark. Together they open new words for him. I only wish I could see them as he does, but then we never get to do that, do we?
I look for Emma. She’s running with some kids and having fun. It’s a nice day. I’m not loving autism; I’ll never go there. But for some reason neither is it in the fore of my thoughts right now, which in itself is strange. I usually notice it more at the park but not today. Today he’s happy. Today she’s happy. It’s beautiful, and I don’t think about it.
She’s wondered off out of the circle, so I go to look. Matthew has decided to climb the slide. Once I spot her, I turn back to him. He’s standing at the base of the slide, talking to the stick and the bark, ignoring the child standing behind him–throwing bark at his head.
Lord of the Files is not a good book to read when you have young children. Having kids brings you in close proximity the playground: the most vicious place on earth; unless of course there’s a deserted island somewhere near. There once was a time when 1984 held place of priority for the most realistically frightening novel ever. In college, I could see Big Brother everywhere. Having returned to the playground later in life, I’m convinced that Jack and his hunters are far more terrifying.
The child bent to pick up another piece of bark to throw when he heard me approaching, and like Jack on the beach when the sailors arrived, he looked to see if I would stop him. All it took was a look, and the bark hit the ground, but it didn’t end there.
I pick up my boy off the slide and put him on the ground. As soon as I do, I see that he’s heading straight towards a florescent green softball that an older child has dropped. As I move to explain to him that the ball isn’t his, the older child says, “he can play with it.” I’m grateful for the Ralphs of the world. They’re not perfect, but they do exist, and sometimes they do the right thing.
“Thanks buddy. I’ll make sure you get it back.”
My boy bounces it on the sidewalk liking the sound it makes. Up and down, he’s happier than he’s been all day. Until Jack sees him having fun.
Drop, bounce, bounce, bounce. Drop, bounce, bounce, bounce. And Jack attacks. He rushes past my boy on the next drop, and kicks the softball into the parking lot. My boy stands and looks at it rolling away.
I go retrieve the ball from the lot and give it back to my boy. He picks up where he left off, and Jack gets warmed up to kick it again when his mother calls him down for it, “Matthew! Stop!”
He doesn’t stop, and the ball goes back into parking lot. And my Matthew watches it go before bending over to pick up a new stick and a new piece of bark bouncing into his own world.
There are times, they are few but they do happen, when autism isn’t the worse thing in the world.
The terrifying thing about Lord of the Flies is that we’re all Piggy. We’re all Ralph. We’re all Jack. We’re all floundering between the two Matthews. And Simon the innocent is punished for our sins.